Austin Kleon and I, promoting literature.

On Wednesday, I was inspired by author/speaker/creativity dude Austin Kleon, our guest this week on Statesman Shots. In the mode of his new book, Show Your Work, and also because I’m trying to get back into the swing of blogging more regularly, I thought I’d share a quick post about a particular writing gig I scored recently.

As any freelance writer can tell you, writing for high-profile sites are like the pot of gold at the end of the blogging rainbow. We put our work out there for months, often years, shouting into the yawning void for anyone who will listen. We hope that one day, our words will fall on the right pair of ears, and we’ll be invited to contribute to The Hairpin, or This American Life, or Modern Love. Everyone I know wants to write for Modern Love.

The problem is, it’s often unclear how one makes the leap from blogging to uptown classy, website property writing. In my case, it almost always come down to relationships.

My latest gig is with The Atlantic, reporting for the health section of their website. My first piece was on Williams Syndrome, a condition that compels people to trust too much, and I’m reporting a piece now on the effects of capital punishment on prison wardens. I do most of my reporting with a baby on my lap, who nurses happily while Mommy discusses hardened criminals.

Now between you and me, the pay is just OK. But! The writing is still worth it, because I’m trying to expand my “beat” from Austin-y stuff to broader cultural issues: health stuff, sociological stuff, and sometimes TV stuff. Also, if you told my 25 year-old self – who would have been crazy thrilled  to get a byline just about anywhere, including your refrigerator door – that I’d get to write for The Atlantic someday, I would have died, revived myself, and died again. What I’m saying is, I’m not complaining.

So how did it happen? Here’s how:

A few months ago, I was part of a storytelling night for Austin Bat Cave. It’s called Story Department, and takes place once a month at Home Slice Pizza. I was very pregnant/hormonal/bloated at the time, but thought, what the hell?  This was probably the last time I’d get to do something like this for a while, with a baby coming and all. So I went, and told the story of attending a naked yoga class. (More on that in a moment.)

There in the audience was a fellow writer for The Atlantic, a guy named Jon Fortenbury. He wrote me after the event to say he liked my story, and we set up a coffee date / networking meeting of sorts to talk about freelancing. So we traded editor names over cappuccinos, then nervously pumped each other up over email for the next few days:

“Hey, have you pitched Salon?”

“Yeah. Haven’t heard anything. You? The Atlantic?”

“Same. Here’s what my pitch said. It’s stupid, right? It’s stupid.”

Writers are very insecure.

Anyway, fortunately – we both got accepted! So the moral of the story is: go on those coffee dates. With other writers, I mean. Mine each other for contacts, then exploit those contacts. It’s an economy of connections.

But the second, and what I consider to be more important, moral of the story?

Go to a naked yoga class.

By which I mean, your metaphorical naked yoga class. Keep your ears open for that irrational, scary experience that you would normally never do but would make an amazing story, then go do it. Exploit it for material. In absence of great connections / an impressive degree from a journalism school / an internship at The New York Times, I find that weird, unique, off-the-wall material can also open doors.


Wholly unrelated, but can we conclude with a baby picture? Can I exploit my child for your love and Facebook likes? OK, let’s do that:

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

In the words of my wise friend Jason Silverberg, “this is what I’m like now.”

  • Pang

    Sounds like everything’s coming up Tolly.
    Congrats on the new gig, and that baby is getting big!

    • Tolly Moseley

      <3 you, Pang!

  • Bre

    WHY HAVEN’T I MET THAT BABY YET THIS IS A CRIME (sorry for the yelling. I’m just – seriously it’s a crime.)

    • Tolly Moseley


      ;) She’ll be around for a while, so you’ve still got time.

  • Hipstercrite

    Woohoo! How do I read the The Atlantic article, Tolly?! The link just goes back to your blog. :/

    • Tolly Moseley

      That’s because I’m trying to imply that my blog and The Atlantic ARE THE SAME THING.

      Jk ;) So strange – I don’t know why that’s happening! I double-checked and relinked that hyperlink, but it’s still not working. Maybe it’s a WP bug. Anyway, here’s the link to that story:

    • Tolly Moseley

      Ok fixed it! Link works now.

  • andrea

    Yay! Thanks so much for posting this (baby picture included)!

  • peggykeefe

    I totally clicked this for the baby pic. She’s soo adorable! But I love your writing too, Tolly! Always fun stuff.

  • Leigh Ann

    I love this post. It’s all so true. I don’t know what I would do without my writer friends. One in particular who hounded me about a particular piece until I bit the bullet and submitted it to Huffington Post Parents. No pay, but I was able to reach a much wider audience than my lil’ ol’ blog, and reaching more people is one of the best ways to score more opportunities. Or so they say. I mean, I’m still waiting for them to come knocking on my door. I’m sure they’re coming though…. ;)

    Also, that baby is ver’ cute. Soak it up, mama! My twins are starting 1st and my youngest is starting her last year of preschool, and I pretty much want to cry every time I see a baby. Not enough to actually HAVE another baby. But, you know.

  • Kristin S.

    Great story! And it’s so true. You have to keep pushing and keeping getting inspired and let your tribe encourage you forward. Congrats.

  • Angie

    Tolly – I met you a year ago at the Vallecitos Mt. Retreat. We were in Erin’s group together – special ed teacher from Taos – Andy Goldsworthy book. I just checked in with your blog as I was reminiscing about the retreat with my friends who went this year. I talked about the glowing pregnant ladies! And here you are soul-bursting beautiful family. Congratulations! Nico is delicious.

    • Tolly Moseley

      Angie! I can’t believe I missed this comment five months ago!!

      You know, I actually tell people about you all the time. When we met in the yurt that one day, and you said that this week for you had been a gift of silence – because of your work not only as a special ed teacher, but because of WHERE you worked, on a particular school hallway where fights broke out a lot – that really struck me. (And, touched me.)

      It’s so good to see you here! Do you keep up with Tim Adams at all? He’s our buddy on Facebook. Sweet soul. :) Anyway, thank you so much for coming by! Nico is my little ball of magic!!