As a freshman, my daughter Sierra declared Journalism her major in the School of Communications at Temple U because she loved to write. As a homeschooler, you get good at writing because you have to. As my children’s facilitator, I made them write about nearly every experience they had. I modeled by keeping a journal on our adventures and both children happily did the same. Every evening in the tent we laid there listening to each person’s individual take on what had happened that day and it was always entertaining and amazingly different. Both kids edited my magazine articles from about thirteen on up. And at the age of fifteen, Sierra began writing magazine articles and getting them published. By the time she entered Temple, Sierra had twenty-four articles already published. She was a good writer and not just because her mother said so. She had watched me practice my craft of writing her whole life. She saw that I was happy. She saw that it was very fulfilling work and she loved it too.
But her journalism teacher at Temple put a sour taste in her mouth for the occupation. She told the class, “I don’t what you are all doing in this major, Journalism is dead.” Sierra switched to Anthropology. I wasn’t too concerned that she wasn’t being true to herself. I told her, “You’re a writer, you’ll always be a writer, it’s who you are. It makes no difference what you get a degree in.” What her teacher said, however, made me sad because although it is changing, journalism is perhaps more important than ever. This comment was made years before Trump came into office and started tweeting about “fake news.” And besides, if a student loves to write, why discourage anyone from their dream. Because it is hard?
My husband is helping me clean up my studio so I can make the space to paint again. It helps me be a better writer, creating in a different way. I was saving extra copies of magazines from years past, thinking I might want to have extra tear sheets to send to potential editors. But I can’t remember the last time I did that as I usually send digital pdfs.
Todd took all of my magazines and created piles separated in years. He made thirty piles. That is how long my articles have been published. My first articles were with Backpacker magazine where I was a Contributing Editor for seven years. (That was after I had three books pubished! Came in the back way!) The amount of magazines was staggering. When I added up each individual story, they totaled nearly nine hundred. That feels like a successful life as a writer- a magazine writer. What was that Journalism teacher talking about!!
These days, I don’t hustle to get articles published the way I used to. At one time, I had 50 published in a single calendar year. Now, it is twenty and most of them are with a handful of my favorite magazines, as in Pennsylvania Magazine, my absolute favorite. These days, I would rather write books as I took a hiatus for ten years from book writing. I’m shooting for one book a year for the next FIVE years! Making up for lost time.
It was interesting timing though. At the same time that my studio floor was covered in magazines, I got a message from a Journalism major at Northampton College. She said her class assignment was to shadow a magazine writer on assignment. Since I was heading to Easton, a city near her home, to write a week-end get-away, I invited her along for the day. She watched how I interacted with folks I met, asked questions, took notes, shot photos, and discovered wonderful things about the town and its people that I could share in my story. We walked along an art trail by Bushkill Creek and I told her that she would have a happy life as a writer if she truly loved to write and communicate and if she loved that more than making money, because a lot of money is not in the cards for most writers. She said that she did.
I returned home from my press trip to Easton and gathered up my extra magazines strewn on my studio floor, only saving one copy of each. Twenty-five boxes were hauled to recycling. I done good, I thought.
Any writer can do well if they have something of value to share and they love to write. Follow your bliss. You’ll get published. 900 times proves it and I wasn’t even a journalism major in college but a fine arts major! You know what happened? I discovered that I loved to write. That was it. Oh, I still love to paint too and now with a wide-open space cleared out in my studio, I’m gonna have fun doing both.
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