Why I Write by Seth Combs
I always knew I wanted to write. Still, in 2004, after four schools, three changes of my major and two different cities, I still didn’t know what kind of writing I wanted to do. It should have been obvious. Staring me in the face the whole time.
But it wasn’t until I met my new neighbor, Chris, that it really hit me. He’d just moved from New York to San Diego with his girlfriend. As we transitioned from mutually acknowledging nods to polite small talk to full-fledged conversation, I mustered up the courage to ask why he was always home during the day and not off at some nine-to-five job. He told me he was a freelance writer, specifically magazines and periodicals. Later on, I found out that he was one of the first writers to have worked at Maxim, but he’d also written articles for more respected publications like Men’s Health and The New York Times. While I don’t remember the exact quotes that followed when he first told me this, I believe the conversation went something like this:
“Wow, that’s cool,” I exclaimed. “I’m a writer too, you know.”
“Oh, yeah, what kind?” he asked politely.
“Um, I don’t know, really.”
“Have you written for anyone yet?”
“Uh, just a few articles in my school newspaper.”
In fear of embarrassing myself and in hopes of proving my passion for the field, I blurted out the first thing that came into my head.
“I have every single Rolling Stone magazine since 1984!”
He looked really perplexed. I felt like an idiot.
“Wow, you must really like that magazine,” he finally said after what seemed like a yearlong awkward silence. “You should write for them.”
Over the next year or so, in between classes and working at a dog grooming shop, I spent most of my time over at Chris’ house. Some of that time, I was just playing the Kramer to his Seinfeld. Raiding his fridge, watching his TV and bugging him while he was trying to work. But some of the time he would teach me the tricks of his trade. He tolerated me with an inordinate amount of patience. Almost a decade my senior, perhaps he saw a little of his younger self in the inquisitive kid asking questions about the process of writing an article. Somewhere within that time I officially changed my major to journalism.
It wasn’t a formal, school-sanctioned internship, but I learned more from Chris in that year than I ever did in any journalism class. Sure, he taught me important things like how to get editors to notice you and the discipline it takes to be self-employed, but it was the little things that mattered the most.
Since that time, I’ve been an editor at four different publications, but throughout I’ve always been a freelance writer. I’ve met aspiring and talented writers who are so hungry that they sometimes make mistakes, get frustrated and eventually give up. I can’t help but think if they had met someone like Chris, and at just that opportune moment, then they wouldn’t have given up on their dreams. Looking back, I suppose that was the most important lesson he ever taught me: I still haven’t written for Rolling Stone, but I won’t give up on that dream.
A native of the south, Seth Combs has been freelance writing for almost a decade. His work has been published in magazines such as Spin, Men’s Health and The Sun. Over that time he’s also been the Arts & Culture editor at San Diego CityBeat, the Associate Editor at Riviera Magazine, and most recently, the Editor in Chief of Pacific San Diego and Nouveh magazine. Having experience as both a writer looking for work and as an editor working with freelancers, he understands both mindsets and what it takes to be successful at both.
Seth is teaching an upcoming Freelance Workshop with SDWI this weekend.