If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do Something Else
“If you’re really serious about writing, do something else for a living.”
This is the advice I dispensed recently to a young, aspiring writer who had emailed me seeking guidance. Specifically, this writer wanted to know whether she should stay in her entry level magazine job in order to keep a foothold in the publishing business, or do something else entirely. I get a lot of emails like this, most of which I don’t have time to respond to in any depth, let alone offer an in-person conversation. But something about the tone and timing of this particular correspondence struck a chord, and I suggested we have a Zoom meeting.
In our meeting, the woman explained that the magazine that currently employed her was one she grew up reading and even worshipping; in other words, she had her dream job. But a few years in, she was finding it difficult to imagine moving up through the ranks. Many of her peers were leaving the magazine to work in things like e-commerce and social media. She’d always wanted to write, but she was also interested in other kinds of careers, for instance public policy work. What should she do?
My advice boiled down to one word: leave.
Leave what’s left of the “magazine business.” Dispel yourself of the notion that a job in social media or e-commerce bears any resemblance to what we used to think of as a “creative field.” Let go of the idea that the most of the publications you grew up worshipping (as it happened, the magazine where she worked was one I grew up worshipping, too) have anything more than trace amounts of the DNA that once defined them.
Moreover, let go of the idea that not working in a writing job means you can’t write. If anything, it means you can. That’s because if you’re a real writer you’ll write no matter what. And if you write well and have something interesting to say, you’ll probably get published despite not having high flying professional contacts from your magazine-turned-e-commerce jobs. After all, the only thing editors love more than great writers that everyone knows are great writers that no one knows yet.
Maybe I’m projecting (or flattering myself) but the woman appeared to take my advice with…