This month marks a strange little milestone for me: Exactly 20 years ago, I started writing shit for cash.
Which means, in a manner of speaking, I’ve been a professional writer for two freakin’ decades. My definition of “professional” anything is simple: whenever you do something for money, you’ve gone pro. The amount of money doesn’t really matter; it’s that people are willing to part with some of their money to have you do something. Could be anything. Plumbing. Brain surgery. Sex. Whatever.
They cross your palm with silver, you’ve gone pro.
I went pro with a 250-word item called “Philly to New Jersey: Send Us a Bill!” which appeared in the July 1991 issue of Philadelphia Magazine, where I was interning that summer. A very kind editor named Lou Harry gifted me the story idea, complete with sources to call and suggestions on how to frame the piece. The paycheck was modest, but to a 19-year-old aspiring writer interning without pay, it was a psychic windfall.
People would actually pay me for writing shit.
The secret to going pro of course, is that first you need to spend a lot of time doing it for free.
Up until that point, from eighth grade until sophomore year of college, I’d written hundreds of pages—goofy horror stories and grisly satires (usually starring my friends, who would die in spectacularly gruesome ways). I did it because it was fun, and offered an escape from the many not-fun things in like. Such as Algebra II.