Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer.
It seemed like an inevitable path. By age 18, I had written hundreds of poems and short stories, as well as two full-length novels. I’d also earned all As in my high-school English classes. I even had a teacher who once suspected me of plagiarism, because of the quality of my writing. (My consistent work later convinced her I was honest.)
In college, I majored in journalism and minored in English, graduating with distinction. I also finished a third novel in my sophomore year.
Originally, I had planned to major in English. At the time, however, a journalism degree seemed more lucrative, offering a wider variety of career options.
Talk about hindsight. Journalism is now ranked as one of the most useless college degrees you can get. (If you want to buy in to such rankings.)
A couple of my English professors begged me to change my major. Now I wish I would have. I always enjoyed my English classes more. Clearly, that was where I belonged.
After college, I worked for two and a half years as a project editor for a local newspaper. I started by scheduling photo shoots for our three magazines. Later, I worked with clients to create printed advertising products, such as brochures and supplemental inserts.
I loved my job, because I was putting my writing and editing skills to work and developing my craft. At night, I wrote fiction and humorous essays. My work and home life fed off each other. It was a harmonious balance.
Then 2008 happened. The housing market crashed and the economy tanked, and all those advertisers who paid my salary disappeared. Because I was one of the younger staff members, I was laid off. Last one in, first one out.
My boss assured me that because of my talent, I’d land another job in no time.
I haven’t worked in the field since. But not for a lack of trying. I applied for jobs at advertising agencies, PR firms, TV studios, other newspapers.
Nothing. No luck. I wasn’t what they were looking for.
After my layoff, I accepted a $10-an-hour position as a receptionist for a small real-estate firm. It was the only job I could get. They wanted me to answer phones and take messages.
But I was determined to put my skills to work. So because I had newspaper-layout experience, I created colorful fliers with compelling photos. And because I was a writer, I took the bland lists of home features the agents gave me and transformed them into captivating copy. I also started a Twitter account and a community blog, in addition to shooting and editing video for our YouTube channel.
But none of that mattered. Only one client complimented the broker on her well-written home description. The rest of my efforts went by the wayside, seemingly unnoticed.
When I asked about possible advancement, I was told I could run credit reports as a property-management assistant for a dollar an hour more — plus an additional fifty cents once I got my license.
Not quite the advancement I had in mind. Plus, there had been no acknowledgement of my advertising efforts, so I could only assume that my skills didn’t matter to them.
One good thing came from the conversation, however. I left.
Now, after a lot of flailing around, I’m with a different company. The pay is higher, and the co-workers are great.
But I’m still not working as a writer — or in anything remotely related to journalism.
So my point is this: My writing skills helped me succeed spectacularly in my academic life. I earned As not only in English, but also in other writing-intensive courses such as Core Humanities and Political Science.
Writing, however, hasn’t seemed to help me much in my career.
I’m not knocking writing. It’s still my passion, which is why I created this blog. It’s become not only my creative outlet, but a means to meet other like-minded people who also love writing. And I’m grateful for that.
It’s just that I’d always envisioned writing as less of a hobby, and more of a career.
I also thought writing was a skill that would mean more in the business world. Yet I’m rarely acknowledged or recognized for it. If anything, it’s taken for granted.
But maybe that’s the nature of this beast. Maybe writing is like the music business: either you make it, or you don’t. If you don’t, it becomes your hobby — something you tinker with in the late hours when your “real” job is done.
Could be. For every successful, big-name author, there are thousands of unknowns writing novels that may never be published. And not just authors, but filmmakers, script writers, musicians, playwrights. It almost seems like the creative field is a game of musical chairs, and everyone’s rushing to sit before the music stops.
And, of course, there are not enough chairs.
But what about the Internet? Hasn’t it changed the literary landscape?
Of course. But the problem with the Internet is that it’s so brief and transitory, and it rewards volume over quality. I agonize and rewrite constantly — often to a ridiculous degree — but a well-crafted piece today is yesterday’s news tomorrow. There’s no lasting impact — no replay value. Once its moment passes, it dissolves to obscurity.
So what’s the point in rewriting and editing when the world wants “good enough?”
The Internet certainly has opened avenues for self-expression and finding audiences. But exposure doesn’t necessarily equal success.
And anyway, not all of us are seeking success. Some of us just want to make a living doing what we love. I’m not looking for a multimillion dollar book deal. I just want to make the rent on a one-bedroom apartment.
Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
I worked for several years digging trenches, laying pipe, shoveling gravel, planting trees. But I always knew I had a skill that I wanted to develop, a passion I wanted to pursue — a dream that one day would get me out of the trenches and into the life I wanted to live. That’s why I went to school.
And I’m not giving up. Writing is what I love, and someday, I’m going to make money doing it.
Because writing is not a useless skill. Creative jobs might be scarce in this apocalyptic, post-recession world, but I believe with all my heart that the world needs writers. Maybe things have changed, and maybe our attention spans are fleeting.
Regardless, I’m going to try. That’s why I keep this blog, and I’m sure that’s why many of you blog, too.
Because I know I have something to give. Even if I don’t get paid for it, I have to believe I have something to offer — something the world needs. So I’m going to keep on putting it out there. Who knows — maybe this blog will start to open doors.
But if not, what’s the worse-case scenario? I never make money writing?
Then maybe that’s OK. Because if somebody reads this piece and gets inspired — or if they laugh at one of my humor posts — then that means I’ve reached out to the world and touched someone else.
And for the time being, that’s the only payment I need. Because in the end, it validates the very reason I wanted to be a writer in the first place:
I want to matter.