Rob Boston is the Editor of Church & State (Americans United for Separation of Church and State). Here we talk about contributing to freethought publications.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Mentoring remains important. It becomes important for developing as a person as a mentor and as a writer as a mentee. How do you mentor folks?
Rob Boston: I have not formally mentored anyone, but over the years I’ve done that on an informal level. I’ve been asked for advice by junior colleagues and others who are interested in working in the field of publications as a profession. I’ve always tried to play it straight with people: writing can be a tough way to make a living these days, but if you manage to pull it off, it’s very rewarding. These days, being able to write often isn’t enough, which I think is unfortunate. In the age of social media, a writer must work on developing a “brand” and learn how to market oneself on social media. I’m not fond of this, but it’s a reality and anyone who aspires to write for a living must deal with it.
Jacobsen: With mentoring writers, one part comes from providing encouragement to their strengths. Another big part: simply convincing them to do what they do all the time but on paper or a computer screen, which is use words. Do you find the same? People have more innate writing ability than they think, but just don’t trust themselves.
Boston: Some people are great writers and just need a little help polishing the edges and making their prose more user-friendly. I was trained as a journalist, so I learned to write in a concise manner and in a way that is accessible to the average reader. A basic course in journalistic writing is useful for anyone who wants to work in any facet of communications. But having said that, I do think writing is in some respects like art or music: some people have the skill to do it, and some do not. I don’t believe everyone can be trained to write well. Some people will master technical proficiency but never really have a flair. There’s no shame in that. We all have different skills and talents.
Jacobsen: Has the digital era changed the means of mentorship, e.g., Skype, Google Hangout, Zoom, email, and so on?
Boston: It’s a lot easier now to mentor people, formally or informally, than it was before the rise of the web and email. For one, you don’t need to meet face to face, which means you can offer support to people pretty much anywhere and at any time.
Jacobsen: How do you incorporate your mentoring methodology to the newer, younger generations of writers – 18-to-35-year-olds?
Boston: I try to be as honest as possible: My approach to writing is decidedly old school. While I write lots of short pieces for Americans United’s blog and can crank out a brief press release in no time, I also produce a lot of articles for Church & State magazine that might run 2,000-3,000 words or more. I’ll admit upfront that I’m not terribly clever on Twitter, and I’ll never be a master of memes — although I admire people who are. If your goal is to be a social media wizard, I’m not your man. But for young people who see the value of in-depth writing and long-form journalism, I’m always happy to share my ideas.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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