Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2: So How Exactly am I Supposed to Know I'm Supposed to be a Writer?

Go here to read the prior chapter, 1: Should You Be a Writer.

Thanks for sticking with me. ;o)

So, I'm going to New York City, the Land of Writers.

I applied for internships at places like Seventeen, YM, Marie Claire, and even David Letterman. I was offered internships to all of them. (I did not get a request from MTV. Their loss.)

I chose Marie Claire, and for one gloriously stressful semester, I worked as the assistant to the assistant to the editor-in-chief (EIC). How very Devil Wears Prada of me! The EIC was Glenda Bailey, a transplant from England. Today, she is the EIC for Bazaar magazine.


Sheis  an awesome editor. She could see trends and colors and fads and classics. She could also see how celebrity was the way to build a brand and a company and ad dollars. This was in the late nineties, when celebrities were taking over for supermodels as covergirls. But Glenda knew how to take it a step further: getting guest editors. One year, it was Gwyneth Paltrow, another year, Demi Moore. She got Monica Lewinsky in to try lipstick shades. She even started a pro-female initiative, What Women Want, with headliners like Oprah and Sarah Jessica Parker and Meryl Streep.

She was a great mentor in terms of seeing the big picture and where you wanted your product to go.

Precedent #3 for Being a Published Writer was established: Try to gain as much life experience as you can in the "gentle, forgiving embrace" of college and internships. Before kids, mortgages, and root canals start eating at your time, energy, and willpower.

I have to tell you, I was a horrible assistant to the assistant. I can say that now in all honesty. While I was there for those five months, I made one of the biggest professional boo-boo's that I am still too embarrassed to talk about. But I learned a few things:

-English people are very particular about the color of their tea. If it wasn't a light creamy caramel color, it would be dumped out and I would spend the next hour trying to get the perfect cup with a decaying hot pot.

-Writing thank you letters to Miuccia Prada and Calvin Klein and Demi Moore is a science. The equation is: Succinct in three lines or less with a witty double entendre thrown in.

-If you don't have money for a Metrocard because your paycheck is constantly three weeks late, you can walk 34 blocks in New York City at 11 p.m. if you stick to Broadway. (I had to go from 57th to 23rd a few times in this manner. Only once in a blizzard, though.)

Precedent #4 for Being a Published Writer was established: You do what you need to do to keep doing what you've dreamed about doing.

After Marie Claire, I left for the cheaper climes of Phoenix. Was it bittersweet to leave the Kingdom of Publishing? A bit. Do I regret that decision? No. Because I like where I am now.

Where is now? Keep reading!

In Phoenix, there weren't a lot of writing jobs. Thankfully, I applied to one job and one job only and got it. It was for a trade magazine company with approximately 10 divisions: phone technology, self-storage, medical supplies, etc. I landed in the dietary supplement section. The year was 2000, when companies were spending money on dumb things because they had the money to. In this case, they spent their money on me to come in and find quotes for the "real" editor. In other words, the editor would write the stories, and I was just there to make phone calls and send emails for a soundbite.

I was happy to actually have a writing job, though, so I didn't complain. But I did have a lot of downtime and found myself taking catnaps in a bathroom stall.

At this company, I had an awful boss. I'll leave it at that. But I did learn how to write 50,000 words a month and edit/revise another 50,000-100,000 words. Each. Month. I also learned how to put magazines together as a production and managing editor. I can tell when there's an extra space, if the font went down by half a point, and if the flow of text and imagery is making sense when taking reader practice and psychology into mind.

Precedent #5 for Being a Published Writer was established: To be a writer includes a lot of writing and revising. A LOT. And what you're making is an end-product. If you're not willing to revise your work until you want to puke, and if you don't take the ego out of your writing and realize it's a product to be bought, then professional writing isn't for you.


During this time, I was also writing a column for The Arizona Republic, "Twentysomething and Broke." I thought that maybe it was just me and my mom reading it. But I was at a function introducing someone to a crowd of about 500, mentioned the column, and a lady broke into spontaneous applause and hooting and hollering.

So my mom AND this lady read the column.

My editor at The Arizona Republic was also an editor for a hip Phoenix magazine. She was stepping down, though, and thought of me for the job. I remember meeting the publisher at a martini bar attached to the Ritz Carlton.

I felt that I had arrived.

But then I found out this publisher allegedly had major substance abuse problems.

The stupid common sense I have kicked in and made me turn down the job.

My non-ulcered stomach continues to thank me to this day.

I continued at the job where I sometimes took catnaps in the bathroom stalls. And took half-hour breaks at the Walgreens next door to just wander the aisles.

But then, I saw something. I don't remember where, but it was this: a listing for a class.

Which class?

Romance 101.  

At a community college my skyscraper was within walking distance of.

I took the class in 2003. It was filled with nine other women and one man who came to class with 20 old-school Harlequins in his backpack each Wednesday night, which he shared with the rest of the class. 

I got to talk nerd with other nerds.

I wrote an awful first three chapters.

I was hooked.

 * * *

The moral? I loved to read.

But I wanted to be the people IN the books.

I was great at writing.

But I wanted to be great at fashion design. (Even though I didn't sew. Yeah. Chew on that bit of dumb-ery.)

I went into the real world, and it was easy to lose my way trying to do what I had dreamt up and not what I was basically programmed for.

I saw a class listing for a fun class dissecting romance novels, taught by a Harlequin romance novelist.

I decided to try my hand at long-form fiction writing.

I loved it.

And one year later, I received a contract for a Young Adult book from Penguin (now Penguin Random).

* * *
So let's review:

1) I didn't want to be a writer. I wanted to be a doctor, a private investigator, and/or a fashion designer.

2) I didn't go to college to be a writer. I went and studied advertising and joined a sorority and worked for the student government and in PR for a Native American museum.

3) I didn't dream of being a writer. I actually got lost for a little bit as I figured out where life was taking me. And as I was lost, I lived and observed and had opinions and thought through what I was seeing and thinking. I critically thought about life. I didn't just let life happen to me. I made decisions and lived through those decisions and became me.


And yet I became a writer because it felt like the right thing to do. It felt natural. Writing didn't make me feel sick, writing didn't make me wish I was somewhere else, anywhere else, doing something else.


(Of course, I do wish I were somewhere else now. Usually during Revisions 2 and 3, when the story is still bluck and an embarrassment and I wonder about my ability to have subject-verb agreement.)

And isn't that what we all want? A career that we have a passion for?

And it doesn't hurt any to think up cute guys, funny girls, and three-legged dogs with ego problems.

Stay tuned for Motivation: How to Get It and Keep It

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-Sydney