A few weeks ago the family was doing a massive cleaning in one of our sheds when my wife held up a magazine and asked “Do you want this?” As I glanced her way my heart skipped a few beats then I sternly responded, “Hell YES I want that magazine! I didn’t even know I still had a copy of it.”
What my wife of five years did not realize was that she held a very important piece of my personal history in her hands. In fact, inside that magazine was the very first outdoors article I ever got published—an article dating back to August of 1986. Yup, it was that article that ignited the fire to further pursue a career as an outdoors communicator.
Actually, I was a junior in college at the University of Minnesota during the spring quarter back in 1986. I was studying Technical Communications, but one of the fun classes I chose to take was called Writing For Publication. It was a senior-level class and I quickly discovered after day one that Professor Sperbeck had some mighty high expectations for his students. Quite honestly, he broke the news to us this way…THE ONLY WAY YOU WILL PASS HIS CLASS IS TO GET PUBLISHED IN A NEWSPAPER AND A MAGAZINE.
Wow! Back in those days a college quarter usually lasted about 12 weeks and that was a pretty high order. I remember attending a lecture given by a visiting professor on trends in agricultural economics. I reported on the talk and submitted that to a daily newspaper near my home-town. Published! One down and one more to go.
I thought long and hard about what topic to write a magazine article on. My passion had always been with the outdoors, so I decided to give it a try with the Minnesota Sportsman magazine. Now, the typical protocol for writing an article for magazine publication is to query the editor and determine his/her interest on a particular topic. Obviously, with the time being a factor for a school project I had no luxury to query and wait for a response. So, instead, I just wrote the article to the best of my ability and mailed the manuscript package off (complete with accompanying photos and side-bar information) to the editor.
My fingers were crossed and I probably said a few prayers because a lot was at stake with my grade.
Lo and behold a few weeks later I received a letter from then editor, Chuck Petrie, informing me that he liked the article and it would be published that fall of 1986. In other words, that letter along with my manuscript got turned in to the professor to fulfill my course requirements.
I must say the first times you get published there is no greater feeling in the world. Sure, you sense a certain satisfaction of achievement, but for me it also stoked my desire to keep the ball rolling, so to speak. I figured if I could get published in a magazine, I could do other exciting things like work in radio or write regular newspaper columns, etc. Honestly, there is nothing like the sweet taste of success to give one the confidence to continue achieving.
By the time I had finished my senior year at the University I decided I owed it to myself to discover where I could go with my writing career. My next step was to take the bold action of writing to Ron Schara, who was then the outdoors columnist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. In a letter I explained to Ron who I was and how I had admired his talents and achievements in this outdoors communication profession. Several months went by and I never heard a response back. I pretty much had given up hope…when I received a call one evening from Ron indicating he might have some work for a young writer such as me.
After I hung up the phone I let out a yell that rivaled the level of excitement I produced upon locating my very first deer. Again, it appeared doors were opening and my outdoors writing career was about to get a big boost.
During the next several years I worked with Ron on various research projects plus for about two years worked for an ad agency out of Fargo writing his radio scripts for a daily program called Minnesota Outdoors. One thing led to another and eventually I found myself writing my own scripts for a radio program I personally produced called The Southeastern Minnesota Outdoor Scene.
Okay, I could go on, but I’m not going to bore you with all the details about my outdoors communicating career during the past 24 years. Suffice it to say I’ve learned a great deal about what it takes to succeed in this business (and quite honestly I view myself as still working hard TRYING to achieve that sometimes elusive feeling of success). But here’s a few thoughts that might be helpful, particularly to newcomers in the outdoors writing field:
- Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you…if you want something bad enough you need to find a way to open doors and get it done.
- Find a mentor. The guidance they will provide to you will prove valuable in ways you might never even expect.
- Be honest in your reporting and don’t try to be something other than who you are. If not, eventually people will see through you and your cover (reputation) will be blown.
- Ideally write about those topics you enjoy so much the task hardly seems like work. I find that’s when I usually give something my best effort because my passion naturally shows through.
- Take chances. Put aside any fears of failure. As one of my voice-over acting coaches used to tell me…”Jim, you will never outperform your own self-image.” If you believe you can do it…there’s probably nothing that will stop you from reaching that goal.
- Be prepared to succeed. Use each personal achievement as momentum to take you to a higher level.
- If you find yourself ready to give up…try opening a different door (opportunity). I’m a firm believer that those folks in life who understand the great value of persistence will ultimately always find success and happiness.
In closing, I figured after writing this blog for six years it was important for readers to finally learn about my humble beginnings as an outdoors writer. I can honestly say, that $160 check I received for my first magazine article truly opened my eyes for what direction I wanted my post-college career to go. And although I have never been a full-time outdoors communicator, the passion for this profession continues to grow stronger with each passing year.
©2010 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.