I cannot believe I get to type this: Today, for the first time, I have a piece The New York Times!
When I decided to take a crack at being a writer, I imagined someday, perhaps, maybe getting published in The Times.
I thought a good reach goal was to do this by the time I was 40. I did not expect to do it more than five years early.
So how did I do it? To mangle something Seneca once said a long time ago, it was a combination of luck and preparation.
I’ve dedicated an increasing amount of time to writing over the last two years. According to my time tracking app, I average about 30 (mostly unpaid) hours a week working on this skill. I write. I edit. I read. I take classes. I attend webinars and panels. I subscribe to newsletters. I join Facebook groups. I follow the work of writers I admire. I network.
This is both a kitchen sink approach and something approximating a logical chain. The most recent links led me to getting published in The Times.
I had taken a class at the Minneapolis-based Loft Literary Center this summer with Jennifer Mattson. I learned important things, like the industry term for the helpful, sciencey writing that I love to do outside of personal essays (service journalism).
I also learned about panels for freelancers that Tim Herrera, of The New York Times service section (called Smarter Living), started putting on during the pandemic. Coming into the panels, I had some solid writing and research skills, but close to zero industry knowledge. These panels gave me all sorts of insights into how the heck a human even gets to write something for The Times and publications like it.
A writing Facebook group I learned about through the Loft class pointed me toward a class from NYU called Writing Midlife and Beyond, which I completed this fall. That class featured a lot of nuts and bolts about how to get an editor’s attention. One highlight: The instructor, Estelle Erasmus, shared a number of interviews she did with editors for major publications, including one with Roberta Zeff of The New York Times section Well. These interviews contained a ton of good nuggets about pitching and craft.
I was drawn to the NYU class in part because it promised that, at the end of it, we’d have a pitch and a draft ready for the big time. Estelle really delivered. She told me which of my story ideas was best, she gave feedback on my pitch, and she told me to reach for the stars. I promise you, if she had not said pitch this to The Times, I never would have.
Next comes one of the really lucky parts: The New York Times accepted my pitch. I had learned enough to know that even great pitches get rejected all the time, so I was shocked when they said “yes” to me. I’ve been writing a lot, and in my better moments, I even thought I could execute a good story, but writing for The Times is a huge leap from anything I’ve done before.
The process of working with my editor there, Erik Vance, has been an absolute crash course in the field and journalistic writing. I am deeply grateful to have had the chance to work with him and sharpen my craft. (And I even got to e-meet Roberta Zeff, who edited one of my later drafts!).
I am so proud of how the story turned out. Please, read this piece. Share it far and wide. And be sure to read all the way to the end to learn some ~personal news~ I’m over the moon for you to know.