Friday, July 8, 2011

What I Would Tell My 20 Year-Old Self

We have a special edition of What I Would Tell My 20 Year-Old Self from friend and writer, Sandy Braz. We met back in high school, when we both majored in dra-mah (!) at Cawthra Park Secondary School for the Arts in Mississauga.

It's funny because we didn't hang out tons back in high school or in university. Facebook reunited us and we realized that we were both entrepreneurs with similar outlooks on life, work and travel. That's when we clicked again. Sandy's path led her to becoming a writer, editor and journalist. Here's some of her advice on breaking into the industry:

Things I’d share with my younger self: How to be a writer.

Putting words on paper has made my heart flutter for at least a decade and a half, but “becoming a writer” professionally takes a little grooming early on. If you want to make it a living, it needs to become your business early on. But I’ll be the first to say it’s never too late.

Some smart things I did early in my career included gathering a portfolio, getting a website and working at the university paper (best training ground, ever, by the way). I didn’t always do things right, but I’ve learned a lot as I’ve moved through this industry’s highs and lows.

If I had to do it all over again (Lord help me), here are 10 things I would tell my Young Self about becoming a writer:

1. Always have a pen and paper on you. Observation and writing things down will be your muse; so don’t take this exercise lightly. Carry a pen everywhere because, even though you say you “will remember” you never do. This will crush you a thousand times over and you will lose many good ideas.

2. Pull your portfolio together, ASAP. You’re 20 right now, Young Self, and the Internet isn’t that important yet, but it will be. Experiment and send your work to every magazine, newspaper, e-zine and blog that will take it; you’ll need lessons about success and rejection, because you don’t always know how to take that (oh, but you’ll learn… I promise).

3. Get to know other writer-types. Your family and friends will be a wonderful audience for you, but you’ll want to have critical eyes on your work from the start, from people who understand the idiosyncrasies of writing. You will find this at your university’s newspaper, where you work, but seek out other experienced writers as well.

4. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t be tempted to take lame jobs just because “writing skills an asset” is in the job description – that’s not writing; you’ll end up working in marketing, PR and communications for way to many years, before you finally work at magazines and write books (which you are doing at 30, by the way…start earlier and don’t be shy). Believe in your worth, Young Self, because nobody does that for you.

5. Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be someone you know personally, but it should be someone whose work you think is ideal. Now, don’t write like they do, but allow yourself to enjoy his or her influence; take notes on how they approach writing (most writers will have blogs and talk about this) and don’t be shy to introduce yourself to your literary hero, if that opportunity should ever arise.

6. Tell yourself you are a writer. Do this everyday, because you will have doubts about what being a writer even means (this doesn’t dissipate as you age, by the way). Months will go by when you don’t write a thing down; you’ll feel low during these times, do don’t put down that pen or stop tapping those keys.

7. Don’t be discouraged. I know, I know, this sounds ridiculous, because those feelings will come (in fact, I know you already feel them, Young Self). But writing is competitive and can be very demanding. Show ‘em what you’re made of and keep pitching your story ideas, even to disgruntled editors.

8. Find support early on. Tell everyone you know that writing means the world to you, and then share your world. For you, it will mostly be Rob (he will be your husband someday, by the way). On days when you believe you can’t write, all you need is one person who reminds you that you can.

9. Hang with creative people. Seek them out. Photographers, painters, other writers, musicians, builders of beautiful things and stylists. You don’t find this until much, much later, so start now – their energy will be invaluable.

10. Your work is worth it. Once you’ve accumulated a solid body of work (and you will) don’t sell yourself short by writing something for nothing. In the beginning, this will be necessary, but not as you enter your mid-20s and especially not when you’re 30. Your work is worth something; beware of poachers.

Sandy Braz is a magazine writer, blogger and yoga lover working in Toronto (and sometimes Paris). She is writing her first book. Sandy knows the best places to sip Kir Royals and talk to strangers in the city. She blogs at