Pursuing one’s proclivity early in life is an important career move, particularly in the word industry. Here’s the story of a kid who bucked the advice of family and high school teachers, all who encouraged putting pen to paper, to strive for the big bucks a business degree offered. The consequence: no degree at all and 12 years in restaurant management, and a burning desire to see “Writer” on each of those year’s W-4s.
But there’s a happy ending to the story, one that will hopefully inspire those who sense that their dream of becoming a full-fledged writer is fading away. As a father, making the transition from salaried professional to hand-to-mouth freelancer was more a leap of faith than well-thought-out plan. As it turned out, those years I had considered wasted in the culinary field became my foot in the door. If you’re currently “stuck” in a field and see no possible way to pursue your writing passion, consider this former Pizza Hut manager who was hired on as a magazine’s salaried editor, overnight.
In the contemplation phase of this transition, I realized I had no clips to present, which was more demoralizing than an issue with my soon-to-be employer. Eager to build a clip file, I volunteered pieces to a local community college newspaper, covering speeches, luncheons, and campus construction projects. Armed with just a few articles, I began pitching ideas to magazines, hoping for at least one assignment. Little did I expect a trade pub that covered the pizza industry to bring me on staff. My word-working career took off from there, about five years before I had thought possible.
Two years on staff opened the door to traveling across the country to profile pizzeria operators and chain executives, at trade shows and, of course, eating plenty of great pizzas and entrees. After just two monthly issues with my name on the masthead and by-lined, I tried my hand at freelancing in another area I was interested in, landscaping.
The only two green industry trade pubs queried bit the bait, and, again overnight, I had work. These assignments came on a monthly basis, netting $600 in supplemental income. The real surprise this time was that my level of expertise hit the ceiling at mowing and trimming; all else was pure research and interviewing.
Other assignments rolled my way, thanks to the unexpected network that was established with my work at the pizza and two landscaping mags. Within two years after quitting my 60-plus-hour work week, I had 130 articles published in regional, national and international magazines, and one self-published book under my belt.
Two things I’ve taken from my professional writing and editing experience thus far:
1. I’ve found that persistence and the ability to push oneself to complete assignments before deadline (and submitting new ideas and leads for the next assignment at that time) wins editors’ attention. I’m proof that it happens on both sides of the information exchange.
2. Open the door to assignments with your own wisdom. If you’re a health nut, knock on the doors of consumer and trade pubs. In “Mommy mode?” Submit to parenting pubs. It’s amazing what writing relationships (and cash flow) will result in exploring your own interests!
Currently my day job is editor-in-chief at an international historical automobile quarterly. With continuing freelance assignments for various business and regional magazines and newspapers, this year’s W-4 will not only read “Writer/Editor,” it will also show almost double the income from two years ago.
Tracy Powell is a full-time staff and freelance editor and writer located in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He’s living proof that to be a successful freelancer, you don’t need to live in a big city or have a degree; just respect people and their time, and write, write, write!