Feb 5, 2007

Cecily Markland's Advice to Writers Young and Old

I had a wonderful experience today as a high school student asked me for help in completing an assignment. He was given the assignment to interview someone who was in a profession he would perhaps like to pursue. He is a budding writer and his mother is my good friend. So, I had the privilege of sharing some of my thoughts about writing with him. It was an excellent reminder for me and thought it may be for others. After all, aren’t we all students, seeking to improve our craft? Since “mh” and I “conversed” via Instant Messaging, I decided to share some of his questions and my responses on this blog.

mh: have you thought that this selection of an occupation has made you a good living?
cecily_markland: Yes and no...
cecily_markland: There really is such a thing as a starving artist...
cecily_markland: Yet, on the other hand, there is good money to be made in writing. You just have to be smart and watch for opportunities.
cecily_markland: And...they ABOUND. EVERY company needs a writer.
cecily_markland: Sorry, I get a little carried away...
mh: haha no its good
mh: which part has been the best for you magazines, newspaper or editor
cecily_markland: I worked for the Gilbert Independent for a while and enjoyed that work a lot.
cecily_markland: I covered the education beat and I usually had to write four or five stories a week.
mh: wow
mh: do you like all the dead lines? always having to be done by a certain time?
cecily_markland: One thing that has been really good for me is to see how writing is both really creative, but it also is like a puzzle of sorts. The trick is to learn the rules and how things fit and work together and then see how you can make it look new and innovative. For example, take straight newspaper writing and the challenge of writing a lead with who, what, when, where and why. Try doing that 300+ times and still making it sound fresh and creative and interesting, over and over.
mh: haha
cecily_markland: Yes...deadlines can be tough...but, they can also be good as they teach you how to be disciplined and how to work through writers' blocks and things like that.
cecily_markland: Today, for example, I had to write a press release that I just couldn't make come together...after a while, I knew I had to quit thinking and researching and start writing. As soon as I started putting "pen to paper" so to speak, things started coming together. It's an interesting process, that sometimes requires a lot of "blood, sweat and tears" ...and some chocolate chip cookies to boot!
mh: hahaha
mh: do you feel like you still have room to grow or have you hit the top already?
cecily_markland: NO...not at all...in fact I was just telling someone today that being a writer is not at all like an accountant or a truck driver...
cecily_markland: Every story, every article is different and new.
cecily_markland: I feel like I'm ALWAYS having to re-prove myself and my abilities.
mh: hmm
cecily_markland: In a way that's really good, because it keeps you sharp and wanting to learn more...in other ways it's a little unnerving.
cecily_markland: At the same time, I DO have somewhat of a reputation, so I'm able to command a little more of what I'm worth.
mh: haha very nice
mh: what made you choose this career path exactly?
cecily_markland: In a way, it sort of chose me.
cecily_markland: I remember in 4th grade going to parent-teacher conference with my mom. The teacher praised my work and my "talent" and I realized then I had a way to get attention, I guess.
cecily_markland: Then, in high school, I had two great English teachers who encouraged kids to think outside the box a little. They encouraged my writing...
cecily_markland: Still, even after studying journalism and writing in college, it wasn't until I really NEEDED a marketable skill that I realized what I truly had to offer.
cecily_markland: It still is pretty cool to have someone call me and tell me thay have a writing project they need help with.
cecily_markland: For the past year, I haven't been on salary with any company. It's all been freelance writing.
cecily_markland: There is a lot of opportunity out there for freelancing.
mh: well hwo do i get started?
cecily_markland: A lot of it is for specific companies...for their newsletters or their marketing pieces, etc.
cecily_markland: What are you most interested in writing?
mh: well, you have heard my poetry, but i would like to try articles also
cecily_markland: Yes, your poetry is really good...and shows your creative side and also your command of the language.
cecily_markland: Unfortunately, poetry can often fall into the "starving artist” category...
mh: yes thats why i would like to try articles
cecily_markland: Still, it's a great way to practice your word-picture abilities...
cecily_markland: ...and, there are ways to sell a poem or two here or there...
mh: i dont think im that good
cecily_markland: I guess the thing that I've learned is that I sell more writing when I'm helping someone else sell their stuff...
