Budding Writer, 1979: A dead-end job?

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

Every once in a while, as I read through these journals of my first year as a freelancer, I get the urge to slap myself in the face.

This is one of those times.

… I had another interview –this one with Dennis Dinan of the Alumni Magazine.

We hit it off well — very well; in fact, I think he may have been ready to hire me. I was honest, however, and let him know of my reservations that (a) it might be a dead-end job, and (b) might not give me the experience — and flexibility — I need right now in the career game. He suggested I might want to freelance for them, and asked for some writing samples — which I promptly gave him. We parted promising to get back in touch — I when I know better what my work offers will be in the coming weeks and months, and he when he’s heard from the other applicants.

Journal, Volume II
16 May 1979

Now, Howard. Listen carefully. It’s important to be honest with a potential employer. But there’s such a thing as being too honest.

For example, you don’t tell your potential employer, with whom you appear to have made a good impression, that you fear it might be a “dead-end job” that “might not give … the experience and flexibility” you need right now.

And when he offers the chance to freelance some stories, TAKE IT! You’re a freelancer. That’s what you do for a living.

You were already in a dead-end job, barely scraping by, working part time for a little weekly newspaper. This could have launched your career and helped you make important alumni networking connections.

But no. You wanted to keep your options open. Instead you probably closed them in that interview. You certainly didn’t even ask for an assignment when the opportunity arose.

You didn’t know it at the time, but Dinan was about to preside over a decade of growth, independence, and just plain fun at the beloved Lummag. Beer and darts on Fridays? Slightly irreverant? Sounds like fun.

Had I been chosen for the assistant editor job, I might have been in line to succeed Dinan when he was put on probation in 1983 in a dispute with the administration. Or, knowing what I do now, I probably would have resigned as well.

I did apply for the editor’s job when the position was posted in 1983. I didn’t get it.

Columbine blossom on a hillside in Southbury, Connecticut, May 17, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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