An interview with Daley Quinn: Freelance Journalist, Editor and Content Strategist
Daley, one thing I love about your work is that it always feels sincere and heartfelt. Can you give us a brief background on how you managed to find your voice over the years?
Thank you so much! To be honest, I’m still finding my voice through my writing. My mom is a former journalist and editor at the National Law Journal, has published a book, and is an all-around badass—I definitely believe she has helped me find my writing voice since I was young and has encouraged me to speak the truth, even if it will offend someone (which, in most cases, it probably will).
To find your writing voice, you need to speak honestly, openly and courageously—try not to be fearful of saying the one thing you know others are thinking but are too afraid to say. I’ve been writing for a long time, and what I’ve come to learn is that a strong writer, the kind of writer who makes you cry, makes you laugh, or makes you say “fuck, yeah!” is one who might fear the truth, but speaks it anyway. They are the ones who are willing to “take one for the team,” so to speak, and say what a lot of us are all probably already thinking or feeling but are too scared to admit.
The writers I love, like Cheryl Strayed, Rupi Kaur and even Chelsea Handler (some of her books seriously crack me up), each write about life experiences we are too embarrassed to share. I bet they have been fearful of speaking their truths, but I’m so glad they did it anyway, because their words are what set us (and even themselves) free, in a way—their words create connection through truth and vulnerability, and that’s what I try and aim for with my own writing and voice.
I know you’ve written for publications such as Well + Good, Women’s Health and The Cut, to name a few. What would you say is a trait aspiring writers should cultivate if they hope to make their mark in the digital publication space?
One trait I would suggest aspiring writers adopt would be persistence. If you pitch an idea to an editor, and they don’t get back to you after a week, you need to follow up with them about two more times (each time one week apart). If they don’t get back to you after the third follow-up, it means your pitch/story idea wasn’t a fit for the publication, and you need to pitch that idea elsewhere. Don’t give up on your idea—just be persistent about finding the right home for it.
I get pitches rejected or ignored every week, and if I wasn’t persistent about following up, I wouldn’t have a job as a freelance writer. Believe in yourself, because if you don’t, I can guaran-damn-tee you that nobody else will.
Another piece of advice would be to make as many connections with editors as you can. Whether that means following them on Instagram, commenting on their articles about how much you love their work, sending them a letter in the mail to tell them how much you admire their writing and would love to work with them, or meeting them in person, do your best to make that connection. Yes, you need some semblance of writing talent to get by in the media world, but, I regret to inform you, that connections are even more important. Try to build connections with editors in whatever genuine way you can—you want them to remember you (but don’t be too stalker-y haha!).
I teared-up reading your recent piece in Allure about your journey with your cleft palate. It truly felt like I was sitting alongside a best friend while sipping tea as she poured her heart out; there’s no doubt in my mind that other women born with cleft palates will feel so seen by you. Would you say that writing is therapeutic for you? What do you recommend to a writer looking to pitch personal essays of their own?
I’ve never, ever cried as hard as I did while writing that piece for Allure. I don’t think I realized how much I needed to write it until I did, with tissues piling up at my desk during the whole process. I wrote that piece during the last month of living in NYC before I moved to Boston—I’d been living in New York for nine years and I think, weirdly, writing this heartfelt essay was part of my grieving process in letting go of New York. I was living by myself at the time, and I think because I was solo and could bawl my eyes out without anyone seeing, I was able to write that essay more freely.
I wrote the essay during Jessica Ciencin Henriquez’s four-week workshop in NYC—I had been back and forth about whether I wanted to join one of her classes for about six months, and when I found out that her last in-person class (before she moved to Bali) would be the last month I was living in NYC, I knew it was some sort of sign that I needed to let go of my apprehension and fears and just do it. I wouldn’t stop talking to my boyfriend about how nervous I was to take this class and be in a group of other women who would be critiquing my work, but DAMN am I so freakin happy that I faced my fears and did it. My boyfriend said, “it might be scary at first, but you will be so happy you went through it,” and he was right—I was thrilled. Writing this essay was the most therapeutic writing I’ve ever done and it drained the shit out of me, but it was so worth it. I’ve never been more proud of a piece of writing.
