My first job as a paid writer was with the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s student newspaper. I wrote for the arts section. Album reviews. Exhibit reviews. An interview with the new head of the dance program. My cult classic “MTV Hell.”


The editor of the arts section was a very serious older student named Frank. I had no car, so when Frank wanted me to review an art exhibit  off campus, he offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle.

Frank roared up in front of the dorm. I climbed on the back of the bike.

“Where’s you notebook?” he asked.

“I didn’t bring one.”



“Never go anywhere without something to write with and something to write on,” he growled. And away we went.

So began my education as a writer.

At several points during the past 20-some years of being paid to write in one form or another, students or their parents have asked for my advice about how to earn a living as a writer. Frank’s advice is a good place to start, but I have learned some other things over the years that might be useful for people who are interested in writing as a career.

If you’re not one of those people, you can just read “MTV Hell” and move on. But if you are interested, here are some things I have learned.

  • Call yourself a writer and introduce yourself as one.
  • Never turn down an opportunity to write. Especially if someone is willing to pay you. Anything. Anything at all. Just do it.
  • If you don’t have an opportunity to write, create one. Almost everybody has a website or blog to feed.
  • If something is boring, find a way to make it not boring. Metaphor, simile, pointing out how an unfamiliar thing is a lot like a familiar thing–find a way to make it interesting.
  • Word counts matter. Deadlines matter more.
  • Knowing nothing about topic is not a reason to avoid writing about it; it’s the reason to write about it.
  • Finally, in school, let your instructors know who you are through your writing.