Interviews lead to useful information: What I learned from one semester of writing for the university newspaper

Boots

As a non-traditional student (meaning not “college age”), I am experiencing college life in a different way than most younger college students.  I don’t live on campus or with my parentsI am a married mom juggling three jobs, so I don’t have time for all the clubs, activities, and lecture series, and the notion of “Greek life” is, well, Greek to me.

Rather than hanging out in the library drinking three-dollar coffee on a laptop (my $99 ChromeBook knock-off has since eaten the dust), I sit in my home office and drink 15-cent coffee from my Keurig (using a reusable filter)—no styrofoam cups or plastic straws or disposable K-cups.  My classes are almost 100% online, as I had to keep my schedule clear so that I could work all the jobs I do.  As I will be working primarily from home in the spring, I will get to experience what it’s like sitting in a classroom next semester.

It’s a feeling I’ve missed.

For me, nothing will ever take the place of face-to-face interaction.  I like to say that one, in-person conversation equals 1000 texts.

When I was pursuing my Associate degrees, all my favorite classes (all of them writing-emphasis) were on campus; through them, I got to know my professors, and they got to know me even more; when you read someone’s creative work, you get a glimpse of their soul.

I look forward to developing my writing even more at UWF, for this university had something that Pensacola State College (PSC) did not, which was my degree program: English with a concentration in Creative Writing.

There are so many opportunities at UWF to write, whether it’s The Argonautica, The Troubadour, or The Voyager.

I’ve learned so much in the short time I’ve been with The Voyager.

From my Socratic Society interview, I learned that even though business majors get hired more, English majors get promoted more.  When you’re a writer (and not a STEM major), you need to hear these things.

From my Center for Entrepreneurship interview, I learned that you can start a business while in school; they will help you.

From my interview with a library intern, I learned that the Careers in Writing course teaches you about all the careers to be had in writing (not just teaching). 

Working for a college newspaper has connected me with people I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise, inspired me to attend events I might not have attended, and helped me write about things I never thought I’d be interested in; being a student reporter is also a great way to build your portfolio for future employers.

It was my love for college journalism that brought me to UWF.  A couple of years or so ago, when I was interviewing one of the writing contest winners at my alma mater, she told me she was coming here to pursue her degree in Creative Writingsomething I hadn’t known existed until then.  

Though I was only a reporter for The Voyager one semester, everything I learned was outside the newsroom because, as my adviser said, “The real news doesn’t happen here but out there.”

Do what you love because you love doing it

Letter from our EIC

There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that’s all some people have? – Joel McCrea (as John Sullivan in Sullivan’s Travels).

My dream profession is to be a humor columnist or bestselling novelist.  I’m so glad that what I’m doing now is all writing-related, even if it’s just helping others with their writing (i.e., editing); however, I still make time for my own writing.  Every.  Day.  Writing keeps you creative; editing keeps your writing clean.   

A columnist position will be much heavier on writing and not on answering telephones (the latter of which is hard for someone who relies heavily on closed-captioning when watching movies); it will also be light on face-to-face customer service and autopilot office duties (e.g. filing and shredding).  The plummiest part about life as a columnist will be that I will not have to rely on other people to get quotes (opening the door for me to be accused of misquoting them) or grant me interviews (opening the door for me to be accused of misrepresenting their organization or not portraying it the way they would have).  This freedom is what makes the creative writing side of journalism much more attractive.  

Newspapers (not news) is dying, but I don’t blame the Internet (entirely).  What’s happening in Washington should be covered by the reporters in D.C.  When I open the local newspaper, I want to read about what’s going on in my town; I want to read about the people in my town.  D.C. will get covered no matter what.  After all, it’s lucrative political theatre—a 3-ring circus with elephants, donkeys, and a slew of other political animals slinging mud and eating each other up (like the gingham dog and the calico cat in Eugene Field’s poem, The Duel).  

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in communications, you must be patient.  You might have to write about things that do not interest you (e.g. zoning, sewers, school board and city council meetings, etc.), but that’s okay, because that’s just more writing experience.  Every writing assignment I’ve ever been given I’ve treated like it was the most important story I was writing.  

Even though I enjoy writing for newspapers, I prefer more time to polish my pieces, which is why having a weekly column would bridge my fiction and nonfiction writing worlds.  Furthermore, a columnist position will not be so emotionally draining that by the time I get home, my well is too dry to work on my own writing (e.g. blog, novel, etc.).

