The first time I was paid for it.
Until I began thinking about “origins,” the topic for this month’s blog tour, I’d forgotten all about the first time I sold any of my writing.
It was 1980 or 1981, right after I’d graduated college and begun making my living as a writer ... Except that having returned to the small town where I’d grown up, there weren’t many opportunities for me to do that.
Then my thoughts turned to the local paper, named at the time the Playground Daily News. I had no reporting experience, and no intention of becoming one—I wanted to write fiction, not news—but something prompted me to call and ask the editor if he’d take a column for the editorial page.
At least part of the impulse came from my years of reading comic books. The super-heroic code was embedded in my brain: I had an obligation to use my er, great powers, for good and since writing was the closest thing I had to a power, I decided to use it.
At the time, the religious right was just taking shape as a political force, one that opposed a great many things I cared about (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, women’s rights ...). Writing a column critiquing some of Jerry Falwell’s statements—at that time, he was the movement’s best known front man—seemed like a way to do good and make money at the same time.
Over the next few weeks, I sold four columns, about $10 apiece, and had the satisfaction of being told by outraged local conservatives that my opinions were anti-God (not that I want to be anti-God, but I certainly wanted to be anti the right-wing God). Then the editor informed me that the paper couldn’t pay me any more; being extremely shy, I didn’t have the nerve to ask why or try to negotiate him out of that decision.
It was a blow. $10 was a lot to me at the time, and landing what I’d hoped would be a regular writing gig was an emotional boost too. Mindful of my super-heroic duty, however, I continued sending in columns and letters for nothing; if I hadn’t become a reporter and columnist for another paper, I’d be doing it still (you can check out my day-job political blog).
I think the standard line is that nothing compares to the thrill of that first sale, but my first short story and magazine article (both a couple of years later) were more exciting then and mean a lot more to me now.
Still, I’m glad writing this essay gave me the incentive to remember my first writing success.