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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
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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