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Advice for writers

Posted by Robin Abrahams  March 6, 2008 09:18 AM

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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.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
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 missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

Need Advice?

Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email missconduct@globe.com.

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