Category Archives: Writer

Déjà vu – Defining Your Career Path to Make Good Art

I’m about to test the limits of my sanity by returning to graduate school in January for another masters degree.

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Before you ask, no I was not drunk or under duress when I made this decision. I was thinking of the future and trying to determine what would be most beneficial to advance my career.

Since moving to Forth Worth two years ago it seems as if I’m still assembling puzzle pieces in this game of life. Some pieces are still elusive and others extremely difficult to acquire, but the ultimate goal is to settle into a career that excites me. Can a career be a source of happiness? Absolutely!

I often write about career happiness and the importance of making sure a job is the right fit, because we generally spend 8-10 hours a day (or more) working. Doing something you enjoy has a positive effect on the mind, body, and spirit. Doing tasks you do not enjoy for extended periods of time produces a negative effect and can be damaging to the mind, body, and spirit.

I finally watched Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech and felt encouraged upon its conclusion. He talked about the importance of doing work that pleases you and not forcing yourself into conformity. Jobs said:

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. You’ll know when you find it.

His words reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” commencement speech. I found Gaiman’s words to be encouraging while I pursued an MFA. He states:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.

So why do we waste our talents in lackluster positions instead of pursuing something more pleasing and making good art? It’s not about having the courage to follow your dreams. Many of us are already doing that. It’s just easier to make good art when you have a reliable source of income.

Jobs asked, “If today were the last day of my life would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

His response:

If the answer is no for too many days in a row [you] need to change something. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I’m glad I earned an MFA. It provided me with tools I needed to get on the path of becoming an author, helped me develop relationships with other writers, and opened doors to career opportunities in writing that previously did not exist.

For all intensive purposes I have a job for which I’m thankful, but when I asked myself Jobs’ question the answer was a resounding no. I’m a trapezoid that doesn’t wan’t to fit into someone else’s idea of the perfect box. An MBA in Marketing will enhance my current skillset, complement my other degrees, and hopefully make me more marketable to the type of companies for which I’m better suited.

In the meantime, while I’m looking for escape routes from my current box I’ll be preparing for a new journey to an MBA. I hope you will come along with me for the trip. If it’s anything like the MFA you can expect an exciting journey.

Trust your intuition. Find your career path. Make good art.

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How to Write About Something That Doesn’t Interest You and Still Get Paid

Not all topics are exciting or interesting to write about, but as writers we are occasionally tasked with the impossible – to make that which induces boredom and encourages narcolepsy sound interesting.

Sometimes this requires superhuman writing powers: a monthly energy conservation newsletter no one reads, a review of a a hotel with a history of thefts and drive-by-shootings, or a travel destination piece on a location tourists should never visit, let alone consider as a vacation spot, unless torture, captivity, and imminent death are on their list of must-see attractions.

There are misconceptions about the life of a writer. Some have great magazine or script writing jobs, but they normally don’t come overnight or without a lot of networking. Many work 8 – 5 at jobs they hate that may have nothing to do with writing, but provide health insurance and the rent paid while they search the job ads for something more fulfilling. Others work mundane jobs that barely pay the bills, but give them time to write. The idea that we sit by the beach or lake all day churning out magnificent pages for our next novel is a fantasy.

But the opportunity to write – in any capacity- is priceless, which means sometimes working on something you hate.

Usually the promise of a paycheck, the anticipation of a byline, or fear of your reputation being eternally ruined so that you never get published is enough to keep you writing. In case none of this works here are some things to get you through it:

  • Give yourself a deadline or a strict punishment if you miss it.
  • Imagine winning a Pulitzer for your research and all those who told you to get a real job were forced to sit in the audience and clap.
  • Have a glass of wine when you finish. You probably already drank the entire bottle.
  • Compare “my job is worse” stories with a writer friend who is also procrastinating.
  • Have a mini-dance party with loud music and angry lyrics.
  • Imagine what life will be like when you’re living in a box with no electricity.
  • Write the piece the way you would if you could say all the things you really wanted to say and not get fired. Then write it the way you’re supposed to.

If none of these suggestions work, swap out the wine for a few shots of vodka and put your fingers to work on the best piece of drivel they’ve ever read. Once it’s published and you become the author you’ve always dreamed of becoming share it with a writer who is new to the game as encouragement that things can always go up from here.

 

 

 

 

Why Hire a Freelance Writer Instead of Doing It Yourself?

