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.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Unfinished Business

quality-ferris-wheel-for-sale-in-China

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

First Drafts: Chapter One

snoopy writerIs it just me or has January flown by before you had the chance to get comfortable writing 2015? I bid farewell to Tennessee last Friday and returned to Texas after a long absence. To me, two years and eight months seems like forever, but in reality it wasn’t that long at all. I am grateful for the people I met and friendships I formed in Tennessee and will always hold a special place in my heart for the state, but I am happy to finally be home. Well, almost home. I’m not far from Dallas and a trip to Houston is less than 250 miles so that makes me close enough.

Almost Home

In the six weeks since graduation I have not had a moment to breathe. Immediately, I morphed into relocation mode and started considering my options. Then of course there was the actual move. There have been forward steps and backwards steps along the way, but progress by any means is always good. This latest move feels like a first draft. I’m on chapter one and the pages are all crisp and blank. The environment is new, my senses are awakened, there is anticipation mixed with uncertainty, and excitement about the possibility that in any moment something wonderful could happen. As usual, I unconsciously write outside the lines.

We did not get any pictures during this last road trip because we covered 529 miles in about nine hours. I now remember why on previous trips we checked into a hotel after driving for five or six hours. The good news is we arrived without any major mishaps. (That fire hydrant I almost took out with the truck doesn’t count.) The bad news is our furniture was not as lucky. I strongly recommend hiring professional movers to help with every aspect of the relocation process if you plan to travel across several states. The loading process is extremely important and you must make sure all items are firmly secured with tie-downs before traveling even a short distance. It is cheaper to rent a moving truck and do the driving, but I recommend saving enough money to hire a well-known company who specializes in relocation to do the driving instead. You might be broke by the time you arrive to your destination, but you will be less stressed.

Unpacking is moving slowly as we adjust to the new place and find ways to rearrange our possessions in unfamiliar surroundings, but there is joy that comes from seeing our favorite places and familiar conditions (like traffic jams, Barnes & Noble, Whataburger and Shipley’s). My writing room is almost set-up and I am already beginning to feel the familiar longings to put words on paper, create beautiful sentences and develop complex characters. The novel I was working on during thesis is waiting for the story to be finished and I need to feel like a capable, creative writer again instead of someone in transition. I think it is good that I stepped away from it for a bit to give the story a moment to breathe, but too much time away makes everything stale. I have a story to tell that won’t finish itself so my goal is to become more disciplined in order to reach my personal goals. Writers must write. It is what they do. It does not get more simple than that.

What I loved most about attending residencies at Murray State was the bonds formed with other writers within the program. Nothing replaces that kind of support and I cannot stress how important those relationships are. Just knowing the people you interact with understand why you are there (even if you haven’t figured it out yet) makes all the difference in the world. As fellow writers they share your frustrations and recognize the desire to create something remarkable from nothing and have it be appreciated. I find it difficult to explain why I do what I do – why I want to write or my love affair with words. An explanation isn’t necessary for those who speak my language. My only hope is that the rest who do not understand will some day find comfort and enjoyment in reading something I have written and that my words will speak for themselves.

My goals for the next several months are to work, write, read and spend time just enjoying life – once we’re settled, of course. Right now, I am not sure if I will be able to attend AWP 2015. Either way I will keep you posted, but first, I have to finish unpacking.

 

 

 

 

Pomp and Circumstance

It’s New Year’s Eve and instead of making resolutions for 2015 or waiting to watch the ball drop in Times Square I am looking forward to the fact that tomorrow I get to sleep in. December has been a busy month and I have much to be grateful for. In fact, I am about to embark on my next journey which crosses several hundred miles. It’s time to go home.



Tennessee - Texas

If you have been with me from the beginning you know I have been a Tennessee Texan for the past two years and seven months while attending graduate school. Two weeks ago I attended Murray State University’s commencement and walked across the stage as they called my name to accept the keys to a dream I have been chasing. As I look at graduation pictures sometimes it is hard to believe I am the girl in the photographs. Surreal does not even scratch the surface of what it felt like to be in that room. It was the Academy Awards for graduates. Our procession in robed regalia to Pomp and Circumstance was the red carpet, and walking across the stage and being recognized for your hard work was like winning the Oscar.

