On October 24, my good friend Angie Johnson and I presented some writing tips to a group of English and communications students at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minn. Angie teaches at Bethany, so does her husband, Lars, and I spent three semesters teaching there a few years ago.
When you were young (or if you are still young!), did you go to various presentations and panels about writing? I did. When I was in college I was on the path to becoming a journalist. I lapped up anything that practicing journalists had to say about the profession. One presentation that stands out after all these years is one given by Pat Kessler of WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. Pat Kessler! A real-life TV journalist! I typed up his “top tips for aspiring journalists” and posted them near my keyboard when I got a job at The Mankato Free Press. Somewhere I’m sure I still have them. I remember things like, “be curious” and “don’t ask permission.”
It’s a little strange to be on the other side of things more than 15 years later. Maybe it’s because I remember so well what it was like to be in the shoes of those Bethany students. A part of me still feels like them. And a part of me is still like them. I have so much to learn yet, and I can’t help but feeling a bit fraudulent saying “this is how it is.” But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, “for the past 15 years, this has been my experience, and maybe my experience can help you a bit.”
Here’s what Angie and I came up with for tips. Let me know what you think!
– Create and keep an up-to-date “dump” resume/CV
– Create and keep an up-to-date bio
– Start getting experience doing anything and everything related to writing/communications, no matter how tenuous it may seem
– Create a generic cover letter that you can tweak and update for potential jobs
– Proofread everything! Have friends/family look over your job search materials. Make sure names are spelled correctly!
– After working with an editor, publisher, or any other professional… THANK THEM (in a professional manner of course – don’t send a singing telegram)
– Know this: unless you marry rich (and we’re not just talking to the ladies), you will need a job to support your writing habit
Stay Connected and Promote Yourself
– Facebook (ahem… Angie)
– Twitter—a great way to connect with writers, editors, publishers
– Create your own webpage (a great place to keep your CV and bio) (ahem… Angie)
– Maintain a focused blog
– Find other writers with who(m) to commiserate (local or online)
– Join professional groups: AWP, The Loft
– Magazines: Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest
– Subscribe to one or two choice literary journals (go to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses website for a list of journals)
– It’s hard to say “no” to employers, because you never know when they’re going to contact you again. However, but you’ve got to know your limits.
– If you put everything into your writing life, you’ll lose it (Rachael is a runner and snowbird; Angie is an official Kid Cheerleader and jealous of Rachael who is a snowbird).
– Keep negative people out of your light. If you’re a negative person, fix it. Or don’t. Maybe you’re the next Cormac McCarthy.
– Writing should not come at the expense of relationships. Know your priorities.
Read and most importantly (drum roll)… WRITE.
– If you’re interested in writing genre fiction, read genre fiction
– If you’re interested in writing poetry, read poetry
– If you’re interested in writing nonfiction, read (another drum roll)… nonfiction
– Find one or two good “how to” books, but resist the temptation to constantly read about “how to write” without actually sitting down to write yourself (ahem….Rachael)
– Write. Sit your tookis in the chair and write. No excuses. No theorizing. Write. Theorize later (ahem… Lars). Live by the Nike slogan: Just Do It.
– Become a ruthless editor