Interview with Rachel Charlene Lewis
Freelance Writer and Editor
Rachel Charlene Lewis is freelance writer, editor, and proud MFA drop out based in Carrboro, North Carolina. She co-founded the Fem and serves as an editor at Vagabond City. We talked about identity politics, pitching with confidence, and the irrational (but completely real) fear of running out of ideas. Check out her work on her website and Contently portfolio.
Your work has recently appeared on Teen Vogue, Fusion, HelloGiggles, and Pride.com. What stories are you most proud of and why?
I’m most proud of my recent work with Fusion, Teen Vogue, and the Frisky. I’m passionate about writing about my identities in a way that is both authentic to my own experiences and speaks to larger societal and cultural issues, and about creating work that my teenage self would have benefited from. These pieces accomplish that.
But we all know that Leslie Jones is lovely. She's the kind of person who takes a stance on issues that matters, and…www.teenvogue.com
When did you start freelancing?
I started when I was in grad school, which was earlier this year.
How old are you now?
Me too. What do you enjoy about freelancing?
What I enjoy about freelancing is getting to talk about whatever I want. So much of what I do is pitching my own ideas and not being assigned any. It’s cool to talk about and research whatever I feel like.
In college, I did internships (not exactly freelancing) where [I’d be told] “here’s your assignment for the week, go write this thing.” It was a good experience, but it was hard sometimes because I’d get a topic that wasn’t something I actually thought or agreed with, wasn’t something I found very interesting.
With freelancing, I enjoy having that control over what I’m working with.
What don’t you enjoy?
What I don’t like is that I’m always worried of running out of ideas. I don’t think that’s a real fear, but it feels like one. I have this notebook where I’m always trying to keep track of basically every thought I have throughout the day; I figure out how I can expand it and turn into a piece that I can sell. I’m worried I’ll hit that point where I don’t have ideas, I’ve talked about everything I’ve ever wanted to talk about.
It wasn't like I didn't know that there was something different about my nipples. The girls in porn didn't have boobs…www.teenvogue.com
Do you have any routines, rituals, things you do every day as a freelancer?
I work sporadically, which I need to tighten up to write more, because my schedule now is notebooks with a pitch in it. Before it’s due, I write the thing and go back to it at some point before submitting. I wouldn’t say I have a system, but I have a lot of notes on my laptop and on paper. I have a spreadsheet, that’s all over the place, but also productive.
What issues are important to you as a writer, whether you’re writing or reading about them?
As a writer, I don’t like producing clickbait content and adding to what’s already out there. Obviously, a lot of publications will keep recycling the same thing, and making sure their specific audience knows about an issue. But I only enjoy doing that if I’m putting a spin on it in some way, adding more background that wasn’t in the original piece. It’s important to contextualize things, especially in terms of identity. Something I tend to do enjoy doing in my writing, and what I try to do in my writing, is not just say “this person did this,” but more, “how does this play into identity politics and social justice things we’re talking about right now?”
During the first year I had sex I had exactly one orgasm. But, to be honest, I wasn't having sex . Mentally, I was…fusion.net
I’m also into highlighting marginalized voices. I’m really into the fact that so many publications want those voices, clearly there’s not as many as there should be, but I like seeing the calls for people of marginalized sexualities or genders, races, writing about their experiences. I don’t think I saw this as much five years ago.
I think that would’ve been helpful growing up, to have all of these articles to share with your friends to explain what was happening with you.
I definately try to write a decent amount of cheesy, uplifting, your-identity-is-valid pieces, because I don’t think there can be too many of those. But I also try to write a good amount of critical pieces about identity politics and push the topic further, combining personal essays with research and statistics, things like that. I think reaching to a different sorts of audiences is important to me, too.
Growing up, all of my best friends were white girls. Despite living in a predominantly black area, my neighborhood…www.thefrisky.com
You do a lot of writing, so tell me what you do as an editor.
If I’m editing, I’m mostly editing for Vagabond City, which is a literary journal I’ve been for about two or three years now. I’ve had mainly an editor role, which is overseeing the staff, working with the social media team, leading meetings. We only publish art, nonfiction, and poetry, so I work with those editors to make sure we compile strong work with a strong social justice base. We really try highlight marginalized voices. I do a lot of graphic design, which I’ve also done on the side as a freelancer, in a management and graphic design, WordPress-y role.
Also, I co-founded the Fem. For that, I do social media work and graphic design. I work with the co-founder for the brainstorming side: “Okay, we should make a blog, or Facebook group.” We work on big ideas and break them down into smaller tasks, figuring out how we can all split it up.
What message do you have for the Millennial Freelancer’s audience?
For me, the most important thing is not comparing myself to other writers and recognizing we’re all trying to do the same thing, but we’re all also trying to do very different things. The stories we have aren’t the stories that every single one of us will have, and it’s important to tell them.
Be cocky and confident and full of yourself. Put your work out there. Be thoughtful and critical of yourself, but there’s no reason to sell your work for nothing, to keep giving your stories away. If you want to be read, and you think it’s important, I think you should find places that would be good for it, whether it’s somewhere everyone reads or somewhere you and your best friends read, whether it has fancy titles attached to it or not.
Find a home for your work and believe it will get there.
Work hard and make sure they do.
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