QUESTION FROM A GREEK TRAGEDY READER: I’m a soon-to-be graduate with a BA in journalism from one of the nation’s most prestigious journalism schools. I mention that only to reiterate how very hard I’ve worked for a degree that, even in the sad media climate, might be worth something. All of that to say–journalism is not my passion. Creative writing (non-fiction) is. I’m finding it hard to pit practicality against passion, but assuming I grow some balls and at least try to pursue writing, my many questions to you are:
How does one even begin a writing career? What’s the first step (and subsequent steps) in writing a book? Is it something I could/should do while holding a time-consuming, albeit paying, job in journalism? Should I pursue creative writing classes beyond those I took in undergrad, perhaps get a masters degree (even though I’m WAY in debt from this first degree)? How do I attract more traffic to my blog or gain exposure as a writer?
Although I’ve been stalking you through your blog the last five years, I’d be interested to know more details on how you arrived at success. I’d appreciate any guidance you could give me. Thanks for keepin’ it real all these years. You’re a delight to read, and I admire your honesty and talent. Can you help a sista out?
I believe in karma. I believe in helping other people follow their passions, so long as those passions aren’t punishable by law. Most people write to me concerned that they don’t know what their passions are. They know what they enjoy, sure, but something still feels like it’s missing. It’s a feeling of searching but not knowing what it is you’re even searching for. You’re not unhappy, not happy, just Charlie Beige.
For me, it’s the equivalent of opening the refrigerator when I’m not even hungry.
Others write in knowing what they don’t want: their current crapass job that makes their favorite colors seem drab. They want to know how to make the leap, how to risk, how to just up and switch without a portfolio, without experience. Without a set of love spuds. And I have an answer (see below).
So, now, onto you. Consider yourself blessed that you know what it is you want. I’ve written a bit about this “So you want to be a writer” topic before, but I’m happy to also answer your additional questions.
“Is it something I could/should do while holding a time-consuming, albeit paying, job in journalism?” Only you know you. I’m not being patronizing here, but if you were my son or daughter, I’d tell you, especially in this economy, to keep your paying job and find a way to make it work for you. That is, you work for someone else, make that work for you… for now. I worked in advertising, full-time, which was pretty much 10:30 or 11am to 7pm, with lunch at my desk, and I was still able to write a book proposal and a memoir while working full-time. I didn’t leave my job in advertising until the TV pilot writing started to creep onto my to-do list. I worked, kept a blog, dated, fed my dog, picked up his turds, and wrote a memoir, all at once. But I will say this: my job didn’t involve writing. At all. In fact, I was encouraged NOT to write. It wasn’t my job. I was hired to design sites, to strategize, to brainstorm creative concepts, but I wasn’t responsible for copy (sometimes I did it anyway). Oh, the irony. Not writing for a living freed me, though. Because now that I am working on several writing projects at once, I’ll say that it can be hard to manage. But again, I think it comes down to how your brain “gets off.”
My final word on the subject is that most writers keep a full-time job in addition to their research, their articles, their books. Many published authors work as editors, professors, teach online courses. You find time. If it’s your dream, you don’t talk about wanting it, you make it happen. Wishing takes the same amount of energy as planning, so start planning. Turn off your TV *except if it’s to watch LOST.
“Should I pursue creative writing classes beyond those I took in undergrad, perhaps get a masters degree (even though I’m WAY in debt from this first degree)?” Fcuk yeah, and fcuk no. I think classes are wonderful, in particular workshops. When I worked full-time, when I was writing Straight Up And Dirty, I did so while I was in a writing workshop. The class met only once a week, from 6-8 or some such slot. I loved it because it kept me writing, on task, kept things top of mind, with deadlines, but mostly I loved the feedback. Should you pay to get your MFA in creative writing? Only if someone else is paying for you to do so. That’s what all my writing professors at Columbia told me. If your company pays for it, they said, sure, go. But it’s not like law school, where it’s necessary to pursue the career. You can learn by reading, by studying on your own, by trusting your instincts. By doing, not talking about doing.
As for driving traffic to your blog, google that phrase, read what you will, go through the effort, but at a certain point, the content needs to be there, and you need to be passionate about whatever it is you’re writing. But, you know that. And it spikes and it wanes, and it doesn’t mean a whole lot of anything, really. It’s very similar to dating that way. While it’s flattering to be pursued and wooed, at the end of the day “you don’t need scores of suitors, just one, if he’s the right one.” Meaning, you don’t need to end up on the cover of the New York Times Styles section to be noticed. You’d be surprised how people can find you, and you’d be surprised by who’s secretly reading… and how that one studio executive can be moved to laugh, moved to cry, moved to contact you and ask you if you have representation. Who knows. So put yourself out there.
Also, as promised, to add to the above… another reader wrote in asking how do I take those first steps toward changing my career?
You’ll feel great relief in starting to plan. If I told you you HAD TO leave your job, you’d research what’s next. So research. Job search. That’s the first step in the process of change. You go about it strategically. You think about health care. You make a list of all your concerns. You prioritize. You figure out your MUSTS. Can’t live without health insurance. So you research independent health insurance for freelancers. You get prepared. Then you’re armed with answers. It’s less of a leap. You know what you’re getting into, at least somewhat. Life is too short to be as miserable as you say you are. Life leaps. Take one.
Know what you’re willing to give up. And honestly sometimes we assume it’s going to be a lot worse than it really is.
When I was working in advertising, I went to the bathroom and just started crying. This isn’t what I was put on this earth to do. I hadn’t gone in there to cry. Didn’t even see it coming. It just bubbled to the top. Know what I did? I didn’t just whine about it. I looked at the situation, said I wasn’t willing to get a roommate to afford rent, wasn’t willing to move. Wasn’t willing to go without paid vacation, and to have to pay way more for health insurance. So know what I did? I kept my high-paying job, looked into photography classes, filled out forms requesting the company pay for the classes, how it would be favorable for the company and our clients for me to do so, etc. And they did. They paid for my photography classes. AND I then took watercolor classes, and writing classes (which I paid for). The point is, I didn’t quit my job, I found my career, while staying at my “job” until I got to the point where necessity dictated that I quit one job to take another job… one that required me to stay in my jammies all day. I’m exaggerating. Nothing’s required. Even clothing’s optional.
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If you have questions or need advice on anything from where to eat to how to get over the bastard, just email your question to my advice email address.