Thursday, June 04, 2009

Stephanie Dickison: A Lesson in Writing

Stephanie Dickison wears so many hats, she should open her own haberdashery. She’s published hundreds of non-fiction pieces, including articles, interviews, essays, columns, profiles, features and reviews. As a journalist, essayist and cultural critic, she’s written numerous articles for magazines and newspapers. She’s a restaurant and food critic, as well as Co-Editor of Pan Magazine, and the new columnist for The Writer Magazine. She’s contributed essays to many books, including Facts on File Companion to the American Novel and Compendium of 20th Century Novelists and Novels. And to top that off, her book about her career as pop culture, book, music and restaurant critic is now available from ECW Press. You can find The 30-Second Commute: A Non Fiction Comedy About Writing and Working From Home at bookstores or on Amazon.

While all that should be enough to do for three people, it wasn’t enough for Stephanie. She’s here today to tell us what threw her for a loop - so much so that she changed her writing life.

Welcome Stephanie Dickison!

Knocked Off My Feet: A Lesson in Writing
Copyright (c) Stephanie Dickison 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I found out I didn't get into a writers-editors conference I had applied for.

It wasn't due to the fact it was full, but because I wasn't qualified enough.


As a writer and journalist, I have had my fair share of blows, knocks, criticisms and flat out complaints over the last decade, but I certainly didn't expect this.

It turns out that I don't have enough "national" clips, so the people who are already in national magazines are getting the access to the people behind the magazines, becoming a face that the editor can now recognize and thus getting more and more work, while I continue to query blindly.

All the work I had done in this last year especially, never mind the decade before it - celebrity interviews and cover stories, feature articles on a variety of topics and a book coming out about my career as a pop culture, book, music and restaurant critic - apparently, it wasn't enough.

I couldn't have foreseen how it would affect me.

Normally I bounce back fairly quickly from such losses, but this really got to me. While other journalists and writers I knew and followed were getting feature stories for thousands of dollars, I was struggling to hang out to the few assignments I had and trying to break into markets outside of my reach – and country.

Two weeks later, I found myself getting up early and not turning off my laptop until just this side of midnight. I spent all day querying and writing with fierceness that I hadn't felt before. I was submitting to magazines that I had previously left alone. Suddenly my apparent lack of experience, skills and/or knowledge in any department or topic was left behind in my sheer determination to keep my head down and forge ahead of this setback.

I felt like if I gave up now, what have I been doing with the last 10 years of my life? What would I do instead?

I have always written for the love, not the money, which is why I have been able to write all of these years – I took all of those piddly assignments that “serious” writers talk of not being worth their time, not paying enough, not being “big enough.”

Funny, because now I have enough material for a book and have been a pop culture, book, music and restaurant critic, not to mention a lifestyle and pop culture writer for the past decade. I have written for hundreds of magazines, newspapers, journals and websites and contributed to several nonfiction books and encyclopedias. I write in all areas of travel, home, food, beauty, fashion, technology design and style and really enjoy the research and learning that goes into writing each piece.

It’s now 4 weeks after I was told I wasn’t good enough or qualified enough to go to the conference. I am using the money originally allotted for the conference for a 3-day trip to New York City, my favourite city in the world. This is all the vacation I can afford, so I’m going to soak up every minute of it!

In the meantime, I have been querying and writing like crazy. So much so, that for the first time in my career, I have had daily deadlines for a week at a time, and recently evenly hourly deadlines. I wasn’t sure I could keep up the pace, but I have discovered that I have stamina when it comes to writing – If you need it in an hour, I can get it to you in an hour. I don’t know how I do it, even after having done it. I just will it and type until the time runs out.

What this has proven to me is that I can get new work (for awhile there, I was feeling like I was stagnating, doing the same ol’ work). And I can do a lot of it. More than I ever thought was humanly possible.

