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Advice for the young - and the not so young writer

Spike Jonze attends the Beyond Words panel at the Writers Guild of America in LA
Spike Jonze attends the Beyond Words panel at the Writers Guild of America in LA
Valerie Macon for Getty Images, Jan. 28, 2014

Occasionally these days, I am asked to offer guidance to younger writers and journalists. What tips can I share? What mistakes have I made? Is there any money in writing? Is journalism still a viable profession?

The truth is, if someone has to ask me if writing is right for them, the answer is a clear "no!" Run for the hills. Grab a cab and head uptown, down a couple shots with your best friend and reinvent yourself. Longing to go to grad school and teach? - do it! Mother always said you'd make a fine doctor? Ditto.

The point is, writers - like artists, actors, singers and circus clowns - are driven by an internal engine that roars even when we'd prefer it to putter out. One older man I knew told me I was "like the rider of an uncontrollable horse" and that one day I'd learn how to control that horse.

I'm not sure that day has yet arrived, but certainly I'm able to control how often and forcefully that horse bucks.

So my advice for the young is to stick with it if this is your passion. Write, write, write and get published. Submit queries to major magazines -- and no, publishing is not dead -- and pay attention to how you're edited. Jot down every idea that comes to you on an old-fashioned yellow legal pad. Then bounce those ideas off a trusted friend (not the acquaintance who's always trying to tear you down).

If you want to grow up to win an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay like Spike Jonze did, you'll have to make sacrifices, too. I had a boyfriend who'd get up at five every morning and pound out several pages. Didn't matter if he was sick, traveling or just not in the mood.

Further, ideas are gold in this business. They come at all times - on the commode, on the train, in the bank as you're trying to secure a loan, when a tire goes flat, during a blizzard, after your brother's plane lands and you race to pick him up but are at the wrong airport.

The best advice is stick-to-itiveness, followed by confidence. I know most people would give the advice in the reverse order, but I have a sneaking suspicion many writers are insecure people who look in the mirror and see only pimples or rejection letters or failed romances.

The other advice is financial mindfulness. You may or may not make any money as a writer. If you're good, you will definitely make some money, but it may not be a lot. Save and don't squander. There are very few bestselling authors, and even they can end up penniless, telemarketing turquoise pendants.

Finally, read. Good writers have read the classics as well as keep up with current literature. Don't be snooty when it comes to good writing. And don't be too much in awe of fancy degrees or erudite, widely published authors who speak on campus. Instead, discover greatness for yourself.

And be that greatness, too.

You will because you keep at it - every day.

Follow me on Twitter @WriterWeegs. To read my latest piece, a blog post about how PRs can win over we journos, please click here.