When I mention I launched my writing career with an unpaid internship — as a college student — many people assume I snagged the opportunity because I knew what I was doing.
Here’s a little secret: I didn’t have a clue.
I’d been blogging on and off for a few years, and I’d written some news articles for my college newspaper. But I didn’t have much journalism-style writing experience. I applied for a health writing internship because a nutrition professor suggested I get “unique experience” to add to my CV for post-undergrad applications.
Immediately upon starting my training, I knew two things: one, that I was in the right place … and two, that I had nowhere near the level of experience as the journalism students I was writing beside.
I had never written for or even submitted to a magazine before. I was unfamiliar with the style. But I knew the content — and the audience. So even though I felt eons behind every other writer on my team, as I sat down to write my first article, I knew I had to do my best — and hoped it would be good enough.
It was, of course. Good enough — not great. But the staff who selected me for the internship weren’t just picking people at random. They knew I had writing experience (any experience sufficed). They saw that I was not just interested, but passionate about developing my writing skills. They trained me on all their procedures — and then sent me off to write something on my own almost immediately.
That’s exactly what I needed. Because even though I doubted myself — even though I felt lost and out of place — I had no choice but to suck it up and do it anyway.
Nothing you write is ever as bad as you think. Never forget that.
If you’re about to dive deep into a new writing opportunity, and you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, the best solution is to dive in anyway. Ask questions along the way, make mistakes, let yourself be challenged — but push through it. The best way to learn to write out of your comfort zone is to DO IT — even if it’s terrifying.
I lasted nearly four years with that publication — and wrote hundreds of articles under my own name — right up until it closed down in 2016. My willingness to learn — and my refusal to back down from new things — is one of many reasons why I managed to build so many successful editorial relationships (and a few friendships!) in such a short amount of time.
My work there is the main reason why I’m a staff writer working for media company now.
Feeling lost and awkward and afraid is totally normal. You’re not always going to know how to do everything — no matter how experienced you might be. Editors, employers — they’re not looking for writers who know it all. They’re looking for writers who crave new challenges, who hunger to learn and grow and support their teammates — and the publication as a whole.
If you can prove you’re up for anything — you’re chances of success in any writing endeavor quadruple. Probably.
Go for it. Dive in. Messing up is how you learn. In time, you’ll grow. You might even thrive.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.