When I first began to write, I felt as if I were talking to the wind. I typed up manuscript after manuscript and sent my precious words to bit time magazines. It turned out that I was the only one who thought they were precious. I collected enough rejection slips to paper a wall of my “office” — a corner of the family room where I had set up a card table, a portable typewriter, and a ream of paper.
I’ll admit that I was discouraged. But in a family with four children, a cat that had just produced six kittens in the clothes hamper, two large iguanas, a South African Jackson chameleon that lived in a fish tank and ate live meal worms, and my son’s pet snake — there was little time to mope. I decided to switch from the long-winded, academic articles nobody wanted to read and write, instead, about things I knew first hand — things that happened in my family and, likely as not, in families everywhere.
I approached the local weekly newspaper and offered to write a weekly column of short, family oriented pieces that would make their readers laugh — and sometimes make them cry. I didn’t ask for pay, and the editor said he would give me a chance. Before long, people began talking about the “Coffee Break” column that someone named Mary Robb was writing. The editor offered to pay me one dollar an article. I agreed.
Did I give my writing away too cheaply? I don’t think so. It gave me a chance to establish a pen name. It gave me an audience that asked for more. It taught me the discipline of writing for a weekly deadline. It made me search my brain for new subjects to write about. And — the biggest bonus of all — I began to use the seeds of these articles to write longer, more detailed stories that I sold to magazines for much, much more than one dollar!
Giving away my writing to a no pay/low pay market was the smartest career move I ever made. It showed me that focus is important and that writing about what I know pays off. It taught me that the joy of seeing my words in print outweighs dollar signs. And it gave me the self confidence I needed to keep trying.
I would do it all over again!
Contributed by Marilyn Donahue