When I was younger, I loved to write. While other kids in my class took grammar and punctuation lessons, I took creative writing classes where we wrote stories and printed and bound them into proper books. I submitted poetry for publishing when I was in grade 6. In high school, I went to see Shakespeare in the park and attended writing festivals for young writers.

There’s a (somewhat rueful) saying amongst Canadian children of Asian immigrant parents – You have three career choices: engineering, medicine or accounting. School came easily to me and I had good grades, so my parents encouraged a science education (with the hope that I’d eventually go to med school). University came and went, and I ended up working in life sciences research, specifically in the biomedical research industry.

So how did I end up getting a job as a writer for a science magazine?

I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis at the age of 24 or 25. I knew I wanted to do something different, but I was being torn in a lot of different directions trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I knew I could write, but I had nothing to show prospective employers.

Getting started with writing

I decided to submit a few pieces of writing to the local monthly newsletter of my professional organization. They were always desperately looking for submissions and it was a good way to get the writing juices flowing without any real risk. To my surprise, my pieces were well received and I even received compliments from several colleagues. I followed that up by submitting a longer article for the organization’s national magazine, which is read by several hundreds of people across the country. It was also well received!

Then I tried my luck at blogging and started up a science blog. It didn’t make any money but I was able to write about the things in science that actually interested me – big picture stuff, genomics, evolution, and ethics. I got on Twitter and met lots of other writers and like-minded people. I also volunteered to write for anyone who would let me have my own byline – event listings, music reviews, anything. It was during the height of my blog that I got lucky and caught a break.

Writing as a career ?

I have a reputation amongst my friends for always looking at the job boards and forwarding interesting jobs to people I knew. I like looking at job listings. I’m not sure why! I still do enjoy looking at them. One day, one of my friends forwarded a job posting to me. It was a advertisement for a “science blogger”. I applied, sent a few of my writing samples, and … I got the job! After a six month try-out, I’ve been writing for them regularly once a month.

For me, the key was simply persistence and a willingness to do something I loved – writing – simply for the because I enjoyed it.  I’m not saying that everyone who does something that they love will eventually make a living from it, or even make money from it.  Starving artists, musicians and actors all over the world would no doubt prove me wrong.  But you do yourself a disservice you don’t try at all.

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