“For a month, I slept in my car, on couches and wherever I could find a place.”
Just about everyone has a dream job at some point. When I was a kid, I was sure I wanted to be an actress. Before I even got to college, that idea was already a distant memory. Very few people pursue their dream careers all the way to fruition. And for those who do, it’s a lot of work, and no shortage of luck, getting there.
Danielle Bacher never hit the pause button on her ambitions. Through thankless restaurant gigs and even sleeping in her car, she stayed focused on the bigger picture. Today, she’s built a name for herself as an immersive journalist and columnist at publications like Billboard, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, Nylon, Playboy, Men’s Journal, Maxim, and Men’s Health.
Whether you’re an aspiring writer, or trying your hand at another creative career that can seem impossible to break into, Bacher gets it: she knows how difficult (and rewarding) it is to chase your dream career.
“It’s difficult to be a freelance writer,” she told me, “and almost impossible to make a career out of it.”
Bacher has been working as a writer since she was an undergraduate at Temple University, where she started as an intern at Magnet, an alternative music magazine in Philadelphia.
“I was lucky that the publication allowed me to write there,” she said. “Once I saw my name on a byline, I was hooked. I wanted more. It was like a drug that I couldn’t get enough of. I wrote about albums and concerts and even got to interview famous musicians. I loved every minute of it.”
After graduating and moving to Orange County in 2009, she was thrown headfirst into a position as interim music editor for the OC Weekly. She was responsible for 10 online posts a day and the music section in the print paper—writing much of it herself.
“I was used to staring at a blank page for hours on end when I wrote before,” she said. “It was a daunting, sometimes overwhelming task, but it taught me how to write really damn fast.”
Some people might recoil from so much responsibility but Bacher turned it into an opportunity. That determination led to a freelance opportunity with Rolling Stone. “That had been a huge goal of mine, and, once I got my first assignment, I knew that I could do this forever.”
In the spring of 2011, she moved to Los Angeles and began writing a column for LA Weekly, ‘‘Wild Nights,’’ in which she hung out with musicians like Dave Navarro and Jena Malone chronicling the un-scripted, NSFW experiences in a time-stamped format. Similarly, she had a column at Playboy called “Star-Crossed,” where she spent time with celebrities like David Lynch and Bob Odenkirk.
But her best-known work is a feature story in Esquire about her autistic brother’s experiences in the dating world. She had two other big scoops for Esquire that year: an interview with Angel Colon, a survivor of the Orlando nightclub shooting; and an investigative piece on Andrea Tantaros, the former Fox News Channel anchor who sued network head Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. “Sometimes you have to talk to people after a death, or in one case, I interviewed rapper YG after he was just shot,” she said. “I always want to dig deep with a subject and find something out that no one knows about them.”
Before all that, Bacher made a decision to go all in on her dream of becoming a professional writer. Most people who pursue a career in a creative field end up moving to cities like Los Angeles or New York. But scraping by can make an already daunting challenge seem near impossible (the average rental price for a one-bedroom in New York City is $3,100.) Though Bacher moved to L.A. (where an average one bedroom runs at a cool $1,730), she is the first to admit it wasn’t always easy. She decided to do it anyway.
“I came to California with no car, no money and no job. I didn’t even know if I was going to stay. I just knew that I wanted to see the country,” she said. “For a month, I slept in my car, on couches and wherever I could find a place.”
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]For a month, I slept in my car, on couches and wherever I could find a place. [/quote]
Bacher also supplemented her early writing income in Los Angeles with side jobs in local restaurants, a path familiar to countless aspiring actors and musicians.
She now supports herself writing full-time, able to take the writing assignments she cares about, not just whatever pays the bills. Her recent work includes cover stories in which she literally grapples with actor Charlie Hunnum and tackles eating disorders with Gabby Sidibe, reporting on Kesha’s saga for Billboard and writing a tell all about singer Chris Brown’s alleged drug addiction.
“I haven’t served at a restaurant for two years, and solely live off of my writing,” she said. “I struggled a lot, but I wasn’t ever willing to give up. I like to look back and think how far I have come.”
Two pieces of advice Bacher offers are to never turn down an assignment and to make writing, or whatever your dream career is, your full-time job as soon as you are able to.
“If you are just starting out, pitch ideas. It’s okay if you haven’t written before. As long as you have a great idea, an editor can work with you,” she said. “I think it’s important to set goals for yourself each year and try to meet them. Once you have accomplished your goal, it’s great to set new ones. You should never feel defeated.”
Pursuing the goal of writing full-time is risky, and leaving a secure job can be scary. Esquire writer-at-large Mike Sager encouraged her to quit her restaurant jobs in order to focus full-time on her writing—a risk that allowed her the time to pursue bigger stories.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Anytime you are writing, you are perfecting your craft and becoming a better writer. [/quote]
“I think it’s important to budget your finances,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with having a side job, but I’ve learned the best way to be successful is to do your career full-time as soon as it’s feasible. The money will eventually come.”
The time required to write without the guarantee of any monetary kickback, is significant. “I believe that the practice comes from actually going out and doing the work,” she said. “At first, I wasn’t concerned about the money. I knew that I had to work hard to make a name for myself. Being successful is not just about being financially stable, though. Most importantly, have fun. You have to always love what you do.”