Friday, January 17, 2014

When should you publish?



Earlier this week, I attended a panel discussion at Westminster College featuring four published writers. They ranged in age, genre, and experience. As I sat in the audience alongside other aspiring writers, I had two thoughts:

  1. There are a LOT of people out there who want to be a writer
  2. How on earth can I make myself stand out among so many people who like me, are just trying to make a profession out of what they love most: writing.
As I listened to the professionals address the student wannabe writers in the crowd, I did not hear any advice that answered my question above. Instead, I couldn't help but feel discouraged--a feeling that I had not at all anticipated when preparing to attend the discussion.

Three of the four writers strongly encouraged students NOT to publish. The overall message to their advice was to wait. Wait, wait, wait. Keep practicing your writing in your journals, meet with peers who like you are wanting to one day publish that piece. Whether it be a work of fiction, a screenplay, or a book of poetry; practice and wait. 

Admittedly, I am not as experienced as the distinguished professionals who sat on that panel. However, as an older graduate student sitting with younger undergrad students listening to writers telling us to hide our work, I felt frustrated. I thought back to my undergrad days when editors at the University of Utah art and entertainment magazine took me under their wings and helped me develop as a writer. I interviewed people within the community and my articles were published in the magazine. The people I interviewed read those pieces as did people on campus and online. Would I post some of my old articles up for all to see now? No. Can I look back and see how terrible some of my stories were? Yes. Would I change any one of them? No. 

Some of the professionals on the panel warned us of the damage that publishing too soon could do for our future careers. I can see their points. However, if I had not had the guidance of better and more experienced writers then I would not have developed to where I am today. And to that point, I am still working towards becoming a better writer--asking for criticism even though it can hurt at times. 

I wanted to speak up at the discussion, but chose not to. Instead, I asked my favorite panelist some questions regarding early publishing after the discussion and found that she disagreed with some of what her peers had to say. I was happy to know that she encourages publishing but with guidance; just like I had. I am still seeking guidance and so far, I have found just that at Westminster. 

To the naysayer panelists I say: have a little more faith in what younger writers can do. And if you are going to adamantly discourage us to attempt to publish in journals, etc., then please follow up with some advice as how we can find and work with experienced and successful mentors. While peer-editing is great, if we are all on the same level, I do not see how that will help our cause. 

I would love to know what other aspiring writers or even current published writers have to say on this subject. Where do you stand? What advice would you give?

I say, without submitting pieces to be rejected, you will never really grow as a writer. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

What grad school has taught me so far



In August of this year, I began graduate school. I walked away from my full-time, salaried job with paid vacations and picked up a part-time job making significantly less than I have since earning my  bachelors degree 10 years ago. I became a student and that has been my full-time job. Except it hasn't. Life is a full-time job and trying to get perfect grades whilst maintaining a social life and a marriage and still manage to pay the bills can become a bit (to put it mildly) overwhelming. Somehow I survived the first semester. While gearing up for round two of grad school, I have been reflecting on the past few months and just how much my little life has changed in that amount of time. Here is what I have learned from grad school so far:

Sunday and Monday Night Football just aren't the same. 
When you have hours of homework to do, you sacrifice things from your normal routine to get it done. For me, this has been most of the football season, which is heartbreaking. Of course I managed to get my Cowboys games in, but when I am sitting at the kitchen table wanting to pull my hair out trying to understand grammar concepts, hearing the sounds of the football game from the other room is equivalent to rubbing salt in the wound. 

Say goodbye to muscle and hello to wrinkles
Um...look, I have never claimed to be super-fit or even kind of fit. However, I was working out somewhat regularly before I started grad school and actually began developing muscle. Replace workout nights with classes and add trying to freelance along with working two part-time jobs--oh and homework--I have quickly learned that muscle is much easier to lose than it is to gain. My increased anxiety and lack of sleep has also done wonders to my skin.  

