This has been another crazy week.
I don’t think I ever mentioned it on my blog, but I was recently hired as the part-time editorial assistant at ForHarriet.com. When I started interning in the spring, I hoped and dreamed it would turn into something more permanent (and with a paycheck attached.) And it did!
I feel so many things. But mostly, I feel grateful and proud to say that I worked toward this opportunity — and I am even more grateful to have this opportunity. And I’ve learned so much. Mostly, I have learned that I don’t know jack shit about online editorial and social media. But I am learning. I am learning everyday.
I have also learned that being a writer and being an editor are not the same thing. Similar, but not the same. Still, I feel like being a writer has helped me get to this point. And I have learned a whole bunch about writing that I didn’t know a year ago.
1. Trust your instincts. As a writer, part of my job is to listen carefully, observe carefully, and respond acutely. Being a writer is a lot like being in a never-ending conversation with the people and world around you (as well as with yourself). In the past year, I have learned that I have really good instincts. I know what makes a story work. I know why a joke is funny. I understand why millions of people are able to relate to one specific text. I can’t always articulate this knowing. And I can’t always manifest this intuition the way I intend to. But the simple ability of having good instinct is the best foundation. I have come to rely on my instincts more than my talent. And even when I make a mistake because of my instincts (or what I perceive to be a mistake), I still stand by and believe in them.
2. Hard work and skill matter more than talent and passion. This has been one of the hardest lessons. For so much of my life, I was praised for my talent as a writer and performer, as well as rewarded for my passion. It didn’t matter how hard I worked, or how much practice I put into developing my craft — I was “good” and I loved writing. That all stopped being enough the minute I graduated from college. In the real world, none of that shit matters. Hard work is what matters. Practice is what matters. Skill and craft are what matters. Because from these things, you create work. From these things, you create evidence. If you are not writing and working and writing and working, it usually means you don’t have anything to show for your talent. And guess what? No one hires based on talent alone. People want to see what you’ve done, what you can do, day in and day out.
3. Ask for help. For the longest time, I would never ask for help. I felt like I could do everything on my own. I also felt like asking for help was kind of an asshole thing to do, because I didn’t know how or if I could return the favor. It doesn’t matter. Suck up your pride and ask for help. I have spent the last few years knowing that I absolutely wanted to be involved with online media and writing for television. But I didn’t know who to ask or how to ask for guidance, so I kept my mouth shut. Then I was going on my third year teaching sex ed, and I was like, “Nope, this is not the life I want for myself.” So I had to start looking like a dumbass, and ask people who owed me nothing if they would give me guidance. And all of these people were very kind and very willing to help me in whatever way they could.
4. Network. I hate networking. I think it sucks. I like spending most of my time alone — and if I’m not alone, with a very small and select group of people. I hate that networking often feels so unnatural, and often feels a lot like shameless self-promotion. Yes, you are building relationships. But you’re building relationships by selling yourself and your abilities. Even writing about networking right now is giving me the heebie-jeebies. But the reality is, you have to network if you want a job or if you want to build long-lasting relationships. And a writing career is hard enough — you want people standing with you, who know what it’s like, and who may be able to help you if the time ever comes.
5. You will start from the bottom and you will do bitch work. I realized that I really really wanted to be a writer over a year ago. But it took me until the last six months or so to actually commit myself to the amount of work being a writer will require of me. And even still, I have days when I’m in la-la-land. But when I really committed to the fact that writing and telling stories was the only thing I wanted to do and would like to spend time doing with my life, something clicked. I also realized that I (a) would have to make a lot of sacrifices and (b) get used to working really hard for little to no money, doing shit I consider myself too smart/skilled/old to do. It took me until I was almost 24 to realize that pursuing a writing career meant I would have to start all over again, and it took me until I was almost 25 to accept that starting over again meant doing bitch work. But for the most part, I don’t mind because I’m happy and I’m learning and it’s strangely fulfilling.
6. You still need to pay your bills. I made really great money when I worked full-time. I mean, it was still pittance compared to what many people I know make. But if I knew what I know now, I would do so many things with those paychecks. I no longer have that kind of money, but I still have things that I’m financially responsible for. I am extremely lucky, I admit — I am privileged, and I have parents who really support what I’m trying to do. This makes certain things easier to do. But I’m still an adult, and I still have things I gotta pay for. Quitting your job to be an artist is not as exciting or glamorous as it sounds. Once the exhilaration wears off, the panic sets in. Everyone is different. Everyone has different ideas about how to earn income. That’s for you to find out. The point is, you will still need a job so you can survive.