(Photo: “La Chascona,” the home of Pablo Neruda in Santiago, Chile)
I have been a working writer for over 30 years. I started as a 10 year old, keeping a journal and producing a little home newsletter. I have been writing religiously ever since. It is not only what I do, but who I am. As a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, The Authors Guild, and the National Federation of Press Women, and with three books and hundreds of articles to my credit, I no longer need to prove that I can write. But I may, on occasion, need to prove, at least to myself, that I can still publish.
An important aspect of publishing is being active in the writing/publishing community vis-à-vis professional organizations, networking conferences, and academic workshops. Things change rapidly in this industry: magazines and newspapers come and go, as do their editors, along with freelance opportunities; the reading public’s preferences shift from print to on-line to social media; consumer trends create special interest groups and demands for new content information. Good writing and reliable reporting are constants, of course, but the marketing of that writing, and the way those “intellectual products” find their audience and get delivered, has changed dramatically.
For the first half of my career, everything centered in New York City. All the big publishing houses, the major national magazines, the best-known literary agents, the national writers’ organizations and, of course, The New York Times were all there. Lucky for me that I was too. Even as a relatively small player in the big city scene, I could easily pop in for editorial meetings, have lunch with my agent, or schmooze with fellow colleagues at big conferences. Yes, there were a few editors and agents in Chicago or on the West Coast, but only a few; mostly it was the literary and little publications that were out in the “hinterlands.” If you wanted to play with the big boys in commercial publishing, you had to make those connections in New York, and you had to be around to sustain those relationships, or at least be willing to make regular trips East to do so.
Of course, those very early years were pre-computer — pre-everything except the telephone. I realize I’m dating myself here, but I actually wrote my first book on a Smith Corona typewriter, and then typed and retyped the edited rewrites. I considered myself on the cutting edge of technology because my typewriter had a an auto-correct feature! Queries for articles were typed up one-by-one and sent to individual editors in snail mail. The biggest controversy, given how much time the whole submission process took, was whether or not multiple submissions (pitching the same idea to several different publications) were ethical.
A few years ago I relocated down to Southwest Texas and out of the New York area. Since then, I have not been pursuing national publication; rather, I have started this website and only done a couple print pieces in the local paper. While I am, so to speak, semi-retired, and not really angling for career advancement anymore, I still write. But when some younger members of the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) in the area started a Texas chapter last year, I was on board. Writing and publishing has, after all, expanded beyond New York, and we are, after all, one group, regardless of age and stage in our careers. Furthermore, there is some obligation for older members to lend their voice, experience, and support to the development of a new generation of writers.
So, I signed up for the first Texas regional conference. And I singed up for the “Client Connections,” which is basically a speed dating round with editors to pitch story ideas and get assignments. My contacts were with editors of local publications, San Antonio Magazine and Texas Highways, because, well … this is where I am now and this is what I know. Even so, I didn’t have high expectations, mainly because I didn’t have much confidence in my own abilities to still be competitive. Age and absence from the day-to-day hustle will do that to you.
Ironically, my “speed dating” sessions went well, so well in fact that I walked away with positive responses to several of my ideas. Now I have article assignments and longer-term proposals in the works. Suddenly I have more deadlines than I can handle. Now I have stress!This is what happens when your expectations underestimate your abilities.
It’s okay; it’s affirming. It’s even humorous. The one constant in my life, regardless of my other endeavors, has been my writing. It is my personal and professional identity, my mainstay, my salvation. I have been a teacher/college professor, a corporate employee, a fabric artist, a community activist and volunteer, a mother, a daughter, and a wife, but writing is what I do, who I am. As long as I am still doing it, publishing or not, I am me.
But I am glad to be publishing again.