 

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Remember the time you decided to paint the living room yourself and an hour later it looked like a group of three-year-olds helped you play hide the baseboards? It’s the same concept when it comes to hiring a freelancing service to complete a creative project. You are capable of doing it yourself, but a professional has certain skills that would provide a more professional output.

Hiring a freelancer does not mean you lack creative skills. It could have nothing to do with creativity at all. It could be you have so many projects you don’t have time. Or it requires work in an area you are familiar with, but not an expert. Hiring a freelancer means you care enough about your creative project to want it done right.

How do you find a freelancer?

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Luckily, it’s a social media world, so the best place to find what you’re looking for is online.  Sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Indeed, and even a Google search will provide good options. Many freelancers have business pages advertising their services or are working within a group of freelancers.

How do you know which freelancer to hire?

A good freelancer should have a portfolio of completed work. If it is not available on their website, ask to see it. It’s a good sign if you like what you see. If there is not an example of the type of project you want, but you like the rest of their work, ask to see a sample draft. Make sure to ask if there is a charge for the draft. Imagine taking your vehicle to a mechanic and asking for a repair estimate. You will most likely be charged a small fee for the work that was done regardless of whether you decide to hire the mechanic. Freelancers provide the same service and deserve to be paid for their work – even estimates.

How much should I expect to pay once I hire a freelancer?

Depending upon the project, a freelancer may charge by the hour, by the word, or a flat rate. Be specific in defining your needs and ask for a quote. Don’t be dismayed if the quote is a range between X dollars and X dollars. Sometimes more is involved in providing the desired output and a specific rate cannot be arrived at until they get deeper in. As long as you are okay with the range it is okay to hire them. Just make sure to sign a rate agreement before work begins.

I love my project. How do I reward my freelancer?

Word-of-mouth and repeat business are the best ways to thank your freelancer for their services (besides paying them in a timely manner).

Back to Basics – A Writer’s Journey

It’s never too late to start over. The original plan after graduation was to turn my thesis back into the novel it was on the way to becoming. At the time I was working on a novel of linked stories and to comply with thesis requirements I had to choose three to present. After thesis when I began to put it back into its original format I realized I no longer liked the way it was laid out. Not only that, I had grown as a writer and my characters had matured. So basically, I started from the beginning.

Many writers cringe when they look at their old writings. I started by separating what I liked about what I had written from what needed to be discarded, and now I’m in the process of rebuilding the story.

For me, the most difficult part of writing is self-judgment. I’m my harshest critic. I learned at a young age to aim for perfection, but in writing, as in life, perfection does not exist. Unfortunately, this habit of harshly criticizing my own work produced writers block and delayed the progression of my work.

I was pleased to discover I’m not the only writer with this habit. I follow @thewritelife on Twitter and saw their blog post “The Real Source of Writer’s Block (And and Exercise to Beat It).”  The post recalled how as children we effortlessly told stories because our audience mainly consisted of our parents. As we grew older we became aware of a larger audience and doubt settled in, which produces writers block.

To combat writers block the author recommends a five-minute free writing session before you begin to write. During the five minutes you are encouraged to purge your thoughts onto the page. The purpose of this exercise is to find your writer’s voice in a judgment-free place so that you can once again capture that childlike spirit of producing judgment-free work (that will one day be harshly judged by others). The exercise may seem menial at first, but if you stick with it, eventually when you do start writing again you’ve stopped judging your work enough to write freely.

I have not tried this technique, but definitely plan to do so. I have a novel to finish.

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Business

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Life after graduation feels a lot like being on a Ferris wheel at the carnival. The ride begins slowly. When it picks up the pace it sometimes takes you places you realize you don’t want to go, but you must stay seated until the ride comes to a complete stop. At times, it seems as if the ride will never end, but eventually it does, and you get to try something else.

I received my masters degree two-and-a-half years ago, but it feels more like a year. In that time, I’ve settled in Fort Worth, dismantled my thesis in an attempt to create a well-written novel, started a collection of short stories, and set out on a quest to find the job of my dreams.

The novel and short stories currently riding the Ferris wheel are works in progress. Like me, they anxiously await the moment I get THE JOB OFFER OF A LIFETIME so that my quest can end.

Is it really that important to find the right job? Absolutely!

What interests you? Where do your strengths lie? What do you do exceptionally well? These are the important questions to ask yourself when choosing a career path, or considering a job offer. It’s not about what you majored in, but what makes you happy. We can all agree it’s best to find a job you love, but if you’re stuck in one you hate then everything else in your universe will be thrown off balance until the ride ends.

