The Future Starts Now: how college students can get published in a magazine

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With the slew of campus activities, course work and social opportunities vying for college students’ time and attention, many ambitious writing students have little free time to devote to future aspirations. However, Harvey Rachlin argues in his article for The Writer, “The College Try,” that any college student determined to become a writer must find the time and opportunities to get published now.

Some may assume college students would have a harder time entering the publishing world due to their youthful age, but there is no other time in a young writer’s career when he or she will be surrounded by so many qualified mentors and professionals who are willing and able to proof writings, offer advice and make recommendations. Universities are a prime opportunity to network with seasoned professionals and make contacts for the future through professors, clubs, career services and seminars. All of these expose students to people who may help open company doors in later years.

There are also a number of on-campus resources for students to embrace that may capture the attention of larger publications and build reader bases for the future. Campus newspapers, alumni magazines, literary journals, ect. all offer college students the writing experience and networking connections necessary to break into the magazine writing world. While some universities require article contributors to be upperclassmen journalism or writing majors, other student media opportunities like those at Texas Christian University allow even first-year students to produce content for publication in the campus newspaper, The Daily Skiff, and online site at TCU360.com. Individuals should check with their specific colleges in order to find out how to get involved with their particular student media.

Social media is another great outlet to utilize as a college journalist. Students can publicize their writings through social network posts, the university website, or readings on and off campus, and such personal marketing is a gateway for others to notice, read and share written work. The more an article is shared, the more a writer’s fan base grows and the more likely it is that the article will be noticed by another magazine publication. Also, blogging helps students develop voice, demonstrate knowledge about the industry and make connections with followers. Even if you don’t want to start your own blog, popular blogs for college students like The Thesis Whisperer and College Thrive welcome student contributors.

Today’s college students not only have ample avenues for getting published on campus, but there are also a number of ways beyond the college world for students to enter the magazine writing sphere while still in school. First, there is the traditional method of pitching work to publications through query letters. There are a number of “how to’s” and “step-by-step” directions for writing a query letter online, but in order to be seriously considered by magazines as such a young writer, college students must go above and beyond to stand out amongst other contributors. To do this, they should include more than one idea or provide links to sample work online in order to increase the likelihood of getting a response from the editor. Above all, they must be prepared to act like the professional they are trying to become in the future.

Finally, the last and probably most helpful tool for getting published in a magazine as a college student is a writing internship. Internships are the golden door to insider views of the magazine publishing world. Many magazine internship programs, like D Magazine’s in Dallas, Texas, often offer opportunities for interns to practice story writing, develop article ideas and even produce content for the publication. These internships that offer professional experience as opposed to coffee making or errand running tasks are the perfect chance for students to gain writing experience for the future and get a foot in the door of the desired magazine. Specifics of different internships are often found on the company’s individual website.

While many may consider college students too young to be competitive writers in the professional world, universities actually offer students ample opportunities to be published in both on and off-campus publications while still in school and provide a number of exceptional resources to be utilized in a writer’s future career. Young writers must find time in the midst of the chaos of college to write and exploit all of these resources readily available at their fingertips. There is no reason to wait when college students can begin getting published now.

Catwalk

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The screen was blank.

The black curser blinked in and out of visibility, beckoning me like the distant light from a lighthouse.

I sat at my computer, but the commotion from the past hour cluttered my brain. Words. Words. All I needed were words to describe the unexpected event, and yet rolls of memory were all that seemed to replay in my mind.

I could see myself walking through the archway under the Sid-Richardson building and toward the library steps. My sandals shuffled instead of flip-flopped across the pavement as I readjusted my jean shorts, which were scandalously hiked up by the book bag’s steady bouncing against my back when I walked. In my peripheral vision, two students, a guy and a girl, huddled in front of the construction fence nearby, pulling something through one of the diamond-shaped openings. Curious, I drew closer.

Meow.

There, cupped close to the chest of the girl, was a kitten. Its ivory body reflected the bright Texas sun as a few stripes of grey broke through the white fur. The small, pebble-like eyes were only halfway visible under eyelids pulled down like shades to block the sun.

I could hear the voice of my reporting professor in my head saying, “Everything is a story.” I rummaged through my bag for some form of paper, pulled out my Astronomy notebook and started taking notes.

“I walked past and heard it meowing frantically,” Jordan Warnement, a senior kinesiology major, explained. “I turned to the guy behind me and said, ‘Do you hear that cat?’”

I frantically scribbled the details of Warnement’s description, and students began to collect around the newly found kitten. The ooh’s and awe’s of the spectators were quick distractions from my continuous questions as I tried to piece together the unfolding story.

