3 things I learned from writing my now-defunct Philadelphia City Paper sex column, and how I'm applying them to my career
As I posted last week, Philadelphia City Paper will be shutting down with this week's issue. Last week's column was my final one. I won't bother posting tons of links to my favorite column since the online archives will very rapidly be disappearing. I also won't waste your time or mine lamenting this news, because I live by the Serenity Prayer. Since there's nothing I can do about the end of my column, I'm focused on other freelance writing and projects to make up for that lost income.
Here's the thing: I'm not a naturally glass half full kind of person, but I've had to be. Freelancing is the ultimate in at will employment, and I've had numerous gigs end, from my Village Voice Lusty Lady column to my stint editing Sex Diaries for New York magazine site Daily Intel. Just last month, I unexpectedly found myself with two short stories I'd expected to be published in an anthology, but weren't. I promptly published one on Lady Smut and submitted the other to Tamsin Flowers' Superotica Advent Calendar. For me, being pro-active simply feels much better than wallowing in bad news. It makes me believe the future is going to be infinitely better than the past, because I'm in charge of making it so.
So with that in mind, I want to share the three biggest lessons/takeaways I learned from writing 51 weekly columns for Philadelphia City Paper (there were a few weeks my column didn't run due to space issues).
1. Look far and wide for subjects
Yes, my column was published by a Philadelphia alt weekly, but I did my best to make it relevant to global readers. I learned when writing for the Voice that with the online edition, the column could be read by anyone, anywhere. I also didn't and don't live in Philadelphia, so I wasn't going to be able to cover too many local events, though I did take the time and spend the money to travel to Philly several times for local profiles. However, what's most fascinating to me is that almost everything I covered potentially could have wider interest. I wrote about a UK sex blogger's dick pics, which proved especially popular. Had nothing to do with Philadelphia per se, but it was about something many people were interested in, so it did well online.
I'd never written a weekly column before, and the pace often felt relentless. I wound up planning several weeks ahead just to get a grasp on things, which made it tough at the end to have already done research for upcoming columns and suddenly have no home for them. But that constant search for the new and novel forced me to broaden my horizons and seek out experts who I hadn't encountered before. I paid attention the world of sexuality in a way I hadn't been before writing the column, and I believe I'm more knowledgeable for that effort.
2. I want to have an impact on the world with my words
Going along with the potential global impact, I learned that I could break a story, and that I loved doing it. In January, my profile of my friend Crista Anne and her OrgasmQuest got picked up by numerous media outlets, including Jezebel, Refinery29, and many others, and led to Dr. Drew discussing it on his HLN show, including an appearance by Crista, prompted by the social media response to his posting about the topic. Seeing how fast and how far this topic spread, including to international press, made me realize I have good instincts. I obviously didn't know in advance the response the story would get, but this buoyed me when pitching other venues.
Last week, I broke another story about an acquaintance, based on what I'd seen her post on Facebook. My first article for Mic, "This Woman Is Fighting Fat-Shaming With These Awesome, Girl Scout-Inspired "Fatty" Badges," has now led to pieces at HelloGiggles, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, The Stir, APlus (Ashton Kutcher's website devoted to "positive journalism") and even People.com, and was even shared on Facebook by Planned Parenthood of Oregon. How could I not find that gratifying?
On both personal and professional levels, this feels good. It's not so much about outside validation, as knowing that my words resonate with others, and because of them, something I thought was powerful is becoming even more powerful.
3. I have to be the very best advocate for myself I can be
Finally, what may be the biggest lesson: I learned that I have to advocate for myself every step of the way. For instance, some of the early stories about OrgasmQuest didn't credit and/or link to my Philadelphia City Paper column. So I hopped right on email and asked for a link, and I believe every source I asked for did it. This weekend, I realized that I hadn't fully filled in my Mic profile. But my first thought was, "Why does that author get a photo and byline and Twitter link and I don't?" Then, Oh. I have to provide that information myself.. So I did, and it immediately appeared below my article. That happened when I published my hoarding essay with The Washington Post. The initial version didn't mention my Twitter handle; I'd read plenty of other contributors' pieces, so knew that was standard. I asked, and it immediately went up. It was a simple mistake, but one I doubt anyone else would notice.
That's why it's so important to know what you're entitled to, and stick up for yourself. I check anything that has my name on it, from articles to book cover copy (front and back), because my name is my reputation, which is what I use to help get me speaking and teaching gigs and new writing assignments. My sense is that a lot of people simply get grouchy or upset or vent when they seem something that seems unfair when it comes to their work, but I fully believe that what will get your farther than negativity is simply being tenacious about asking for what you deserve.
So am I upset that my column is over? Not really, because now my time is freed up to pursue bigger, more lucrative projects. I loved the column, but it's time has come and gone. I'm still writing my DAME sex column every other Wednesday, which I love doing, and will keep writing about sex, but also about books, babies, body image and whatever else catches my eye.