Professional career coach, Christie Mims, describes job dissatisfaction in her Muse article, “2 Big Signs You Don’t Just Need a New Job, You Need a Whole Career.”

She writes:

  • You’re currently slumped over your desk.

  • The very thought of work makes your stomach curdle.

  • When you try and muster excitement about that next PowerPoint or team meeting, you suddenly start to daydream about chucking it all and opening a bar on the beach.

The image Mims depicts summarizes a typical workday for someone stuck in the wrong career. So how do you get off the Ferris wheel of a job from hell?  First figure out where you went wrong in choosing your current position. What aspects of the job make you the most miserable? If the problem is with a co-worker or manager ask yourself if the job would be fine without their presence. If so, it’s not the job.

If you truly don’t enjoy the day-to-day tasks in your position, feel uninspired, bored, and stifled it’s time to start looking at other career paths.  In “Finally! A Simple Formula for Finding Your Passion,” Mims writes:

Some of the things you are passionate about are probably going to be hobbies, like chocolate is for me. But some of them will be new career options.

There is a correlation between the things you are passionate about and your career pursuits. Why not work doing something you enjoy? It will make you a much better employee and happier person.

Once you figure out what you want to do, how do you go about finding a dream job? It is important to determine what factors meet dream job criteria.

Do you need an exercise membership as one of the company’s benefits? What are your salary expectations? Are flexible hours important? Would you like to travel? What about company culture? Do you prefer a small company where you rarely interact with your co-workers or a larger environment with numerous opportunities for group outings and recognition? Before you begin to search for a new position, figure out what you want.

When you’re ready to search, start within your own network. Contact friends, colleagues, and mentors to see if you can connect with their network. The best way to get hired is by referral.

If you have a small network or are just beginning to establish a network try the job boards. I’m not a big fan of the creative job recruiting agencies, but it doesn’t hurt if you find one you enjoy working with.

Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are top-notch, and avoid posting anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see on social media. Thinking of hiding your profiles? Don’t. It makes it appear as if you have no social media presence at all. This can hurt your chances of securing your dream job.

While you’re waiting, stay up-to-date on the latest interviewing techniques, media trends, and technology. Subscribe to several career blogs and read their recommendations about how to create a personal brand. The Muse regularly posts career articles and some job leads as well.

If writing is your thing, check out job listings from some of the writing magazines or offer freelance services to build your portfolio while you wait. I strongly recommend practicing the AP Stylebook Quizzes to stay on top of your skills.

Best of luck in your endeavor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucket Lists

Do you have a bucket list? How realistic is it? Did you set a time frame for the goals to be attained or just have a “Someday I’d Like To” list?

The older I get the more I realize the importance of setting attainable goals. Not just career goals or writing goals, but life goals. You know, the things you can’t put monetary value on that make you smile. I used to be one of those “Someday I’d Like To” people until I realized the importance of not just living life but making a conscious effort to enjoy life as well.

Happiness isn’t about how many degrees you earn, what model car you drive, how much salary you make, the size of your house, who you marry, or how many children you have. These statuses say nothing about the person you are inside and sadly, some people put all of their effort into obtaining them.

The moment you realize there is more to life than your job title is when you really start to live. So why not start with an attainable bucket list? I recommend creating more than one list, i.e. 1-year, 3-year and 5-year and setting realistic goals for each.

The 1-year list should include realistic things you would like to accomplish within a 1-year time frame. You should have a plan to achieve the goals.

For example: Pay off Credit card debt

If you have a plan to set aside a certain amount of money each month to pay off credit card debt and are diligent then this is a realistic goal. If you do not have a plan to set aside funds and hope to win the lottery to pay off your credit cards or are still waiting for the government to discover oil in your back yard this is not a realistic goal.

Do the same for the 3-year and 5-year bucket lists. A 3-year realistic goal may be to become fluent in a foreign language. A 5-year goal may be obtaining a degree or purchasing a house.

The key word is plan. Bucket list items fail because people are half-heartedly waiting for something to happen instead of believing it can happen and planning for it to come to fruition. Take writing for example. If your dream is to one day become a novelist and you expect a book deal to fall out of the sky without dedicating yourself to the process by writing daily and submitting work how will it ever happen? Words cannot write themselves and dreams cannot be fulfilled without a plan. So what is your plan?

In May, I embarked on a road trip of all road trips. Memorial Day was coming up which meant if I took just two days off from work I could have a 5-day vacation. My normal road trip companion was turning twenty-three and I wanted her to have a birthday she would not forget. This wasn’t just a vacation, but a celebration so the destination was centered around items on her bucket list.

