Creative's Field Guide
+ Articles by Experts
9 Things to Remember If You're Serious About
Being a Writer
A little while ago, I was sitting around and assessing my life as
I often do these days, and I came to the realization that I had been
working as a professional writer for almost exactly 22 years. This
June, in fact, marks the 22nd anniversary of my first magazine publication,
Chicago’s Howling Wolf. Now, the great thing about this
realization is that I could look around at my life now and see how
much I must have fucked things up along the way, because believe
me, this is not at all how that cocky, fresh-faced 15-year-old published
writer I was pictured making a living as a seasoned professional
So with this assessment, I came up with a list of "Things I Should
Have Done" to shoot back in time to the earlier me to use as
a guidepost. Maybe someone else out there can use this list to avoid
some of the pitfalls I stumbled into myself.
- Don’t major in writing. I tell this
one to my writing students all the time. If you spend all your
time thinking about, talking about and breathing in the craft of
writing, and nothing else, you’re going to run out of things
to write about pretty damned quick. Read a book if you
want to know how to write well. Major in physics or become a government
spy, and I guarantee you will never run out of cool shit to write
- Take as much work as you can handle. Never,
ever, ever turn down work, if at all possible. If you’re
working on a project and someone offers you a second one, take
it—if it's a matter of giving up a little sleep or relaxation time
to get them both done. Every time someone asks you to write something—especially
if they’re going to pay you for it—take it, because
you never know how long it’s going to be until the next job
comes along. However, don’t completely give up on sleep.
While writing is lots of fun when you’re
sleep-deprived, sometimes the writing suffers.
During a two-month period in my life when I wrote two to three
articles every single day, by the end of it my brain
was totally fried. My writing suffered, and it's likely that I
lost work as a result.
- Never admit you can’t do something. If
someone asks if you’ll write a 1,000
word article about underwater hotels, for God’s sake, say
really, who knows more about underwater hotels rooms than
you after a couple of hours of Internet research?
- Listen to how people communicate. My best writing
research came from hanging out with homeless people by the beach
when I was a teenager, inhaling their conversations. People say
the coolest things, easily as cool as the stuff bumping around
in your head.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. This
is a big one for me, and every time I forget this one it bites
me in the ass. No matter how many times you get published in magazines,
no matter how many books you’ve had published, there are
going to be at least a billion people out there who have no idea
how you are. If you want a humbling experience, walk into a
Barnes & Nobles
and look at all the brand new books published by people you’ve
never heard of and will never read. And these are just the books
published by major publishers. There are just as many small presses
putting out books by the megakilo, written by people with a readership
base of 10.
- Don’t take rejection seriously. Your writing
is going to get rejected. Period. To put this in perspective, by
the time I was 17 years old, every square inch of my bedroom was
wallpapered with magazine rejection slips. Every morning, I woke
up to see all the people who hated my writing. I recommend
this practice, because once you get past the idea that you’re
going to get rejected, and you still want to keep writing and sending
your work out, your on your way to getting something published.
Even after 22 years with 9 books and over 4,000 poems, short stories,
and articles published, my acceptance rate for submissions is 1
piece accepted for every 10 sent out.
- Don’t stop working. Continue to check
in with your contacts. You want the people
who know who you are to know you’re
still writing, so that they will keep assigning you work when it
comes across their desk. You can stop actively asking for a work,
if you need a break, but don’t
turn work down if it’s offered. I was once so paranoid
that a column was going to be taken away from me by an over-enthusiastic
intern that I had my husband bring my laptop to the hospital immediately
after having a C-section, and wrote, edited and emailed in the
column with an IV drip in one arm and 24 staples in my stomach.
- Don’t limit your options. When I first
started out on my writing path, I only wrote poetry and fiction
and thought journalism was for preppy geeks. Man, if I had known
how much easier journalism
was than poetry or fiction, and how much more it paid, I could
have skipped the whole secretary-who’s-secretly-a-writer
part of my life. I could have just been a journalist who also wrote
poetry and got to write full-time.
- Always follow directions. You’ll
save everyone a lot of hassle if you learn to accept that
a 500-word-count limit for an article doesn’t equal a 700-word
story, no matter how brilliant your writing is. Don’t
fight with your editor over this one, because you’ll never
win. If an editor wants submissions saved in .rtf format,
or as scanned-in .jpegs, or even mailed in through the post office,
just do it.
About the Writer
Author Holly Day
lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and has authored or co-authored
a variety of books including "Music
Theory for Dummys," "Composing Digital Music for Dummys," "Insiders'
Guide to the Twin Citites" and "Shakira, People in the News."