Since I was a young girl, I knew writing was my strength and one thing at which I truly excelled. However, a lack of knowledge of the realm of possibilities for a writer in today’s world as well as some tumultuous teenage years and beyond threw me off of any solid path in that direction.
By the age of 33, I had worked numerous office jobs and trekked to California to try to become a screenwriter with absolutely no contacts in the industry. When that (shockingly) didn’t work, I took a job as an accounting assistant with a production company on the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood. I was drawn to the ad by the name – the World Poker Tour – and my gambling nature dared me to take the job.
I became a full-time employee, and the company grew by leaps and bounds as poker became immensely popular throughout the world. The WPT went public and became WPT Enterprises. Through it all, I became captivated by the poker players. There were lawyers and stockbrokers who had left their cushy jobs to become pros. There were married couples, former road gamblers, math geniuses, and college students in the games. And, I wanted to tell their stories.
There were some poker publications and websites taking advantage of what was called the “poker boom,” but much of the writing focused on game strategy. I wanted to write about the people behind the cards.
Having absolutely no idea how to start a writing career out of the blue in my mid-30s, I talked to coworkers in the PR and website development departments. In order to build a portfolio from scratch, I needed clips, so I began writing poker player profiles for the website, and stories about players for the PR manager – all in my spare time during evenings and weekends. When I had quite a few examples of my writing under my belt, I randomly contacted editors of poker magazines and websites to inquire about opportunities. And, I was almost immediately offered a part-time remote job as a magazine junior editor.
At that point, I took a huge risk. I quit my day job – the one with the health insurance and guaranteed paychecks – to become a full-time writer and editor. I took on more clients throughout the first year, and built a reputation as a solid writer who met deadlines, submitted perfect copy, and conducted respected interviews.
I have now been a full-time writer for more than a decade. Though the poker boom has since dissipated to a dull roar, I stayed afloat by expanding my range to include more gaming, Internet gambling, and poker-related legal developments. And, when times are tough, I take on SEO work, and expand my writing to include interests outside of the gaming world.
The key to a long career with a pen or keyboard is to focus on a topic, as niche as it might be, that interests you. And, pursue it like your life depends on it. Get to know people in the industry, meet them through conferences or social media…or poker tournaments. Expand when necessary, but have a specialty and qualities that make you unique and simply irreplaceable.
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Jennifer Newell was born and raised in St. Louis, lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for 16 years, and recently moved back to her hometown to be near family. She continues to write about poker and the gaming industry for publication on sites like PokerUpdate and behind the scenes for companies like PokerScout. She is working on a crime novel and pursuing a growing love of photography. Her website is FreelanceWriterJen.com.