I spent days researching the article in the Boston Public Library, carefully making notes in my three-ring binder and using the copy machine when I needed to pull out quotes for the article. These were the days before laptops and email. I wrote the article on a typewriter (if anyone can still remember those old machines), and mailed it to the magazine's New York City office in a large manila envelope with four stamps on it. Today I thank God for email and word processing, the two most important changes in this writer's lifetime.
The two months or so waiting for the magazine to hit the newstands were filled with excitement. I received my check for $500 in the mail, and that was exciting enough. My first big payday as a writer. When the magazine came out, the publication sent me three free copies in a large manila envelope. I can still recall the pride I felt opening that package, flipping the shiny magazine open to the table of contents, and seeing my byline, the product of a week's work at the BPL.
That feeling of seeing your name in print, and thinking somehow that it's magically turned you into a writer (a "real" writer, not just someone who talks about writing and hangs out at coffee shops), is something that sustained me for months. I remember wanting to repeat that pleasure, and I did.
Like all good things, alas, that feeling of trembling excitement dissipates with time. You care less and less, and then want to be published in "better" magazines, maybe even become a contributing editor (I did this too, for "The Writer" magazine). Breaking into print is a milestone, but the journey never ends. You move up the food chain, although the print food chain has dwindled significantly over the last two decades. Seems to be just a few crumbs left now.
Like so many workers these days, writers have been pushed to adapt by the fast pace of technology and the ever-accelerating pace of global change. Want to make a living? Then you need to follow where the readers and money are going, which ain't traditional print magazines or journalism. I went from journalist to digital content provider, not because I chose to but because I had to adapt in order to remain relevant. I don't see my name in print much anymore, but I'm in the digital space now with every other writer making a living these days.
In many ways, the milestones are simpler for young writers now. You can start a blog and find readers in a day or two. Who needs to get ink all over their fingers or change those messy, old typewriter ribbons (ugh!). The costs of entry are lower, and anybody can find an audience online. I'm all for it, though it's taken me a while to embrace these digital changes. We all need to adapt or perish.
How have you had to adapt, dear reader? Share your experiences/comments below . . .