Jenny from Seattle writes: At what point did you think you could actually become a bona fide writer—meaning you thought you could do it professionally and even make $$ at it?
I am making up, here, that by bona fide, you mean published. Through circumstances I can hardly take credit for, I published the first article I wrote. Got paid, too; woo hoo! Three hundred dollars. As this became my introduction to publishing, being paid for my work was just the way it was.
Also early on, I made the decision that I did not want to be a full-time freelancer. Freelancers spend a great deal of time looking for work, a great deal of which is business writing (ad copy, brochures, newsletters), none of which interested me. I decided to write what I wanted and then try to publish it. I supported myself with full-time job marketing jobs (ad copy, brochures, newsletters; so there) but I did not think of myself as a sales assistant. I thought of myself as a writer.
For a short, sad, period, I felt that as long as I published one article a month, I was what I called “real.” Relatively quickly, I established myself as a regular freelancer for the then-new Seattle weekly tabloid, The Stranger, eventually going on the masthead as a contributing writer. I didn’t have the resume or training to land a full-time reporter position, but the editor, Emily White, recognized that I had a voice and a world view. She sent me out a lot, for which I remain grateful.
Perhaps four years into working full-time/writing around the edges, earning an extra few grand a year from freelancing, I apparently decided that I never again wished to earn even that little as a writer, because I undertook a novel.