Samuel Johnson once said, “Few things are impossible to diligence and skill.” My own version of this, as a father and an executive, has always been a less poetic, “If you have talent and you don’t quit, you win.” I am always gratified when my pedestrian notions seem to be similar, if awkwardly so, to the great thinkers.
The talent part of this equation is the big assumption, of course. Certainly skill and native talent share a dynamic in which skill can be learned and/or improved by effort. So, really, there are three components to what one is trying to achieve: talent, skill and persistence.
Several years ago, I told anyone who would listen that I when I got older, when my daughter was on her own and standing on her own two feet, I would do the radio, write and teach. Teaching was in the bag because I had done a ton of it for Wall Street, and it was easy to land consulting gigs afterward in that field as well as broadcasting. Today, I still get to train the interns of WVOX.
Radio itself and writing were another matter. Some other day we’ll get into what is was like to start over in a different career. Suffice it say that it was difficult and expensive; and that if people like the owner of WVOX, Bill O’Shaughnessy, and his program director, Don Stevens, did not take the chance on an old unknown, it still might not have happened. Thanks, gentlemen.
This writing stuff was and is another matter entirely. It is true that I had been a speech and report writer in my old career. It paid well and I got fairly good at it. But the demands of writing for corporate masters and the public are very different. In the business world you need to meet the needs of the person, or department, for whom you write. As for their audience, whether recipients of a report or the captive herd in an auditorium, they are—well—captive.
Writing for newspapers or their on-line kin, like Patch, is another challenge altogether. You have an editor whose responsibility it is to judge whether or not readers will actually read you, that your content is relevant, interesting and readable. He or she must also ensure that your writing is technically correct.
If not, they or a copy editor will have to spend an inordinate amount of time correcting your work. This, by the way, is an excellent way to lose the gig. He or she must also ensure that you have checked your facts, followed their style guide of what and what not to do grammatically and so forth. Also, he or she must protect the publisher from any libel suits that can result from gratuitous slander or patently unfair attacks of persons or businesses.
Writing for publication is a hard job to get and an easy job to lose. A chance to write a weekly column is even harder. Like my bosses at WVOX, the management of AOL’s New Rochelle Patch—in the person of Michael Woyton— took a shot. And so, I am compelled to add a new factor to the equation. You also need people with the courage to give you a chance when their own jobs are on the line.