Friday, December 9, 2011

Guest Advice: Following Your Dreams

The next installment of Dicey December is on hold this week, because there's someone I'd like you to meet. A cool authorly dude with a can-do attitude who totally speaks my language. And he has something to say about following your dreams. Take it away, Mark!

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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!


  1. Our attitude is all we can control! I'm still not comfortable calling myself an author, but I can do it now. And the best thing for following any dream is to say "What the hell?" and just go for it.

  2. Great advice from Mark today. So glad you had him over for a visit. I'm all about "chasing your dreams." I am new to Mark's blog but it was a quick one to like. He is hilarious.

  3. Ohhh... I'm glad I read this this morning... verrrry inspiring! Thank you David and Mark! :D

  4. Great post! I love learning from others' journeys.

    I think the fear of sharing my work with others has been the biggest challenge/roadblock I've faced so far. That's honestly why I started a blog two years ago - to get used to putting myself out there and getting into the conversation.

    Now I'm querying and entering contests. Each time I send something out I feel a bit sick, but I've noticed that over time, it's less intense and goes away faster. I'm not sure it'll every be completely gone, but I do know that in order to move forward, we have to share our work and our time.

    Thanks again - inspiring post!

  5. This is a nice interview. I'm glad that things worked out for you and that you didn't give up. Having to start over right after failing at the restaurant business must have been really hard. I totally hear what you are saying about the fear of sending your work out into the world. I go through that every day.

  6. Great encouragement to end the workweek and enter the weekend. Wonderful post, gentlemen.

  7. I used to write every day and no one saw of a word of it. Not one measly word. Then, three years ago (well, actually it's coming up to four) I took a bold leap - and for me it WAS bold. As you say, writing is lonely and I'm not a great socialiser - and joined a writer's circle. I've never looked back. Now they read everything I write, they critique, I improve, and now I've been made web-copywriter for the company I write for, as well as publishing a novel on amazon.

    Surrounding yourself with other writers is the best thing any writer can do - no matter how experienced you are.

  8. That was such and awesome and inspiring post. Thanks Mark and David. The pic of Hawaii looks amazing.

  9. I enjoy reading Mark's blog a lot. He is always so positive and has such a love for life. He writes well and I can see him being successful in life.

  10. What a great post guys! And I love Mark's advice about attending a writer's conference. I couldn't agree more! I have two scheduled in already for next year! Whoop! ;)

  11. Aloha David,

    Just wanted to publicly give you a whole-hearted thumbs up and a huge *mahalo* for the opportunity to guest post on your awesome Blog.

    As a still-floundering and fairly new blogger, I sincerely appreciate you stepping out to let me in.

    I’ll leave a separate comment thanking some of those who’ve commented (type that three times fast…)

    Thanks again, and you cracked me up with the last line of the post… Hawaii looks great about now! Sure, we're a little warmer than Utah, but y'all rock the house when it comes to cool, snowy things to do!

  12. Aloha,

    It has been an absolute treat for me to share my thoughts and experiences with regards to "following your dreams," and I would like to thank ALL those who commented, including:

    @Alex: You’ve walked the walk and earned the title, so well done, you author, you. (Epic Ninja fail... I don't think so!!!)

    @Leigh: Mahalo, and thanks again for the follow:)

    @Morgan: Aloha, and mahalo for the kind words. (I’m following you to see how an author and mom of four gets through the day:)

    @Julie: Your fear sounds familiar! But, so does the feeling of we need to get “it” out there. Good luck with all your future efforts:)

    @Michael: Cheers for the comments and yeah, I sucked wind for awhile, (following the restaurants) but am *so* glad I went with writing… I’d hate to be in some other industry and still be wondering if I can write… Congrats and good luck with SLIPSTREAM

    @Angela: Aloha, and thanks for your motivating words, too… and happy, relaxing weekend:)

    @DRC: Aloha, and I very much agree with your comments about putting yourself out there and surrounding yourself with fellow writers. I’ve attended several writer’s conferences and *always* feel like a kid in a candy store – these people *get* me:)

    @Jenny: Many mahalos, but I claim no credit for the awesome pic… that’s all David!

    @Melanie: You are *too* kind, and a fantastic writer. Success comes to those who keep on keepin’ on, so I wish you the best success, too:)

    @Carolyn V: Aloha, and oh my gosh, you are *so* going to have a blast at the conferences… I really had no expectations going in, now I think they’re the best thing since sliced bread:)

  13. This is such an awesome guest post! I'm in need of a little confidence and motivation boost right now, and I think that Mark's post just helped a lot. :)

  14. I *love* this article! So well done and perfect advice. Thank you Mark! And thanks, David, for hosting Mark!

    I'm off to tweet and bookmark Mark's blog :)

  15. Attitude is so much of it. And good support.

  16. What an encouraging, inspiring guest post. Just dropped by, David, to say I hope you got your autographed book and to say thanks for always having been my friend, Roland

  17. Great guest post! I agree with all your points....attitude especially! Sometimes it's really hard not to get discouraged, but writers have to keep their optimism in order to survive!

  18. I really enjoyed this, but then it was easy to enjoy as I love Mark's writing :-)

  19. @ David: Mahalo once again for the honor of guest posting, and you are a rock star, sir.

    Some final comments I wanted to respond to...

    @Madeline: Thanks for the kind comments - and your words give me a boost, too.

    @Ali: It means a lot to get a compliment from a successful author and blogger such as you, so shucks, thanks, ma'am.

    @Jo: Say it *is* so, Jo! Mahalo for commenting and I love your blog name! Following along to read more.

    @Roland: Aloha, and mahalo for your comments. I am in awe of anyone who has made it to the author's table, and looking at your blog, you seem to have a great seat, so congrats with all you've achieved, and good luck in the future. (And, that goes for all the writer's out there:)

    @Kate: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I really appreciate it, and am following you now. These must be exciting times, and I wish you all the best with the book. (Golly, I wish I had been as clued in as you when I was 18 :)

    @Sarah: Thanks again for sharing re. the cup of coffee:)

  20. Very good points. You're so right about all of them. You need to keep believing in yourself and your writing.

  21. Very cool story and a great reminder to all of us!