Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.
QUESTION: Here on Live to Write – Write to Live, each of us is a professional writer who makes her living by some manner of wordcraft. You may wonder, however, exactly how we wound up doing what we do today. Where did it all start?
Jamie Wallace: Though I have always written, I have definitely not always made my living by writing. Far from it. I have been a sales clerk at a high-end jeweler, a retail buyer (of crystal and china), a project manager, an account executive, and a digital media producer. For most of my life, I kept my writing to myself. I considered it a private pleasure, not a professional endeavor. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and change that mindset! I have my daughter to thank, indirectly, for the fact that I am a professional writer today.
Becoming a mom was the event that inspired me to share my writing publicly. I was a first-time mom who was reeling from the initial tremors of divorce. After fourteen years of marriage and three years of marriage counseling, I was facing the end of my life as I knew it. I began sharing my experience through public journal entries on a little social networking site called Maya’s Mom. People read my stories. They identified. They commented. I suddenly realized that my words had a place in the world outside my head. Long story short, Maya’s Mom asked me to write for them professionally. It was my first paid writing gig and I was elated. About a year later, Maya’s Mom was bought by mommy blog behemoth, BabyCenter, and I went along for the ride.
It only took one tiny, baby step (pun intended) for me to start to believe in the possibility that I just might be able to make a living writing. Though by then I was divorced and working as a freelance project manager, I’d decided to make my living writing. I began offering writing services to my project management clients and within eighteen months had enough writing work that I was able to turn down project management jobs.
Today, I help clients define their brands by writing messaging frameworks. I write website copy, ebooks, case studies, research papers, manifestos, and more. I also write a bi-weekly column and the occasional feature for various regional publications, and have (finally) begun working seriously on my fiction. I no longer wonder if it’s possible that I might one day make a living writing my own stories. I just wonder how and when I’ll make that next leap.
Deborah Lee Luskin: My first paid writing gig was as a foreign correspondent when I was a senior in high school (I filed weekly reports with the local paper from France, where I was on a month-long class trip). But like Jamie, it was motherhood that put me into print as an adult. I was tapped to write for a Family Matters column in a local paper, columns people still remember, just as I remember thinking, Why has no one ever said mothering is really hard before? They had – and they still do – but the details change with the generations. In addition to the parenting columns, I also wrote grocery lists and policies for the medical practice I managed. I earned most of my literary income as a freelance scholar and teacher. But writing jobs kept knocking on my door, and I jumped at the chance to turn ink into income. My first big job was writing a medical book for a major medical center. More medical jobs followed. All this time, I was also writing novels and essays. Vermont Public Radio picked up the essays; my first novel was published; I was able to retire from management and devote myself to writing, teaching and public speaking.
Lisa J. Jackson: I got my first writing gigs in high school for the school newspaper. It was so nerve wracking to know I was writing for a public audience (instead of ‘just’ the class), yet I wrote about what I knew — the awesomeness of candlepin bowling, and the story came easily. It was published with my byline, and the bug bit — seeing my byline made all the anxiety beforehand totally worth it. I wrote more articles for the school paper, unpaid of course, but then moved on to college and contract work. I wrote a lot during various jobs, for pay, but no byline.
My first paid writing job was in the late 1990s writing for the local newspaper in a special segment that featured local businesses – if a business bought ad space, they had the option to also have an article written about them. If they opted for the article, a freelancer was needed. I applied and said I’d write about any business – so I landed auto dealerships, a garage door installer, ice cream businesses, restaurants, furniture stores — I didn’t care what type of business. And that launched me on my way.
I loved (still do) seeing my byline. My transition into a self-employed writer actually came about through manuscript editing, as a lot of editing work can end up being “re”writing. I kept writing for local papers and then a regional magazine while doing editing work, and eventually it forayed into writing for businesses. It was a subtle shift, and like anything, it’s always changing and growing as my interests and experiences grow. Most business writing doesn’t come with a byline, though, so I do still seek out public avenues for some of my work!