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Monday, December 18, 2006

First Steps In Writing And Publishing

I didn't always want to be a freelance writer. When I was little I wanted to be an architect. I loved creating new things out of nothing, putting pieces together and changing them around so they made more sense. My favourite toy was Meccano, which I liked for the same reasons - a girly girl I definitely was not. As it turned out, I couldn't draw, which is a major disadvantage in the architectural field.

Luckily, right about the time that my art teacher was trying to disown me, I discovered that I was good at something else - languages - and that's how I got to know the people who would join me on my first publishing venture. I was already hooked on reading (and really enjoyed English Lit classes), and this would get me hooked on writing (in spite of my English teacher's criticisms of my poetry).

When I was 16/17 (in lower sixth, which for my American friends is the class before your final year of high school), a friend and I took over the defunct school newspaper. When I say defunct, I mean that it had appeared sporadically throughout my five years at that school. C and I decided to take it on and run it. We learned the hard way what it takes to create a publication:

  • We had to commission writing from other students
  • We had to edit it
  • We had to rewrite it if it didn't meet the brief or write it if someone missed a deadline
  • We had to arrange for illustrations
  • We had to learn to price the paper to recover our costs

Now these were the bad old days before desktop publishing, so putting together a school newspaper meant using a Gestetner machine. It was time to outsource. We drafted my mother and anyone else who could type to type the content we had on stencils. Where that wasn't possible, we got someone with excellent writing to copy the content onto the stencils. We found a way to incorporate the drawings (don't ask me how; I can't remember) and then we began the messy business of inking the machine, attaching the stencils and getting the number of copies we needed. In the process we got covered in black ink, but that didn't detract from the thrill of our first publication. Once we had stapled it all together, we were able to sell our first issue of Breakthrough for a paltry sum.

This experience got me hooked on connecting with readers through writing and publishing. It was kind of like early blogging, without the technology. We put material out and got almost instant feedback, which we used to improve the next issue. We were in touch with our readers - heck, we were our readers! I can still remember the thrill of seeing my name in print for the first time - and I still love it now. And even though a lot of my freelance writing is ghostwriting, I still get satisfaction from writing something that others want to read.

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