Two framed check stubs sit side by side in my office. The first, for $5.00, recalls the first time I got paid to write what I love. There were numerous small steps that followed, and I often doubted I would break into the “big time” publications whose recognition I so craved.
Beside that first, tiny stub sits a reminder of the first time I got a large check for my writing. I compared the dates of the checks today, and it took more than two years of part-time writing to grow from nominal to admirable pay.
My early attempts at writing had a lot of “sort ofs” and “in most cases”. I also wrote in the passive voice. This technique distanced me from my subject matter, with good reason. I was doubtful I had anything worthwhile to say. I was always hedging my bets, and it showed.
How many of my pieces had I cut down to writer’s guidelines size, only to be rejected after all that slicing and dicing? Rather than throw in the towel, I wrote an article about what felt like my only writing skill: how to reduce your word count. It felt like divine justice to take that small area of expertise and write about it like the expert I had become. I was passionate about sending streamlined submissions, and I had done my homework: I read many books and toiled countless hours to be able to trim my work to acceptable size. And maybe I was not an expert author, but I sure could reduce a word count. I was confident in my skill.
Bingo! Immediate acceptance, and eventually a second full-length article with the same well-known writing magazine. In both cases, I was passionate about the topics, which led me to do my homework. And my homework made me an expert, which made me confident. Passion, homework, confidence: any one without the others is way off balance. Blend all three and you have a winning formula.
Katherine Hauswirth is a nonfiction author and essayist who lives in the shoreline area of Connecticut. Her writing credits include Byline, The Writer, The Writer’s Handbook 2003, and Pregnancy. An essay contest win led to the publication of her first book,Things My Mother Told Me: Reflections on Parenthood.