The 5-Minute Freelancer Q&A #6 – Paula Todd

In this regular feature, Story Board asks Canadian writers to share a few details about their work habits and their strategies for navigating the ups and downs of freelance life.


1. Where are you when most of your story ideas come to you?

I’m just about to fall asleep. And then in the morning, the idea’s more fully formed. I’ve always had this really strange thing I can do if I can’t understand something. When I was in law school during bar ads no matter how much I studied if it wasn’t coming I would think about it and then I would fall asleep. And I’d usually have the answer in the morning. No one wants to hear that! But I’m usually falling asleep and then I don’t sleep soundly, so the idea percolates. And just as I’m waking up it starts really going. I really hear it, I really think it. If I wake up, if I become fully conscious in the middle of the night and don’t write it down – I obviously keep paper by my bed – I would forget it. But there’s some sort of a thing — and I’ve probably trained myself over the years to do it — I have the idea as I fall asleep and as I’m waking up, I’m not quite awake but I’m conscious. And it’s in that strange half sleep that I start fleshing the idea out. That’s where the real coming together is, is just when I’m waking up.

2. What’s your biggest distraction and how do you resist it? 

Words With Friends. How do I resist it? Not very well. But you know what I do, I tell myself it’s OK because at least it’s about words and it’s using that same part of my brain!

3. What non-writing activity do you do to recharge your batteries?

I wish I could say I work out. But I would say I prefer ice cream over working out. I live in the country and the silence is really important to me as a writer. So I get out and I walk. I’m a long-distance cyclist so I’ll cycle. But, you know, to really recharge I read. I read the works of great writers and it inspires me to try harder. The first draft of Finding Karla was done in two weeks. I read two books during that. Because you’ve got to stop sometimes and get some juice from somewhere. So I read other people’s work because I love it, and the great way they’ve used their language or the great plot twists, it gives me fuel and I think “keep going!’ Yes, that’s what I do, I read. Because those other things don’t recharge me, because all I do when I’m doing them is worry that I should be writing. I read other people’s work and their accomplishments make me feel it’s all worthwhile. It reminds me how important writing is to all of us.


4. What’s your best strategy for getting over rejected pitches?

I had a really not-pleasant rejection about a year ago. I had a really good idea and I’ve published so much that I knew it was a good idea. And a publisher disagreed with me and said it wasn’t a good idea. So I thought “I just pitched to the wrong publisher.” So I won’t go back to them and I’ll just pitch my story until I find somebody who wants it. It’s taken me a long time to learn that rejection is often not about your work.It’s often about someone’s budget, politics, timeliness, or the fact that they’ve done the story before and you don’t realize it. So if you spend a whole bunch of time depressed about a rejection, you have just desperately diminished the probability that you’re ever going to get that published. What you have to do is pitch it as many places as you can – one at a time – and don’t give up. Because if you walked down the street right now and told your idea to 10 people there’s a really good chance that 8 people would say ‘wow, I would never read that.’ You’re going to meet 8 publishers who don’t see eye-to-eye with you. Don’t stop and brood. Go find somebody who does see eye-to-eye with you. Because you’ll have a much better publishing experience, too, if somebody loves your idea.


• Paula Todd is a Canadian journalist, television host, investigative reporter, lawyer, professor and author. Her most recent book, Finding Karla was the first breaking news e-book published in Canada. She is currently writing a full length non-fiction book called Inside Out, which explores what happens to our most violent criminals when they’re released from prison. You can follow her on Twitter at @PaulaTodd.


What’s your best strategy for moving on after you’ve had a pitch turned down? Share your strategies with other freelancers in the comment section below.

Posted on January 9, 2013 at 9:10 am by Rachel · · Tagged with: , , ,

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