Some of these items included:

  • Ride on a plane
  • Visit Las Vegas
  • Go to California
  • Find Johnny Depp’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Meet Johnny Depp
  • Visit Roswell
  • Get a tattoo

For her, these were all “Someday I’d Like To” items because there was always one reason or another why they weren’t possible. There are times when the impossible is possible if you are willing and flexible enough to make adjustments. If you truly want something in life you have to be willing to jump. So she did, starting with the tattoo. After that, I began searching for destinations.

Originally, the plan was to go to Las Vegas. It is an extremely affordable trip if you’re not big on gambling and are interested in the shows. Las Vegas is nice, but for me the choice was like choosing whether to see a movie in the theater or waiting for it to arrive at Redbox. Las Vegas was my Redbox. Thankfully, she found something she was more interested in that I would also enjoy – Roswell. From there I built our trip based on driving times and activities.

Fort Worth to California (by way of New Mexico) is a little over 1,500 miles, so I rented a car because I did not want to put that many miles on my own vehicle. A 5-day road trip with activities is perhaps a test of sanity, but I was up for the challenge.

I think the thing to do is to enjoy the ride while you’re on it.

— Johnny Depp

Roswell, New Mexico is a nice little city with great history. It is almost a 7-hour drive from Fort Worth, so we relied heavily on traveling music. There is more to Roswell than alien conspiracies, but the famous 1947 UFO incident overshadows the rest so make sure to schedule a UFO tour if you plan to be in town. Dennis Balthaser, resident UFO Researcher,  conducts the Roswell UFO tours and he is legitimate. For $100 a party of 4 can ride with Dennis as he chronicles the history of Roswell and shares what his research has revealed about what happened that night in 1947.

It was truly a pleasure to meet Dennis. He makes no attempt to convert non-believers to believers. He is an extremely intelligent, kind-hearted man who enjoys sharing what he has learned with others. He is also an engineer and has worked on many other amazing projects throughout the world. If you’re a researcher at heart and love history you will not want to miss this tour. Even if you’re a skeptic, driving around the city of Roswell and listening to Dennis talk will provide great insight. We learned so much and have a greater appreciation for the city of Roswell (and science). See for yourself by scheduling  your own UFO tour with Dennis Balthaser.

The next stop on the tour was Albuquerque, NM. It was about a 3-hour drive from Roswell, so after stocking up on alien souvenirs we headed for the hotel in Albuquerque. The sky over this part of New Mexico was too splendid to be real. I was surrounded by intense blues, reds and greens and filled with the urge to stop the car and create something just as beautiful with prose, but the idea that snakes might find the view pleasing as well and decide to venture out for a visit kept my creative soul in the car until we reached the hotel.

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.
— William Faulkner

The next morning, we had tickets to ride the Sandia Peak Tramway. Remember what I said about being flexible and willing to jump? We’re both a bit squeamish when it comes to heights, but this was my idea. The Sandia Peak observation deck is a located in the Cibola National Forest. In the summer hikers brave the altitude and in the winter skiers test their skill. I bought a shirt from the gift store that says “Got Oxygen?” on the front. They weren’t exaggerating. At times we were over 10,000 feet in the air and my lungs felt the exertion of a 400-lb man sitting atop my shoulders.

Once the tram arrives at the top visitors can explore, hike back to the bottom or wait for the next tram. We explored the narrow and sometimes steep mountainside until sanity kicked in and “death by fall” seemed a real possibility. Then we headed back to catch the next tram down. I’m so glad we did this and would definitely recommend it for vacation, but considering we’d faced our fears and were both happier on the ground, once was enough.

“We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets.”
–Marilyn Monroe

After Sandia, we drove 6.5 hours to a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona to rest. There was nothing remarkable to either of us in Phoenix so we ordered take-out and got a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we drove 5.5 hours from Arizona to Hollywood, California. The scenery was beautiful, but the drive through the mountains – treacherous. Even in a Jeep, terror is an understatement. High altitude, sudden curves, steep hills, narrow roadways, falling rocks – a race car driver’s dream! For me, a nightmare.

After arriving in California we spent the remaining two days as tourists. We saw the Hollywood Walk of Fame and found Johnny Depp’s star, visited Universal Theme Park and toured Universal Studios, participated in an outdoor dance party (complete with Jumbotron) in front of Hard Rock Café Hollywood after a great dinner, entered the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and got sorted for wands, and met Johnny Depp – actually several versions of him at Madame Tussauds.

