PERSISTENCE in WRITING
by Deborah Owen
Persistence in writing DOES pay off! Win-win propositions pay off, too. Editors love the phrase “win-win,” which means you have a deal whereby both ends have something to gain. I remember the first time I used that term.
The American Legion’s upcoming 75th Anniversary Edition was in preparation and their national office was in my back door. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that soon enough and when I called to ask about a job, the kind editor, Mr. Greenwald, said he had filled all positions.
Somewhere on the path of life, I had heard not to take no for an answer so I called again the next day and said, “This is Deborah Owen again. I called yesterday to ask about a position… “ and the not so kind editor cut me off mid-sentence with, “As I said yesterday, I have no positions available. Thank you for calling.” *click
I didn’t sleep much that night. Instead, I laid in bed and devised a plan whereby Mr. Greenwald would have to hire me. By morning, I was ready. With a dry mouth, I called him a third time and literally read from a written script, faking a voice of bravado and excitement:
“Hello, Mr. Greenwald. This is Deborah Owen again. I understand you don’t have any openings, but I have a win-win proposition you won’t want to pass up. I’d like to treat you to lunch one day this week to discuss it.”
He tried every way in the world to finagle the proposition out of me, but I knew it would be good-bye for the last time if I told him, so I said, “It’s too complicated to discuss on the phone. You choose the time and place and I’ll tell you in person.” He hesitated. [Never get in a hurry when waiting for an answer.] But, sensing he was about to say no, I added, “I promise to be brief.”
I was beginning to feel like I had leprosy when he finally agreed.
We met at his office Friday and walked two blocks to the diner. All the way there he wanted to know about my proposition but I played for time. “For now, let’s just get to know each other.”
I asked how long he had been editor at The American Legion, where he worked before and what his goals were in life. I kept him talking about himself – which is always a great strategy. At the end of the meal he asked about the great win-win proposition. I knew it was now or never, so I waded in and tried to look confident and enthusiastic (best done with a smile on one’s face).
“I’m a published freelance writer but I have yet to work inside a magazine. I understand the importance of a deadline and I’m never late. I’m meticulous in researching, and I was once a secretary for five men so I have good office skills. I’m a touch typist and a quick learner. Here’s my proposition: I’ll work for you free of charge. I’ll research, write, edit, or sweep floors if you’ll just let me work on the 75th Edition with you. Teach me. I want to learn. I’ll be the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. No matter what job you give me, you can count on it being done well. Now if that’s not a win-win proposition, I don’t know what is.”
With a smile, he answered, “Let me give you some advice, Mrs. Owen. Never offer your services for nothing. Someone may think they aren’t worth anything, and everyone is worth something. I’ll see you Monday morning at 8 am… and I will pay you a salary. I met you because I was curious, and I hired you because you were persistent. Persistence is a good quality. You’ll intern directly beneath me and you can have the desk right outside my office.”
I earned over $400 as I researched original WWI history and drafted 37 articles. No other job taught me so much in such a short amount of time. This is where the story should end on a high note, but there’s more.
One day Mr. Greenwald sent me to see a woman who was a higher up in the American Legion Auxiliary. In front of a third party, she lied to me to my face and I called her on it. I told Mr. Greenwald about it immediately (to build some insurance, in case he heard about it later). Three weeks came and went and I forgot about the incident, but the lying shrew didn’t. Mr. Greenwald called me in and said orders came down from way over his head. He had to fire me, as she was calling for my job and nothing less would please her.
“But I told you what happened,” I said. He lectured me on the urgency of good politics. So there I was. Out of the best job in the world.
The highs of digging through authentic files as direct intern beneath the American Legion’s National Headquarter’s editor was too high, and the low of losing that job was too low. I didn’t even know how much of my work went into the edition until it came out. ALL of it went in, and the “I Remember” section was completely my work, including the idea for it. Still, I couldn’t pull out of the depression, so I did the worst thing possible. I dropped completely out of writing for ten years. I let go of writing, but writing wouldn’t let go of me, so here’s the lesson:
When the doors don’t open easily, take a crowbar! Know what you are going to say. Practice saying it out loud (in front of a mirror), and then go for it! What do you have to lose? Groom yourself properly. Dress for success. Greet the editor with a strong handshake and take him out for lunch. And by the way, don’t leave your wallet at home (like I did) and… lastly… learn when to button your lip.
Editors want to hire writers who practice tactfulness, not brazen personnel that casts their magazine in a bad light. Writing persistence and “win-win propositions” will take you far but in the end, it depends on how much guts you have.
Mr. Greenwald was one of the main stepping stones in my writing life. If not for him, I wouldn’t have founded two writing schools later. The future is exciting!! If you could only see it. Every single day, you are affecting your future… so go after it, and swing by http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com on the way.
While you’re there, check the guidelines for the writing contest now in progress!
Continue reading The Job that Made me… and Broke Me. My Personal Story of Success and Humiliation.