Where to go next?
Aspiring writers dream of writing books as a career and working on brilliant essays for reputable publications to pass the time between books hitting the shelves and the next deal.
I’m no stranger to this dream.
I majored in journalism so I could be a sportswriter after college, and I became exactly that. I planned on spending my free time chipping away at my manuscript. But like most writers working for an “up-and-coming” company, I didn’t have much time to write novels outside of work, so I left for an MFA program.
I spent a lot of that time submitting first drafts for workshops and complaining about how much I was writing for my freelance career. Looking back, I was at least making an OK living and had the opportunity for opportunities. I was passing up freelance writing jobs because I could. The only person holding me back in any area of my life was myself. As it should be.
Given my writing history since 2014, I don’t know where to go from here. I worked for a startup that asked for 50-plus hours a week in return for “exposure” and a meager salary. I entered and took an MFA program for granted. I wrote (and still am writing) for an endless string of freelance companies. I’ve slaved for entrepreneurs who don’t pay on time and some that do. I’ve typed my fingers raw for content mills. I’ve done the things that every aspiring writer does.
I still have freelance clients who pay decent rates, but I don’t work enough for financial freedom to enter the picture (aka I worry about rent … and rent, unfortunately, knocks on my door — any door — every month).
I’ve read countless essays about letting yourself off the hook. And taking some of the pressure off by just living.
I put too much pressure on myself. When I’m not working on a novel, I'm drowning in unfulfillment. I’m losing time in the California sun to worry, fear, and not getting in the type of fun (or trouble) a normal 27-year-old should get into. Even when I spend the first five hours of my day writing and another two to three hours reading, hopelessness takes over.
The biggest problem with a writing dream: It never turns out the way we want it to. Anne Lamott talks about that (and publishing) in writing-about-writing book Bird by Bird.
“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
Publishing isn’t as magical as we thought it would be. Okay, I got it. Check.
My only experience in that arena is ghostwriting a few book chapters for a celebrity entrepreneur.
I’ve never been a fan of the fame part of writing, which is easy for me to say because I’ve never received any form of fame from writing (death threats for saying some random fan’s team will lose a game doesn’t count). I want to work on what I want to work on (like books and essays), get paid a decent living, and enjoy life. But that’s what many writers want. It’s hard to achieve those things in this profession. Or in any profession.
I’m not sure where to turn because it feels like I’ve tried everything: I received the journalism degree, worked my once-upon-a-time dream job for a sportswriting company, entered an MFA program, wrote a novel, and battled it out in the freelance world.
In return, my journalism degree sits on my dresser collecting dust, my MFA degree will likely follow once it arrives in the mail, I lost faith in journalism, and I’ve burned out from freelancing.
I haven’t worked for corporate America and I’m not sure I want to, even if a company did offer my dreams on a silver platter, or on a plate, or in an email. I haven’t worked for a coffee shop, library, or other “cool places that writers should work.” I have worked low-paying jobs since turning 16, but not since I started taking writing seriously during my senior year of college (my first senior year … I took a victory lap and a half).
I haven’t written for big-time publications like The New York Times. I would like to, but I haven’t. Sometimes, it’s not as easy as wanting, and most writers know this.
So, no, I guess I haven’t tried everything.
I wish it was easier. This whole writing thing. But it relates to life so much when it comes to good days, bad days, rejection, and having to deal with problems. And I suppose that will make my someday story more interesting.
Who knows, maybe it will even morph into memoir material if those are still flying off the shelves when I reach that time and place in my life? Maybe I’ll land a full-time job again and welcome security back into my life? Maybe I’ll start pitching well-known publications instead of entrepreneurs and marketing gurus who claim to have “game-changing results that will take your business to the next level?”
The only good thing: I know I’m not alone.
And that’s good news. I need good news. All writers need good news. We need wins every once in a while to keep us going — because we’re always waiting for good news to appear in the form of jobs, acceptance, reads, emails … anything.