Writers: I Don’t Need You. I Need Your Ideas.

Recently I was promoted to editor at my job, and along with the added responsibilities (like editing) and perks (like being to able to make other people go out and do the stories I don’t want to do) of that role comes a slew of pitches.

I get pitches from PR people, from students, and from freelancers. Some of them work for me and turn into stories. Many of them don’t. I could go on and on about how PR people so often get it so wrong, but I won’t, because they are generally well-paid and I don’t feel that bad for them. 

The people I wish could get through to are the people who, just a few years ago, were basically me. They are the cold-callers. The desperate “I’m trying to be a writer” emailers. The “if you ever need anything please contact me” pitchers. The ones who give me so much information about themselves but nothing I could actually print or assign or develop. They are legion, and they may in fact be brilliant, wonderful, talented people, and I never ever call or write them back.

The problem, in my very limited and humble opinion, seems to stem from the fact that we are telling our current generation (myself included) of young people that to succeed in your chosen field,  you have to build your own brand and be proactive and grab opportunities. Those things are all true, but they leave out the fact that unknown writers will not get anywhere unless they have ideas and know how to present them to editors and other gatekeepers (or go right ahead and publish their ideas themselves).

When I moved to New York in 2008, I had the same idea. I knew I could “be a writer.” I just didn’t truly grasp what that meant, and was stumped at how to overcome the rejections and silence I received in answer to my applications and queries. I traveled my own circuitous path, paved not by a series of well-placed unpaid internships that I could hardly afford to take, but by working a different career and writing on the side until a new path opened for me. Well, it was more like, I took a hatchet and hacked my way through a couple walls to open up that path myself. And by “hatchet” I mean “student loans” and by “walls” I mean “the skepticism of everyone in my life that paying for a masters degree in journalism was a smart move.”

But it took me awhile to understand the depressing truth of all of us “aspiring writers” in NYC, and to come out on the other side and understand how to get past it. The depressing truth is that we are not even a dime a dozen. We’re more like a penny a hundred, if that. There are too many of us. Most of us won’t make it as professional writers. Most of us won’t see the light of publication beyond Tumblr. 

Those who do make it, however (and by “make it” I of course mean “are lucky enough to pull down a salary that barely covers your rent and can live through the constant stress of knowing that media is a dying changing business and is likely to throw you over at any moment”), figure that out. They figure it out and then realize that while they themselves are not in the least bit unique, their ideas may be. And instead of trying only to sell themselves, they realize that they can instead sell their ideas, their hard work, their experience. 

The takeaway to all you writers, desperate to break in somewhere, to get your name and your work out there, is to remember that editors don’t need “you.” They can find you anywhere. Don’t send a pitch saying, “I’m a writer, please assign me something!” Send a pitch saying “here’s my idea.” Write the essay, research the story, do the work. Does it also help to have clips and a reputation and a resume? Sure! But I don’t have time to read your clips and then dream up a story I can assign you, especially when I don’t know you. If you send me a specific story pitch that works for me, I can work with you. And I can usually tell if you’re a decent writer just from the pitch, by the way.

The flip side of all this is that the process at least tends to weed out the unserious. Some people aren’t great writers and don’t have the drive and perseverance to make a career out of it, and those may be the majority of people behind the vague, useless pitches I get. But I also know that behind a handful of them, there are great writers lurking - they just have to find their hatchets.

On Writing and /Writing/ and WRITING

I’m a writer. That’s literally my job, as a news reporter, but it’s also how I identify myself, at a very deep level. (I suspect most writers feel this way.) Lately I’ve been neglecting certain portions of that identity, however, and instead of moping around about it, I should probably just fix it.

While I spend much of my waking life writing, I have been slacking off on writing, by which I mean things like this blog post. Writing about writing, writing to develop a voice that might stand out, writing pieces that might get published elsewhere in order to expand my reach. The cross between my job writing, the writing I get paid to do right now, and my professional career as a writer, which should continue to grow and expand and get better, theoretically.

But then. There is WRITING. The serious kind. The kind that dare not speak its name lest  it gets mercilessly and correctly mocked by the Internet universe. 

Personal essay writing.


Memoir writing.

THERE. I’ve said it. Now you say, who in the name of Christ wants to read any more memoirs from 20-somethings? 

