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The best way to prepare for your career

When I was a college senior and trying to find people who wrote for a living to learn what their work was really like and to get advice on starting my career, I had the fortune of meeting Tahl Raz. I was a fan of his writing in Inc. magazine, for which he had been recognized as one of the Top 30 Business Journalists Under 30. He had also written for the Jerusalem Post and the San Francisco Chronicle, and, at the time was collaborating with my now boss, Keith Ferrazzi, on their book Never Eat Alone.

If anyone could give me the kind of magical advice I thought would help to rocket my career, it would be Tahl. But as entertained as I was by his stories of the unpredictable twists and turns of his young career, the best advice he gave me on starting my writing career was quite simple.

"Are you writing?" he asked.

"No," I shamefully admitted.

"Then start."

Turns out Keith Ferrazzi got the same blunt advice back when he was in business school. He recounts the following in Never Eat Alone:

First, get over all the romantic pretensions around writing. In business school, when I was dreaming about publishing an article in the Harvard Business Review, I had a wonderful encounter with a visiting professor who had written a number of high-profile articles and books. I asked her how I, too, could become a writer.

"Write," she told me.

Brows furrowed, I nodded. When no more advice came from her esteemed mouth, I asked: "Anything else?"

"Write, then write some more. When you’re done—and here’s the kicker—keep writing.

"Look," she said, "there is no secret. Writing is tough. But people of all talents, at all levels, do it. The only thing necessary to become a writer is a pen, some paper, and the will to express yourself."

Bright woman. Want to write something? Write it. Want to get published? Call an editor and tell him you want to submit an article. Your first time may be a flaming failure. Nothing in life is a sure thing. But that’s how people do it.

My first attempt at publishing my writing wasn’t a flaming failure, but it wasn’t exactly smooth, either.

It took me a few weeks after meeting Tahl to figure out what I wanted to write about and to gather the courage to approach an editor at my campus paper. But it paid off; Akshay quickly agreed that I had something to say and gave me a deadline. Within two weeks, I saw my first work in black and white and read (I wish) all over. That was the easy part.

The writing was much harder. Sure, my friends –- and, of course, my parents -- thought I wrote well, but I knew I’d have to improve tremendously to do it professionally. Tahl agreed. Among the correspondence we had over my first few pieces, he stated, "You never quite explicitly write what exactly your point is, because perhaps you didn’t think about what your point was before writing." Tough, but exactly what I needed to hear.

Ever since I started writing, it’s gotten easier and easier, and I (hopefully) have gotten better and better. I’ve met many more people who can help me improve and also people who have wanted to give me more opportunities to write for more and more money. These things wouldn’t have happened if I had never started. I’d still be wondering what it would be like, hiding in the safety of having never tried –- just like two college students I met recently.

One wants to be an actor and plans to move to LA after college. I said, "I know you’re not in the media capital of the world right now, but I’m sure there are still a few auditions around for different types of performance. How many have you been to?" Zero.

The other wants to be a newspaper columnist, is considering writing for the school paper, and hopes to get an internship in summer 2007. I said, "Why are you only considering writing for the school paper? And why wouldn’t you want an internship this summer – 2006?" Because she doesn’t often agree with the opinions in her school paper, her writing is “very dusty,” and she’s “nervous about interning so soon.” Okay...then write for another publication or start your own. Whatever. Just start.

The best way to knock the dust off your skills or tame your nerves...the best way to prepare for your career...is to start doing the work you want. Now.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 12 December 2005