A few weeks back, my boy Jermaine Hall asked me to impart some wisdom on an up-and-coming writer. Her name is Jenny. And she sent me this very nice email.
As you already know, I’m one of Jermaine’s friends (the harassing kind who always wants to know if he read her samples yet) and we also work for the same company. In a bid to help me, he passed me along to you.
A little background: I’m 20, a marketing major in Baruch, and the “alleged” Spring semester intern for TIME magazine. I can really care less about marketing, since it’s writing I love, but also a good idea, I think, to be practical when it comes to one’s future. Not everyone can make it as a writer and I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. However, I’d never forgive myself I didn’t try to succeed at what I am passionate about.
And so attached are two of my rough as sandpaper writing samples. The first one is from an untitled work that’s taking the most amount of my focus since I like where I’m running with it. The second sample is a sequel to my already published work, Late Night Alumni (vampire fiction – forgive me, not everyone’s a fan).
I’m not entirely sure what you can/will be able to do for me since Jermaine didn’t give me the most thorough history about you (you’re published, I know that much, and am in awe), but I think another person who has my writing, the better.
I honestly appreciate you taking the time to read them. It’s not every day I fall into someone’s good graces, so thank you in advance.
Okay. So did anyone else read the graf in this email that’s just all kinds of wrong? And I don’t mean in a grammatical way. Let’s revisit. She says…
I can really care less about marketing, since it’s writing I love, but also a good idea, I think, to be practical when it comes to one’s future. Not everyone can make it as a writer and I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. However, I’d never forgive myself I didn’t try to succeed at what I am passionate about.
I read Jenny’s email a few times before I even bothered to open the writing samples. I know that writing is considered a lofty goal. But she’s only 20! Still in college! If you don’t like marketing, screw it and be a writer. Not clear on what’s so hard about that. I wrote Jenny back:
I can definitely read your stuff. I ghostwrite celebrity memoirs, write fiction and write the occasional piece for Jermaine at King. So, our beats are not similar. But no matter. A set of eyes is always valuable. Give me a minute. If you don’t hear from me in a week, send me an email reminder…
P.S. Why are you majoring in marketing if you want to be a writer? If it’s writing you love, do it. Writing is practical. Majoring in marketing when writing is your true love is NOT practical. Just my two cents.
Jenny wrote me back, using words like “backup plan” and “inferiority complex.” She mentioned the writing industry being fickle and wanting to set up something “practical” just in case.
I’ve heard this sentiment often from aspiring writers. And it’s bullshit. What the person is really saying is that they are afraid. They are afraid they are not good enough to make it. Afraid to put themselves out there and actually try to do it.
I graduated from college with a degree in education and taught for two years before striking out on a writing career. So I know exactly what Jenny is feeling. But the truth of the matter is, a successful career in writing has more to do with tenacity than talent. Of course, you have to actually be able to string a few sentences together. I read Jenny’s stuff. She can do that. What she needs is confidence and the guts to go for broke.
Pitching editors is scary. Taking words that come out of your head, putting them down on paper and then asking other people to read them is terrifying. Every part of being a professional writer comes with a million make-or-break moments that can have you reaching for the Klonopin.
But it still pains me when a budding writer tells me she’s majoring in marketing as a backup plan for what she really wants to do. She’s 20. There is no better time to go for broke.
I told Jenny to stay in touch with me. I hope she does. I also wish I had some kind of magic vapor I could email to her. It would envelope her in a cloud of confidence. She’d march into the academic office at school at the start of Spring semester, change her major, take a bunch of writing and literature classes and then apply to the Columbia Publishing Course, where I got my start. And she’d get a job (maybe?!) at a literary journal or at an agency or a book publisher or a magazine and she’d love it and write on the side and work her ass off and get published and live happily after.
It could happen. Right, Jenny?