While working for newspapers and magazines, I learned to work with editors. I learned what editors were looking for. I learned how to write compelling headlines and how to hook readers. I learned what topics were of interest to readers. I learned how to completely start an article over, even after thinking what I’d written was perfect. I learned to work with constructive criticism and when to defend my writing against over editing. I started to learn the sting of critical comments from random strangers. I learned that after publishing a cover story, there wasn’t time to sit back and take in the fact that my name was on the front page. Rather, it was time to get to work and begin researching and writing the next article. And I learned that when you place yourself in an environment that you love, when you thrust yourself into the world of writing and surround yourself with other professionals in the field, you are laying a foundation for your career. You are stacking the building blocks of your writing life.
I was terrified when I submitted my first article to the local paper. This was the first article I would ever be paid for and that meant something to me. I wanted it to be perfect (I hadn’t yet realized that perfection does not exist). I wanted my article to be amazing. I wanted it to knock the publisher off his feet. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to be so stellar that someone would call me up the day after the article was published and offer me a book deal.
Unfortunately, reality didn’t happen that way. Instead, I nervously submitted the article to the paper’s editor and an hour later he sent it back with a note saying, “This is not the article we talked about. This is a story about a cat. Please resubmit.” I was mortified. When I checked to be sure he was correct, my heart sank. Indeed, I’d mistakenly sent him a cat story; something I’d written for our non-profit newsletter. How could I have been so dumb? I scolded myself into oblivion before pulling it together and re-submitting the correct article with an apology for my mistake. My article published, I was paid, and continued to work for the paper, careful to never submit a random cat rescue story again (that is, until I wrote a commissioned piece on animal welfare). To be clear, I didn’t receive a call from an agent after that first published newspaper article. I wasn’t offered a book deal. Therefore, without a published book, I didn’t become an overnight New York Times Bestseller. Bummer. Nevertheless, I continued writing, because I loved it.
Starting small not only creates opportunity to learn, it also allows us to grow at our own pace. And mistakes, unfortunately, will always be part of that journey. But mistakes give us yet another opportunity to learn. One writers journey is never an exact replica of another’s. We are creatives and a creative life does not follow a specific agenda. A creative life does not say you must first do A and then move on to B…etc. A creative life, rather, allows us the freedom to discover our own steps. What works for one writer will not always work for another. Can we learn from each other? Certainly. We can always benefit from hearing each other’s experiences. But can we follow an exact model to success? No way. To be clear, we all have different definitions of success. To some, success is synonymous with fame. To others, success means financial freedom. Stop for a moment now and ask yourself, what does success mean to you? Be specific. To achieve success, what does that mean to you? What does it look like? What can you do to get there?
Why does introducing yourself as a writer change your life? Because you are admitting to yourself and to the world, what you are. You are making yourself accountable to your goal. By simply telling others that you’re a writer, you solidify to yourself that you really are a writer. It’s yet another form of positive self-talk; a small step that will send you forward. If you have yet to publish a book, you may feel reluctant to introduce yourself this way. If it’s the follow-up question you are fearful of, “What books have you published”? Fear not. Share with them the title of the novel you’re currently working on. Or share with them a blog, newsletter, newspaper or magazine you’ve contributed to. Remember, they’re not asking what you’ve published to belittle you, in fact, it’s often quite the opposite. They’re asking what you’ve published because it gives them more insight into you and your interests. We grow when we push ourselves to expand. In my book, Be Awesome: How to Live Your Best Life, I pose the question: when was the last time you did something for the first time? Here is something small you can do for the first time. Introduce yourself as a writer. And no, you don’t need to tag on “well, aspiring writer” or “I’m trying to be a writer.” If you write, you’re a writer. No need for add-on’s or explanations. You are a writer and you should share your gift with the world.
I remember coming out of my own shell, telling people I was a writer when I first began writing for the newspaper. My stomach did flip-flops. Hearing myself say the words out loud began an internal transformation. I am a writer? I silently questioned myself as I stated to others that I was, indeed a writer. And then eventually my self-talk dropped the question mark and became, I am a writer. As this private shift took place within myself, additional writing opportunities started to appear. Do what you love, believe in yourself and an amazing revolution will ensue.
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