A Reader’s Writing Questions

Recently a reader, Marlee Rubel, contacted me with some questions. Since I receive similar questions from readers, I thought I’d share my answers on my blog instead. Thanks Marlee for reading and asking some great questions! I’m always open to questions. Feel free to email me.

Q: I’m interested in writing for a living (or at least a part-of-a-living). I currently have an editorial internship at a publishing company, and spend a great deal of my time working on my vegan blog when I’m not in the office or at school. I was wondering if you had any suggestions or advice for someone who is looking to eventually write for a magazine such as VegNews.

A: My best advice is if you want to write for magazines, read magazines, love magazines, and figure out what you love about them. One of my favorite magazines is New York magazine. They have great feature articles and a great back of the book (I heart you, Approval Matrix!). As a working freelance writer and a full-time editor, I live and breathe magazines. I started as an editorial assistant at Rangefinder magazine and worked my way up to features editor so having an editorial internship is great. I was 28 at the time and I knew that the best way to learn was from the ground up. I had no qualms about being older than the editors above me. I learned from them and they learned from my crazy organizational skills. My second best piece of advice — do what you love. I have a passion for animals, writing, and magazines. VegNews is a perfect fit for me.

Q: As someone who is already in the industry, would you advise getting a graduate degree in writing/publishing?

A: Ah, I hear this question a lot. I pursued a masters degree in dramatic writing from NYU because at the time they offered a fifth year program so I figured why not get a MFA in one year. That being said, I don’t think everyone needs a graduate degree in writing. This is what it will do for you. It will give you time to write. You will meet greet professors and fantastic fellow writers. There are certainly amazing writers who never even majored in writing and there are writers who have a fabulous degree. Grad school costs a lot of money, but if you have the desire and the financial means, go for it. Just don’t graduate expecting that the writing life is easier.

Q: Or would you suggest just focusing on producing and submitting writing instead of going to school?

A: I think it depends on what type of writer you are. Do you need structure, discipline, and classes? Then going to school is a good option. The toughest part of being a writer is the writing part. People ask me how exactly I produce writing. Here is my simple trick. I give myself deadlines. I write it down on my calendar when I’m going to write, then I do it.

Q: What would you differently, and what would you keep exactly the same if you could do it all over?

A: Great question! This is the biggest life lesson I’ve learned — if I could go back to my 23-year-old self, I would tell her that getting rejected isn’t the end of the world. I stopped writing for a period of time because a YA manuscript I wrote was rejected after being a semi-finalist at the Delacorte Press contest. I cried. Then a manager in Los Angeles read it and told me my manuscript was terrible and that I’d never be able to sell it. And I listened to her. That was my mistake. That same exact “terrible” manuscript helped me land the best YA literary agent in the world (deserved hyperbole). I was too young to realize that not everyone is going to love my work and I was too precious with my words to ever self-edit. As an editor now, it is so much easier to look at my own work with a critical eye. You have to be able to self-critique and edit. Listen to your editor. They are usually right.

What would I keep the same if I could do it all over? I would keep my passion and love for stories. I’ve loved hearing stories since I was a kid and I had those books that came with records that would “read” stories to me. I’ve loved magazines since my first subscriptions to Seventeen, YM, and Sassy. I’ve loved YA since Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club. The reason I love This American Life (besides the delightfully charming Ira Glass) is the fact they tell amazing stories. Ditto on The Moth (seriously, check out their podcasts. I once cried while stuck in horrible 405 traffic in LA while listening to a gay solider tell his beautiful story). To be a writer, you’ve got to love the art of storytelling whatever genre you’re writing in.

Got more writing life questions? Post in the comments please!

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