Reading this entry in the journal of someone for whom I have the utmost respect as a writer, friend and all-around human being reminded me I have an anniversary coming up next month: it will be 23 years ago in May that I had my first magazine article published.
I remember it so vividly. I remember the simple suggestion of a story idea to an editor, a suggestion that received a "why don't you write it?" response. I remember the research, the phone calls, the visits to the subject. I remember the long hours spent at the typewriter -- yes, typewriter! -- stringing words together, and the tentative, nervous way I handled submission of the finished product.
And I remember the silence from the magazine, followed by a copy of the finished product. And I remember the check.
There was my byline, too, for 800,000 readers to see. The first of more than 1000 bylines, not counting several hundred shorter "anonymous" articles.
That was heady stuff, Jim.
It seems a long time ago in one way. The whole scene has gone to hell since, the victim of too many would-be writers jockeying for assignments and too many publishers learning that they didn't really have to treat us contributors with any respect. Pay well, follow the rules about "first-use" rights, pay on time? Not necessary. There's always some chump who will crank out articles because they love doing it.
I used to love it. My friend's words reminded me why.
Now, love has turned to the closest thing to hate. That might be temporary, might not be. I don't know.
The mentally speedy among you might wonder why I don't tell my friend to tone down the idealism and pride, prepare herself for the awful stuff she might face, knowing as I do that it can all turn to dung before you even know what's happening.
Simple answer: She combines far more talent than I ever had* with a much sharper perception of the joys and sorrows of the gig. I have faith that she can land wherever she wants to, survive and thrive in whatever conditions she finds herself. She is also, by training, experience and what I can only call sheer ability, more versatile than I.
I believed what I was taught as a child: do your best, and you'll never fail.
I'd still like to write. Should conditions allow me to do my best at it while eating and paying bills on time, I might well come to love it again. I'll go so far as to say I'm pretty sure I will. If those things happen.
The 23 years weren't wasted. Only the end result (as it now stands, anyway) stinks.
It was a good ride while it lasted, and my friend's words today reminded me why.
I just wish I could find the magic key to getting it to work again.
* This is neither false modesty nor unwarranted self-criticism. I am a damn good writer, considered so by my own reckoning and by some people whose opinions I consider worth listening to. I have an acquaintance who devours magazines from my field voraciously, and works with many writers in his day job. He says I'm one of the five best of the genre. I'll accept that.
But I know talent when I see it. I've hired talent. I have read a ton of her stuff, have even giving her minor help with a few stories, and so am qualified to say: she has talent. More than I do.
22 hours ago