Then, we heard another meow. This time, it was louder, stronger and coming from behind the fence. Several students and I peered through opaque netting to see what we assumed to be the mother cat pacing back and forth along the other side of the barrier. Travis Gauntt, a junior finance major, pointed out a small divot further down the fence, where we could return the kitten to its home.

The group of now five to seven students gathered around the opening. As Warnement knelt in preparation and Gauntt lifted the bottom wiring for the exchange, the mother cat darted through the gap under the fence and ran away.

Warnement was left with the kitten in her arms, her computer on the ground and a paper due in less than an hour.

Several of the observers dispersed to return to their noon classes, while the rest of us made a plan.

“We are going to hide her behind us and walk into the library, so she can print off her paper before class,” Gauntt said about Warnement.

Doing just that, we formed a discrete wall in front of Warnement and trooped into the library like bodyguards. The kitten rested in her hand behind a notebook covering as we all stood on edge by the printers, looking out for suspicious staff members at the “Information” desk nearby. Warnement quickly signed into the computer to retrieve her paper, and the following high pitched “weeee” “woooo” of the printer helped mask a soft meow.

After mere minutes, we exited the library as alert as we came in, mission accomplished.

Before we parted ways, however, I asked Warnement one last question.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m allergic to cats, but I have a friend who is looking for a kitten,” Warnement said. “If she can’t keep it, then I’ll take it to a shelter.”

Warnement then disappeared with the kitten in hand, and as I walked away, I knew I had a story to write.

The things they’ve seen: facing tragedy, hope and reality as a 20-year-old nursing major

© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporation

Shannon Thompson’s heart beat faster as the door of the patient’s room opened before them. Nine. It had been nine days since the woman had last been bathed, and the aroma of body odor coming from inside the room was an evident contrast to the smells of alcohol rub and soap Thompson was accustomed to smelling in the hospital’s sanitized hallways.

“You two will be in here,” the nurse said as she directed the clinical students into the patient’s room.

Thompson and a fellow nursing student from Texas Christian University, Joey Micci, carried their buckets of washcloths, water and soap to the bedside and began to work.

They scrubbed the woman’s pale, wrinkled skin, and Thompson tried not to scrunch her nose as she twisted the used rag above the bucket, causing a stream of brownish liquid to fall into the water. She looked across bare skin at Micci and then back down at the patient: 80-years-old, heart failure, most likely terminal.

Not many college students in their early twenties have hands-on learning experiences outside of the classroom, and Thompson had to remind herself that she was not a normal 20-year-old; she was a nursing student. According to data from the National Center on Education Statistics, students in health profession majors accounted for only 8 percent of college undergraduates in 2012. That number was so small mainly because few can handle the academic rigor and intense hospital environment day in and day out. Thompson, however, was part of that minority, and the coursework preparing her for such a life was just this, working in the hospital and caring for patients, even if that meant bathing an older woman as part of course requirements.

“This is my normal now,” Thompson thought. “She needs a bath. You do whatever.”

Micci and Thompson continued their duty.

Thompson had never had a boyfriend or even kissed a guy before, and now here she was, bathing a completely naked 80-year-old woman with her 20-year-old, perfectly eligible, male classmate. What a first date.

She could have talked. She could have flirted, but the two students just worked repetitively until their third companion broke the silence.

“Thank you. Thank you,” the woman repeated. “Thank you.”

Thompson smiled as she picked up the bucket of water, dirt and washcloths.

“Even doing the smallest things you feel so accomplished,” Thompson said. “I guarantee we made that person’s day.”

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“We all have different stories in nursing. I’m preparing that person like they’re going to have to take care of my family. We need more nurses. There’s a lot of opportunities for women beyond what there was years ago, so I want the best nurses taking care of me. And it’s not just the science part of nursing but the art of nursing.” – Professor Barbara Patten

Thompson had been in hospitals regularly since she was 16-years-old, and the goose-bumps lining her arms as she walked through the cold, whitewashed hallways were all too familiar to her.

She grew up in Dallas, Texas, with her parents and two siblings. Thompson’s Highland Park world, however, was flipped upside down when her younger brother, Justin, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009. He was only 10-years-old. For the next four years, Thompson and her family were regulars at Dallas Children’s Medical Center where her brother underwent treatment.

“I vividly remember it all,” Thomson said. “On some nights when my mom needed to spend the night at home or take care of the dogs or something, I would spend the night with my brother in the hospital.”

