Writing Jobs; Literary Style Icons
August 26, 2011 | by Sadie Stein
I would like to know how to find jobs writing, as someone very new to the field. I am unsure where to start looking. Some ads just look like scams to me.
We received two queries on starting out as a writer this week, as it happens—maybe it’s the time of year? I always think of “back-to-school” as a much more logical starting point for new ventures than January 1, personally. But to answer your question, to the extent that that is possible in a few short paragraphs? First of all, the necessary warnings. Making your living as a writer is hard. Obvious, maybe, but it bears repeating. My parents—and for that matter, my grandfather—wrote for a living, and stable isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind when discussing my childhood. I often think that if I had any other marketable skills, I’d do something else. And keep in mind that many of the great writers in history have done so while holding down day jobs. I’m sure the structure of regular employment—not to mention the financial security—is a real help to many.
But if you are serious about writing professionally, in any capacity, the best advice anyone can give you is to write, and as much as possible. Which is not to say you should go for any “gig” advertised on Craigslist; you’re right to be wary. People have different views on blogs. In my case, I found keeping a personal blog to be useful both in developing a voice and in forcing myself to be accountable to a readership, even if that readership was just my grandmother. I’d add the caveat, though, that you want to be careful what you put out there—this writing, as much as anything in your clips file, will define you both professionally and personally. For the pitch, think of interesting takes on things that genuinely engage you. Don’t be shy. Familiarize yourself with publications and Web sites and get to know their tones. Not everyone can pay much; that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile clip. Ask questions. Go to readings. Talk to everyone you meet. Keep in mind that there’s no shame in striking out—and you will—and that no rejection feels as bad as the knowledge that you haven’t tried.
What are some of your favorite author twitters?
I think we can all agree that the best writers don’t always make the best twitterers, and vice versa, but there are a few who have mastered both genres. (Is Twitter a genre? I’m afraid it might be.) Polymath Wil Wheaton—as one might expect from someone who exercises such economy of characters in the spelling of his own first name—is a Twitter star for a reason. Ditto the ever-entertaining Stephen Fry. Maud Newton is necessary reading for the reader. And Shakespeare (@WillShake) isn’t half-stepping, either.
Who is your literary style icon?
Fictionally speaking, I’ve definitely gone through phases where certain characters exerted undue influence. I’m no particular lover of Hemingway, but who wouldn’t be seduced by this description of Lady Brett Ashley: “She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.” Oh, and she also sports a fedora. (Not recommended for an undersized sixteen-year-old, in case the younger me is reading this.) If we’re talking literary figures beyond the page, the list gets even longer: Carson McCullers, Barbara Pym, and my personal inspiration for the years 2003 to 2005, Sylvia Beach.
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