I’ll never forget my first published article, an essay for the now out of circulation Victoria Magazine. It was called Of Horses and Dreams and I received a check for a whopping $100 bucks. It might as well have been a million bucks for the way it made me feel. The piece represented so much—the combination of two passions, the resurrection of a once dead dream of being a *real* writer, and, less romantic, hours of rewriting and numerous rejection letters. Almost ten years later, I’m an editor working with writers and it feels surreal. Along a journey of numerous publications in regional and national magazines, newspapers, and books, there have been many setbacks and a lot of disappointment. I’ve learned some things along the way about the publishing world and am indebted to those--including a few editors--who a became valuable mentors and helped me build writing “muscle.” I’ve only been editor of the Northwest Horse Source for a couple of months, but I’m enjoying being on the “other side” because I know how it feels to want to write so badly and put yourself on the line. Repeatedly. I hope to be an encouragement to aspiring writers in this new venture.
A not-so-fun part of this gig is working with entitled wannabes. Recently I received a note from someone who felt unfairly treated because we did not jump at the chance to use their material. It is for this person--and aspiring wordsmiths everywhere--that I dedicate this post with the sincere hope that genuine writers (and you don't have to be published to be one) will never give up. What do writing, riding, and Jennifer Beals have in common? More than you think.
Know that writing isn’t for wimps, whiners, or the thin-skinned. “Freelance writers” are a dime a dozen and the publishing world owes you nothing. Writing is like any other creative discipline, it takes a lot of practice and a teachable spirit to become good. Not unlike working with horses, actually. Putting a horse in your pasture doesn’t make you a horseman any more than the knowledge of how to write a sentence makes you a writer. Working on your high school paper or producing a nice essay in college doesn’t mean an editor should drop everything to read your work. It takes years of dedication and a good dose of humility to become a true artist—of anything.
One of my favorite movies in the 1980’s was Flashdance. I must have been about 13 when the film came out and watched it several times, each time becoming more and more convinced I should become a dancer. After all, I’d squared danced in elementary school. And if Jennifer Beals could do it, why not me? So enamored was I of the story that I took some community college dance classes around age 16. I quickly learned a couple things: I am a white girl of no rhythm and little coordination (except on horseback) and…it was darn hard! I think I made it through half the class before dropping out. I had leggings and a sweatshirt top that hung off my shoulder, but a dancer I was not. More than that, I simply didn’t have the desire it would take to learn the things that looked so easy in the movie.
I felt strangely happy to learn that many of the shots of Jennifer Beals dancing were actually a double. A real dancer. She didn’t get a lot of fame, but she was the real deal and possessed a dancer’s body honed by hours on the floor and years of sacrifice. I could square dance (badly), but that was a world away from the abilities of the girl in the movie (and that includes Miss Jennifer!).
Many things in life that take serious commitment can look easy, such as riding a horse. To become a proficient horseman you must begin with the fundamental ingredients of desire, passion, persistence, and the willingness to learn. Mix in a little raw talent and a good attitude and, one day, you may discover you have grown into an equestrian artist who makes it look easy. Writing is the same way. If your first attempt(s) at getting published is rejected accept it graciously and practice being professional. You’ll need those skills if you want to be taken seriously in the future. In the publishing world hate mail and an attitude of entitlement never greased the hinges on the doors of opportunity.
That’s all for now. I’m off to buy a new pair of leggings…