It wasn’t abnormal for siblings like Thompson to stay the night with sick younger brothers and sisters. It happened a lot on that floor at Children’s Medical Center, because most of the patient’s were just like Justin: 10-years-old, leukemia, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

It was the best part of Thompson’s day, though, seeing Justin laugh even at 3:00 a.m. as a nurse came in to check on him. Thompson knew her brother’s mood depended on how good or bad the nurse’s interaction was with him that day, and the most helpful thing they could do was treat him like a friend, not a patient.

“Some would come into the room and just do their job,” Thompson said, “but others would come in and make him laugh and just love him.”

It was in Children’s Medical Center that Thompson decided she wanted to work in a hospital for the rest of her life.

“I want to help people,” Thompson thought. “I want to be that good nurse.”

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“What I like about it is, in this first semester, you get to see a lot of lightbulb moments. Students get to do something that I might take for granted that is very exciting but as simple as getting to give your medication for the first time or getting to listen to somebody’s heart or getting to see a wound dressing change or give an injection. We are preparing them to be professionals, so part of that is being on time, being prepared and ready to go.” – Professor Barbara Patten

“What are his medications?” the clinical instructor asked the group of eight students who were waiting in the hospital lobby to meet the nurse they were scheduled to follow that day. These pre-conferences were mandatory before each day of clinical work, and the instructor would test each student on the details of the patient he or she would be tending to throughout the day, including the person’s age, health condition, and the necessary medicines and dosages for treatment.

The night before, Thompson had spent three hours searching through the hospital’s database of patients’ charts, all to pick this one: 20-years-old, sickle cell anemia, sickle cell crisis, excruciating pain.

“Hydromorphone,” Thompson sounded out to her instructor. She allowed a sigh of relief as the instructor continued down the line.

It was 6:00 a.m. The bustle of the nurses changing shifts added life to the usually quiet hallways as they talked and debriefed on patient reports and updates. Thompson followed her nurse up to their floor to perform a morning full body assessment of the patient.

Entering the room, Thompson saw a young man who she thought could be in her biology class, laying between the sheets, barely moving.

He groaned as she approached the bedside. Listening through her stethoscope, Thompson made sure to check all of the key points, but heart beats, lung sounds and pulses were difficult to hear over the grunts and moans of the young man.

On a normal day, the patient would have been studying mechanical engineering and going to class like an ordinary college student, but today, crisis was normal. Living since birth with sickle cell anemia, he knew to come to the hospital on days like this, he knew his blood cells were getting stuck in veins all over his body, and he knew it would be excruciatingly painful. All Thompson knew was to give him pain medicine.

Thompson distributed the hydromorphone and watched as the young man relaxed in anticipation of relief, calming down enough to talk a few moments with the inexperienced nurse curious to know about his life.

“My life isn’t normal,” he said. “I’m in the hospital on so much pain medication that I’m like a vegetable. I can’t function because I’m so out of it.”

When she left to follow her nurse throughout the rest of her day, all Thompson could think was, ‘“I’ll never take a healthy body for granted.”

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“Think about the pilot you have out there that’s flying your plane. He didn’t learn how to fly the plane in the plane. He had to go be in a simulation environment with a lot of the technology that is the same as what he would use if he were flying the plane. It’s a safe environment. You’re not going to kill anyone, literally.” – Professor Barbara Patten

She was going to die, probably within the next three hours.

No one was in the room when Thompson and her nurse came in to check on the patient: stage four lung cancer, terminal.

Thompson slid the pulse oximeter onto the woman’s finger and noticed immediately that the oxygen saturation was abnormally low.

“It’s usually supposed to be between 98 and 100 percent,” Thompson said, “but hers was in the 70’s.”

A reading wasn’t necessary to know the end was in sight. Doctors and family deliberated whether or not to take the woman off of the ventilator that had been sustaining her life, but the grey-blue tint of her skin was evidence of the cancer forging its final attack. In the end, the decision was made, and the cancer won with each IV, cord and machine Thompson unplugged from the woman’s body.

She was unconscious as Thompson and her nurse rolled the woman to hospice, a nicer, more homelike hospital room where most patients are taken when they are about to die. As strange as it was seeing a person on the verge of death lying in the bed Thompson pushed through the hallways like a cart in a grocery store, something else disturbed the 20-year-old even more.

“No family was there,” Thompson said. “She had no one with her.”

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“One of the things we say to them is that they then have the license to continue to learn. We can’t teach all the different areas, but it’s learning the nursing care for that population that you are working with, and it can be very specific. If you learn these basic skills, you should be able to apply them.” – Professor Barbara Patten

“Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.”

