Paying Dues — But Whose?

Trade-union stamp of the USSR, 1 rub. 1961
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I had lunch yesterday with a smart, talented, ferociously ambitious journalist. He’s 31 and desperate to “make it.”

“I’ve paid my dues!” he said, exasperated.

Fact is, he had paid plenty of dues, in his own way. In a media world where few definitions remain static — a story, a journalist, a clip, a body of accomplished work — this won’t get easier anytime soon.

One of the problems with dues, unlike the classic definition of the word — as in union dues paid to an organization that clearly wants your dough and loyalty and numbers you in its ranks — is its fluid meaning. My friend has worked in two challenging places and produced consistently excellent material. Wasn’t that enough?

Not to the editor he called at a Very Big Magazine who drawled (ouch): “I’ve never heard of you.”

Dues are a currency whose value fluctuates wildly. One day you’ve got enough to buy a house — and people you want to work with are calling you. The next day it’s barely enough for a bagel, and you’re the one whose name rings no bells.

In the world of journalism and publishing, at least, whatever you think you’ve achieved means nothing — until someone agrees with you.

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2 thoughts on “Paying Dues — But Whose?

  1. I love that last line there. I’m still not quite sure what I want to do with myself after graduation. It’s so hard to be committed to following my passion and becoming a writer when so many people I meet or consult about this seem to be subtly discourage me from it.

  2. If you have talent and are prepared for rejection for decades — stick with it. Don’t bother if your talent is insufficient and only time will tell.

    People will line up to discourage you from breathing — don’t listen to them!

    You have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself and seek out and find a few mentors who will do so as well. The person I describe here is someone who thinks it should all be falling into place, and we all want that. I gave very blunt feedback on some of their ideas and they were visibly shocked by my bluntness. But when it’s not working….there’s often a reason and maybe one you don’t want to hear, even if true.

    The old saying applies….rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon, a necessary if messy part of the job.

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