Social life, what?
Luxuries such as pedicures, random shopping trips, weekend getaways, impulse-buys, regular lunches and brunches are for the most part, things of the past. Sure, I managed to do an okay job seeing my friends. But this came at the price of sacrificing regular homework hours for friend-time. This means that homework hours happen later at  night, while your husband, dog and cat are sleeping soundly and you are staring at the computer screen with wide, bloodshot eyes and messy hair. Not only that, but my toenails have never been so boring.

Hunger games
No, I am not packing my bow and arrow and fighting for my life in an arena against other desperate grad students, but I AM subject to social media. You know, the place where nearly everyone you know (or don't know) seems to live the perfect life filled with designer products, perfect bodies, exotic vacations, glitter and rainbows and endless amounts of perfection. Admittedly, watching others on social media sometimes makes me wonder what I did wrong and I find myself hungry for the life of a non-grad student. When this happens, I usually want to swear off social media. But then, I realize that I can't because as a communications major, social media is a must. 

Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist
One of the most infuriating comments I hear these days is, "GPA's don't matter in grad school." Sadly, I think that is true. But I cannot convince myself to not care. I know that my future employer will not ask me for the cumulative GPA that accompanied my masters degree, but that little competitor inside of me wants to work my way to the top of the GPA scale even if for no other reason than to say I did it. With that, comes the stress, anxiety, mental and emotional breakdowns that are common side effects of being a perfectionist. In the end, it doesn't even matter. But I just CAN'T stop caring. 

With the completion of my first semester, I have stumbled upon a few helpful tools for aspiring or current grad students. Here is a list of must-haves for your next semester:


  • A friend to go through the pains of school with. People will try to understand. They will WANT to understand. But the bottom line is that no one can truly understand what you are going through unless they are doing it too. If you don't have a friend beginning the journey with you (thank God I do), get to know your classmates. They will be your shoulders to lean (or cry) on all through school. 
  • Down time. Allow yourself to stay home. Be lazy when you can and tune out the rest of the world. Your brain and your sanity deserve it.
  • Snacks. School stress is a great weightloss tool. But you need to eat. Otherwise, you become very grumpy and put those Betty White Snickers commercials to shame. Pack some snacks because in the thick of the semester, full on meals become a distant memory.
  • Alcohol. Only when you finish your homework. Then, you get to treat yourself.
  • Sleep. Haha. Ya right. But hey, it's worth a try! 
Here's lookin' at you spring semester!






Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tighten up that editorial waistline



Throughout the course of my writing career, I have grown accustomed to editors removing content from my stories to 'tighten' them up. A detail-oriented person, I have not always loved this editorial move. As my writing has changed, I have grown to appreciate the art of a quick and thorough piece.

In my grammar class at Westminster, we were assigned to read and respond to an article written by Helen Sword in the New York Times. She writes about 'Zombie Nouns,' and then provides a test she created called the Writer's Diet test for writers to find out whether or not they are zombie noun abusers; and lack-luster and lazy with their choice of verbs. The test assessments reminded me of the editorial advice to tighten things up.

I tested two of my past essays and received a score of 'flabby' on both. I soon became fascinated with how to improve my writing and get a better score. For my response essay to Sword's article, I wrote based on the advice provided in the Writer's Diet diagnoses received on the two essays. I tested out my response (the third essay) and guess what? I score a 'lean.' Oh yeah! If only tightening up flabby bodies in real life was this easy!

I encourage any writer to read this article and then take the Writer's Diet test. Thanks to my Grammar professor for including this in our homework!

Zombie Noun Article

Writer's Diet Test




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Changing with the seasons


On Sunday Daveed and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. As we harked back on memories of our wedding day and some of our favorite moments, I remembered our honeymoon in Thailand. I remember one day, on our way to hike up a waterfall, we sat in the back of a truck talking about future plans.

At this time in my life, I had been laid off from IN magazine about four months ago and was incredibly unhappy at my current job. I decided in Thailand that I would go back to school and get my masters degree. After school, I would reopen my public relations company. In between all of this, Daveed and I would travel at least once a year to somewhere exotic.

In the year that followed I applied to and was accepted into the masters of professional communications program at Westminster. I left my toxic job and became a student. I reopened Pink Rain PR a few years early and Daveed and I did not travel anywhere exotic.

