Job Shadowing

A guidance counselor at the local grade school contacted a woman I know and asked her to speak to one of the students about being a writer. This woman’s expertise is in journalism, which is one thing the boy is interested in, but the counselor also wanted an author to talk to him, so my acquaintance passed the request along to me. (The subject line of the emails that were copied to me is “job shadowing,” hence the title of this blog.)

I’ve been ignoring the whole situation because I’m truly hesitant about encouraging anyone to be a writer. I’m of the same mind as Dorothy Parker; “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

People who want to write will write despite any encouragement or lack thereof, so I certainly wouldn’t blight the kid’s interest in writing by not talking to him, but apparently he isn’t interested in the craft of writing so much as writing as a job, and I can’t tell him anything about the job aspect. (Except to tell him that to make money as a writer, he needs to find another job, such as plumber or electrician.)

I can tell people how to write better, I can tell them how to develop a story, I can tell them any number of things about the craft of writing, but I have no idea how to make a living at being a writer. Besides, I tend to think any writing advice I have would go over the head of even the smartest kid, since so much of what I know is obviously over the heads of the most well-known and wealthiest writers today because so few of them practice what I would preach. Being a good writer and being a successful author have little correlation to one another. Rather than expertise, it is luck and phenomenal marketing skills that determines a successful writer.

Making the situation worse, nowadays success seems to be about sliding in on the coattails of another writer. It used to be that there was a turnover in bestselling authors as they died or retired, but the trend now is to continue the name ad infinitum. And ad nauseum.

I did give a speech to students not that long ago about the importance of writing, but that’s different from talking one-on-one.

Writers, if you were presented with this dilemma, what would you do?


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Today I Am Officially a Writer

First draft of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

First draft of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

I got serious about writing a little over a decade ago. That’s when I started writing novels as well as researching the craft of writing and the publishing industry. I finished writing my novels about seven or seven years ago, then concentrated on rewriting and polishing the manuscripts to make sure they were as good as I could possibly make them. Meantime, I sent out hundreds of query letters in an effort to find an agent or publisher.

You’d think all those years focused on the craft of writing, rewriting, editing, proofing, querying would qualify me to call myself a writer, but it was just something I did, not something I was, so I never gave myself the title.

Even after my first two books were published by Second Wind Publishing in 2009, I still didn’t identify myself as a writer, except in relation to the books. For example, Pat Bertram, author of More Deaths Than One. I now have five books published — four suspense novels and one book about grief — but I still didn’t call myself a writer. It seems sort of silly and, considering all the millions of writers who have a book listed on Amazon, makes me not the least bit special. And anyway, I don’t make a living off writing, which would, I think, be a major qualification to list “writer” as one’s occupation.

Today, I had to go to the bank to fill out some paperwork, and they asked my occupation. Oddly, the only thing that came to mind was “writer.” I laughed to myself and said sotto voce, “What the heck.” Then, louder, I told the clerk, “I am a writer.” (It’s a good thing they didn’t need to ask what my income was. They’d probably have laughed in my face.) Still, “writer” sounded so much more interesting than shrugging off the question about occupation with a brief comment about taking care of my father.

So now it’s official. I am a writer.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+