Budding Writer, 1979: Good for the ego

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Wildfires in Quebec continue to filter the sun during “golden hour” 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!

As July — and my first year of a writing career — drew to a close, I was riding high in anticipation. I eagerly anticipated word on the publicity job I’d applied for at the Hopkins Center. Even if I didn’t get the new post, I was remaking the one at the newspaper.

That, it seems, was both good and bad.

… A long day at work, marked by my falling asleep at a meeting I was covering in Fairlee. Fortunately I was able to write it up fairly (sic) early and get the arts page done as well.*

The major delay was my fault — getting all the copy in far too late (i.e. today) and thus rushing the typesetters. I caught a lot of shit for that. But I learned my lesson, and got through the day with little trouble.

It was pretty exciting, seeing my photo go on the front page, and all. I hope other staff members don’t think I’m getting too pretentious. More important, I hope our readers find me condescending or overly academic. With the way I’ve been acting lately, however, either or both could be very strong possibilities. I must beware!

Journal, Volume II
30 July 1979

Here’s a hint, Howard: When you wonder whether you’re being too pretentious, you probably are. Years later, when you become business editor of a daily newspaper, you’ll do the same thing: a photo and story on the cover of the Business section. You’ll justify it to your bosses as being reader-friendly. You’ll be wrong — again. That sort of thing is only friendly to three readers: your mother, your wife, and yourself.

… Major accomplishment: writing heads and pasting up for the front and inside pages today, seeing the final result as we pressed to the deadline. I was pleased and proud with my work — perhaps rightfully so, but perhaps overly so.

Even worse, I’m becoming more talkative and braggartly about the Hanover Gazette possibility. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it, for that’s what I’d done with all my other failures in job hunting. But maybe this will be a success. Anyway, Robert is still following through on it.

Journal, Volume II
31 July 1979

It was a delight to see myself on the front page, all written up and photographed. Good for the ego. In Bradford, I picked up a half dozen papers …

Journal, Volume II
1 August 1979 (Retrospective)

It would take another lifetime before I learned that what is good for the ego is not always good for the soul.

*By the way, Howard: You use [sic] (usually written within square brackets) to indicate that you are intentionally quoting an error as it was printed. Using it here to mean “pun intended” is not wrong, but it is awkward.

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