Mark Twain once said we should “write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.“
Thankfully, in my case, I didn’t have to wait three years to get paid for my writing. And I certainly did not resort to sawing wood, something I know for a fact my scrawny hands would never be good at!
But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
How it all began
Ever since 2003 when I watched the TV series “Doc”, headlined by famous country singer Billy Ray Cyrus (him who fathered the other famous Cyrus, Miley), and which I touched on in a previous post, writing has become something of an allure and passion for me. (Billy Ray’s character “Doc” would journal at the end of each episode)
Like “Doc”, penning down my thoughts in writing felt natural, though I wasn’t very good at first. Those initial entries were really more like something you accidentally stumble across in a teenager’s diary. (Or not, if you’re a sneaky parent rummaging through your teen’s cupboard and drawers when he/she’s not around!)
You know those diary entries. Bits of incomplete thoughts randomly strewn over pages; some parts still a tad moist from yesterday’s tears! Really just an unbridled stream of consciousness.
When I first became a parent in 2009 (after waiting almost a decade), I was over the moon and wanted very much to capture my thoughts and emotions on finally hitting this life-changing milestone. So about the time my eldest boy was conceived, I began journaling again; something I had neglected to do regularly since my mission days back in Hanoi several years prior.
My goal then was simple: I wanted to keep a record of the months leading up to his birth, and my preparations to be a dad. Hopefully, these could someday become a ‘how-to” manual I bequeath to my sons when they become dads.
My first paid writing gig
These days, few parents in our Internet and mobile-crazed era can keep from snapping endless instagrammable photos of their newborns everyday and everywhere. The likes of Facebook and Instagram are constantly filled with selfies and wefies galore; all showing the joyful bliss of being new parents.
Yours truly was no different.
My initial parenting years were chocked full of visual memories. There never seemed to be a time I didn’t want to take a picture or video of my boys as they crawled, waddled, staggered, strolled then ran amok. And then afterward, upload them to my social media accounts for the world to see.
But I didn’t stop there.
I wanted to chronicle my journey as a parent and also talk about my experience in written pieces for others to see and maybe learn from. So I began journaling in earnest and also started exploring where I could connect with others like me through my writing.
Sometime in 2014, someone connected me to a local magazine editor. Her magazine was targeted at mothers with babies, but she always kept two pages for fathers to contribute either articles, or family photos, or both.
And the best part was, she paid!
So over several months, I contributed a total of five essays (each approximately 500 words in length). They were all published with minimum edits.
Although the paycheque was a humble USD180 each time, it still felt like such a big coup for me. Up until then I never really thought my writing would amount to anything. And I certainly didn’t believe I could get paid for it!
Two things made a difference: I was passionate about the topic (fatherhood), and I was willing to put myself out there.
No more paid writing gigs…for 6 years!
But due to dwindling readership and stiff competition, that magazine folded a year after.
Which left me to wonder: where next?
I didn’t waste time dwelling on that though, as I was still busy holding down a full-time lecturing position while raising a family.
Along the way, I continued with my journaling, even contributing newspaper forum letters. Some were published, some not. Nonetheless, they gave me the fuel I needed to believe in my writing abilities and to keep me going. But in my writings, I always stuck close to what I believed were topics I knew best: parenting, education, writing, and social issues close to my heart.
In 2018 I switched to full-time parenting (I became a stay-at-home-dad or SAHD) and part-time teaching to spend more time at home, which gave me more time to write. In addition, my new SAHD status meant I had new things to say about parenting and life, not to mention my thoughts on inclusion and special needs people in society, especially since my youngest was diagnosed with ASD in 2017.
Which is how this blog was born!
But to build content for my blog, I had to absorb content. So I became a voracious collector of every reading material or audio resource I could grab hold of. One of the best in these past three years had to be the numerous parenting and writer podcast series I picked up on Spotify.
Which led me in 2020 to my first paid writing gig since nearly six years before! And best of all, it came from across the globe!
My second paid writing gig — this time from far away!
It was a parenting podcast I had been following for some time. Each week, the host and his guests spoke on the real and challenging aspects of fathering that resonated deeply with me.
But on one particular episode, the host (based in Portland, Oregon) deviated to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement. As someone not belonging to that race, he felt a renewed call to pay more attention to how he “treated” those who were different from him. And because, like him, I belong to the dominant race in my own country, I too felt a tug to reexamine my own relationships with those different from me.
And so when the host invited listeners to email him our thoughts on this issue, I did. Even though I lived half way across the world and didn’t have first-hand experience of the racial tensions happening in the US.
Clearly the raw and vulnerable tone I adopted in my email connected with him, because the next thing I knew, the host replied. He said he liked my writing and asked if I wrote/blogged for a living, and would I consider converting his podcast episodes into blog posts.
And to top it off, he was prepared to pay me if I did!
Next thing I knew, I was drafting a sample blog post (based on an earlier episode he did) and emailing it over to him. He liked it, and before I could pinch myself to see if I was dreaming, he sent me USD400 via PayPal!
Talk about hitting the jackpot!
What I learnt
Now you’re probably thinking I had nailed a great gig that’s gonna put some extra cakes and muffins on the family breakfast table everyday from now on, yah?
Well, unfortunately, this story has more of a “suspended animation” kind of ending than a fairy-tale one.
You see, the host had to put this writing project in the back burners as other more pressing pursuits overtook him. So while he said a few months back that he would contact me again if he wanted to pursue this writing gig further, I’ve not heard from him since.
But actually, even if he never calls, this podcast host did help unlock a few important and affirmative truths for me:
1. I CAN write!
2. Some of it is good enough to be praised, published, and purchased.
3. If I write what I know consistently enough, I can hone my craft over time and get better and better.
4. As long as I keep at it and don’t give up seeking opportunities, they will abound everywhere; even in places far away!
Also, and perhaps most importantly, I proved to the prolific maestro himself, Mr Mark Twain, that these hands of mine can get paid for writing, not sawing wood!
So even as I stay in a sort of “suspended animation” for now, I will nevertheless look to my marvellous writing coach Marion and recall what she once told me: