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Writer Wednesday: Mentoring new writers/editors

October 9, 2013

Dorcas Kraybill and Melodie Miller Davis, Phoenix co-editors

(Yes, I was a college student once too. Here Dorcas Kraybill and I
were working on our college literary magazine at Eastern Mennonite University, the Phoenix, which is still published.)

A student from James Madison University interviewed me this week for a class assignment because of my role as editor for Living. I enjoy having the tables turned and sitting down with anyone to talk shop: how to prepare for a job like this, what to do or not do, what do you do in a typical day, what is the best part of the job or why do you like it, what are the drawbacks?

I’ve done this with middle schoolers, high schoolers, college kids and occasionally beyond.

However, the media environment has changed so much that I have had to change up my spiel. Of course.

Even if you are still interested in going into old fashioned books, magazines, and newspapers–producing a printed product on paper–half of your energies need to go into the e-end–social media, blogging, websites.  No longer can you just write a book or publish a magazine and put it out there for publication. You have to have to be multi-present. Here is just one blog which focuses on how to create a writer platform.

The young woman who talked to me this week, needs to get at least one thing accepted for publication as part of her class assignment by the end of the semester. That’s a pretty tall order. I didn’t ask her (but should have) whether it needed to be in print or if it could be electronic–online. Anyone can publish anything themselves on a blog. If I were the teacher, that wouldn’t count. But getting something published on say, HuffPost online, or any of many other respectable forums, should count as credit towards a class assignment, in this day.

I used to depend on the Writer’s Market and would invest in buying one every couple years. No more, since I’m more on the editing end and not actively seeking new markets. I still keep an old one on my shelf, but if I need to do occasional research to find up-to-date information, I do so online. I’m thrilled to see Writer’s Market is still published, though. It has lots of great information and hints and insights for any beginning writer seeking publication. A worthy investment for any would-be writer.

June11_2013 110(Ok, this is from the 80s.)

But what do I tell kids hoping to get into this field?

  • Write for your student newspaper in high school and college.
  • Do any internship you can get your hands on, for hands on experience.
  • Try to get published: a publishing portfolio is usually impressive to any employer.
  • Do consider a blog, but only if you plan to keep it going on a regular basis. Find a niche and pursue it. The regular writing practice–and trying to hone each post–is good discipline and you may just stumble onto a winner like my writing colleague Hannah Heinzekehr, who began The Femonite as a seminary class assignment. It is now a respected and well-followed blog although I don’t know her numbers.

I sometimes add: don’t expect to get rich. Don’t even expect to make a living at freelancing. It can be a side job, or be o.k. if you spouse is well-employed, or if you can live on $50 here, $75 there, and a couple of freebies thrown in.

The best part of the job? Not seeing my name in print–which maybe was what I enjoyed just starting out, but now it is the contacts and people I’ve met through the years as I’ve interviewed and written about them. I’ll write about that sometime. Some amazing and big names; others very ordinary folks with extraordinary stories.

Now editing, that’s a different ballgame, and maybe I’ll write about that too. It may pay better, but takes different gifts and skills.

If you dream of becoming a writer and enjoy writing (and of course have some gift for it–which means that someone beside your mother and your best friend have told you write well), you can probably find a way to get published and get paid doing it. Aim high, and market well.



If you’re a writer, how did you get your start? What do you tell other aspiring writers/editors?


I work both for Living, and for MennoMedia which you can find more about through the links.


From → Faith, Writing Life

One Comment
  1. Lauree Purcell permalink

    Thanks! This is very helpful and encouraging.

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