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Freelance writing offers the freedom to be authentic

Below is an excerpt from The Collective, Poynter’s newsletter by journalists of color for journalists of color and our allies. Subscribe here to receive it in your inbox two Wednesdays a month.

Like many black people in the summer of 2020, I felt the incredible weight of racism press against my chest and rob me of any chance to breathe normally. I also felt the unfortunate burden of having to show up and not be myself. But during that time, writing became my emotional outlet, my saving grace, and a new professional opportunity.

I loved showcasing my blackness and queerness at work, whether through my attire, having books by great black authors on my desk, or incorporating queer imagery into my office. As a higher education administrator in student affairs, I have thrived on being able to support Black and LGBTQ+ students with programs and policies. Therefore, it inspired my writing, but having to conform to a white, cishet, patriarchal version of professionalism was nothing more than a “sunken place”, a la “Get Out”, which kept me in the hiding.

I needed a change and saw writing as a catalyst, but had no idea how to make a career out of it. One journalist in particular, Scarlett Newman, showed me that a career as a writer about what I love was possible. It became a “model of possibility”, an idea of ​​what could be.

I recognize that there is a privilege to quitting and it is a privilege that many writers of color are not always rewarded with. My family never instilled in me the idea of ​​quitting a job because working meant surviving, and surviving is something many like me know all too well. They couldn’t give me the financial security they wanted to give me on this journey, but they gave me the confidence to believe in myself and think critically about all my next steps. I want other writers of color to do the same.

So, as I thought about the freedom on the other side of a corporate job, I planned accordingly. My writing allowed others to see what I was capable of. I was lucky enough to establish strong relationships with a few publishers and acquire a contract client before leaving my post-graduate education.

I also have the privilege of living with a partner, who supports my search for self-employment. We reconfigured our budgets, he added me to his insurance, and he used his tax and financial knowledge to help me prepare for the administrative and financial hurdles I would have to navigate.

Besides financial health, I wanted to preserve my physical and mental health while developing a freelance career. I lean heavily on three notebooks, one being my gratitude journal to remind myself of the good things that have happened to me. Another notebook is my Manifestation Journal, which helps me write down my goals and strategize how to turn them into reality. Then there’s my diary, which is just getting all my thoughts out of my head.

For physical health, I train at least four times a week as another means of mindfulness exercise and to get my body moving after sitting at a desk for so long. Also, proper routines and schedules are important because I don’t want to overwork myself. I want to make sure that freelancing doesn’t become my life, but just one part of it.

Once I realized I had planned enough, I decided it was time to let go of what was familiar and hurtful. After a four-year career in student affairs in New York, I needed to embark on a journey of self-discovery that didn’t include moonlighting as a writer. I needed a space that didn’t involve overworking myself to be passed over for opportunities or to work in a space that symbolized my blackness and my homosexuality.

With six months of savings, I submitted my resignation on July 13, 2021. I joined thousands of other quitting employees in the Great Resignation and got my ticket back to my next destination: writing. independent. Well, a little vacation first, then some freelance writing.

Fortunately, writing gives me the necessary escape and the freedom to be me. After I started freelancing, I made a commitment to leave code-switching behind. So much so that I base my writing at the intersection of black, queer, and nerdy. Now, my work runs the gamut from highlighting black game innovators to discussing the queering of cartoon TV shows. My writing is a reflection of me, a reflection that I no longer have to hide – neither from editors nor from writing clients. I show up to Zoom calls with painted nails, excess jewelry, and I’ll even add a little eye makeup if my laziness doesn’t overwhelm me.

For a very long time I felt like my homosexuality and my blackness were the things that made me shine, and they do, but I was made to feel the opposite while working in corporate America and in education. superior. My identities, like those of my colleagues with marginalized identities, have been symbolized in order to qualify an office space as “diverse”. To add insult to injury, I rarely felt like my peak output was enough to be taken seriously, like some of my white peers who, frankly, did the bare minimum and were rewarded for that.

Now I can view the world through my black queer lens and write about it. I have found not only more freedom in the work I pursue, but the freedom to simply be myself. I never knew I missed it until I left the 9 to 5 world I had always known.

As I navigate this journey, I realize that I could now be someone’s model of possibility. I feel responsible to myself and to other writers, especially writers of color, to be honest about why I took this path, how I travel this road, and what has helped me along the way. While there’s no one way to be a freelance writer, I hope my story inspires others to be bold, resilient, and thoughtful in their approach.

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The Collective is supported by the TEGNA Foundation.

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