Before my first writing internship, I knew next to nothing about writing for magazines. I was a blogger; a wannabe author. In just five months of struggling, I learned. If it weren’t for the consistent feedback of an editor, I might not have.
This internship was designed to train college students to write professionally. Teaching was part of the process. So unlike many real-world publishing situations, nothing we wrote got published without at least one round of revisions. Once something we’d done wrong had been corrected over a few consecutive weeks, we learned not to do it anymore. We got better. That was the point.
I worked my way up in the years to follow, from writer to section editor to managing editor. I learned very quickly that my assumptions about aspiring writers were very wrong. I assumed everyone was like me – eager to learn; hungry for feedback; willing to do anything and everything to grow and advance and excel. I welcomed in each new class of writing interns with enthusiasm and the promise that they were going to learn all they needed to know to become writers in the real world. About 70 percent of that enthusiasm was never returned.
Writers seemed annoyed that they had to submit their drafts for edits and handle their own revisions based on editors’ notes. Not to mention write only about things they were assigned to write about. They acted like venturing behind the curtain to publish their own work using WordPress was a meaningless chore. They expected to be treated like bloggers – write whatever you want! don’t worry about spelling and grammar, we’ll fix it for you! spend an hour a week writing a rough draft and that’s all! – and that made no sense to me.
I didn’t understand why a group of writers, who were being given the privilege to learn and develop their skills and ask a dozen questions a day, seemed to have no interest whatsoever in being told what they could do better.
And you know what? I still don’t get it.
When you’re training to write professionally, you do not walk into a new editorial structure knowing everything. Yet these interns apparently did. I accepted writers who had only ever written for their school papers; I welcomed writers who were “popular bloggers.” The only catch was that they had to be college students who wanted to learn how to write for a magazine.
Yet over half of them acted like that wasn’t what they wanted. And this was a consistent problem – one that got worse with each passing semester. The more I encouraged them to improve, the less willing they were to do so. No one asked questions. They complained about policies and procedures. And this doesn’t even count the random emails our correspondent program would get from people who wanted to “guest post on our blog.”
This experience painted a negative picture in my head of what online publishing was like, so I moved on. I don’t play the role of a managing editor anymore – that all dissolved externally when it became apparent people only wanted bylines and didn’t care about learning anything about how to be better writers. I now have different, brighter responsibilities in the professional writing world – one of them being, begging writers not to act like spoiled know-it-alls.
I believe anyone is capable of making a career out of writing, but the reason I’m not all sparkles and inspirational music is because I’ve seen what happens when people aren’t willing to work hard. They act like many of my former interns. They’re convinced they have nothing to learn – that each writing opportunity is nothing more than a stepping stone to something more valuable. Just put my name on this, and it will get me a Huffington Post headline. Let me write about this so someone will hire me to do it how I want for a decent paycheck once I graduate.
I hope one day I have the opportunity to work with a group of writers again, in an environment that allows me to coach and encourage and celebrate others’ successes. I loved that job, even after giving feedback became a chore. I will always be an aspiring writing coach, even when other people have convinced themselves that’s not what they need. I think we all need someone to learn from – not because we’re awful at what we do, but because there is always room for improvement.
You’ll learn – as a writer, as an editor – that not everyone is excited as you are to do what you do. You can’t force someone to want to refine an already existing skill. I wish more writers given the opportunity to do so were willing to take the time and make the effort to learn. We get so caught up in GETTING EXPERIENCE and GETTING PUBLISHED that we end up settling for jobs that don’t lend many opportunities to work closely with editors. I don’t like this. But publishing is such a saturated business that people just want things written, and writers just want to write things, and the joy of publishing is dead.
OK, not really. There are people out there who want to help you learn, I’m sure of it. I’m not the only one. Find mentors who are eager and willing to teach you to be a better writer. This is why sometimes writing for free can be a good thing. I wish I could tell you exactly how to do this, but if I knew, I’d already have formed some kind of alliance with them so we could all make writing fun and educational again.
At the very least, find that enthusiasm deep within you and be excited to write stuff and write better stuff and change the world. Do it. Do it for you. For me. For the internet. For anyone who’s forgotten how to love putting ideas into words.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.