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“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 10: The Writer (Conclusion)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927

Agnes Lovendahl Stewart

The introduction to this series is posted here.

[X. ] – The Writer

Most of us seem to be born with the desire to scribble. Whether it is a blessing or a curse, who shall say? We start at the age of two or so, to cover up the walls with writing which means something to us if to no one else. A few years later we start putting a lot of sentiments on paper which we think we feel – having perhaps been too much under the influence of moonlight and springtime. A month or two after we probably wonder what on earth we saw in that particular individual to whom the glowing letters were addressed, and devoutly wish our thoughts had never been put on paper.

Then we want to write for magazines. That the notion is almost universal is proved by the steady stream of manuscripts which pour into every editor’s office.

All of which doesn’t prove that you are not the author the world is waiting for. Perhaps you are! if you want to try, by all means do so. Fanny Hurst sent 38 stories to the Saturday Evening Post before they accepted one. And now she never considers less than $1800.00 for a single story!

But of course you don’t have to be a Fanny Hurst in order to make a living by writing. You don’t even have to get a single story in one of the magazines. There are other lines open to the girl who loves to scribble.

For one thing there is the newspaper. ordinarily the newspaper would rather have a man than a woman. Ordinarily, I say. But there is always an opening for special talent and ability above the ordinary. Your job is to make your ability very much above the ordinary, and you will be in demand, rather than looking for a job.

Good training for newspaper work can be had on your school publications. Get all the experience you can working on these in any and every capacity. It is wonderful preparation for any kind of writing work.

It is also a good thing to take a course in journalism if you possibly can. But by all means go to a good school or college. and you will also need to understand stenography if you expect to be a good reporter. You must be able to typewrite accurately and swiftly, and it is always a good thing to know enough of shorthand to use it when you need it.

Right here let me sound a warning. Beware of correspondence schools which will teach you to write in six months or a year, or in a certain number of courses. You see an attractive ad, showing how many of their graduates have had stories accepted, or photoplays produced. Aha, you say, there must be something to this! You write for information. They send you a flock of circulars and letters and testimonials, and request you to submit to them an original piece of writing – merely a little plot. They immediately write back that you have talent and all you need to develop it is their course.

Don’t believe it! There isn’t any royal road to authorship, or men and women would be streaming along it by the millions. You simply will find yourself out of pocket $100 or $200 with nothing to show but a series of lessons which you could get at the public library in any book of short-story writing. I do not, of course, mean to imply that all correspondence schools are fraudulent, but many of them are merely traps for the ambitious author.

In the newspaper field, a woman meets with several difficulties. For one thing, the hours are not good, particularly if she works on a morning paper, for then her writing has to be done sometime before the first edition goes to press about midnight, or, if something big breaks, it means even later.

Every newspaper of any size has is society editor, and often one or more assistants. Their job is to secure the news of important social events, and write it up interestingly. They plan what photographs shall be used, and see that these are taken and grouped properly. They receive information over the telephone, and they attend important functions, club socials and other events which will be of interest to their readers, and write an account of the affairs.

Another opportunity for women is the special women’s feature, such as the Heartitorium conducted by Kathleen Kaye in the Deseret News, and Heart’s Haven, conducted by Betty Blair in the Salt Lake Telegram. Dorothy Dix, starting as an answer woman on a newspaper has become one of the most famous and best paid newspaper writers in the world, her column being syndicated and published in newspapers all over the world.

Advertising is another very fertile field for the girl who loves to scribble. It is interesting, particularly in agency work where she must become familiar with a great many lines of business in order to write good selling copy appropriate for each. Women copywriters are coming to the front in ever increasing numbers. Women are the purchasing agents of the home, buying 90% of everything purchased in the country, and probably influencing the purchase of the other 10% – for what man buys a tie or a suit without some woman’s preference in mind?

Then, if women are the buyers, it is to the women that advertising must appeal. Isn’t it logical then, that women will know best the selling points that will appeal to other women?

A reporter on a newspaper will receive from $125 per month upward. those who have made a following for themselves in a woman’s column, will, of course, receive much more, because their services are relatively more important to the paper.

An advertising copywriter may expect to begin at about $125, the salary to advance according to ability and experience. And a copywriter has the opportunity to become copy chief or advertising manager of a store or other business where the salary is much greater. A clever copywriter in one of the large agencies, or “free lancing” – may earn $300 or $400 a month.

The business of writing stories for the magazines or of writing novels or photoplays is always attractive will-o’-the-wisp many folks chase. It pays so well if one is successful. One may work when one wishes, and travel where one pleases, and one’s job goes obligingly along.

But – it is very rare indeed that a photoplay is accepted from anyone not in the employ of the studio as a scenario writer. It is merely a waste of time to send them.

And don’t let anyone make you believe that if you pay a certain sum of money they will write music to your song and try to market it for you – it is just a trick to get your money in almost every instance, and many companies have been put out of business by the government for this very fraud, but new ones spring up each year.

If you want to write for the magazines, here are a few hints: study the magazines carefully, to be sure that your story is the kind of story that particular magazine publishes. Many good stories have been returned to their authors because they were not suitable to the particular magazines to which they were sent. Always typewrite your material, or have it typewritten, leaving generous margins, and having the manuscript double-0spaced between lines. Put your name and address on the upper corner of the first sheet of your story or article. Don’t send a long letter with it – if you must write at all, make it short. Get an interesting beginning, and an arresting title. And Keep On Trying!

You may do all these essential things, and still receive from the editors only rejection slips instead of nice fat checks. What is it makes a story sell? Why, honey, if I knew, I’d write them myself!



4 Comments »

  1. Thank you so much. I’ve loved this series, and the combination of optimism and practicality that Ms. Stewart brings to her writing. Even with the acknowledgements of sexism in the workplace, I finish reading each installment and feel excited.

    Comment by kew — April 19, 2011 @ 9:43 am

  2. $1800 for a story? Who was Fanny Hurst?

    Wikipedia notes that F. Scott Fitzgerald included her among a group of authors “not producing among ‘em one story or novel that will last 10 years.”

    He was right about that!

    Comment by Researcher — April 19, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  3. Fascinating to read this story with the juxtaposition of modern blogging. For good or ill, everybody can now be a “writer”. Luckily the investment in blogging is merely time, and for many can be a great way to tackle the ever-moving target of family history.

    Writers have never made a lot of money – except for the same few that sell millions of copies with their name alone.

    Comment by MMM — April 19, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

  4. These have been interesting. I’ve appreciated that they have been more encouraging than I would have expected for the period involved.

    I guess it is easier to say this:

    Always typewrite your material, or have it typewritten, leaving generous margins, and having the manuscript double-0spaced between lines. Put your name and address on the upper corner of the first sheet of your story or article.

    than to say “cough over $50 for a Chicago Manual of Style!”

    Comment by kevinf — April 19, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

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