Emily Ladau: Freelance Writer & Disability Rights Advocate

Name: Emily Ladau

Age: 22

College & Majors/Minors: B.A. in English, Adelphi University

Current Location: Long Island, NY

Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer and Disability Rights Advocate

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work from my favorite blue armchair in my living room, writing, researching, and emailing my heart out. I am a freelance writer, blogger, social media professional, and most importantly, a disability rights advocate.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

Emily on Sesame Street.

Emily on Sesame Street.

If you want to get technical, my first job wasn’t writing-related at all. I appeared in several episodes of season 33 of Sesame Street when I was just ten years old. In the years since hanging out with Big Bird and Elmo, I focused on developing my voice as an advocate. For quite some time, my goal was to become an English teacher and incorporate embracing diversity and an attitude of acceptance in my classroom. However, mid-way through college, I found myself gravitating toward the idea of pursuing disability advocacy as a fulltime career.

Majoring in English certainly provided an ideal foundation because it gave me the opportunity to hone my writing and communication skills, both of which are huge facets of being a successful advocate. My skill sets and passion for activism led me to apply for a summer internship in Washington, D.C. with the American Association of People with Disabilities, through which I was placed to work at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. Not only did this internship prove to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life, but also it set me on my current career path. I was matched with a wonderful mentor who shared her wisdom on blogging with me, ultimately inspiring me to begin my own blog, Words I Wheel By. I’ve been blogging for nearly a year, and it has opened the door for all of the paid writing and social media opportunities that comprise my current work.

You've been published in so many places. How did you go about submitting your work? Did these publications seek out your writing? 

The first paid writing gig I landed was all thanks to a series of fortunate events. Soon after I began blogging, I delved into the professional side of social media as a means of sharing my work. After a couple months of connecting and interacting with other writers and disability rights advocates, a blog coordinator reached out to ask if I’d be interested in a volunteer opportunity writing a guest post on disability in the media. That process went so well that the coordinator put me in touch with one of his freelance bosses and recommended me to be a writer.

Once my first paid piece went live, I started to build up the confidence I needed to officially consider myself a writer. Since then, getting published in different places has been the result of both submitting my work for consideration and having people approach me. I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my pitching skills, and it’s still something I work on refining whenever I can. I’ve learned that the trick to a successful pitch email is to get right to the point, keeping it short and sweet rather than filling the page with flowery compliments.

So far, persistence has been key – with pitches, with tweets, with Facebook posts, with networking emails, with every aspect of writing. Everything I’ve done, successful or not, has been worth it just for the experience and connections. My favorite example of the pay-off so far is that I was offered an opportunity to write for The New York Times website via Twitter. The end result of that exchange is one of my favorite things I’ve written to date: “One Daughter, One Mother, Two Wheelchairs and Nothing Remarkable.”

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I was offered my first writing-related job by chance during my freshman year of college. There was a book response essay contest for the entire freshman class and I won. Part of my prize was dinner with the author and some faculty members, one of whom happened to be the director of my university’s Writing Center. We chatted throughout the meal and hit it off, so she approached me a few days later to let me know she had read my essay and wanted to hire me as a writing tutor.

Following a semester-long intensive tutor training course, I got to work with students from all over my school during tutoring sessions several days per week. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world, because it gave me exposure to immense diversity in writing habits that stemmed from different cultural backgrounds and learning styles. By reading the writing of others through a critical lens, offering guidance, and doing my best to help people comprehend an incredibly wide-range of grammatical and writing-related concepts, I was constantly motivated to consider my own writing and my understanding of the writing process in new ways.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life? 

I’ll be honest: since I changed career plans right in the middle of college, the real world intimidated me a bit. However, one of my primary goals was to make sure I graduated college with an already full resumé. All the clubs I joined, volunteering I did, and employment experiences I had during my time as an undergrad made it easier to transition to working after I graduated.

Also, once I realized that I wanted to shift my focus to advocacy, I began to explore possible options in case I decided to go to graduate school. As it happened, I took a year following graduation to focus on building my career, and just recently applied to a program that I learned about while I was still an undergrad. I’ll be pursuing an M.A. in Disability Studies starting Fall 2014 at the CUNY School of Professional Studies, and the program will allow me to continue my writing work as I earn my degree.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree? 

My first thought is, who am I to be spouting advice? Everyone will find a path that works best for them. That being said, I worry that far too many people make negative assumptions about what can be accomplished with an English degree, and I want anyone who’s ever doubted their decision to be an English major to know that there really is a world of potential out there.

In terms of practical advice, there are a few things I can’t stress enough:

  • If your goal is to write, put yourself out there. Create a blog, pitch material, develop a writing portfolio. It doesn’t matter if you’re still a student; the earlier you work towards making a name for yourself, the better. Even if you begin by doing lots of writing for free, you’ll be paid in the form of a wealth of writing clips to show off to potential employers. My blog serves as one big writing sample that I can easily present to anyone who may be interested, and I also have a separate portfolio page with a list of pieces I’ve written for other publications. This gives me credibility as an experienced writer, and provides Google with plenty of material in case anyone searches my name.
  • Social media can be a total rabbit hole, but it can also be your best friend. Some of my favorite work opportunities have come from simple online connections. It’s important not to focus only on one platform, though. I actively maintain accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and several other useful platforms (shameless plugs, I know). But the real point here is to diversify your social media outlets, because you never know where someone might stumble across your writing or you’ll find your niche.
  • Learn your limits. I find myself constantly wanting to say yes to everyone, but spreading myself too thin is just not fair to anyone. Saying no always makes me feel as though I’m being unfair to people when I have to do it, but when I have more time, I can write pieces and do work that I’m genuinely proud to call my own.
  • Most importantly, have faith in yourself. It’s super cheesy, cliché, and probably something you’ve heard a million times before, but it’s the advice that gets me through every day. Whenever self-doubt starts to creep in, acknowledge it, shake it off, and keep moving forward.

Visit Emily on her professional website and blog, Words I Wheel By. Connect with her on her Facebook and Twitter, too!


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