Thursday, February 15, 2007

Help! My Writing Career is Haunted!

Ghosts really do exist. I should know. In my brief time as a writer, I’ve had the occasion to be one.

By now, you have probably figured out that I’m talking about ghost writers. It’s a fairly taboo topic among some of the writers I know, but I’m not ashamed of my experience among the legion of the unbylined.

It was about eight ago, just after I got out of school. Jobs were scarce (ok, non-existent), and I was getting frustrated. I had the skills, but not the clips or the experience to get myself noticed. Then an opportunity came my way.

I had interviewed with a company that made how-to gambling videos. Not exactly glamorous work, but hey, a job was a job -- or, as the case turned out, not a job. Times were tough, and they weren’t doing well enough to hire me full-time. But they could still use me.

This same company also put out a monthly newsletter and a weekly syndicated column, all under the name of the company’s founder. They needed articles, and since they knew from my job interview that I was a collector at heart, they handed me a book on collecting vintage slot machines and asked me to write an article.

I did, and they liked it so much they asked me to write another article on the same subject. They both saw print, sans my name, of course, but I got paid well (my first paid writing assignment) and I got some experience I otherwise might not have.

And that was the key. I didn’t need to know anything about gambling to write for a gambling column. I did the research, I wrote what I knew, I got paid, and I got two clips. And that helped me get more jobs later on down the line. It’s still a publishing credit that shows up in my cover letters sometimes, too.

So here’s the lesson from all of this: Any writing is good writing, whether it has your name on it or not. Every word you put to paper leads quite naturally to the next word. In my case, one article led to a second article, and then to other assignments, and finally to full-time employment later down the line. With every thing you write, you get a little bit better, and that much closer to the next sale.

Take the opportunities that come your way. Don’t worry about getting a byline or getting paid -- just get your work into print. Show people that you can write, and get editors to know your name. Every credit you get brings you one step closer to being a professional, one step closer to respectability.

And if you get a paycheck out of it, too, then hey -- you’re that much more ahead.

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