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Monday, February 13, 2012

ORIGINS Hop - How I Became a Journalist

Today's hop, Origins, is the brain child of DL Hammons at Cruising Altitude,
Alex J. Cavanaugh is a co-sponsor, along with Katie Mills aka Creepy Query Girl and Matthew MacNish at The QQQE.

The question is: How did we all begin?

I was sitting on the potty when my life changed in the spring of 2005.
(If there’s anyone left reading this who’s not related by blood or marriage – bear with me, there is a point:)
Having just moved to Central Florida and the Space Coast, my wife and I were in the newly wed phase.
Work wise though, I was a mess, after months working in a local credit union, I was looking – searching – for a change. I knew the teller position was temporary, but couldn’t figure what I was transitioning toward.
My First Edition
Every Friday, the local weekly newspaper, The Hometown News, appeared in our front yard. Sure, it was free, but it had interesting stuff about our neck of the woods. I enjoyed reading it.
So there I was, still on the potty, and I looked over the classified section only to read:
Staff Reporter position available. Bachelor’s degree in journalism and two years of experience required. Must know AP style. Should include clips with resume. Send resume to…
Hmmm, I did a mental inventory:
Journalism degree… no
Two years of experience… no
Knows AP style…no
Clips… ah yes, I do have one clip, but clips… no
Sheesh, I was the perfect candidate!
My resume was impressive (if you wanted a restaurant guy with fifteen years of experience that included time spent as a cowboy in Paris and a clown in Ibiza.)
Needing back up, I spent two days perfecting the one-page cover letter, to be sent alongside the dodgy-looking interesting resume.
I couldn’t find a hard copy (it’s on a hard-drive that’s hardly working) so to paraphrase, parts of the letter said:
I may not have the degree you require – but I have more heart than another interviewee who does.
I may not have the experience you want, but I’ll work harder than anyone else on your team
I closed along the lines of:
I may be new to the world of writing, but I’m hungry to succeed, and given the chance I promise not to let you down, or make you regret your decision to hire me.

Emailing it over, I settled back, hopeful of a response in a couple of weeks.

Twenty-four hours later, my future boss (she just didn’t realize it) called to ask if I’d come in for an interview.
“Uh, OK, I suppose…”
This was not my response, but I did do the Electric Slide for the first time, as well as the White Man Can’t Dance Shuffle.
I later sat across from a no-nonsense, company vice president by the name of Tammy Raits, and one of the first things she said was:
“That was probably the best cover letter I have ever read.”
Well, it’s because my resume sucks, I thought… but did not say :)
My First Clip - evah!
We spoke for about an hour, and I explained how I got my first clip via a 2003 published article in a then-new magazine.
Tammy  forwarded me over to the publisher, Steve Erlanger, who offered me the job – after he gave me The Speech that culminates in him making sure I’d put in a minimum of 150 percent of effort.
Soon after I started, and it was such a buzz (it still is) to see my byline for the first time – above the fold – on Friday the 13th of May, 2005.
While it wasn’t easy – I worked Monday to Friday from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the weekends as needed for several weeks – I taught myself how to take a story from idea to publication.
Look Ma, I'm in the paper (and it's not the Police Blotter)
While I’m super excited to co-write the memoir about Donald Braswell, the opera singer who lost his voice, I shall never forget the time spent learning and honing my skills as a beat reporter for a local newspaper.

It was a fantastic experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone breaking into the business of writing. Remember, you don’t need a degree or experience, you just need to believe in yourself.

So that’s my origins… how did you end up here,  reading this post? :)


Miranda Hardy said...

This is a great story. Love that you believed in yourself and went for it.

Stina said...

With that cover letter, no wonder you were hired. :D

Creepy Query Girl said...

wow- a very inspirational story. It's always worth it to make an effort and put yourself out there. You never know what might happen. Thanks so much for sharing! And for the follow? Am I really that scary? lol.

Rek Sesh said...

Oh, My! that was inspiring...so damn cool of you to attempt that letter...I never would have that kind of courage in a million years.

M.J. Fifield said...

Oh, I LOVE this story. I'm so glad you shared it.

Sarah Tokeley said...

I love this. You know if you wrote this as a fiction story, the reader wouldn't buy that you got the job :-)

When are you going to write your own life story?

Sarah Tokeley said...

And that should say as fiction, not fiction story. Sheesh! What an amateur ;-)

Leigh Covington said...

That's awesome Mark! One day you're going to be at the conferences doing the motivational speaking. I love it!

Morgan said...

*grinning from ear to ear*

How fun to get a little back story, Mark! And the pics are so great!

"Dodgy-looking" and the "Electric Slide" made me laugh. so. hard.

It *is* a relief to know that you don't need the perfect resume in order to be successful... it really does just take time and work and belief. Love it. Thanks for sharing. :D

Matthew MacNish said...

Hi Mark. Just dropping in as one of the co-hosts, and am now your newest follower. Nice to meet you!

Julie Flanders said...

What a fantastic story! Especially considering it began on the potty. ;)
I loved this story as I've often worried about not having a journalism degree or an MFA, etc. Great post.

Annalisa Crawford said...

It just shows if you want something badly enough, you'll find a way. That, and a huge amount of luck!

Anonymous said...

Oh so funny, I'm glad that you found that in the paper and applied for the job, because now I have a really cool friend whose from Hawaii, but has an accent from somewhere else :)

I'm here because I found you through something, that I can't remember where, but I read your blog, all the time :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I am still laughing over the White Man Can't Dance Shuffle!!!!
Thanks for participating in the blogfest.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Love it--I wrote for newspapers, too, and it's a great way to get those interview/writing skills polished. Nice to meet you.

DL Hammons said...

It's great to hear that enthusiasm counts for something nowadays! The true writer in you came out in the cover letter!

Awesome ORIGIN story! :)

Nancy Thompson said...

You have a totally cool Origins story, very unique. You must be one of those guys who can talk your way in anywhere. I loved the image of you doing the Electric Slide! Too funny!! Thanks for sharing. I wish my Origin was as fascinating!

Scarlett said...

Dude-ette Here.

So, you're into potty talk, eh? As a wife and mother of potty talkers, I'd like to warn you of the hazards associated with this habit. Not good for the back side. Though, it certainly didn't seem to hold you back any in the *employable with absolutely NO relevant experience* department!

You are OFFICIALLY my hero!

Christine Rains said...

Awesome story! Shows how much enthusiasm means and it's catchy. :)

Cloudia said...

and now you're out here. . . wow

Warm Aloha from Waikiki
Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >

Anonymous said...

What an amazing Origins story. I wish I had pursued newspaper writing long ago. During college I would look lovingly at ads without applying for jobs thinking I wasn't experienced enough.

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely amazing journey Mark. I'm glad for you that the covering letter clinched the deal - I've crashed and burned a couple of times when I've known my CV wasn't going to cut the mustard and so put all my eggs into the one basket (aka - the cover letter). What a surreal feeling it must have been to see your name in print - kinda of a goosebump moment I would imagine. Clearly the literary world is much the better for your defection from the financial sector - and it sounds like you found the path you had been seeking. It's amazing how far grit and determination can take us. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and I look forward to future adventures.

Unknown said...

Who knew the potty could be such an inspiration? Hilarious! Now that's a beginnings story to be proud of. Glad I stumbled across your blog!


Tara Tyler said...

believing is key! great, if awkward, beginning!

nutschell said...

I love how you were sitting on the potty when writing came to you :)

your newest follower,

Jeremy Bates said...

That's awesome! One day you're going to be at the conferences doing the motivational speaking.

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