For now, I am happily pursuing my B.A. in English (with a concentration in Creative Writing), knowing that the real money (and job security) is in technical and business writing—not in creative writing (unless you become the next Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, who are the exceptions rather than the rule), so I may go for the Technical Writing certification, as I’ve already taken Professional and Technical Writing, which I highly recommend, as an elective.

We shall see.  

2019: My Year in Review

2020.png

I feel like I’ve lived several lifetimes since last year.  I’m working nearly full-time from home as a proofreader/editor and am now in university, pursuing my B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing; I’m also back at the Writing Lab as a tutor—a great gig.

Several months ago, however, things weren’t so rosy.

When I got discharged from my full-time position at my alma mater, my first thought was “How am I going to pay the bills?”  But that thought was almost instantly replaced with an overwhelming feeling of relief. 

Three days before graduating with my A.A. and A.S., I was offered a full-time position as an administrative assistant (i.e., secretary/receptionist) for my alma mater’s foundation.  One of my interviewers had said they were “so inspired by my passion for the college” that they actually upgraded the position for me (full benefits and everything).  I like to say that the red carpet was rolled out for me, only for the rug to be pulled out from under me. Being given the boot after all that should’ve been a blow to my pride, but I’ve learned (the hard way) over the last few years that pride is way overrated.    

The story I’m about to tell, I wasn’t sure I was going to tell at all (at least in writing).  A very good friend of mine thought it should be told, so rather than change the names to protect the not-so innocent, I simply won’t mention them (they’re really not that important).

Here it is:

Every year, the foundation puts on a holiday gala for the big donors.  The year before last, it was at another campus, showcasing the healthcare program.  I was the Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper and wanted to cover it, and my successor was taking photographs.  I thought my boss would be pleased (though that wasn’t the reason why I wanted to do it) that it would be getting some attention.  Plus, I was curious.  

Fancy affairs like this one was are generally not my thing, but there was something so cool, so insanely awesome, that I just had to tell about it:  a robotic mannequin that gave birth.  I captured the whole process on my phone and posted on to our newspaper’s Facebook page.  I think robots in general are cool, but this was just . . . WOW!

When the print edition of my story came out after I returned from winter break, a shitstorm hit.  The dean from the campus where the gala had been held came into the foundation office and talked to my boss, who went into a panic, asking where all the newspapers had been distributed, asking me to take down the video, etc.

So what happened?

The new Editor-in-Chief (the photographer that night) had replaced one of the photos at the last minute (she didn’t have a name for the caption, which is sort of a cardinal sin in the newspaper business) with a photo of the robotic mannequin giving birth (I’m not even sure if the fake genitalia was in view).  My boss informed me that because I worked for the foundation, certain things would be expected of me.  She didn’t even give me the chance to tell her that I had handed the reins over to the new EIC at the end of last year and had had nothing to do with the photograph (I guess donors don’t look at our Facebook page).  

As my grandma used to say, I was all worked up into a tizzy (even though I knew she couldn’t fire me for something over this), I walked outside and called the Editor-in-Chief, whose calm made me realize that I had done nothing wrong.    

My boss was so afraid of losing donors, referencing some anti-Trump art by a teacher (which had caused the school to lose donors), that she couldn’t see the bigger picture:  Donors don’t control the news.

What was even more insane was that donors were there that night and saw the whole thing.  I thought, if someone sees childbirth and thinks it pornographic, then they are the ones with the problem.  

My boss treated me with condescension (but never in front of people) after that, and it got to the point where I didn’t feel like I could do anything right, even take a simple telephone message; she even hung up on me when I was couldn’t find the information she was looking for fast enough.  What’s more, she acted like it was a great thing that I was losing my job because I didn’t belong there anyway, while trying to convince me that newspaper writing wasn’t that different from fundraising.  It had already gotten to the point where I was sick to my stomach whenever she came in.    

Those weeks I was unemployed I was filled with angst.  I hate looking for a job with a passion—the boring ass job applications, the endless cover letters that have to be specifically tailored to the position you are applying for (just look at my freaking resume), the interviewing (ahem, auditioning) phase, etc.  I interview well, but I hate feeling like I have to be a put-on.  The whole process is a real drag and takes a toll on your morale.  When my husband finally blew up and said he was tired of me being stressed out all the time, I broke down, finally admitting I hated her.  I think I must have said I hated her fifty times, for it felt so good to get it off my chest.  And then the most amazing thing happened:  All the anger and angst was gone.  I had been so angry with myself for allowing her to make me feel like I was a complete incompetent; never will I allow someone to have that power over me again.  

