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Posts tagged ‘Career Choices’

Don’t Make Decisions Out of Fear

We’re halfway through the year.

And what a year it has been for me! I started off getting major surgery and recovering from it. Now, I’m figuring out what the next step in my careers is going to look like. I say “careers” because I have two.

I have my records management career that I’ve stuck with for almost twenty years. Ever since I graduated from undergrad school, I’ve been involved one way or another in this field. I enjoy it and it feeds a particular part of my personality that enjoys planning and organizing.

My other career is the fiction writing. I’ve been lucky enough to be published a few times, but I really want to do more. I’ve been using my time in between jobs to really focus on writing and submitting more. I’m currently on chapter four of the novel and I have nine submissions out.

Through this whole year, I’ve been trying to focus on how I made big decisions in my life. So many times I’ve been pushed into a corner and had to make a decision because, if I didn’t, I thought things would get worse. One big moment for me was back in 2014. I had planned to take some of my savings and pay for my last class outright, instead of borrowing the money. As soon as I pulled the money out of my savings, I got furloughed. Worried I might lose my job, I stuffed the money back into savings and went even further into debt. If I had just taken a few weeks and let the fear go, I would’ve saved myself hundreds of dollars in interest.

Sometimes it is hard to know. For me, I’ve tried to set myself up so that I don’t have to make decisions out of fear in the first place. When I lost my job, I had enough savings that I could take a breath and figure out what was next. With my health, I plan on never going back into surgery like that again, so I will be much more vigilant and take better care of myself. Sometimes emergencies can’t be helped, but health issues of my own making should be stopped. I knew about a year before surgery that something wasn’t right, but I ignored it and told myself it was not that serious.

With my fiction writing, I think I’ve done better. I try not to self reject. If I see a open call and I think my work is a good fit, I send it to them. I try not to let the fear of putting myself out there hold me back. It’s easy at times to talk yourself out of submitting. You tell yourself, “It’s not that good.” or “I need to rewrite it again for the hundredth time.” or “I’m not important and this place only publishes famous writers.” That is fear telling you this.

The best advice I ever heard was from a video. The speaker said that no one can see the future (at least as far as he knew). When you talk yourself out of things, or make decisions out of fear, you are predicting the future. You already know that the outcome is going to be bad, so why try? Truth is, YOU DON’T KNOW THE FUTURE. You can’t predict what is going to happen. All you can do it make the best choices for yourself to your benefit. Fear is a lie telling you the future. So ignore it and try anyway. You never know what is going to happen.

As I put down more and more words for this novel, the fear comes on strong. This is a long work and part of me hates to work on it, only for it to fail. So I have to keep telling myself that I don’t know whether it will fail or not. No matter what has happened in the past, I don’t know the future. I have to trust in my ability as a storyteller that this manuscript will be successful.

I have to trust myself.


On Why My Fiction Writing is Necessary

To date, I haven’t earned more than $20 from my writing. To be a full time fiction writer is a dream come true, but the reality is that even if you have multiple books published, you still might have to do something else to support yourself (and your family). More practical people would see my work in the past years as a failure.

“Whaaa? You still haven’t published a novel?” they say.

It’s hard for me to explain to someone, who isn’t a writer, why I continue to write. There’s no money coming in from it, so why bother? It’s a hobby — a pastime, that I tinker with but don’t ever seem to get any traction on. At best, I’m an undiscovered genius. At worst, I’m a hack that is deluding herself.

Neither one of these is true for me.

I think I’m a good writer. I’m good enough to be on the shelf with my peers, but I’m not Margaret Atwood, or Octavia Butler. My ego tells me I’ve got something special and my common sense reels me back and says I need to work on that specialness. That sounds pretty healthy to me. You have to have some sort of ego to be any artist. You have to believe people will care about what you create. Otherwise why bother putting it out into the world? Just write your stuff in journals and stuff them under the bed.

As I look for new employment, I ask myself what made me stay at my previous job so long? I was there for almost eleven years. Not only that, but the job I had before, I was there for six and a half years. Clearly, I wasn’t there only for money. What were the traits of that job that made me stay so long and how can I find to same qualities in my next job? That’s the questions I ask myself as I comb through job announcements and email my resumes.

The first time I decided I wanted to write, I was twelve years old. That was thirty years ago! This is a hobby/hopefully second career that I’ve stuck with for more than half my life. So why have I done it?

First off, I’m an introvert. I’m not good at parties and I don’t want to be around people all the time. Even as I type this, I’m alone in my place with no plans to meet up with anyone today. That sounds great to me. Yep, I’m in the yoga pants, t-shirt, and house shoes.

Yet, I don’t want to cut myself off from the world all the time. Writing helps me connect because I can do it in the comfort of my house, but then share with all of you. I can be vulnerable and still feel protected at the same time.

Second, I do love stories. Not even kidding when I say that I can watch the same movies and TV shows multiple times, even if I enjoyed the story the first time around. (And let’s not forget I have a pretty good memory, so even if I remember the story-line, I’ll still watch it.) I just recently found the reruns of Monk on Hallmark’s Mysteries channel. They are still funny, wonderful stories. Also, I will reread some of my all time favorite short stories again and again. Recently, perused through Ted Chaing’s “Story of Your Life” again. (The movie came on Syfy.)

So I write stories that I really enjoy and want to read over and over. It’s a challenge and exhilarating. I love to push myself to go outside of the box and really write a story that is unique, but familiar. Odd, but comforting. I love the challenge and when I feel like I’ve written something good, oh my it is a happy day in my house.

Lastly, I do write stories for you the reader. I love to brighten someone’s day. Make them laugh and forget the crap they are dealing with. Make them say “Wow, what fun!” Making someone else feel better, have empathy, see through fresh eyes, or simple helping them escape for a few minutes is the best job in the world.

