Since I was young I have always imagined myself a writer. I have journals that date back to third grade. I have copies of my stories published in the elementary school paper. I wrote my first novel when I was 10. I have pages upon pages of loose-leaf papers covered with poems or stories in various boxes. One of my biggest influences was a book I read when I was 9 or 10, I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson. The book was thick and big and the cover had brown and beige zebra stripes. It was my grandmother’s and she kept it at our camp in the Adirondacks. Every summer I re-read it and imagined my life as an adventurer and writer like Osa. I wanted to write a book like that.
I still do. I have several drafts of work, recording and explaining the different phases of my life and my various interests. One thing I hear writers say over and over to each other and themselves is that, “we are interested in everything.” This is certainly a true statement for me. I am interested in everything and it takes tremendous effort to stay focused. I have been trying for years to find the perfect combination of a job that gives me time to write daily, is somewhat fulfilling, and still contributes to the support of my family. I have had to start over more than once.
A few years ago, I was able to take a sabbatical from work that turned into a much longer period of unemployment. During this time, I went from a 1000 words per day writing practice to a strict 2000 words per day. I joined different writers groups with different focuses. I attended writing classes and conferences. I read as much as possible. I started to venture out. I read my work in public. I sent out query letters. I sent submissions for contests and journals. I decided to take writing even more seriously and applied to the Antioch MFA program in Creative Writing. I started in June of this year.
A week after being accepted into Antioch, I was offered my first paid job as a writer. It seemed like a dream come true. A friend from one of my writing groups, based on the year’s worth of my work she had read, recommended me to her company; the company wanted to add creative writers to their pool of test item writers for the Common Core Standards. The material the group was producing was a little dry and they thought a creative writer might be able to help. This type of job was part of my vision. I had created this situation: a job that paid well, offered flexible hours, that I could do from anywhere, and that would still leave time to work on my own projects.
Within a few weeks, however, it became a nightmare combination. What I hadn’t planned for—and didn’t know—is that the content would be so rigid and complicated that it was like explaining calculus in Chinese to students who only spoke Latin—and I have none of these skills. Furthermore, tension quickly developed between my former friend/boss and me, and we stopped speaking. All of our communication was through email, and even that was indirect and infrequent. I had almost no guidance. She didn’t tell me I had been laid off and I didn’t know until two weeks after the fact, when I received an email from another employee in the company that the project had gone over budget.
At first, I felt like a failure. When am I ever going to find a job where I can write but also leaves room for my own creative writing?
After a few days of subsiding tension, I realized my original visualization of the perfect balance had lacked some details. As I clarified my dream, I started to feel happy again. I felt energized. I want more than just time for writing; I want the feeling of creativity.
I actually like working with other people. Maybe my dream job is more along the lines of a sitcom team rather than a Common Core Standards item writing team working to ruin some 9th grader’s life. Or, maybe I should just write for myself, and stop trying to combine it with making a living. Of course, I would be forever grateful if one of my collections were to be accepted by a publisher and praised by Oprah and I was sent on a wild world tour like Cheryl Strayed.
But in the meantime, I feel good. The steps I am taking are steps to take myself more seriously as a writer, and because of that, my dreams are becoming more and more real.