After an exciting vacation, we returned to Texas by airplane and collapsed from exhaustion. If I had to do it again I would recommend at least a 7-day stay instead because there is so much to see in California, but what an amazing adventure!

Bucket List Tally

  • Ride on a plane
  • Visit Las Vegas
  • Go to California
  • Find Johnny Depp’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Meet Johnny Depp
  • Visit Roswell
  • Get a tattoo

 

The tally proves almost anything is possible with a decent plan. So what are you waiting for? I’d love to hear what’s on your bucket list.

Golden Ticket

Tightrope

I suppose whenever you go through periods of transition, or in a way, it’s a very definite closing of a certain chapter of your life – I suppose those times are always going to be both very upsetting and also very exciting by the very nature because things are changing and you don’t know what’s going to happen.

– Daniel Radcliffe

I’m transitioning and I hate every minute of it.

The Journey

I took the high road. Since I’m more of a “path less traveled” girl than a “follow the leader” girl I naturally anticipated some turbulence along the way and readied myself by loading up on God, a healthy dose of naiveté and optimism. Before we were packed I overdosed on optimism, seduced by her promises of dream jobs, great salaries and endless possibilities, because dreamers are hope junkies. While everyone else has both feet on the ground and a plan in sight you can always spot the dreamers looking towards the clouds for something extraterrestrial to happen. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t, but they never stop looking. I had a Master of Fine Arts, an excessively edited resume, excellent references and an open mind. God was supposed to drive me to my next adventure because, like previous adventures, only He had the map. Naively, I assumed we would be going someplace I would enjoy.

Imagine Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (for Writers) – the tour guide is J K Rowling and each room holds top-secret opportunities for budding writers who want jobs in writing so they can feel like real writers. That sounds crazy, I know. Stay with me.

There are no tests, no assignments, no Dementors, and no need for social media prostitution. LinkedIn is diminished to “The Site That Must Be Banished” and “networking” once again becomes a way to meet people with common interests instead of blind dating for professionals where strangers stalk one another for career opportunities.

Anyone suspected to be in possession of confidence (no matter how small) is immediately separated from the rest and interrogated by the Oompa Loompa’s until they become like-minded and accept unworthiness into their lives. The Dementors remain on standby for the stubborn ones who had the audacity to get published.

Stephen King is Willie Wonka and his only desire is to lead other writers to print so that they too can be happy. He doesn’t hand out copies of his craft book – he knows they have already read it and that all of the answers to a writer’s questions about life cannot be found in his book or any other book. For each writer will have a different journey, some more treacherous than others. He wants them to keep writing – through it all.

“You can do this,” he says. For a few moments they believe what he says is true.

J K Rowling gifts each budding writer with a magic charm to ward off uncertainty, insecurity, hopelessness, and fear of rejection.

“You can do this,” she says, and they leave believing what she says is true.

Transition

Reality really does bite, but some days are better than others. Gone are the 1990s when a human reviewed your application, it mattered what kind of paper you used for your resume or how fast you could type, and employment agencies solely marketed you, and not a slew of other candidates along with you, for the same position. Or if they did, it was less of a cattle stampede where the cows with the most active social media profiles got noticed.

Unless you want to teach or have the Midas touch with words social media is fierce and you will need to reinvent the box if you want to get hired. The Muse is a great source for career advice. I didn’t say it will get you a job, but their helpful articles provide insight into the latest trends in employment. Think of it this way. You are the commodity. If you are willing to sell (market your skills)  this is the route to go. If you detest sales and abhor the idea of prostituting your skills on social media in hopes that someone might notice and offer you a job, I feel your pain, but do it anyway. Yesteryear has passed so chunk the jackets with shoulder pads, save the nostalgia for music and find yourself a corner. Apparently LinkedIn is the place to start.

One last thing. It is okay to hate your transition. In fact it wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t. Who celebrates being in limbo (besides perpetually happy people just thankful the good Lord woke them up this morning)? Remember: some days are better than others. Don’t give up on those extraterrestrials. If you spend the morning cursing your existence and wondering why the universe hates you go for a walk and don’t come back until you: (1) find something beautiful; (2) think of one thing you would miss had you not awakened this morning; and (3) smile genuinely at three separate people you encounter. When you get back home, write! Don’t worry about what it is or if it makes sense, and for God’s sake, don’t start working on that piece you’ve been staring at for months now and still haven’t finished. Start fresh. Who cares about word count?

You’re a writer. I promise one day you will believe me.

“You can do this.”