The whole list is darn good, too, so go check it out here.
(If you don’t know who he is, he’s perhaps best known as the editor of The Best American Sports Writing series. He also writes the Good Sports kids’ sports books series and a lot of sports history books and biographies. He also wrote the incredible oral history NINE MONTHS AT GROUND ZERO, about the people who cleaned up after 9/11.)
1. Ass in chair. Let me say this again: ASS IN CHAIR. You don’t get anything done going for coffee every hour. Most of the time, this isn’t easy or fun. The job is ass in chair, alone for hours. It’s cool to say you’re a writer when asked at the bar, but the rest of the time, it’s ass in chair. You’re not a tortured artist, you’re a day laborer, like the people waiting for assignments from Manpower.
2. You never “make it.” Every time you kick down one door, there is another one, and life is spitting out new writers every day. Some will work harder than you will, some are better than you are, and some will have better connections. You can only control your own effort, so make sure that’s not the problem. It’s hard to make it, and I know writers that have “made it” then got lazy and watched it fritter away. It’s hard to get back in, so don’t relax.
3. Hit deadlines. Don’t ever give anyone a chance to dump you based on this, because that reputation lingers. I’ve hit tight deadlines while writing the morning of a funeral, taking care of an infant full-time, and writing with a broken finger before getting it stitched – real blood on the keyboard that day. Make a personal deadline in advance of the real one, so you don’t turn things in rushed and unfinished. Recent lesson: I was asked to write an essay, one of about a dozen writers asked to do so – 500 words – and given two weeks. I wrote a draft that day, then finished it and turned it in the next day, before anyone else did. That allowed me to stake out my approach before another writer wrote something similar, or got the editor’s ear. My essay ended up leading the piece, and setting the theme.8) Don’t be obnoxious, glib, or too familiar with an editor, particularly at the start. Be committed, and have an idea, but don’t give them a reason to call someone else, or to conclude you’re more trouble than you’re worth. And don’t blow them off, or otherwise waste their time. I’ve seen this from the other side, assigning stories and even issuing contracts only to have writers disappear, or quit on the story. I won’t ask them for work again.
4. If asked what you charge, ask for more money than you think you’re worth. Sometimes they say yes – I once sold a poem I’d have given away for free for $350, just because someone asked me how much I wanted for it. But also be prepared to accept less than what you think you’re worth if there’s a chance it could lead to something more. Waiting for the big payday is playing the lottery and about as likely. Careers are built from the accumulation and momentum of many assignments.
5. Try to work in a day a week without words, and find something you like to do that doesn’t involve looking at a screen at all.