Wednesday, August 27, 2014

1: Should I Be a Writer?

Should you? Should you be a writer? So many non-writers wanting to be a writer and so many writers who haven't made it as a "published" writer and so many writers who haven't made it as a "profitable" writer ask this question.
I think the only people who don't are a) people who always hated English classes and b) writers who live in beachfront villas and have ghostwriters co-authoring their books.

When I was little, my first dream profession wasn't writing. It was being a doctor, like in the biography, Elizabeth Blackwell, First Woman Doctor, I read.

Then I wanted to be a private investigator, just like in the book Encyclopedia Brown that I obsessed over.

This was soon followed by a 12-year goal (yes, 12 years!) of wanting to be a fashion designer. This was after reading about Coco Chanel.

I should have soon figured out what all of these professional dreams had in common: reading.

I was a fantastic reader. (If I do say so myself.) I remember in second grade wanting to beat my older brothers' "Books Read in A School Year" record, which was 200.

So I read 500.

Of course, I worked the system. I was seven, so this meant I was allowed to read the very short Little Miss series and the very, very short Beatrix Potter stories. I racked up those 500 very quickly! But then that finished goal gave me an epiphany: if I could read books that quickly, maybe I needed to move on to bigger books.

And boy, did I. Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Tarzan: Lord of the Apes.

I still didn't want to be a writer at this point. (I was in my detective phase.)

Then fifth grade came. I was still reading anywhere from one to two books a day, and it only got worse when I found out about Harlequins. Wow. What a world! As I read these books, I also started writing some stuff. Namely a Book of Poems, which I typed by hand after school in my mom's first grade classroom. We then photocopied it (most likely on the school's copier--hey, it was sortakinda for school!) and then took it to my fifth grade class.

And I sold it. And I sold out. (All 20 copies!)

Years later, I found out one of the boys in that class had kept the book and it was on the shelves next to his George RR Martin.

One gem from this book: How majestic and noble, so tall and so grand, like a night in white armor, when a friend lends a hand.

Yeah. I was cool.

Fifth grade was also when I started entering--and winning!--essay contests. From the ages of 10 through 18, I must have entered at least 50 essay contests: Daughters of the American Revolution, Kiwanis, even an Arizona Mining essay contest (which I won, thank you very much).

I even won a national essay contest based on a travelogue series. It was sooooo boring when I did it (it was a three-month commitment to watching documentaries in the high school auditorium while everyone else my age was jet-skiing on the lake or baking in their pools). But I stuck with it.

Maybe my first time sticking to writing even if I didn't want to do it? Hmm.

Precedent #1 for Being a Published Writer was established: Stick With It Even If You Hate It (Right Then)

I put myself through my bachelor's degree with essay contests. I went to study...not English. 
Advertising! And you know what? Today, I am still so glad I studied advertising. We learned about demographics and white noise and brainwashing and the art of persuasion via visuals and text.

During college, I worked at the on-campus convenience store (the smell of dirty mop water is still with me). A movie theater (the manager telling me "I smelled tasty" is still with me). But my favorite job?

Working PR for the student government. I designed logos and graphics for rocking the vote at election time (do they still use that phrase, "rocking the vote"?) and promoting leadership conferences.

I also was in a sorority: Pi Beta Phi. It truly was a great experience, teaching me to get along with 90 other women and having fun with them. I was the Vice President my last year there. It was one of the best experiences of my life, with some great stories that were lived!

My minor was Fashion Merchandising. In other words, I took classes on the history of fashion and how to dress store windows. It was great! I put on a school fashion show for my 25,000-person university, and it sold out! As part of this minor, I also took costume design and helped costume the plays.

The song "Bobby! Bobby! Bobby Baby Bobby Booby Bobby!" is still in my head, decades later, from Company!

I took no English courses during my bachelor's degree. I got ENG 101 and 102 out of the way in high school, so really and truly--I had no English courses.

But I did write a bit. I wrote and drew a comic strip for the college newspaper, Miss Priss. It was an experience. A good one that went nowhere, but still, I was happy for having done it.

I graduated and took a job out of fear of the unknown and a great starting salary. I quit five months later. I lived at home for seven months. I was the Generation X cliche.

A cliche who worked 29 days every month, for 14 to 16 hours a day, at a coffee shop and a book store. I was a cliche who was trying to work her way out of cliche.

I applied to grad school. I tried applying for creative writing. It didn't work out. Why?

I HAD NEVER TAKEN A COLLEGE-LEVEL ENGLISH COURSE! (Besides those ENG 101 and 102 courses as a high school senior.)

So I applied for General English, thinking I could take some creative writing courses without a declared major and re-attempt the MFA program. But a funny thing happened on the way to Implementing the Plan.

I found Rhetoric.

Now Rhetoric is the linear-thinking counterpart to creative writing. It's the place where language is used as succinctly and precisely as possible.

If Creative Writing is Oscar, Rhetoric is Felix.

But I learned about language. And after a bachelor's without any English Courses, I believe I logged in 82 hours of masters' level work during my degree.

Which was, yes, Rhetoric.

Precedent #2 for Being a Published Writer was established: You don't need to study creative writing. Study and live things that will make you a better thinker and observer of this world you live in.

During my master's, I worked at a bookstore and was known as The Book Goddess. I knew pretty much any author you were looking for, and knew how to find misplaced books. I truly was All-Seeing (at least at Hastings). 

NOTE: Hastings very kindly stocked my books at its chain when I was traditionally published, something Barnes and Noble AND Borders didn't do. Yay you, Hastings!

Graduation came. I had held a PR internship at a Native American museum. But I wanted another internship. A writing-based internship. And so I applied to the only place you should go if you want to be a writer:

New York City.

What happens now? Read the next installment: So How Exactly Am I Supposed to Know I'm Supposed to be a Writer?

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-Sydney