Gary Marshall is 10! In deadlines, that is. Which is about 1,000 in grey hairs..

Gary Marshall is 10! Years in print, that is. Here’s the short version of how he got there:

[In my previous job] I’d drive to Clydebank and I’d mope my way through the working day, buggering about on the internet when I got the chance and reading .net in my lunch break. Then I’d go home, eat, go to the pub, get plastered, come back and fight with people online. I figured I’d keep doing that until my liver exploded.

And then I had an idea. I’d been reading .net, and my mind wandered, and I thought about things, and I came up with The Greatest Idea For A Magazine Feature Ever. Giddy with excitement, I emailed it to the editor of .net, Richard Longhurst. And amazingly, he replied.

That, he said, is the worst idea for a magazine feature ever.

He wasn’t being nasty; he also said that my email had made him laugh. Did I have any other ideas?

Darn tooting I did. I sat up until 4am, racking my brains until I’d come up with the Ten Greatest Ideas For Magazine Features Ever. I sent them to Richard the following morning. His reply was almost instant.

When I said you’d sent me the worst idea for a magazine feature ever, I was wrong, he said. I’ve just read ten ideas that are even worse.

Richard was clearly amused by this, though, so he gave me a chance. Can you do 3,000 words about online journals for Friday?

I had no idea what online journals were, and I had no idea how you were supposed to write for print. So of course I said yes.

It’s weird how that works. My experience was very similar – you read a magazine, you love it so much that *you* want to be in it, because that will somehow make things perfect. In my case it was a tennis magazine, but the principle’s the same. As a writer, you somehow find an editor who likes the stuff that’s coming out of your brain; it might be formless but they can see there’s something in it. As an editor, I find that still happens: there are people who email with ideas that are simply hopeless (and sadly so are the people); but with others, you get that sudden sense of deja vu; this is you, but in another person, another time, and that’s when you say “That’s not much of an idea, but why don’t you write about…?”

By the way, you should read the whole post, which is typically good.

8 Comments

  1. Hi Charles, thanks for the link – although in my case it’s nae hair rather than grey hair :)

    > As a writer, you somehow find an editor who likes the stuff thatís coming out of your brain; it might be formless but they can see thereís something in it.

    Definitely. And if you’re really lucky your editor(s) will continue to push you – either in directions you hadn’t thought about, or just in terms of raising your game. I blogged about this a long time ago [http://www.bigmouthstrikesagain.com/archives/570]: “there are very, very few writers whose work doesnít benefit from the input of a good editor. I donít just mean nuts and bolts editing, either, although thatís important: I mean the editorial process as a whole.”

    So how did you get from tennis to tech?

  2. @Gary – from tennis to tech? Well, tennis was what I loved to write about, but tech was what I was trained in (via engineering); blagged way into writing pieces for computer papers (back in the days of Datalink) and then into job on Computer Weekly, when it straddled the world and had staff size of local paper. And from there…

  3. It’s funny how planned you sound. All the tech journalists I know seem to have fallen into it by accident. In most cases, because they loved computers and wanted to do stuff with them or, failing that, about them. (And during the expensive years, tech journalism was a way to be kept supplied with the most recent kit for free.) I fell into it because a contact at The Skeptic knew someone who needed some help in a hurry at VNU.

    wg

  4. I fell in sideways too. I’d never written a thing but owned a Mac and was employed to shift boxes and do features tables for MacUser. Add 6 years, stir and stand well back, hey presto I’m technical editor. Don’t ask me how. I have never loved a computer. Honest.

  5. @Charles: Ah, I see. Do you still keep your hand in with the tennis stuff, or has that fallen by the wayside due to work/family life?

    @Wendy: Funny, now I think about it most of the tech writers and eds I’ve known fell into it too. Maybe it’s because it’s a relatively young branch of journalism, so sheer enthusiasm was/is the most important thing.

  6. *wendyg posts an LJ entry about tweeters and @ symbols: http://wendyg.livejournal.com/222731.html

    wg

  7. Charles

    Thursday 16 October 2008 at 12:17 am

    @Gary @5: do I keep my hand in at tennis? Play it a bit, comment on it on Twitter. (Did the Murray-Federer final for the benefit of those w/o Sky.) Not any space to do it professionally – the mag has long since closed, and it’s very time-consuming going to fortnight-long tennis tournaments.

  8. And may I point out that this kind of thing also happens (relatively) late in life. I’ve recently started writing slightly techie bits for Word Magazine – an outlet I had admired for years and never dreamt of actually writing for…

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