Meet Ohio-based writer Andy Newman.
By day, he works for Big Cartel, overseeing Workshop (which is quite good, I must say). In his free time, he contributes to a variety of publications like The Atlantic and USA Today, to name a few. I asked him a few questions about his writing career thus far - here’s what he shared.
This was originally published as part of the Yeah Write Club newsletter.
What first got you into writing? Have you always enjoyed it, or is it something you fell into?
I’ve been blogging for fun since high school, but I’d say there were three transitions along the way where I started taking writing more seriously.
In college, I began writing for a hockey blog with an actual audience. Writing regularly, interacting with commenters, and learning from my mistakes in that setting was invaluable. To this day, its comment section remains a lively, healthy community, which is a great feedback group for a young writer.
As a freelance filmmaker, I realized that treating my blog like a journal - writing every time I learned a lesson or made a mistake - would attract like-minded clients and collaborators. I also used it as a space to answer common questions, both to help educate others and to save me the time of answering the same questions constantly.
Finally, I started writing for publications. Like most good things, this happened largely by luck. I wrote a blog post on Medium that went viral and within 24 hours I heard from multiple outlets that wanted to publish a version of it (let’s be honest: primarily to get a hit of the viral traffic). Since I only had the one post, but three editors hoping to run it, I said yes to one and pitched the other two right then and there on related pieces. They accepted my pitches, and within a few weeks, I had bylines at three reputable publications.
I see your job with Big Cartel is writing-focused as well. Do you ever get burnt out on writing or content creation in general? If so, what do you do about it?
I have three distinct modes: creating, editing, and consuming. I strive for balance as much as possible. If writing isn’t working for me at any point in time, I don’t force it - I’ll read a book instead. Whether that gives me new ideas or serves as a mental break, it keeps me from hitting that wall.
How do you tackle writing? Is there a particular approach you’ve found that makes writing happen more smoothly or quickly?
I dump everything into my notes app: quotes, links, ideas, sometimes full paragraphs that I write on my phone. There’s no hard rule, but I tend to do this until I hit about 2,500 words. From there, I’ll whittle it down to under 1,500 words. Once I find a strong core, I’ll revisit some sections and flesh them back out. Then I’ll go through line by line and ask myself, “If someone quoted just this line, is it well written and does it say what I want it to say?” If I can’t answer yes, I’ll rewrite that sentence.
As an editor, I’ve learned that letting the piece develop naturally is the best thing you can do. There’s a certain amount of ego that comes with writing in the first place - the feeling that I have important opinions you should read - and an editor’s job is to make those opinions stronger and clearer. But you have to take a long view and be patient, only nudging the work in the direction it wants to go.
It’s easier to do that as an editor, when it’s not your own words, but I try to bring that mindset back to my writing process. It keeps me from getting stuck on ideas I love that aren’t actually that good, or from trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
You’ve had some big bylines. How did you end up writing for a publication like The Atlantic?
Luck. I sent an email and they liked my pitch enough to stick with me as we developed the idea and I wrote it out. I’ve been blogging somewhat seriously for a decade now, so I don’t want to downplay the time and effort I’ve put into writing - it took a good seven years before I’d even consider writing part of my professional identity. But luck played a huge part in it. My pitch wasn’t materially different from pitches I’ve had rejected or ignored dozens of times.
What’s different about writing for a publication like The Atlantic is that you’re working with sharp editors who will make your work better, so you have to trust the process. I don’t question or push back on edits, to be honest. I trust that they’re pointing me in the right direction and I get to work.
There’s also a healthy sense of pressure in that environment. When you’re writing for a publication that has published the likes of Frederick Douglass, Helen Keller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, it doesn’t matter how big or small the piece is you are contributing - every word matters.
What’s one tip you’d give other writers who are also trying to get published in “big name” publications?
Keep trying and don’t get discouraged. Publications you’ve never heard of have rejected the exact same pitches that big name publications have selected and published. I’m not kidding.
A rejection says nothing about you and what you can achieve. Have a plan for how you’re going to pitch your work, and when one option inevitably doesn’t work out, move on to the next one.
Bonus tip: Pick a lane that isn’t as competitive. Getting a response to a book review pitch is a lot easier than trying to write a time-sensitive piece on the politics of the day. Even if your work is political, which I believe it should be, you don’t need to come at your idea from the same angle as everyone else.
Thanks to Kaleigh Moore for providing this special look at Yeah Write Club. Every two weeks, club members (and members only!) will receive a new edition of the newsletter featuring short-form interviews with experienced writers, interesting writing gigs, and book suggestions to fuel your creative brain. Sign up now to get the next edition!