How to Make It As a Freelance Writer
Claire Carusillo is, technically, a beauty writer. But her ability to turn lipstick reviews and face mask musings into skewering social commentary and politically-charged call-to-actions has earned her a fanatic readership. Her work can be found on Racked, Man Repeller, and her compulsively readable newsletter, That Wet Look. The latter is on hiatus (come back, Claire!), and we’ve been missing her, so we hit up the freelance writer-slash-MFA student for her best life advice.
What were you like as a teen?
I was an anxious teenager. I worried about how I came off to people and grades and making it through the day without panic attacks. I had excellent friends, but I didn't like school at all. I often felt like I had chest pains or headaches and heart palpitations, and I would beg my mom three times a week to let me stay home. I was the editor of my school newspaper in high school, though. That was the only time during the school day I enjoyed.
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
I'd tell teen Claire to trust herself more, especially with friends, and only spend time with people who actively make me laugh. I'd freak out less about getting into college, because it doesn't matter and you'll find your people anywhere you go, even if it takes two or three semesters. I'd also say that not every chest pain is a heart attack and not every headache is an aneurysm.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally?
Blogs were really important to me in high school and college; understanding that it's not embarrassing or lowbrow that I like pop culture and makeup was huge. I read The Hairpin every day in college, and during the middle of my sophomore year, I emailed the editor Edith Zimmerman and asked her if she'd let me be her intern that summer. My sister went to college in New York at that time, so I slept in her bed with her and went to Edith's studio apartment to do intern-y tasks.
That internship was brief and soooo haphazard, but it helped me get other internships because I'd published a few things on that blog at a young age, so I had clips of my writing, which I've found to be pretty essential. I got a few other internships, including a horrible gig at a fancy website-slash-magazine.
Then, after a year in DC after college, I moved to New York for a job at a food blog where I wrote their tweets. I was really bad at that job. I didn't even have a Facebook. I quit that job to become a ~~real writer~~ and I'm lucky as f*ck that it worked out. I freelanced full-time for a little over a year, then decided to do grad school. While applying, I started writing a newsletter in my free time about feminism/capitalism/skincare. That got me a lot of paid jobs, but I have taken a hiatus on the project, again, to focus on school.
My ultimate goal is to be a novelist, but I understand that it's hard to make money doing that, so I'll probably continue writing on the internet in some capacity for money when I graduate.
What's one thing you wish you had known then that you know now about having a career?
Seeing your byline isn't as exciting as it seemed when I was in college. I don't even feel like I have a career right now, and most people I know don't feel that way either—even people who go into an office and work. We are all just figuring out what it is we want to do with our lives, and it isn't too late for me as a 26-year-old to start over 8 or 9 times until I get this "career thing" right.
What work advice do you have for teens or for young people just starting out (whether that’s an internship, or actual job)?
I'd say stuff like "get an internship!" or "publish online!" or "monetize your social media!" but that's overwhelming. What I'd say for now is talk to people. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee and ask for help. People are generally flattered when you email them and tell them that you admire them.
Also, believe in the girls in your own age group trying to realize their goals too, because they'll help you too down the line. I believe in shine theory, and every single opportunity I've ever gotten is the result of another woman throwing me a bone or taking a chance on me.