Surviving Boot Camp (for Journalists)
"If writing were easy, everyone would do it," said Sara Fiedelholtz, Chicago
Sun-Times staff reporter and teacher/mediator of Mediabistro.com's "Chicago Boot Camp for Journalists."
Once a week, ten of us wannabe freelance writers would gather around a conference table in a PR office downtown, armed with fresh copies (one for everyone) of the article and query letter we had written the week before, full of hope and ready for feedback.
First, we would read our article aloud while everyone scribbled comments on their copy. Second, we had to listen silently to the criticisms and suggestions of Fiedelholtz and the class on how to improve our work. The goal Ñ to sell our pieces to publications and earn back the $500 it cost to join the class Ñ was achieved by some.
The first time I read something aloud, I walked away from class with only a shred of self-respect and one usable sentence in my entire 1,200-word article. The highest complement I received was a solitary "Neat," scrawled pitifully across the top of one of my returned copies. One student Ñ in worse shape than meÑwould visibly react to the class's feedback; growing red and sweaty as the comments and suggestions tumbled forth (ironically, he was one of the students who earned back the $500).
Apart from the grueling process of writing, rewriting, querying, and waiting nervously for the rejection or acceptance notice from a publication, the worst and best part of becoming a freelance writer in this class was the class itself Ñ It took me eight weeks to figure this out. Journalism is not for the weak-minded or hopelessly defensive: I signed up for boot camp, not day camp.
Looking back, I see that Fiedelholtz' initial statement about writing was perceptive, preparing us for the challenges of freelance writing that lie ahead.
And she was right. If writing were easy, everyone would do it.
For more information visit www.mediabistro.com.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2002-2003 issue of Chicago Learning Guide Magazine.