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How I Made $100 a Year as a Writer
by Phil Truman

It was 1966. Lyndon Johnson had perfected the sad hounddog look he regularly sent into our homes via Walter Cronkite's evening news, wherein he said (Lyndon, not Walter) something like, "We cannot allow the spread of Comminist agresshun. Therefore, Ah will continyuh to send more young Amurican butts to Vee-et Nam [rhymed with ham], not so much to stop ‘em, as to git in thur way." The spring semester where I attended college had just started, and I was safely protected from LBJ's clutches by a student deferment from the draft.

As an English major, I had to have a certain number of journalism hours to complete my degree and had enrolled in a "Feature Article Writing" class. In the first session the instructor said, "To make an A in this course, you'll have to write and publish a feature article. That's a feature, not some namby-pamby story or poem, so all you English majors who signed up for this class because you think you can write, had better pack up and leave now." There existed a great dislike between English and journalism majors at that college. Journalism students regarded English majors as effete pseudo-intellectual wimps, and we considered journalism majors as arrogant unkempt bleepheads.

So with two-thirds of the class, I gathered up my things and walked out, not because I didn't think I could write, but because the instructor was an arrogant bleephead. Withdrawing from that class changed my life in two ways: 1 - I missed out on learning skills for writing and selling feature articles, and 2 - by dropping the class, I fell below the minimum requirement to qualify as a full-time student, so LBJ's minions at Selective Service put me on the fast track to the Orient.

Fast-forward twenty-five years. I had re-kindled my interest in writing. Had even taken a couple of refreshers on fiction, poetry, and, yes, even feature article writing. I joined local writers' groups and attended conferences. I wrote and wrote and sent stuff out at a semi-furious pace, entered contests, composed queries, synopses, cover letters. I wrote short stories, poems, essays, even a novel. I got many rejections. Once or twice an editor wrote a personal note, some encouraging, others sarcastic (journalism majors, I figured). "Keep trying, don't give up" came the stock reply from instructors and successful writer acquaintances when I whined. So I did.

I offered to write humor columns for local newspapers. A couple accepted, provided I'd do it for free. For three years I did it for free. One year I won a contest for a short story: two hundred bucks. Another year a magazine bought a humor piece I did: fifty bucks. They never published it. Last year I sold an essay to a national magazine - one with a New York address - for ONE HUNDRED - count ‘em - AMURICAN DOLLARS! Then they re-wrote the whole thing and stuck my name on it.

Based on my observations and experience, here's how I figure you make money writing:

1. Be a woman.
2. If you can't be a woman, use a woman's name.
3. Write gooshy romance stuff.
4. Tell editors you're a lawyer or doctor or both (PhD's accepted).
5. Tell editors you're a Native American/black/Hispanic woman doctor. Tell them you're anything but a Euro-guy with a degree in English.
6. Stay in school and don't take drugs.
7. Learn to write feature articles.
8. Don't write humor.
9. Major in journalism.
10. Don't offer to write for free.
11. If offered $100 for something you write that they'll edit beyond recognition, take it.

© Copyright 1997, Phil Truman

Phil Truman's website is philtrumanink.com.

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