Memoirs, personal essays, creative nonfiction - they get a bad rap. There are just so many atrocious examples out there. So many self-indulgent, self-important, gaspingly naive terrible pieces of writing exist in these categories.

No one wants to be Hannah (Lena Dunham’s character) on Girls. She’s so consumed by becoming the “voice of her generation” that when an entry in her notebook inadvertently becomes the catalyst for the breakup of her best friend and longterm boyfriend, she asks, in all earnestness, “If you had read the essay and it wasn’t about you, do you think you would have liked it? Just as, like, a piece of writing.”

And yet, I want to become the same thing that Hannah wants to become, and do the same things she wants to do, just hopefully in a less douche-y way. It’s easy and boring to assume that you have nothing interesting to say and that you’re not edgy enough and that you don’t want to contribute to the over-saturated garbage memoir market anyway. It takes a bit of bravery to realize that NO ONE is actually all that interesting, and that good writers - ones like Sloane Crosley (blessed be Her name) - can take a normal, non-fucked-up existence and turn it into delightful personal essay fodder, based not on the depths of one’s weirdness and depraved experiences but on one’s utter normalcy combined with actual writing talent.

Sometimes I wish I was an asshat novelist who could get away with talking about “my craft” all the time, but I love being a journalist. Being a journalist means not taking bullshit, from others or from yourself, so by the virtue of my master’s degree and my current job, I don’t have the luxury of pontificating endlessly about the problematic nature of memoir writing. Which is what I hope will make me a better writer.

McSweeney’s Reject

Or: An Open Letter to the Person Who Stole My Red Leopard Print Sephora Makeup Bag from the Old Navy Bathroom, which was politely rejected from this excellent column, and now shall be shared here so that the Internets do not suffer from the lack of my wit anymore than they have to.

Dear Red Leopard Print Sephora Makeup Bag Thief,

I get it. I left it there. It’s my fault, really. But I’m genuinely curious - what moved you to take it, instead of just leaving it there, or giving it to the lost and found? Was it the shiny plastic coating, glittering in the fluorescent bathroom light? Was it the gold zipper - because you know that’s not real gold, right? The bag itself isn’t worth anything. It was free when my best friend and I flitted around downtown New York City for Fashion’s Night Out and got complimentary champagne, cake pops and makeup samples from Sephora, and now I keep it in my purse and think about that great night we had, especially since she moved to San Francisco and I see her less often now. We both have that same bag, actually. Although, not anymore.

Maybe you opened it to scope out the contents and realized that you could use the super absorbency tampon that was in there. Listen, go ahead, I’ll always help a sister out in the period department. Plus that tampon is worth 15 cents; I bought a 52-pack for $7.99 from CVS. Actually, now that I calculate it, 15 cents seems like kind of lot for one individual tampon. We’re not talking the fancy plastic ones, either. These are old school tampons. Honestly they work better. Anyway - I WOULD HAVE GLADLY GIVEN IT TO YOU. You didn’t need to take the whole bag, OK?

Probably that wasn’t it. Maybe you spied the scratch off lottery ticket from Pennsylvania. That’s fair. But if you had looked at it, you could see that I only won $2, which is why I haven’t bothered to redeem it. I guess if you’re willing to take a special trip to a gas station in Pennsylvania to get that two bucks, you’re also welcome to that. Still, you could have just snatched the ticket out of the bag and ran with it. So most likely that wasn’t the big draw.

Perhaps you were pulled in by the tiny fat yellow star figurine with a face. You probably don’t know that that’s a Baby Luma. My husband gave me that little star because when we play Super Mario Galaxy II for the Wii together, he’s Mario and I’m the helpful Baby Luma who doesn’t have to do the tricky parts but gets to collect star bits and fend off enemies. You most likely don’t realize that that star represents many sweaty summer evenings spent playing Nintendo® and drinking beer in our first apartment. That’s why the tiny star in my make-up bag.

Or maybe you spotted the equally tiny squishy plastic wolf pup, which I purchased along with a tiny tiger, a tiny dolphin, and a tiny meerkat at a toy store during a 24-hour double date with my husband and our friends. We didn’t plan it, but here’s what happened: Drinks and hummus at their place, then a birthday party at a hipster bar with arcade games during which I was first introduced to Instagram and vodka gimlets, then back to their place for more video games and crashing on their floor, then brunch with unlimited mimosas AND unlimited homemade pound cake, followed by an excursion to the flea market where I found snakeskin patterned cat eye sunglasses for $5 and my husband found old hardcover Star Wars novels for a dollar each, then shopping at a vintage clothing store, then a toy store (see above), then dinner at a burger joint that served Canadian poutine but none of us tried it. So yeah, it was kind of epic. I bought those little baby plastic animals for each of us that day. I highly doubt that any significance you assign to it (I stole this from the bathroom at the Herald Square flagship Old Navy store!) could rival the weight of nostalgia it already carries on its small lifelike back.