My advice to other newbie writers wanting to pitch a personal essay would be that if you’re not going to put your heart into the essay, don’t write it and don’t try and pitch it to an editor. Before I wrote my essay, Jessica taught me to ask myself these questions (and write the answers down): “my essay is about when _______,” “what makes it universal is that_________,” “what scares me about writing/publishing this story is _________,” and “the three main characters in this story are ______, ______, and ______.” P.S. the characters in the story don’t actually have to be people—they can be places, things or even feelings, too. Answering these questions really helped me flesh out what I wanted to say, and also encouraged me to dive deep into what, exactly, was holding me back from writing about my cleft palate journey. Also, I suggest writing the personal essay first and then pitching it, rather than trying to pitch an idea for a personal essay.
As of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about what radical alignment means to me and how I can continue to reside in that space — even during uncertain times. How do you attempt to stay aligned with your own desires, values and, let’s be real, sanity, during the current COVID-19 situation?
In the spirit of honesty, because that’s what I’m all about, I’m not really sure I’ve been staying super sane during this time. During the first week of social distancing, I spent most of the time arguing with my live-in boyfriend over the dishes (I didn’t talk to him for a few days, no joke) and mostly just crying. The second week was spent stressing out about all the things I feel I need to do to “make the most of my free time” and “be productive,” and now we’re finishing up the third week and I’ve barely gotten any freelance work done. I’ve been waking up between 9-10:30am every morning, going to bed at 1-2am every night, my apartment is a wreck and I’m just trying to get through this pandemic.
Like a lot of us entrepreneurs, I think we all just want to be super productive and engage in hustle culture all the time, and it’s been really hard for me to let go of that and just chill. I have to remind myself that thousands of people are dying worldwide from this virus, and it’s okay to be scared, worried, and anxious, and just do what I need to do to get through the damn day instead of work at my peak performance level.
The things I’ve been doing to try and stay sane include working out most days, even when I don’t want to—it’s a form of stress relief you just can’t compare to anything else. And it helps me sleep most of the time. I’ve been really into The Class by Taryn Toomey, which you can stream online. I’ve also been doing Pure Barre and Obe Fitness.
I’ve gotten a little into watercolor painting and I also really love to color in a new coloring book while I listen to a podcast. It helps me focus more on the podcast for some reason. I’m taking a journaling workshop this weekend with a writer friend, Emily (I met her in Jessica’s workshop!), and I’ve been video chatting with family and friends a lot. My best friend from NYC sent me an ant farm (yes, really) a week ago, so I’ve dubbed myself the QuarANTine Queen and have been taking care of those little guys for the last week (yeah, I wasn’t lying about my recent insanity, y’all).
I’ve also been volunteering my time with this new group of ladies who are trying to connect doctors on the frontline of the pandemic with the media, which makes me feel like I am giving back in some small way—I think it’s important to help people year-round, but especially right now. This whole pandemic has opened my eyes to how much more I need to do to give back to those in need, not just when we’re all in a crisis.
Your favorite way to elevate your life your right now?
It’s been the small things, like putting my nutpods creamer into my boyfriend’s milk frother thingy and pouring the foam into my matcha green tea latte in the mornings, which has been weirdly satisfying. Waking up before my boyfriend (and yes, I did say above that I’ve been waking up between 9-10am, so I’ll let you guess what time he wakes up) and meditating for 15 minutes (I just did zivaONLINE and recommend) and then writing in my journal during the stillness of the morning. At night I’ll light my lavender-scented candle and write in my journal again (which I actually do twice daily—I recommend reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron if you haven’t already) or color in my coloring book while I listen to a podcast.