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In February 2003, I tapped my pen off a stack of papers, not sure how to respond to the next question on my final leg to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. The question was for my passport, and what I should list under “occupation.” I knew what I wanted, but I thought it better if I didn't lie. What if *they* found out? I’d be deported and sent back to Ireland – where they were just recovering from getting rid of me.
But let me get back on track. It’s frustrating for anyone struggling to get a gig with no prior publishing credits or “clips,” and how do you get clips if no one will hire you without prior experience?
So, here’s how I learnt my ABCs:
A is for “Attitude.” I mean yours, and yours alone. On 9/11, I was a divorced, depressed, and depleted restaurant manager who'd just quit his latest job to sell gold coins. Two years later, I’d published my first magazine article, and the only difference was my attitude. We can’t control the attitude of others, but we can change our world by staying focused and positive.
When I later saw an ad in a local Florida newspaper looking for Staff Reporters with two years experience and a BS in journalism – I had neither – my pesky lack of experience didn’t stop me from applying and earning an interview. I spent hours formulating that one-page cover letter. (My new bride thought I was drafting a letter to create world peace.)
But, I knew I had only one shot, and what I lacking in experience, I intended to make up for in passion (my future boss told me much later that mine was the best cover letter she'd ever read).
B is for Believe, as in believe in your talent and become the best writer you can be. This includes researching and self-editing.
Once hired, there was no holding be back, until my first red-lined article (I thought the editor spilled his ink pot on my pages - it was horrendous). However, I believed in my writing skills, but saw I needed more (better research and my self-editing was terrible.
For weeks, I worked from 4 AM to 10 PM until my schedule of seven articles a week became manageable. I learned how to research using multiple sources, cross referencing, and not relying on Wikipedia!
I also self-edited myself into the ground, then asked my wife to read and critique, and edited again. Eventually, I joined the land of the living and have never looked back. But, yeah, if not for my self-belief, I would have quit years ago.
C is for Critque. Why do we spend days, weeks, month and years on a project and then when it's ready, we're scared to show it to someone - aynone? (I think it's becase we tend to write alone, so the inner voice that says "this sucks" is sometimes our only company.) My first reader was - and is - my wife ('cos I know where she lives if she redlines me too much). However, spouses and/or trusted friends can be fantastic resources to help your writing along.
Here's other ways I believe writing can be improved:
Attend a Writer's Conference, especially if you are a wide-eyed newbie, or an established maker of muse in need of a morale boosting fix. I've had the pleasure of attending conferences in CA and TX, and, by far, the coolest thing is joining a white linen-clad table of strangers and not having to explain what you do - or why you're doing it!
Be Proud! Some may be embarrassed when they say "I'm a writer," in case of The Look, or ever worse, the dreaded reply storms up to the front of the room: "Ok, that's nice, dear, but what do you really do?" (Writer's Conferences can cure that, too.)
Use Social Media tools to start building now, and not when you're looking for an agent. (THanks to David, I'm guest-posting here after firing up my blog in September - a direct result of a seminar I attended during my most recent Writer's Conference.)
Write what you know. Yeah, yeah. Heard that one before. Next! No, wait, I’m serious. Sure, you’ve been told to WWYK, but say you’re a journalist with a large beat, or a freelancer looking for some fresh ideas. Why not research a topic you love, but don’t know much about?
Love history? Is there anyone famous burind in your local cemetery?
Love cars? Contact a dealership, write an article about a day in the life of a used car salesman - break some of those sterotypes - or not.
Love travel? Is there a tourist spot close by? Spend the day, speak with some of the vacationers. Where are they from? Why here? Why now?
Oh, and on my passport application, the one I filled out months before seeing my byline for the first time, I put down the only thing I ever wanted to be – once I figured it out:
Mahalo to David for the honor of guest-posting and may all your dreams come true.
Regards and aloha!
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That's an awesome journey, Mr. Mark Koopmans! And mahalo for sharing your experiences with us. I agree. Stepping away from your computer and meeting other writers is the fasted way to learn and grow.
You can check out Mark's blog by clicking here. His article skills are stellar! You won't be disappointed.
Tell us a little something about your writing journey. What's helped you the most in following your dream?
I'm David, and Hawaii looks great right about now!