Jennifer Hill Ertmer

After reading last week’s issue of, and the article about various payscales offered, I felt perhaps it was time for me to tell you my own “success” story, of sorts.

Though I have no journalism training -the only experience I had with writing was in the papers I did for my college classes in which I generally got good grades. I learned that I enjoyed turning a phrase, putting words together in a fashion that was pleasing to me and to someone else. Two years ago this fall, I applied for a position at our local daily newspaper. Considering my lack of experience and training, I didn’t even expect to get an interview. I not only got the interview but was also hired. For five weeks, I really enjoyed trying to learn more about writing but then was told by my immediate supervisor and the editor that they wanted me to use a different writing style. Seems I wrote predominately in the passive voice and they wanted an active voice.

As one with little real instruction here, I had no clue what they meant by “active” versus “passive” but I tried to figure this out. Unfortunately it was to no avail and two weeks later, I was dismissed. At the time I was let go, I had an article in hand I had written on a topic I had suggested to my supervisor a week earlier (she had not liked the idea).

About a month later, on a whim, I contacted a local magazine and suggested this article to her. She liked it and published it in their March 2003 issue! My first sale! Needless to say, I was ecstatic.

After that sale though, I had some very severe medical problems – cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, etc. Then my back and leg went a trifle wacky on me, too. All this was compounded by depression.

Then, last December, while waiting at the chiropractor’s office, I picked up a little newsletter and began reading it. As it turns out, it was a new publication in this area that had just started up in August of 2003. I liked the content. I also liked a story in there and thought, gee, maybe I could write something for this editor.

I sent her two pieces I had written – one that had been previously published in the local daily paper and another “memory piece” about a quirky teacher I had in the 4th grade. The editor liked both pieces and published them in the January and February editions of the newsletter, respectively.

The editor offered to pay me a whopping 2 cents a word. But, it was steady work.

Since January, the only month I had nothing published in this newsletter was the month of April! In March, I did a piece about daffodils and the new meaning they have to me since they are the symbol for the American Cancer Society. In May, I had a piece about the “Spring Peepers” (those noisy frogs) as well as one on Memorial Day. June saw an article on the plight of coal miners fighting to get a postage stamp in their honor and a personal essay about growing up in a village segregated by ethnicity and religion. In July, I had a very large piece -almost 2,500 words – about old businesses that had operated in the township where I live years ago. In August, I did two articles about an old Methodist Church that has one service a year now (a Homecoming Service) and a nearby Catholic Church that has an Old Log Church that is listed on the National Historic Register. Currently I am trying to do a tribute type piece on the Catholic Church in my hometown in honor of the church’s 100th Anniversary.

I can’t begin to describe how much I have enjoyed writing these pieces! The articles that involved interviewing local folks were especially fun for me to write. And, although my finances were in horrible shape from being unable to work, the few dollars I received for my work was very gratefully accepted and much appreciated. The recognition and kind words I began getting from people around the community based on my work sure did wonders to begin to bolster my self-esteem!

Although at this time I am now on disability – due to the back problems mainly – and I can’t work in a normal atmosphere because I can’t do an activity for a sustained period of time, I can and do try to keep my brain at least semi-alive by writing these essay type articles.

After my initial experience with the local newspaper, if I hadn’t begun subscribing to and reading the various experiences of others along with pointers here and there on writing styles, I doubt I would have had the nerve to try my hand again at writing for publication.

But I have reached out and have seen a small modicum of success and ain’t it just grand? Oh, and I still haven’t figured out exactly what is meant by “active” and “passive” voice but my editor lets me write anyway and gives me free reign, too, in topics at times as well as in content.

Thanks again for providing this means to bolster up my confidence in my abilities.