A black and white cat sleeps on a desk beneath a lamp
My Office Assistant

I knew I could write. The problem was, no one else did.

I’d been writing since I was four years old. “Dear Mommy,” I crayoned. “I love you. Do you love me?” My first query letter.

After college, I wanted more than familial correspondence. I wanted to write for the Chicago Tribune. I sent off my resume and soon received a reply that thanked me for my interest but pointed out I had little journalism experience.

No experience? I was an English Literature major. I was the editor of the campus newspaper at Elmhurst College. I had been a high school correspondent for my hometown press. My weekly column, the Dragonland Review, covered basketball scores, homecoming queens, canned food drives and other goings-on of interest to those whose revered mascot was a winged reptile.  That’s experience, I thought.

The job I did land was in the public relations department of a large toiletries company. Mostly I wrote letters of apology to customers who had bought aerosol cans of hairspray that clogged and sputtered. On the side, I modeled wedding gowns at bridal fairs and taught make-up classes for a modeling school.

A year later I updated my resume for the Chicago Tribune and received another copy of the previous rejection letter.

A department store chain, however, was impressed by my background in haute hairspray and hired me as a stylist. I auditioned teen models and produced fashion shows in the mall.

Another year passed, and again the Chicago Tribune turned me down. I still hadn’t written anything, by the company’s definition of “anything.”

I continued modeling and teaching. I produced a fashion show for Bonwit Teller, and I created a feature spread that paired luxury cars and fur coats for a suburban lifestyle magazine. I became a creative consultant for a chain of edgy boutiques. My name appeared in a couple of industry publications, and my wardrobe was quite chi-chi. That’s because more than once my rent money was diverted to a designer dress or boots.

One morning a friendly colleague, who was the promotions director for a regional shopping center, called to chat. An editor at the Chicago Tribune had asked her to write a weekly column about suburban fashion events. But she was too busy, she said, and suggested the editor call me instead. I was thrilled.

The editor called and gave me the first of many assignments: 600 words on fashion trends for men. I didn’t need writing experience any more–I had become an expert, and that was just as good.