I’ve been fiction writing for thirty years, and I plan to do it for at least thirty more.

How I Feel About Getting a MA in Writing

I read an article today where someone racked up $100,000 getting their MFA. I couldn’t believe it! That’s a lot of money to study the arts. The author rationalized that they would be able to get a teaching job at a college and could then pay the money back. But $100,000 is still a lot of money and they will most likely take a good chunk of their lives. It’s like having a mortgage.

I can’t be too mad at them. I ran up a good amount of debt getting my MA, although it was around $12,000 instead. Still debt is debt. I paid a lot of money for something that wouldn’t necessarily lead to a higher paying job, or even publication.

Next month it will be four years since I graduated. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether my degree was worth it. I think it was because of where I am now. But I do have some thoughts about my experience.

Pick a program that will work for you. When I made the decision to go, it was during the Great Recession. After seeing people losing their homes and being out of work so long, I knew I would be a fool to quit my full-time job for school. So I looked for a part time programs and low residency. The school also had to be okay with me writing my speculative literature. No sense in going to a school that would look down on the work I would produce.

Be sure of your “why”. Ask yourself why you are doing this. Is it to get published? Make more money? Better think twice. I went because I wanted to know more writers and to get better at my craft. That’s it, nothing more. If the program didn’t do that for me, I would be in trouble. Luckily I met great people, whom I am still friends with today. I also grew as a story teller and became more confident in myself as a writer. You are investing a lot of time and money in this. Have a good why.

Be financially prepared. I’m not here to say whether student loans are good or bad. All I know is you should go in with your eyes wide open. I saved for a year before I even applied to grad school. Things went off the rails when I got to my last few classes. I had to take a pay cut and some unexpected furloughs took a toll on my bank account. When it came time to pay for my last few classes, I pulled out my credit card and charged it. The card’s interest rate was the same as Navient was offering and I didn’t want to get into the position of owing the money (Student loans don’t get discharged in bankruptcy court, but credit card debt does.) if something bad happened. I knew it would take me a couple of years to pay it off (It did.) But it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.

Overall, my experience was good. When I started the program, creatively, I was at a low point. Investing time and money into myself and my passion was one of the best decisions I made. It pulled me out of a semi-depression and gave me something to work toward. Sometimes I’m amazed I did so much: went to school, held a full-time job, and was able to have some sort of life. As I said, I grew as a writer and met some wonderful people. I had debt, but I was able to pay it off in a reasonable amount of time.

MA and MFA are a lot of work and may not lead to fame and riches. For some it may be wrong, leading to lots of debt and stress, but for others, it may change their lives. Only you can answer whether it was/will be worth it.

100K By September 1st!

We’re well into summer and half the year is almost gone. I’ve been so unproductive this year that I’m a bit frustrated with myself. But I keep telling myself that what gets done gets done. I just wish I could get more done.

Don’t we all wish that?

My home search is on hold right now. Here in the DC area, home prices are so competitive that it is really hard to get a place. Plus I still have some debt from JHU. So my plan is to pay off the debt, then look into buying something. In this market, every thousand dollars makes a difference. On one hand I’m sad I won’t be able to own something now.

But I also started thinking about other expenses coming in the near future. The last thing I want is to have a mortgage, school debt, and other stuff like a car, etc. No thank you. I’d rather pay off the school debt, save for the house, and then save for the car. No more debt.

Seven years ago, I was debt free as I paid off the last of my undergrad loan. That was such a freeing moment and I want to have that feeling again. It’s addictive to have no obligation to anyone.

When I was 16, I took the “Strong Interest” test in high school. Number one career recommendation? Author. Annual salary? $16K.

Yep. I knew I was in a low paying career from the beginning.

But when you don’t have debt, a small salary will allow you to be very comfortable. I just slipped up and made some no so great decisions. Still, I got an MA out of it and over all I still think it was a good decision.

So, yes, my financial life takes up all my thoughts. Writing has fallen by the way side. It’s a three day weekend here in the US. I hope to get something done. I am still submitting. A story I submitted a year ago finally came back rejected and a few others are still in the que.

Can’t say I’m not persistent or patient.

I need to attack my writing goals like I attack my debt. So I’m making a goal right now that I will write 100K in the next two months. That is my writing goal. It’s a big one, but hey, aim high right?

I think I can do it.

Doing What You Love

A few weeks ago, classical musician Joshua Bell played at a Metro station in DC. Years ago, he played anonymously and the Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten wrote an essay on the experience. A few days ago, singer Erica Badu sang in Times Square. She made $3.60. Both of these experiences got me thinking about doing what you love.

In 1993, I was 16 and took the Strong Interest Test in high school. The result? The first career that popped up for me was Author. Scanning down the paper, I read that my salary would be $16,000. I had no idea what that would be in real world money, but I did know that was low. My classmates had careers like lawyer, or accountant. Their salaries started at $50K. Still, I stared at the paper and thought, Well it’s a start.

Since that moment, I view, any salary I get that is over $16K is a win. I don’t earn any money from my writing and don’t expect to ever get rich. (Unless I get very lucky.) Money will come in time. For now, I’m more focused on building a body of work and getting better at my craft. I’m working anonymously (without the famous reveal of course).

Just out on the corner of the internet, doing my thing.

When you do what you love, there is still hard work. You work and give so much of your time, attention and yes, sanity. Some will think you are crazy, standing out on the corner singing for three bucks. While Erica did this as a stunt, there are plenty of us who are doing for real.

Sing on I say. Not because you want the money, or the attention. You simply want to do this. Everything else is a win.