The alarm of the cardiac monitor grew faster and faster as the man’s blood pressure fell and fever spiked. Nurses rushed in to assess the situation and aid in any ways they could, as the doctor yelled commands across the room.

He was one of those patients you see only in textbooks: 45-years-old, paraplegic, stage four pressure ulcer on sacrum, bone exposed, sepsis infection, possibly terminal.

A motorcycle accident 20 years earlier paralyzed this man from the chest down, and now, here he was in the hospital again, but for a different reason.

He came into the Emergency Room with no pain. The ulcer pulling and gaping on his back had caused an infection of the blood that sent the man into septic shock, and yet he couldn’t even feel it.

Thompson could see the bone as it lay exposed through the ulcer. What normally would be a stage one pressure ulcer had progressed to a stage four, all because the man couldn’t know his flesh was being torn away the longer he sat still.

“He’s just a perfectly normal guy,” Thompson thought as the Texas Ranger’s hat lay by his bedside. “Sporty,” she noticed, “but he couldn’t get out of bed to go brush his teeth.”

Despite the wound, what stood out most to Thompson was the anxiety and depression she could see in his face even 20 years after the accident.

“He’s probably the saddest case I’ve seen, but like all the other patients, I just have to rely on the fact that there are people in his life who love him and care for him,” Thompson said, “just like when it was my brother.”

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“It’s hard to see the things I see and to go home at night and not take the baggage with me. I have to remember that the place I can help is in the hospital. I’m passionate about nursing, because I see how it makes a difference in people’s lives.” – Shannon Thompson

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To work or not to work: when expectations get in the way of a writer’s paycheck, however mediocre

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As the fall semester comes to a close and my reunion with a slew of see-once-a-year relatives for holiday dinners is pending, the inevitable small talk question of “What are your plans after graduation?” looms over me. While I would like to reply with phrases such as “I’m going to work for so-and-so magazine” or “I was just asked to publish so-and-so book”, the reality is that the global community is in an economic recession that warns us college students of unemployment or “underemployment” after graduation. Being a writer, I am almost guaranteed one or the other. 

The thought of answering such questions with the wretched response of “I don’t know what I’m doing after graduation” or “I don’t have a job yet” is gut-wrenching, because for students hoping to pursue a career in writing, the job market for our field is quickly dying. In an article for the Huffington Post, Roger Wright writes, “Stand at the corner of Publishing Street and Job Market Avenue and you’ll see an endless stream of corporate or organizational writers, copy editors, freelancers, self-promoters, bloggers and people who write because they can’t imagine a world where they didn’t write. You’ll also see a lot of unemployed people.” 

While I, like many of you, cannot imagine not writing after graduation, I would like to propose that we must open ourselves up to a realm of other possibilities, not necessarily in place of writing but in addition to it, as writers can maintain a steady job while still doing freelance work on the side. Freelance writer Courtney Carpenter wrote in an article for Writers Digest, “There are hundreds of full-time freelancers who make good livings but who started slow—freelancing on the side while holding down a day job.”

To some, it may seem unfortunate to simply do freelance work, but there are a number of advantages to pursuing freelance writing jobs. First, you are your own boss, controlling the amount of hours you work and essentially the amount of money you make. Also, you choose what you write about. Freelance writing allows you to be creative and get paid for something you love to do while still maintaining a steady job in another profession if needed. Websites like freelancewriting.com and thewritelife.com offer advice for freelancers and job postings with pay ranging from $10 to $34 per hour, and they have a number of negotiable pay options as well. 

The last piece of good news is that you are not alone. Some of the greatest writers in history worked odd, if not dismal, jobs before becoming a few of the most well-respected authors to present, and we, as young college students, should be open and willing to do the same. H.G. Wells left school to work as a draper’s apprentice, which was only the first of a series of nightmarish jobs. He supported himself as a teacher and educated himself until he became the famed science fiction novelist of The War of the Worlds. After an impoverished childhood, debtor’s prison and sporadic factory jobs, Charles Dickens spent time as a less than glamorous freelance reporter. William Faulkner worked as a postmaster and bookseller’s assistant, and did not publish his poetry until he was 27-years-old or write his first novel until he was 28.

Each of these writers are a testament that every experience, no matter how seemingly mediocre, is valuable. We are in college, and we are writers. Our futures are most likely bound to be ones of either various misfortunes or unexpected fame, but today, the job market for full-time writers is slim, and we must be open to other paying possibilities while finding time to further our passion through opportunities like freelance writing. As authors, we are not called to become famous. We are simply called to write. So, no matter what your day job entails, carry your notebook everywhere you go, write down everything you can think of, and make as many skinny vanilla lattes as you’re asked.