In all likelihood, you spied the MAC powder compact in there. That shit cost $27. OK. But my next question is, how pale are you? If you answer anything other than “translucent,” that makeup is going to be way too light for your skin and wash you out. Sorry. I’m Irish. And how much do you relish sharing makeup with someone who is not ashamed to admit that she has a very oily T-zone?

I guess you could use the Mary Kay lipstick in pink shimmer. That’s only $13, but you do have to contact your local Mary Kay representative to get some of your own. And pray that I don’t have herpes. I DON’T, but you don’t know that. There’s also a pot of bronze sparkly eyeshadow that my sister gave me for Christmas last year. Pro tip: brush it on dry for day time, or use a wet brush to get that really cool metallic look with heavy eyeliner for going out at night. You’re welcome.

I think there were also some bobby pins in there, I can’t be sure. Either way, I hope you enjoy them.

Listen, we were both shopping at Old Navy, i.e. neither of us has a lot of money. I bought a printed full-length skirt for $17.90 and I was thrilled with that sale price. Maybe you can’t afford nice-ish makeup and you just thought, Finally! Some nice-ish makeup for me! Thanks, universe! Or maybe you’re just a dick. I don’t know. All I can hope is that you didn’t throw anything away. I hope you’re using it. That shit is valuable.




SECRET STUFF - what’s this you say? really pumped about this book, you’ll see when it drrrrrrrrrrrops

This may or may not have come from the brain of my husband Tim Bungeroth and the pen of the amazing Mike Shea. More coming soon…


SECRET STUFF - what’s this you say? really pumped about this book, you’ll see when it drrrrrrrrrrrops

This may or may not have come from the brain of my husband Tim Bungeroth and the pen of the amazing Mike Shea. More coming soon…

Time Warner Cable and MSG Resolve Dispute - NYTimes.com http://nyti.ms/zRwWvW
The Gosling’s got nothin’ on AC.

Time Warner Cable and MSG Resolve Dispute - NYTimes.com http://nyti.ms/zRwWvW

The Gosling’s got nothin’ on AC.

State of the City, Twitterized

Because obviously having children makes you incompetent

Here’s a very sad case of an auxiliary bishop in LA who resigned from his post in the Catholic church after revealing that he has two teenage children holed up in another city.

From the article:

Throughout his tenure in Los Angeles, Bishop Zavala has spoken on behalf of working-class Americans, immigrant rights, ending the death penalty and reforming the criminal justice and prison systems. He also co-chaired Encuentro 2000, the U.S. bishops’ jubilee year gathering to celebrate and better understand the ethnic diversity of the U.S. church.

Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Bishop Zavala grew up in Los Angeles. He was ordained in 1977 and was named a bishop in 1994.

A man who wanted to devote his life to the Church and to social justice issues was forced to give his secret family the shaft for decades and now has to give up his work in the Church because… well… Jesus said that priests can’t have babies   it’s in the 10 Commandments  it’s too expensive for the Church to support priests and their families, especially considering the whole no-birth-control thing. There it is.

I certainly hope that former Bishop Zavala will man up and give his children what they deserve (a father) while continuing his work on behalf of the lowliest among us as a private citizen.

Style Section Recap: People Sleep Together

Today, the venerable New York Times Style section reports that sometimes young people in a relationship have sleepovers, that teenagers like to go to clubs and spend their parents’ money, and that the entire life of “a 60-year-old Macedonian immigrant” who “wields a subtle and steely power” can be handily defined by a few quips from the likes of Jennifer Aniston at what a great and discreet servant maître d’hôtel he is.

Also, oddly, Silence of the Lambs is referenced twice in the Style section today. Once in the above mentioned Tower Hotel story, and also, much more effectively, by Philip Gaines in the Social Q’s column.


I was the guest editor of The Atlantic for their next issue and designed the cover as well.


I was the guest editor of The Atlantic for their next issue and designed the cover as well.