Budding Writer, 1979: I’m fantasizing

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A garden in North Hero, Vermont, reflects the colors of sunset on July 17, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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!

Like any small business, a writer can’t create a product consistently without material to work from. That means information and ideas.

In the days before the internet, media sources were limited. Music was mostly available from a personal collection of records or by listening to FM radio.

News was a five-minute radio broadcast on the hour. On TV, we could find a half-hour of local and a half-hour of national and international evening news on four networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS. The commercial networks also had morning talk shows that still survive Today.

More in-depth news came from newspapers or magazines. I couldn’t afford a daily paper subscription, so I opted for Time magazine. I also subscribed to Psychology Today for insights into developing characters and plots.

I blasted through books at a surprising rate during my early months as a writer. As I started to work for a newspaper, though, I spent more time writing than reading. After my first month as a nearly full-time journalist, I was falling behind.

… I started reviewing my magazine pile — it was too hot to do any creative work, and nothing was pressing. I’m not thrilled with Bev’s collection of The Writer; I hate their style and the fact that they rarely tell me anything I don’t know. Nevertheless I’m fantasizing about becoming a serious writer, once again. I see an office with files, and reference books, and memo boards, and even rejection slips. But I also see costs. Can I do it while I’m up here working on my own? Or should I set up shop in Wayne and get a part-time job? …

Journal, Volume II
24 July 1979

My friend Bev and I both followed industry publications for leads and opportunities. Her choice was The Writer, which was somewhat more academic and poetry-oriented. Mine was Writer’s Digest, which was more commercial and freelancer-focused. We swapped our copies after we were done with them.

Eventually my fantasy about an office with files, reference books (does anyone still use them?), and memo boards came to pass. That was well after parenthood and adulthood, and into retirement.

As for becoming a “serious writer,” well … you be the judge of that.

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