Writer Profile: Jacy Topps
Welcome Jacy Topps to the writer profile spotlight!
Jacy is a freelance writer based out of New York City and Atlanta. Her work focuses on feminism, relationships, mental health, race, culture, the LGBTQ community, and politics. You can find her work in Slate, Glamour, Oprah Magazine, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, and Allure. When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying a glass of wine and binge watching Lifetime movies.
Jacy talked with us about the best and worst parts of freelance writing, how she got into the industry, what piece of writing she is most proud of, and more! If you are an aspiring freelance writer or curious to learn more, you’re sure to enjoy.
Big thank you to Jacy for joining us today!
Eight Hundred Words: What is something you can't stop writing/talking about?
Jacy Topps: I find myself writing a lot about the intersections of mental health and race and class these days. The last six pieces I’ve published focused on couples therapy, racial disparities within mental healthcare and how things like work discrimination, the economy, and relationships can impact your mental health. Whether it’s how I fit into the LGBTQ community or my relationship, I find myself thinking about the ways my mental health is impacted. I want others to know they’re not alone, so I’m telling my personal stories.
EHW: When did you first discover your love for writing?
JT: Honestly, I accidentally fell into professional writing in my mid-thirties. I never considered the profession until I was offered a position writing for a now shuttered fashion publication in New York City. The publication was impressed with my background in fashion styling and makeup artistry, so they offered me a position covering fashion and beauty throughout New York City. After a year of covering fashion, I ventured out to writing about food, wine, theatre, and culture for other lifestyle publications. Food, wine, and fashion weren’t the only things I had opinions about so I decided to dive into political and identity writing. I’ve been writing for almost six years now, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
EHW: What is your favorite thing you've ever written and why?
JT: So far, my favorite piece was the personal narrative I published on Cosmopolitan UK. It discussed how my partner and I came to the conclusion we needed couples counseling early in our relationship. I was so moved when Michelle Obama disclosed her and President Obama’s experience with couples therapy in her book. She talked so openly about the stigma attached to counseling. If married couples face that stigma, imagine grappling with that decision early in your relationship. So I decided to share my story. I’m so proud of the essay and it was well received.
EHW: What does the freelance writer lifestyle look like? What are your favorite and least favorite parts?
JT: Freelancing has its pros and cons. It takes time to build your name and portfolio so it isn’t lucrative in the beginning. In addition to that, freelancing doesn’t provide employment benefits, such as health insurance or retirement options that staffed positions offer. It’s such a hustle to make ends meet in the beginning of your career, and that can be overwhelming at times.
On the other hand, it allows flexibility in your schedule. You also get to dive into many different topics. Usually, when you’re staffed at a publication, you have a specific writing beat. There’s nothing particularly wrong with having a set vertical, but freelancing allows you to cover anything you want. My favorite thing about freelancing is being able to work with many different editors and publications. I’ve worked with various editors who have their own style of editing and each publication has its own voice. Those dynamics have allowed me to cultivate my personal writing style. My least favorite thing about freelancing is the inconsistency of work.
EHW: What's one place in the world you could go back to again and again?
JT: I was incredibly privileged to take a solo trip to Italy about twelve years ago. The experience was life changing. If you’re an avid traveler, I encourage you to travel solo at least once because it teaches you so much about yourself. My trip started in Rome and then I spent several days in Florence. I would go to Italy every year if I could because there’s something different to experience each time. Not to mention, the cuisine, wine, and art are phenomenal.
EHW: What unique experiences have you had as a writer of color? Any interesting stories to tell or things you've learned?
JT: I’ve learned that you must always be your own advocate, particularly when negotiating your pay rates and going after late payments. As a woman of color, it’s incredibly scary advocating for yourself because Black writers are already underrepresented in journalism and publishing. There’s always a fear that an editor or publication will rescind their offer. And unfortunately, I’ve known instances where white writers, who have less experience and lesser-known bylines, get offered more money for similar pieces. Writers talk to one another and the situation is far too common within the industry.
I’m definitely at a point in my career where I’ve turned down offers if they won’t pay my rate. I do take small startups into consideration if I believe in the publication and want the byline. But I’m no longer apologizing for wanting and asking for more money.
EHW: At the end of your life, what do you hope to have contributed to the world?
JT: I hope that I have told authentic stories that have resonated and helped people look at issues in ways they haven’t before. I hope my writing provokes thought and raises awareness about important issues to bring about meaningful change in the way black women and the LGBTQ community are treated. I want to have chipped away at patriarchal systems that have and still oppress so many people. I also hope my personal journey of overcoming the odds inspires young, black writers to push boundaries and go after what they want, regardless of naysayers or their background.