cecily_markland: The marketing writing, public relations stuff I've done is by far better pay than creative writing or even journalism.
cecily_markland: Have you had any journalism classes or anything like that?
mh: well sorta but not really... i have written many essays and have done quite well on them..
mh: maybe i should take a class or two
cecily_markland: Just having a desire to write is the best place to start.
cecily_markland: Having some basic skills and a willingness to hone those skills is next. Then, getting some experience. Just like any job, they like to see experience...but, it's not as much a catch-22 as it is in many areas...
cecily_markland: The Internet is an amazing resource right now for finding places where you can have articles published.
cecily_markland: I also am a member of a Yahoo group and they send out freelance job opportunities every day!
mh: oh wow
cecily_markland: Another way to find sites that want content is just to google something you're interested in. For example, if you google "Parenting Articles," all kinds of sites come up, some even with guidelines telling you how to submit your stuff.
mh: hmm
cecily_markland: Another way to "break in" is to submit something to your school paper or to a small paper like the Groves Report, etc.
cecily_markland: It's nice to start amassing "clips" that you can use to show someone what you've done.
mh: wow thank you so much for all this very helpful information!
cecily_markland: The best thing to do...if you want to be a writer...is to write.
cecily_markland: I know that sounds crazy...but it's true.
mh: haha yeah just write till someone likes it
cecily_markland: Ha ha...but, that exactly what you have to do!
cecily_markland: If you were a baseball pitcher, you'd pitch until you could get it over the plate and someone would take your pitch.
mh: very true
cecily_markland: Same with writing...keep writing until you get it over the plate and someone takes it!
mh: haha thanks for the insight
cecily_markland: Writing can be very personal...and sometimes it's hard to share because it is so much a part of you.
cecily_markland: I've learned to let go of that attachment a little and to realize that I will only get better by allowing someone to give me constructive criticism.
mh: yeah criticism is always needed
cecily_markland: The big switch for me came when I realized that rather than just putting words out there, what I REALLY wanted to do was to communicate. So, if someone else could tell me where I was missing the boat (or the plate) with what I was writing...or how I wasn't communicating with them, then I could learn to do that better.
cecily_markland: CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is needed...
cecily_markland: Some people don't know a rhyme from a hole in the ground, but they think they can critique poetry.
cecily_markland: I've gotten a lot from being in a writers' group too.
mh: yeah...well im gonna look for opportunities here and try and write some and maybe just maybe come ask for some criticism on a few from you
cecily_markland: Here's one last the thing: I have really come to understand that writing is not only emotional, but it's also a very spiritual thing. You can't read too far into the scriptures without seeing that writing has ALWAYS been important.
cecily_markland: In fact, I did a little exercise once and read in the Book of Mormon all the passages about writing and really tried to study WHY people were told to keep records.
mh: hmm thats interesting
cecily_markland: Anyway, I feel that people like you who have a talent for writing also have somewhat of a stewardship and responsibility to use that talent to bring light and beauty to the world.
mh: haha thank you
cecily_markland: I don't mean that you have to write on gold plates or only write things you'd read in church...but, it really is an amazing gift and when you treat it as such...
cecily_markland: you'll be magnified...
cecily_markland: I would be more than happy to read anything ... if you can take the red pencil that is! And, if you want to borrow any books, need any direction, etc. I'm happy to share.
mh: haha ok thank you and i cant tell you how much i appreciate this! thanks again
mh: im gonna start writing and will send some your way for the red pencil
cecily_markland: Great. Now, if you could just tell me what I should blog about tonight!
mh: helping a young aspiring writer how to start out!

So, there you have it: That’s what I would suggest to young, aspiring writers as well as to old, reaching writers like me. Write and keep writing until you can get it over the plate consistently. You’ll be magnified. I promise!


  1. Cecily,
    Thank you for sharing your interview. I found it very enlightening...My goal is to freelance for parenting/family periodicals. Now I have a much better idea of where to begin!

  2. Great post, Cecily! Great format, too. Very 'now'. Lots of information that I'm tucking away for our next ANWA meeting.


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