WHAT 9/11 TAUGHT ME ABOUT MY FUTURE By John Peters

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Here it is again, September. Like so many people I know Autumn is my favorite time of year. I remember the first real Fall-like day of 2001. The calendar said it was still summer, but driving to work that day the cool air, the crystal blue sky dotted with a few wispy clouds all said Fall was here. It was, as far as I was concerned, the first day of Autumn.

Less than an hour later I was seeing images of smoke and flames pouring from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and hearing reports of a plane crashing into the Pentagon and another crashing into a field in Pennsylvania.

Everyone knows the story of that day, of September 11.

As a 14-year journalist I was itching to jump into the fray, to find some way to be involved in the biggest news event of my lifetime. Yet, having left the ranks of journalism 11 months earlier all I could do was sit and watch.

That wasn’t enough. I had long wanted to become a freelance writer, even before I became a journalist. But I had found every excuse to not do so. In 14 years of writing and editing and managing newspapers of various sizes, I had not once sold a freelance piece.

The events of Sept. 11, and the aftermath, pushed me to find some way to express myself. I submitted an essay to a public radio station in a nearby city. The good folks there called and asked me to come in and record the essay, then broadcast it a week-and-a-half after the terrorist attacks. Two more essays on other subjects followed. The station doesn’t pay for the essays, but I found such enjoyment in actually having someone else want my work that I braved the idea of rejection and began querying a few magazines.

I received a rejection on the first query but, based on my newspaper clips and the way the query letter was written, the editor assigned another piece to me. I’ve since written four pieces for that publication. I queried another publication, landed an assignment and have since written four times for that publication. I queried still another publication and received a rejection, but landed an assignment on another subject.

All totaled in the past 10 months 11 of my stories have appeared — not including the radio essays — in four different publications, and I’m working on two more assignments right now. The pay has been okay, too. One of the publications only pays about $75 per story, another pays about $100 for a story, the third one pays 40 cents a word, and one pays considerably more. I’ve also landed a part-time editing job.

I’m not making a living off my writing, not even close, but for me this is a success story. A success story in progress.

I was thinking about all this the other day when it hit me. I’ve spent much of my life dreaming of being a freelance writer, but not doing anything about it. Then, on that day, nearly 3,000 people had their lives cut short. Their dreams, their goals, their hopes for the future were all gone. The emotional aftermath of seeing that, of wondering what was next, of worrying what kind of world my children will be growing up in, pushed me to take the first steps toward becoming a successful freelance writer.

I wish Sept. 11 had never happened. I wish all those people who died had continued on, going about their business, pursuing their lives.

But, Sept. 11 did happen. And the best I tribute I can give those who died is to stop playing around and to start pursuing my writing dreams. That’s what I’ve done.

John Peters has sold articles to Virginia Business Magazine, Community College Times, Home Education Magazine, and Blue Ridge Business Journal. His essays have also been broadcast by WVTF, a public radio station in Roanoke, VA, and he is a weekend copy editor for the Martinsville Bulletin, a 20,000-circulation daily newspaper in Martinsville, VA.