I occasionally get e-mails asking how one can get started as an advice columnist, or more broadly as a columnist, or more broadly yet as a writer. Got one last week, in fact, and then someone on my chat yesterday asked me how I became an etiquette columnist, so I thought I'd try to marshal my hitherto-unmarshalled thoughts on the matter.
I wound up writing the "Miss Conduct" column through an incredible bit of luck: the right person at the right place at the right time. Mr. Improbable's writing career got started in a similarly serendipitous fashion. We've got odd careers that are based fundamentally around writing (columns and articles and books and blogs), but encompass a lot of other things, too, like teaching and consulting and lectures and live shows and ambitions for radio and television. Things have worked out really, really well for us and we're very grateful. But although we both got very lucky at key moments, we did some things right that made that luck more likely, and that prepared us to take advantage of it when it came.
The thing is, although we're both doing almost exactly what we wanted to do when we were kids (blogs weren't invented when I was a kid, but if I known about them, I'd've wanted one), it's not like we ever formulated a step-by-step plan to get where we are. Both of us just sort of followed our gut instincts and grabbed whatever vine of opportunity was dangling in front of us and swung like George of the Jungle. (Watch out for that tree!) We didn't even major in English or journalism in college--I did theater, Mr. Improbable did applied math, and guess which one of us always has to figure the tip on a restaurant tab?. We studied and worked at a lot of different fields before we landed where we are.
There's a lot of different ways to make a career as a writer, which is probably one of the attractive things about it. I don't really know how the standard career progression is even supposed to work--the world of journalism schools and MFAs and writers' workshops is largely mysterious to me. I can only tell you what worked for us. Based on my experience and that of Mr. Improbable, I can offer this advice: if you want to write, you need to strike a balance between three things: writing, living, and networking. Click the links for more on all three.
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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.