People like to talk about the season of autumn as a time of change. It is a chance to take a step back and look at where you are and where you are going. How have you changed? As life around you is dying and preparing for winter, what are you going to let die?

My life has changed drastically since Daveed and I got married one year ago. The incredible thing is that I have had him right by my side as a tremendous support. He has been there for all of my emotional breakdowns and senseless stressing. It is scary to give up your full-time salaried job to work part-time and be a student again after 10 years.

I have no idea what the future holds and for someone who is a planner like me, that is a bit terrifying. This year as we prepare for winter, I want to let some of my fears of the unknown die. I want to stop wishing I had more or was doing more and be proud of myself for where I am and who I am becoming.

The nice thing about letting go is being able to breathe again. And with open arms to fall into when something goes wrong, change seems a little less scary.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Facing the awkward years head-on

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a photo project on Facebook called "The Awkward Years." The basic idea of the project is to showcase an adult holding a photo of themselves during an awkward phase of their life. The creator of this project, Merilee Allred, begins it by telling her own story next to a photo of her adult self holding a picture of her 5th grade self. Allred tells the story of her youth. It is one that you would never imagine for the beautiful red-lipped blonde. Her memories of that time in her life are filled with insecurities that grew as a result of being bullied.

By the time I finished reading her story, I had tears in my eyes.

The point of Allred's project was not to show off how beautiful she has become but rather, to show people that she overcame that time in her life. Despite everything, she grew up. She made it out of school and as an adult, she is working to prove to teens that life does get better.

I immediately contacted Allred to be a part of this project. When I pulled out the picture that I was going to be photographed with, I grew very nervous. I had joked with my friends in Utah about that teenager in Northern Virginia, but none of them had ever seen a photo or could really picture what I described. Showing this photo would make all my stories real. They would bring back that girl who I have tried so hard to escape. The one who was chubby, wore glasses and braces, was picked on by her peers for being overweight or wearing high waters. Who was made fun of for being pigeon-toed by her fourth grade teacher, who was poked fun at in the hallways because her "mother allowed her to wear that," who was called a "cow" and who eventually, had to wear a back brace through all four years of high school because of scoliosis.

When I looked at the 9th grade picture of my 13 year-old self, I was overcome with emotions that I suppose I had suppressed for quite some time. I wanted to cry and I wanted to laugh. I could not look at that photo without feeling embarrassed.

Writing about my younger years of awkwardness and feelings of insecurity was surprisingly therapeutic. I experienced a surge of emotions that were all very raw and I felt transported back to that time of my life in a way that is hard to articulate.

But that girl grew up too.

It has been months since I shared my story and I am no longer ashamed or embarrassed to let people know that little girl in the photo is me. I was terrified to post my picture on Facebook because of the teasing comments that I was sure to get. Instead, I received support and encouragement from my peers. My photo, along with others in this project, has been on Yahoo.com, Good Morning America's website, all sorts of photo project pages, on television in Utah, and the list goes on. I am now excited that this photo has been exposed to the world because of the support that I have received and because each time I look at my adult self standing next to my 9th grade self, I feel proud.

It turns out that many people have stories of their own. And those of us who initially came forward in the beginning stages of the Awkward Years Project have inspired others around the world to share their stories.

It is also sad to know that so many people have experienced bullying. My hope is that teens who are feeling awkward or not good enough or ready to give up can read our stories and see how far we have come.

It isn't easy to revisit the past. I don't always recommend it. If I could go back in time, I would visit my younger self and tell her to not listen to the mean things the other kids say. To not feel ashamed for being different. To walk with my head high and know that it gets better and so do I. And that when push comes to shove, I am stronger because of my experiences.

In a way, this project did allow me to tell my younger self all of those things and oddly, I feel better.

Visit the official website for the Awkward Years Project here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dreamweaver. I may need one of those.

April will mark the one year anniversary of when Daisy and I found out that we were being laid off from IN magazine. June will be one year from when the lay off became official. It has been a crazy year and as time goes by and I find myself still unsure of what my new dream is, I feel more and more saddened by the realization that somewhere in the mix of it all, I lost myself to some extent.

