Interview with Katelyn Burns
Katelyn Burns is a freelance writer, sports enthusiast, and parent based in New England. We talked about authenticity, self-publishing on Medium, and growing a social media following from writing. To learn more about her work, check out her portfolio and her Medium profile.
How long have you been freelance writing?
I’m fairly new to freelance writing. My first paid piece went up in March this year for Harlot.
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How long have you been on Medium?
Again, it’s another new thing. My first article on my Medium account went up on January 18th. Writing is a fairly new thing for me, but it’s always been apart of various careers I’ve had. This is my first time writing anything organized in my own name.
Your work has appeared Sports Illustrated, the Establishment, She Knows, and more. Which stories are you most proud of?
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The last one that ran for Vice, a Girl in the Boy’s Locker Room, is my favorite right now. I knew when I came up with the pitch it was going to be really good. I had a great editor for it. Every edit showed everything fell into place. The story I always come back to is the first one I wrote on Medium. It was therapeutic for me about my intersection between being trans and fatphobia. It was the first one I ever wrote.
I expected about five people to read it. Suddenly, after I put it up, you wouldn’t believe 3,000 people ready it the first day.
I think there have been 7,000 people that have read it so far. I hear from many people, especially trans women, said that article inspired them to try to transition. I still get people who reach out to me about that essay, eight months later. That was the first time people reached out to me and said I should try to write professionally. I’m like, “well, I’ve only written the one thing, that’s not right,” but enough people encouraged me to keep going.
The second article I put on Medium ended up on The Cauldron by Sports Illustrated. It’s unbelievable to me. I couldn’t have imaged this, even a year ago.
Did you grow a following from your writing, or did you already have one prior to these essays?
The day the first essay went up I think I had 126 Twitter followers. This past week, I passed 2,000. With the Vice Sports piece, some powerful women in sports journalism helped me find the right place to publish it. The fact that these people, that I knew of them before, are now friends with me is awesome and weird at the same time.
Are there any drawbacks to freelance writing for you?
It’s hard to get a consistent paycheck out of it. I still have a day job that pays all my bills, so there are just times — like I have a piece due shortly, but I just got done with 10 hours at work. My apartment’s a mess, so I have to clean, so it’s just finding the time to do that consistently is hard. I took a little break to go away on vacation. I had a rhythm that’s kind of been broken now. It’s inconsistent.
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Do you see yourself freelancing full-time ever?
That would be hard. I think it’s more likely I’ll try to get a full-time writer job at some point. I don’t know. It’s one of those things I hadn’t planned out, but now I’ve tasted it, I want it really bad. The writing success, the transitioning — this time last year, I kind of had an idea I was going to be transitioning this year, but no formal plan of it. The person I was before was very distracted and lazy. The gender dysphoria was running rapid. I didn’t want to exist in life anymore.
What transitioning has done — writing combines with it — is suddenly give me ambition and energy I never had before. I actually have goals now.
My goals were to make it to the next day alive. Now, I’m thinking, maybe I can write for the New York Times. It’s really exciting and new for me.
What are some values and issues that are important to you as a freelance writer?
I always want to be authentic to myself. I’ve had a couple publications that actually reach out to me and ask me to write something specific, about the trans community especially. If it’s not something I agree with, I won’t accept the job, even if I really need the paycheck.
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I don’t compromise on trans-specific language with editors. I’ve had some of them try to change the words or headlines, things like that. Sometimes, it tests you. I will not write certain things or use certain words, no matter how much an editor wants me to, because I know how much it hurts. I’m followed 80 percent, I would say, by trans people. If I’m not authentic in upholding my values, especially with the trans community, why am I even bothering? At that point, I’m just writing for a check and that’s something I’ll never do.
Let’s talk about the writers that inspired you. Was there a specific piece of work that inspired you to take the path of writing?
There are a few writers I’ve followed, even before I existed online as Katelyn Burns. Katie Klabusich writes for the Establishment, so I followed her on my boy Twitter, which no longer exists. Honestly, it was a tiny account that I followed soccer and a couple of trans people on. I always like her stuff.
Then there was Jessica W. Luther, who has such great work on rape culture in college athletics. She’s a super impressive woman all around. When they both publish something, I never miss it.
It’s funny now because they’re both kind of friends of mine, not intentionally on my part, either. I remember Katie reached out to me after reading my fatphobia piece and I think shared it with her followers. When the Sports Illustrated piece dropped, we started talking more seriously and she was one of the people that said my writing was good enough to be paid for it. She made a big difference for me.
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What message do you have for the Millennial Freelancer readers?
Give yourself a chance to write what you want. Especially when you’re starting out, write from the heart.
That’s what makes good writing. When it comes time to start pitching publications, really, really practice the pitch. I had some excellent advice and my friend gave me an excellent template I use for my first couple of pitches. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take a risk with your pitches. Keep them brief. Describe your idea in two to three sentences. Write from the heart and get the pitch right.
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