The decision to write full-time is an aggressive endeavor despite talent or drive. Writing is a multi-billion dollar industry that is news-necessary, the cutting-edge of entertainment, and the pivotal intersect of social survival: Tweet or die.
African Americans have infiltrated the literary scene with riveting stories nestled inside book jackets donning sultry bodies and titles that speak to deceptive love triangles or the replicated “single woman finds groove” tradition of Terri McMillan’s iconic classic.
Books are safe. If you have a literary agent you’re golden, or you can join the legions of novice entrepreneurs who self-publish and personally finance their publications and subsequent marketing/promotional efforts. My first poetry collection was published sans a book deal. It’s a hustle folks. A real-life, word grind (but I love it).
The 21st century reality is that no writer can artistically or financially survive as a one-trick pony. Being diverse is key, so I am inclusively an independent journalist, published poet/author, blogger, proposal and grant writer, and have augmented all of the aforementioned by serving as a collegiate instructor of English.
The Job Market Is Looking for Good Writers
As a journalist, I enjoy longstanding relationships with editors, but abhor the blind pitch. Rejection is inevitable. The best story ideas are lost to budget restraints and pay can be laughable or impressive. Creativity to identify new gigs is a must, as is travel, workshops, grants, fellowship pursuit, and humility. Writer’s write and that means daily, so if I’m not blogging, I’m nabbing notes for my memoir, or chasing a deadline.
One of the most important self-marketing tools I’ve adapted is developing my own website. I’m no techie, but if I can manage a WordPress site, anyone can. To utilize the best of both worlds, I purchased a separate domain and host and “mapped” my WordPress site (total investment: $24.00). The latter eliminated the need for a webmaster, and I now have a portal for potential editors to peruse previously published work. A writer without a website is like a doctor without a stethoscope: the heart needs to be heard and a writer’s site is their artistic hub (or heart). pennydickersonwrites.com
I’ve experienced great rewards including high profile interviews, front-page features, and community covers, but I want more and currently have my sights on global reporting. Too often, African American writers tend to “stay in our lane.” Well, the discourse community for writer’s is vast and profitable. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and take risks. Challenge yourself. If you shoot an arrow in someone else’s backyard, you just might hit a tree. The entire world is our lane (and backyard), and too often there are not more of us in a specific writing arena because we are hesitant to venture.
I attended a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) for one semester, but ultimately transferred to Temple University where I earned a bachelor of arts degree in Journalism. The southern school of mention is Florida A & M University (FAMU) who along with its northern, HBCU counterpart – Howard University- are both known for their excellent journalism programs. Either earn my high recommendation, but I encourage any prospective writer to closely examine their long-term goals prior to selecting a school.
Can “talent in the raw” professionally excel without formal study? Of course. Many have and others will, but beyond my undergraduate degree, I additionally earned a M.F.A. in Creative Writing (15 years later) and the exposure, mentoring, and formal indulgence of my craft have proved immeasurable complements to my existing talent. Even with two degrees and experience, employment trends have shifted to mixed-media, back-pack journalism, and social media expertise; being talented in verse is a mere base-level expectation.
Learning is continuous and imperative to maintaining competitive edge, so this year I applied and was selected to participate in a Creative Capital Professional Development Workshop sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and also the Minority Writer’s Editorial Seminar in conjunction with the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute. Both have tremendously helped my writing career and taught me to manage time and the value of networking.
Have I mentioned that this writing life is an insatiable hustle, a word-grind, a 24-hour on-line hunt for work? It’s all of that and more, but it is also my passion and never shall I abandon it. Why? Because I love it!
African American Journalists: Autobiography as Memoir and Manifesto:
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