So, you want to be a writer? Are you sure? Because I would like to share a few things about what it really means to be a writer…things you might not be aware of and then we’ll talk about how to get started, if you’re still sure it’s what you want to do.
One of the most common things I get asked is how I decided to make the transition from a normal 9 to 5 career to leaving it all behind to pursue my passion for writing and the simplest answer I can give you, is fear.
I was more afraid that I was going to squander my life away working under fluorescent lights making someone else money while watching my ship sail from my office window than I was fearful of failing as a writer. Every day I made the same drive into work and every day as I approached the same bridge, the Roosevelt Bridge, I would look out over the water and catch a glimpse of the sun rising up over the horizon and think to myself…”there has to be something more I could be doing, this can not be it”
And one day on that drive, having that same conversation with myself, the universe finally answered. I knew in an instant that I would be giving my resignation that same day. And I did. But the thing I want you to know is that I was not unhappy with my job or my life. There was no great catalyst for this decision, just a knowing that what I was doing wasn’t the extent of my potential. It wasn’t a soul sucking 9 to 5, in fact it was actually a very rewarding career and I had landed what I called my “dream job”.
I worked in a beautiful, three story state of the art medical and surgical plastic surgery suite with twenty four hour concierge service (aka very fancy). And I didn’t just work there, I was the practice administrator, which means I was the boss. I was making a great salary, utilizing my college degree, had access to all the fun stuff like botox and chemical peels and liposuction if I wanted it. I had my own office, essentially made my own hours and had a great working relationship with my physicians. I was even afforded the opportunity to use my writing as a tool to help bolster our online presence when I took over all of our social media management and redesigned our companies web site. But I was unfulfilled spiritually. I can’t adequately put into words how I knew that what I was doing wasn’t what I should be doing…I just knew, in that instant going over that bridge. Some people refer to that as a calling and I would agree.
Now you might be wondering if I was already writing or if I had a plan and the answer is yes I was writing but not as a career. I had at that point submitted to a few online publications and I was technically a published contributing author for the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise, a gig which yielded me my first ever paycheck for writing, two hundred dollars, but I was in no way, shape or form a “writer” by trade. Nor did I have an education in writing, or English for that matter ,something that occasionally rears its ugly head in some grammatical or punctual error on my part and I cringe when I catch something after the fact. But hey, I’m human.
So with no plan, no writing gigs lined up and no savings and I mean NO savings… I typed up my resignation and hand delivered it. Everyone thought I was crazy to give up such a sweet job and for a while I considered that I must be crazy too.
Before I left my career I could safely submit articles and blog posts and it didn’t matter if it was accepted for publication or not because I had an income. And I enjoyed the fact that I could write at will, no pressure just whenever the mood struck me. So that lead to some pretty significant changes. I now was submitting to pay my bills and it became more and more like work. And here is where we get into the heart and truth of writing.
Unless you’re already an established, published author and one who is represented by a literary agent it is very difficult to break down the doors of those power house publishing companies to get noticed. Of course I like everyone else saw my story, my life being turned into the next Wild (Cheryl Strayed). And yes, Reese Witherspoon would play lead in the movie about my life. But the more and more I submitted the more I was rejected and the more I began to question the decision I made.
But I plugged along and I wrote for anyone and everyone who would scoop up my articles and blog posts and I started getting feedback and paying close attention to what readers were consuming. Before I made writing my career, I wrote for me. I wrote for an audience of one and there is a big difference between writing for yourself and writing for others.
The best example I can share is an article I wrote which first appeared in elephantjournal called He Cheated and I Chose to Stay. If you have been living under a rock and are unfamiliar with elephantjournal, it is the world’s largest mindful living magazine. They have over 4.3 million subscribers worldwide and counting. I submitted a story for publication about a relationship that I had been in which resulted in the guy I was with cheating on me. I never defined what cheating was or what it meant to me. I made no differentiation between a physical or emotional affair and I never disclosed details. I was purposefully ambiguous because I wanted an inclusive audience. I simply wanted to relay the message that we are all individuals and that we have to live with the choices we make and how it feels to have a support system that encourages you to make decisions for yourself and not what your friends, family or society thinks you should do.
To be honest, I didn’t put much stock in the article itself, wasn’t sure how it would be received or that they would even publish it. I was on vacation with the man the article was about when it first ran and I will never forget waking up in my hotel room to over 300 notifications. The article exploded. It was shared over ten thousand times on elephantjournal alone and other sites picked up the article and ran with it too. To date and with my best estimation that article alone has been viewed over one million times and counting…great right??
You know that old adage “even bad press is good press” yea…not so much.
I received posts, comments, memes, emails and instant messages telling me what a horrible human being I was, how I must be a doormat, how I must have low self esteem. I received angry questions asking how I could possibly encourage women to stay in abusive relationships. I was told that I was ugly (because they ran a picture of me and my boyfriend at the time with the article, with our permission of course) and any number of other passionate responses.
My first instinct was to defend myself and the article and point out all of the ways that these people had misinterpreted my position. My friends and family began defending me in the comments section whenever the article appeared on another feed and it was then that I realized something about that article. It’s been one of the greatest teaching moments of my life.
I finally understood the power of my words.
So here’s the thing…
It wasn’t me they were reacting to. It was their own experience. My words struck a nerve. My words triggered a reaction so powerful that an immediate emotional response was illicit-ed and they felt compelled to respond. And whether that response was appropriate or not was not the question, the question was why?
And the answer is because cheating/betrayal/trust are universal concepts that everyone can understand. It was pure emotion. Those who had been cheated on and it didn’t end well had the most violent reactions. Those who had been cheated on and worked things out or stayed together responded in kind by thanking me for posting such a brave article. I was validating the people who had made a choice similar to mine. The other side of the coin felt in their eyes that I was somehow condoning the action. Which simply wasn’t true but the truth didn’t matter. It was their perception and perception is reality.
It was for me the first time that I could see the immediate impact to something I wrote on an audience that wasn’t limited to the obligatory reading of my family and friends. It’s one thing to have people you know commenting about your work, because well, they KNOW you, but to have strangers engaged in such heated debates about your appearance, your character, your intent…that’s a whole new ballgame. You have to have thick skin. I wasn’t being critiqued on the merit of my work as a body of literary substance. My thoughts were being attacked.
And you know what? I wouldn’t change that for the world. Because there is no reality where staying at my current position as a practice manager for a prominent plastic surgeon that I would have had the privilege of reaching a global audience and igniting a discussion. None. And who knows where that discussion lead or what actions that conversation facilitated. Maybe someone who was feeling societal pressure to leave a relationship stayed and are the happiest they’ve ever been. Maybe someone who was cheated on had the courage to walk away from their relationship and met the love of their lives, who knows…that article changed my life and became the catalyst…
Still want to be a writer? yea, me too!
Oh and buy my book…