Words of Advice to Young People

Jan 7th, 2013 by Nicholas Pell in Personal

So my plan this morning was to write some ranty piece about something I hated. Then I got an email telling me that I’m going to be in one of my favorite magazines, which successfully deflated my rage for the day. It’s a small front-of-the-book piece, but a foot in the door — and another sign that I’m moving in the right direction.

A little over three years ago I was earning minimum wage making change at an adult arcade in Portland, OR. I quit that job to crank out Internet content at $15 per. In the span of three years I’ve gone from that to writing for some of my dream publications. I’m not going to drop the name of the newest one quite yet. Call it superstition, but I’d rather wait until the article is actually published and besides, I’ve already bragged to all those closest to me.

What impresses me the most is that I’ve, for all intents and purposes, “made it” in an industry that few know exists. Even fewer think it’s possible to make a decent living writing freelance articles. But I’ve done it and not because I went to the right schools or because my daddy works in publishing. I’ve done it because I work hard, have highly developed social skills and keep knocking on doors after getting told to fuck off 15 times. I’ve gotten some assists along the way, but basically I’ve achieved everything because I’m a good writer and possess a near superhuman tenacity.

As I’ve achieved some degree of success in a short period of time without much assistance, I now feel qualified to provide advice for those who want to become writers. In that spirit, here are a few “simple admonitions for young and old”:

  • Don’t Bitch: No one likes a whinger. There’s no faster way to get an editor to hate you than by complaining. If you have a different idea of a piece, offer it. If the editor wants you to do something you aren’t comfortable with, politely decline the assignment. Save the bitching for the bar.
  • Writers Write: How do you know if you’re a writer? You wrote something today. Getting paid rules, too. No one likes the guy who says he’s a writer but really just wants to drink Scotch and wear fedoras for a living. If you haven’t written anything today, you might be a lot of things, but a writer you ain’t.
  • Don’t Give It Away: The Internet is filled with charlatans and parasites who want to take your work and use it for free. They offer to pay you at some point in the distant future, encouraging you to live off of “exposure” and a “great opportunity” in the meantime. Fuck these people. Start a blog, own your own writing and never, ever give your writing away unless it’s to a bona fide nonprofit. They don’t pay their electric bill by telling everyone how great the utility company is; They shouldn’t expect to pay you with daps. Your landlord certainly doesn’t take that for rent.
  • Sycophants Win: Kissing ass has never come naturally to me. What does come naturally to me, however, is honest praise. When people do me a solid, I tell them. When I like someone’s work, I tell them. Effusive and honest praise goes a lot further than ass kissing — and lets you look at yourself in the mirror without shame.
  • Don’t Listen to Friends and Family: Your friends and family love you. They’re going to love everything that you write. Your writer friends will tell you when your writing sucks. You need that way more than you need people telling you how awesome mediocre writing is.
  • Edit Harshly: “Kill your darlings,” etc. First draft is never good enough.
  • Keep Many Notebooks: Always keep a running log of ideas you have. They might not be any good today, but they might be stellar five years down the line.
  • Read the News: I block out a portion of my day every day to read the news and keep current on events. If you don’t know what’s going on in the world, you can’t be a good writer.
  • Ignore All Advice People Give You: Advice that other writers give you about how to be a writer says more about them than it does about you. There are many paths to the golden city. Yours will be different than anyone else’s.

Now go out and land some assignments.

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