I know that some people like working in many drafts, crafting sentences and really pondering over their subjects. Me, I like to get right into it and get it out polished and ready, but quickly, like a newspaper reporter.

And in the last couple of weeks, that has come in handy. I did 11 feature articles in 10 days for one magazine, while juggling 6 assignments for other magazines.

I got accepted to be a contributing writer with one place while being asked to be a columnist at another. I got into 6 new (for me) magazines in a month and have applied to about 40 more.

I may have been told I wasn’t enough by the conference folks, but I feel like by this time next year, they’d have to be crazy not to accept me.

And for me, that’s saying a lot.

Thank you, Stephanie.

You can catch Stephanie on her blog, Got The Knack, where she reviews fun stuff. Samples of her writing can be found on her website. And remember to look for her new book, The 30-Second Commute: A Non Fiction Comedy About Writing and Working From Home.

But before you link away, leave a comment or question for Stephanie.
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  1. Stephanie, you are a true inspiration. Great article here, and a good example of how determination and never say die work ethic will get you new and better places and heights whereas those who lay down and cower at rejection never break through those glass ceilings and walls.

    Nice job.

    The Old Silly from Free Spirit Blog

  2. Wow. Can I bottle your energy? Good for you, though, for not allowing the negative feelings to keep you down.

  3. So true, Marvin & Karen. Rejections hurt. They feel so personal. But you have to drag yourself off the floor & move forward. This is inspirational.

  4. I found this article discouraging as well as encouraging. The fact that you can be working your buns off and someone tells you it’s not enough would be disappointing. However, it’s heartening to see how Stephanie handled it. Way to go!

  5. I'm one of the "many drafts" writers. But in the small amount of non-fiction I've written, I know the energy of working to deadline. If I could bottle it and transfer it to writing fiction, I'd be a happy camper.

    Enjoy your NYC vacation. New York is one of my favorite cities, too. And thanks for contributing this post.

  6. That's true, Carol. When I have the publisher's deadline, I put my nose to the grindstone. But with my own self-imposed deadline, I tend to procrastinate.

  7. Having someone say you can't do something is a pretty powerful incentive to show you most certainly can do it. And deadlines are great motivators. Just remember to get enough sleep in the process.


  8. What a wide array of talents and experiences Stephanie has to share. I always like to read about people who are overcomers. Very inspiring, especially during those dark, lonely hours of writing when the brain just isn't cooperating.

    - Steve Tremp

  9. What a wide array of talents and experiences Stephanie has to share. I always like to read about people who are overcomers. Very inspiring, especially during those dark, lonely hours of writing when the brain just isn't cooperating.

    - Steve Tremp

  10. As we used to say a decade ago: "You go, Girl." Rejection is a strong incentive to succeed and it sounds as though you already have. There's not much we can do about short-sighted people but we can certainly leave them behind in a proverbial cloud of dust. :)

  11. Amazing amount of work!! And kudos for you for not taking industry slights to heart. (I've often wondered what a different life it would be if I got paid for every rejection, rather than each acceptance!)


  12. Pardon the cliche, but what a way to turn lemons into lemonade! A very inspirational post for those of us struggling to make time to write at the end of a work day! Thank you!

  13. Wow - I am in awe at your determination and exhausted just reading about how much you have accomplished in such a short time above and beyond what has obviously been a successful career.

    Nancy, from Just a Thought…

  14. It is inspirational. I agree. Sort of inspires you to keep writing, keep trying, keep moving forward.

  15. I just wanted to thank everyone for their comments about my piece. It is so amazing to write in this quiet space - the rolltop desk at the end of my bed in our one-bedroom apartment with my fiance at his fold-up desk in the living room and our big cat in the hall between us - alone, in my head, and to get such an animated response from so many people relating to my experiences.

    Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my story. Hearing from all of you really inspires me and makes me want to continue sharing my tales of the writing life.

    Thank goodness for you!

    Warmest wishes and many, many thanks,



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