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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

What Being Called a Bitch Taught Me about Freelance Writing

My first social work position was in a hospital emergency room where I sometimes had to be very firm with drunk or drugged patients who were acting out. I had all the training I needed to do the job, but I wasn't ready for clients to call me names, scream obscenities at me, or throw half-full urinals at my head.

After a few weeks of this, I went to my supervisor in tears and told her I couldn't take it anymore.

She then told me something I've never forgotten: "You know," she said, "given the clients you work with, if you don't get called a bitch at least once a shift, you're probably not doing your job right."

What an eye-opening concept. I returned to the emergency room with a whole new mindset. Each time a client cursed me out, I held my ground and reminded myself that the verbal assault was an affirmation that I was, indeed, doing my job.

Eventually, I developed a greater comfort level with my clients, as well as a thicker skin. I even started to joke with some of our regular patients, whom we called "frequent flyers."

"Why don't you call me a puta (prostitute) anymore?" I asked one of our Mexican patients who was wide awake despite having a blood-alcohol level that should have been lethal.

He clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Is no fun now that you don't cry no more."

"Come on, call me a name for old time's sake. I haven't met my nightly quota."

He gave me an odd look and muttered something that ended in "loco."

Meeting My Quota

What does all this have to do with writing, you wonder. A lot. When I first started freelancing, I pitched to a couple of markets and got rejected. Instead of sending out more queries, I gave up, lowered my sights, and started writing for the content mills. While I learned some valuable lessons from them, things weren't working out so well financially.

I turned to other writers for advice. "It's a numbers game," they all told me. Each "no" meant I was that much closer to getting a "yes."

Something in my mind clicked. Being told "no" by an editor is about as unpleasant as being called a bitch by an out-of-control client. But for now, it's part of my job.

In fact, I've developed a new rule. If I don't hear (or read) the word "no" at least a few times a day, it probably means I'm not working hard enough to build my career. Rather than a mark of shame, those "no's" are signs of progress.

By the time I left my emergency room job, I was on friendly terms with most of our frequent flyers. They rarely bothered to call me names anymore, and I had much more confidence in myself as both a social worker and a human being.

If I survived that trial by fire, I can survive this one, too. Bring on the "no's." I'm ready.  

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