I often tell the story of how I became a magazine journalist. I took a journalism class in high school taught by a charismatic teacher. I was seeking a way to make a living as a writer. He showed me a path, and I decided to take it.
When I think back over my life, however, I realize I was inspired to write by a variety of people. And these same people influenced my career path.
First, my mother had an old typewriter in the den. There she occasionally typed out stories about the wildlife around our home. She submitted these to magazines, like Audubon, and got published.
When I began composing stories about horses and illustrating them, she encouraged me to continue writing—and drawing. (Later, she also advised me not to become a novelist because she believed this would be a difficult way to earn a living.)
One of my parent’s best friends was a writer. (Come to think of it, I don’t know what he wrote! I assume now that he wrote novels.) He would read my writing, and assure me I had talent.
I had another teacher in high school who taught English composition. She encouraged us to keep journals. We would turn them in, and she would read and comment on them. She inspired and encouraged me with her feedback…little bits of wisdom scrawled in the space around my poems and my prose.
There was the principal who recommended me for a high school news column. I was one of the two students who had the privilege of providing bi-weekly articles for a local newspaper in our town. This experience gave me “clips” or by lines long before I knew I needed them.
And there was the teacher who agreed to advise the school newspaper club, which I began to revise the defunct publication. He believed in me and my ability to create something worthwhile—and my ability to inspire others to help. Of course, there were the other students who did, indeed, write articles for the newspaper.
I shouldn’t forget the high school yearbook editor, who asked me to write the signature piece for my senior yearbook. This opportunity proved I could make a meaningful and positive difference with my words. I realized this when my classmates told me how much the piece meant to them.
I’d be remiss not to mention at least two of my professors at Syracuse University. The first served as my advisor and accompanied his students (including me) to England for a semester of study abroad. He wrote to me about the “Bobbies” and the goose ponds. These correspondences read like love letters but were meant to teach me how to show, rather than tell, in my writing—yes, even as a journalist.
The second was my magazine editing professor, who threatened to flunk me during the second semester of my senior year. I was sure I’d never make it to graduation let alone into a job as a magazine journalist. The experience did just what he hoped: prepared me for the real world and made me into an excellent editor. (I went on to edit a variety of regional magazines and business or corporate publications, as well as books.)
Another family friend and neighbor was a writer for CBS. After I graduated from college and had a full-time job, he hired me to write float descriptions for the Rose Bowl Parade. The fact that he did so two years in a row, which made me feel like a capable professional. The freelance assignment and experience encouraged me to strike out on my own—to open shop as a freelance writer.
Also, there were the authors of the books I read…many of them. Those whose words I read and then thought, “I want to be like them.”
But they were distant and unknowable, not like the teachers and the people who touched my life and impacted my professional direction. They gave me As on my papers, helped me decide on a career path, and told me I was good enough to be a writer.
They helped make me who I am today: a writer, blogger and author.
Who has influenced your career? Tell me in a comment.