Even though it was not the intimate graduation our English Department has planned in May and even though my immediate family in Texas could not attend, I am so glad I participated. My daughter, who has been with me along this entire journey, was there to see me graduate which made it even more special. If you are grauating soon make sure to attend graduation. Think of it as the Pre-Oscar party to the rest of your life. It is worth it!

images (7)

Now that I am officially no longer a student my focus has turned to finding employment, finishing my first novel, and traveling. My goal is to attend AWP – 2015 which will be held in Minneapolis and get settled once I return to Texas. I would really like to do more book reviews as well. I hope these posts have been helpful and encouraging, especially for those of you who may be considering entering graduate school. If you have any questions about the thesis process, low-residency MFA programs, road trips, or just want to talk about writing please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Right now, I am surrounded by boxes, but as always, I  am excited about the next adventure. The next time you hear from me I will probably be back in TEXAS. Thank you Tennessee for the Texas-sized welcome. Kentucky, I am pleased to be able to take a piece of you back with me. Texas, I will be home soon.

As always, keep reading, keep writing and keep dreaming.

Dreams images (6)

Happy New Year!

Plot Twist: Destination Unknown

In fiction, conflict can arise and create a plot twist. These plot twists propel the story into a new direction and help “build” the character or get them to where you want them to be. If life were fiction and I were a character, right now we would be encountering my plot twist. It reads something like this:

The fearless Texan, with a yearning to travel and desire for knowledge, sets out to explore the unknown and pursue her dream of becoming a novelist. Setting her sights on graduate school, she heads to Kentucky for an MFA program in creative writing at Murray State and finds a temporary home in Tennessee where she discovers, unlike Texas, they worship pork, not beef, and are accustomed to tornados in the summer and single digit degree weather during winter.

With bachelor’s degree in hand she searches for work in her new surroundings, but encounters resistance within the economy. After completing a three-month sentence in Cashierdom, she loses one month of sanity in Printingville before making her way to Leasetropolis which is surrounded by Plexiglas, has extremely low ceilings and conventional thinkers.

Three residencies, three mentors, three meltdowns, 68 text books, an attempted thesis defense assassination, wretched teaching presentation, confidence-building reading, and almost 945 days later – it’s finally time for graduation, which also means, time to return home.

The festivities are bittersweet for the Texan. An obsessive planner, she is in “relocation mode.” Her thoughts are not on graduation gowns, mortar boards, tassels or honor cords (although they are an honor), but her future: the next job, next home and the next hundred miles wherever they may lead.

Desination Unknown

I have said in the past there is joy in adventure. Yes, there is, unless you are job hunting. There is nothing exciting about being an almost graduate, stalking employment boards, resume revisions, and rejection. You can say it is good practice for when you start submitting your work for publishing, but in reality no writer has positive thoughts about having their work rejected.

Job hunting is in some ways worse than having your writing rejected. At least you get rejection letters. Most companies seeking candidates for employment don’t bother to respond at all – even some placement agencies.  Why such cruel and unnecessary punishment? Is it unrealistic to hope for the career of your dreams? Perhaps, but the dreamer in me is willing to accept a happy-medium. Writers live to write and will usually do whatever it takes to be able to continue doing so.

The magnificent thing about plot twists in writing is the ability to shape the character into the person you need them to be. Sometimes this is through hardship, loss, or frustration, but as long as you are holding the pen or perched in front of your keyboard the story possibilities are endless.

Congratulations to my fellow graduates. We made it! To those of you still on the path, keep fighting for whatever it is that motivates you to be the person you have always wanted to be. No one can stop you from writing, but you. Dream it, claim it, capture it!

As for me, right now my destination is unknown, but there are still 41 days left for another plot twist and who knows what a page turner its may turn out to be.

Destination Unknown

 

This is only a chapter, not the ending . . . The story has yet to be told.