Before blogs were a thing I used to write in my journal. I started at the age of 8 and currently, I have 15 completed journals filled with my sorrow, angst, excitement and dreams. I stopped writing in my journal awhile ago. I tried to write in it leading up to my wedding but it didn't last. I tried to keep a honeymoon journal in Thailand and that did not work out either. I don't know why I cannot seem to will myself to do the thing I love most: Write.

It may be that the rejections I last wrote about are starting to weigh on me. The constant feeling that I missed the boat in really getting anywhere big and the realization that has come with losing my job at the magazine that people no longer find me as interesting as they once did. I do not have the free concert tickets anymore or the cover stories or the "in" to the parties in Salt Lake. I do not have VIP seating and I do not get to hang out with rockstars. I miss those things very much. But the realization that I was only liked for those things is harder to deal with than the loss of the "ins."

Lately, it has occurred to me that maybe my efforts to keep some friendships alive are more hurtful to me than they are beneficial. I was never famous, not even a little bit, but I did experience being known in the community. And I am experiencing learning who my real friends are. I am also experiencing a sense of sadness and loss by the relationships that I had built and thought would last longer than they have. I feel like sometimes living in Salt Lake is like being in high school all over again. I was never cool in high school. I was kind of cool for a minute here in Salt Lake. But now, I am no longer in the cool kids club and I am feeling that.

It kind of sucks. But maybe this is the time that I stop longing for what I had and pay attention to what is around me. I have some amazing real friends who I trust. That is much more important than have a huge group of superficial friends who only want to be around me because of what I might be able to do for them.

To the real friends out there, you know who you are and thank you. Thanks for loving me for the weird, super annoying planner person that I am who over analyzes everything and never feels good enough. Thank you for being a support during a crazy year and half of ups and downs.

Time to hold my head up again and try to find my new dream. Maybe write in my journal again and listen to Conor Oberst over and over until I figure it out. Time to go back to being the weird kid. I think I am alright with that. I just wish I could get all those piercings back and still be considered professional!

A new tattoo it is.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Working my way national one rejection at a time


 I feel like it shouldn't be so hard for me to freelance write at a national level. I know plenty of local writers who are freelancing at a national level and they are inspirations to me. But every time I come across their articles I wonder what I am doing wrong. I have been doing this whole published writing gig for 11 years now. It's pretty crazy to realize that. I know I have come a long way and I am grateful for that. But, I feel like I should be further along.

As I continue to get older, I notice that the editors I am pitching to are getting younger. They are the ones with the power to say yes or no to my ideas. They are also leaps and bounds ahead of me in their careers and when I discover their professional accomplishments I experience a weird combination of jealousy and admiration.

Did I miss my chance? When do I accept that I may be too little too late? You do not need to be young to write. But these ambitious writers who are my competition seem to have the energy to work the full time job and stay up super late to get the article done and then wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed to do it all over again.

When I am done with my 8-10 hour day, I (try) to go straight to work out. From there, it's coming home to shower and eat dinner and by the time I actually get to sit down and relax, it's time to head to bed. I constantly seem to struggle with the side of me that is so tired and just wants to rest and the side of me that wants to be up late coming up with new story ideas and writing.

Once I come up with the idea I have to track down editor contact info and then pitch the ideas. Then it is a waiting game. So far, I either do not get a response at all or I get turned down.

I am trying not to give up because what I really want is to write. It is what I have wanted for most of my life. It just is not as easy as "Sex and the City" would have you believe. Or any other show about writers that I have seen. They make it look so glamorous. And almost always, the writer hits it big. A lot of these fictional writers in TV shows are in New York. Maybe being a Utah-based writer is half my problem.  Or maybe reality is much more difficult than the fictional life of the young, glamorous writer who can somehow not work but afford to live in amazing apartments in the Big Apple.

As I continue to work through my crisis, I guess the only thing I can do is keep going and keep trying. If I don't make it to where I imagine myself going, at least I cannot blame myself for not trying. But sometimes the trying gets tough and I really just want to say fuck it all. And take a nap.