Author’s note: On New Year’s Day 2013, Evette Dionne tweeted about Twenties Unscripted and, in short, the entire universe shifted. Evette has been beyond instrumental to my writing career. She has been a support system, advocate and unofficial mentor to me for some time now. In this Q&A, she opens up about her own writing career, how to best manage money as a freelancer and what she uses as an outlet when she needs to escape the grind.
Describe a typical day in the life of Evette Dionne.
My schedule varies depending on the length of my daily to-do list, but I almost always pitch between 6 and 6:30 a.m. I currently reside on the West Coast, so I have to be mindful of the two-hour time difference between Mountain Standard Time and Eastern Standard Time. While I wait for editors to accept or reject the pitches, I go for a quick walk to achieve some semblance of balance and then I’ll cook breakfast. I usually write from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., but sometimes I’ll write late into the evening. It just depends on the amount of work I’m required to complete that day. I usually respond to emails from 2 p.m. until 2:30 p.m., and I’ll tweet and Facebook during that time as well. After 2:30, I put the computer away, so I can enjoy life away from the writing grind. Anything goes after 2:30.
You’ve written for some pretty well-known publications including Clutch Magazine, Madame Noire and xoJane. How do you maintain your individual voice as a writer when writing for a variety of publications?
This is an excellent question. Honestly, I sometimes struggle with maintaining my writing voice. Graduate school significantly altered my writing voice, since academic writing requires a different lens and voice. I’ve been battling to resuscitate my writing voice in both scholarship and public writing, and I’ve been losing that war.
Every publication has a different need and a different readership, so I’m always mindful of how I can remain true to myself and my voice, while also insuring the publication’s readers are nourished. I always read an article out loud after I’ve completed it. That technique allows me to catch errors, like run-on sentences and such, and it also forces me to notice when the writing isn’t flowing as it should. I always say that my writing should read like a conversation between two friends. I know my voice isn’t coming through if the writing doesn’t flow like a convo. Sometimes I succeed at keeping my writing voice present in my work, and sometimes I fail.
How do you balance your public online persona with your own individual privacy?
Achieving balance has been one of my greatest challenges, especially since I do a lot of digital work. One of the coolest and creepiest things about writing publicly is that people tend to think they know me based on what I’ve written. I’ve had strangers call my personal phone number, which I didn’t realize was listed on the resume I posted to my website. I’ve experienced the death and rape threats, and had strangers leave threatening comments about my family on an Instagram post. I’m an open person, but I’ve learned that being open and writing about the subjects I tackle makes me vulnerable. So, I’ve created strict boundaries around my personal life. My Facebook and Instagram are private, and I don’t add people that I don’t have relationships with in real life. I’m also strategic about what I share. For instance, I experienced a break-up about two months ago. I shared that experience publicly because it was affecting how I was communicating online, as well as the work I was producing at that time. I felt compelled to share what was happening in my personal life because it impacted my public work. However, I’ve learned that everything isn’t meant to be shared publicly. That guiding principle has definitely helped me sustain my individual privacy.
What is the biggest misconception people have about working full-time as a freelance writer?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that a writer has to work within the industry and establish contacts before becoming a professional freelancer. While both of those things can be helpful, it isn’t especially necessary. The Internet is one of the best tools available for writers. Establishing a following through a blog or social media can catch an editor’s eye, and open doors that were previously guarded by gatekeepers.
You mentioned on Twitter that you often times feel saddled with guilt when you feel burned out from writing. What do you do to remind yourself that it (your freelance writing career) is all worth it?
When I am feeling burned out (as I am now), I remind myself that my words mean more to others than they can ever mean to me. Every time I receive a “me too” email or a tweet from a Black girl or woman who can relate to what I’ve written, I know that my purpose is bigger than my burn out.
What money management advice would you offer to freelance writers?
Never write for free, unless it’s a publication that will open bigger and more lucrative doors. I wrote for free and took unpaid internships, but I also had middle-class parents who could afford to support me as I pursued a writing career. Now, I refuse to write for free. Words are valuable, and writers deserve to be paid for putting their ideas on paper. I’d also tell freelance writers to create budgets, and stick to them. When I don’t write, I don’t eat, so be sure you’re writing enough to cover the basics and some of the luxuries. Lastly, I’d advise freelance writers to hire an accountant to handle taxes.
How have you learned to deal with negativity directed toward you online?
It has been a process. I didn’t have an online presence when I first began writing publicly, so I rarely encountered negativity. I was also able to ignore it because it wasn’t directed at me. I began being bombarded with criticism, threats and overall craziness when I began tweeting and Facebooking; it was so bad for a time that all I did was argue with folks on Twitter. I became consumed by the negativity, and even had spats with writers and editors who I respect and admire because I couldn’t differentiate between hate and constructive criticism. Now, I block out negativity. I don’t engage with folks intent on insulting me. I’m all for engaging about what I’ve written, but I know it’s time to disengage when I become the target. Constructive criticism sent from a space of love will always get a response from me, but hate never will.
Because you write for a living, do you ever find it difficult to write for fun? Is writing still an outlet for you?
Writing for fun? What’s that? Oh God, I miss writing just to write. I used to write fiction, but I can’t even muster up the energy to do that. I’m so exhausted by the time I’m done writing for profit that I can’t even begin to formulate an idea outside of that. Writing is no longer an outlet for me, unfortunately. Traveling is my outlet.
What advice would you give to young women looking to break into freelance writing?
I’d encourage young women to use the Internet to build their brands. Create a blog or a website; write and publish excellent content; and use social media to promote that work. Engage with editors and fellow writers on social media. The other doors will open on their own.
What’s next for you?
I love writing. Though I often feel burned out, writing is my gift, and it has made room for me. So, I’m going to continue writing about culture, race and gender. I’d also like to see my words on larger platforms and in magazines with wider readerships, so I’m preparing myself for those opportunities as well. At some point, I’d like to create my own magazine, and write a few books or a memoir. Those projects will take time, so I’m being patient with myself and with the process. Lastly, I’m preparing for my first round of Ph.D. applications. I’m a critical media studies scholar who examines the ways Black womanhood and Black female pleasure is constructed in media texts, like romantic comedies and hip-hop music videos. Immersing in theories and all of that other academic shit keeps my writing sharp. Plus, it’ll be dope to have an “expertise” of sorts, so I can use my dissertation to continue branding myself and my work. Other than writing and being a scholar, I’m simply living, loving and hoping I can overcome this burnout.
Evette Dionne’s work about race, gender and culture can be read in multiple publications including the New York Times, The Root, theGrio, xoJane and UPTOWN Magazine. She’s also served as daily editor of Clutch Magazine. Dionne is also a critical media studies scholar who examines black female sexuality and pleasure in media texts like romantic comedies and hip-hop music videos. She is based in Denver.