“I Should Be Writing” and Other Things I Keep Telling Myself

I should be writing. I know. I’m blogging, so technically I am writing, but I’m not writing. My MFA defense was nine weeks ago – NINE WEEKS, and I still haven’t written anything that doesn’t fall into the category of editing my thesis. I now hate the word “thesis”. The mere thought of looking at mine once more gives me anxiety. I just want it to go away. Isn’t that terrible?

Right now my idea board is split between three unfinished projects. One corner holds ideas for a novel I started when I first began the MFA program, an opposite corner has notes for a collection of short stories I would one day like to write, and the largest section is dedicated to the novel I am supposed to be working on. I say supposed to be, because remember, I’m not writing.

I can’t really blame it on writer’s block. I’m not blocked. It’s more of a void. Upon returning home, I threw myself into editing the thesis I wasn’t in love with, so that I could focus on other things. I am a firm believer that if you stare at something long enough you will eventually find something wrong with it. I guess that is one way of looking at my thesis.

As you know, we took a much needed break in Illinois before returning to Tennessee. Sadly, I had to immediately return to work. I have come to the realization that work (at least this position) kills my creative spirit. It’s like walking into a cave. The light has been extinguished and there is little air to breathe. Recent developments at work have only narrowed the space within the cave. After a long day there isn’t much motivation to write.

Compounding matters is the  job search. What does one do with an MFA besides teach, anyway? I forgot how much I loathe job hunting. The other reason I have not been writing is that I have spent every free moment searching for a new job. Have you applied for a job lately? The process is a nightmare. You start with a resume, but must input the information listed on your resume into the company’s job bank so that a computer can scan for key words to see if you are qualified before a human ever lays eyes on it. Those fortunate individuals who make it past the robot preliminary interviewers are then held captive in a virtual room with the heading “Under Review For Consideration”. In this room the line is long and the wait indefinite.

Your phone (if not already) becomes surgically attached to your body in fear that you might miss “that call” or “that email” from a prospective employer. You check spam religiously and scan the caller-id for missed calls.  You hope that website where you applied doesn’t have some sort of tracking system to log each time you check the status of the position. You picture them calling. Will it be a man? A woman? Either way, they will be extremely nice on the phone. You will get along well. Your enthusiasm for the position will seep through the phone line and they will not only want to offer you the position, but a great starting salary as well. At least this is what you tell yourself in the beginning when you are still optimistic. Later, your psychic powers will reveal that you will definitely not get the job, even though the company has not listed the position as filled.

This vicious cycle will continue until (1) you find a job; (2) you decide a career in retail or fast food is what you have secretly always wanted or (3) you give up and decide that doctorate isn’t such a bad idea. After all, you survived the thesis defense with multiple gunshot wounds. A dissertation, even a really bad one with hostage negotiations, won’t kill you, will it? What’s two or three more years? An eternity compared to a lifetime of debt, how much worse could it be? You love studying and completing assignments while your friends and everyone else on the planet enjoys life. Besides, a relationship would just get in the way of your desire for another pretty plaque to hang on your wall. Don’t worry about not having anyone to sit in a rocking chair with when you get older. You can just polish your pretty plaques.

imagesJ7JB3UVP

Is there such a thing as a job of your dreams? I think it is possible to come close. With that in mind, I am patient enough to keep searching. In the meantime, while I’m in my work cave by day and “For Consideration” virtual room by night I really need to be writing.

I think I will start with baby steps. Instead of focusing on piecing together the remnants of my thesis a fresh start might be in order. I don’t mean scrap everything, but perhaps re-familiarizing myself with the characters might shed new light on what direction the story needs to take. I have accepted the fact that I will not finish writing my novel within a time frame that pleases me. These things take time. The life of a writer is filled with frustrations as well as disappointments, but also much joy. Joy that comes from the last word typed on a page. Joy knowing it is good. Joy that comes from finally being published. It is all worth it. The good, the bad, the ups, the downs, the days when I know I should be writing, and the days when there is an unwritten story in my head waiting to be told. It is why we love writing.

If you, too, should be writing, but the distractions in life have become to loud to bear, give yourself a moment to be human, and when the time is right – write.

 

Until next time —