And that’s the story I never thought I’d have the courage to tell, out of fear that I would burn my bridges for a second chance at full-time employment in another department.  I also feared being judged harshly for publishing this, but this is the most honest piece I’ve ever written.  This was definitely not something that should’ve been written right after it happened (it would’ve been more of a rant), but with a little dust comes perspective.  Out of fear of losing my job (why it sucks being the breadwinner sometimes), I didn’t stand up for myself like I should have.  I regret that greatly.  I just didn’t feel I was in a position to be the least bit confrontational, for you see, the person who has the greater socio-economic status tends to be the one who gets the benefit of the doubt.  I also did not wish to diminish my good reputation or good name at the college that really had given me so much.  

If only I had known I was going to lose the job anyway, how different I might have handled things.  I hate feeling like someone got one over on me, but I love Frank Sinatra’s quote:  The best revenge is massive success.

And now that I make significantly more than I did there, I feel that I have achieved that “revenge” to some degree.  I also know that I was in the wrong place; being there at the wrong time helped me see that.  I’m glad that article came out when it did—that I got to see the mask come off.  I’m glad that I’m home when my daughter gets off the bus, that I’m able to pursue my writing degree, which I couldn’t have if I was still working there, as the university doesn’t offer all the online classes that the college does.  Because I would have put my family first, I would’ve put my degree on hold to keep the money coming in until I found something better.  

I would’ve hated to give up the benefits (two weeks paid time off for winter break, one week paid time off for spring break, and at least a week of other paid days off, as well as paid sick leave and personal leave), however, I sort of got all that anyway.  I figured out that I save 45 minutes of driving time a day, which equals to approximately 21 hours a month that I can be home with my family or working on my writing.  

Though I am happy scholastically and occupationally, my life hasn’t magically become perfect (I still have rent and car payments), but it’s better and I am so much better off than I was at this time last year.  Because I am not stressed out over work or school (no more math or science), I am happier at home.  I know I will never be able to avoid stress completely, but I am learning how to avoid unnecessary stress and better handle the stress I do have.  

My focus this year will be on finishing all my unfinished writing projects (I have a few novels), cleaning up my blog (I’ve almost ditched all the stock photography and am working on my own graphics), working on pieces for publication (besides what I publish on my blog and on Medium Daily Digest), organizing my entire flash drive, and learning how to create my own book covers to self-publish a few shorter pieces that I don’t envision being published by a traditional publisher.  

I also have goals for my daughter (reading!) but these are mine.  A Facebook friend was asking what our word was for 2019, and I said “actualization.”  When she asked how did I expect it to impact my life, I said, “It already has,” for it was this year that I realized I needed to do what I was made for.

As for my big takeaway from 2019?  Tell your story.  You own it.  

Happy New Year!

5 Ways I’ve Used Minimalism to Improve my Writing

Instagram screenshot

My Instagram posts

Instagram: Poetry Unfiltered

Every Saturday and Sunday, I publish a “Post-It-sized” poem on Instagram. I used to feel that I had to make each poem “pop” with the use of filters until I realized that such was unnecessary. I could feel the seconds being wasted, trying to come up with just the right filter, so I started screenshotting my poem with my phone via Google Docs and publishing it as is with the hashtag #nofilter. I realized there is a certain beauty in stark white and bold black. Coming up with appropriate hashtags take enough of my time.

Images are (Almost) Everything

Because I blog a minimum of twice weekly, it helps to recycle images, especially with my recurring features: Micropoetry Mondays and Fiction Fridays. For Monday, if my theme is “The Lighter Side” or “Opposites,” I use the same graphic; eventually, I will design my own logo for Micropoetry Monday, so I can ditch the stock photography all together (I’ve already scrubbed my blog of most of it). Because Fiction Fridays are all excerpts from my book or poetry based on it, I use the same graphic. Even when it comes to LinkedIn, rather than using a stock photo, I use my business card in basic black and plain white (without my personal address or telephone number) and an eye-grabbing headline. However, since I’ve discovered the Medium Daily Digest’s publishing platform (https://medium.com/), which is lot more attractive than LinkedIn’s (and not about boring corporate culture), I use an abstract photo—usually a close-up of something loosely related to the quotation I paste over it.  (And my quotes are always original.  There is enough recycled content out there.)

Strunk and White + Stephen King = Needful words

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is one grammar book that changed my writing (and maybe my life). It is what I call a hornbook for all writers. I applied its principles to my writing when I worked for my community college newspaper for several semesters, which helped me with conciseness (though I would still try to sneak in the Oxford comma). In On Writing by Stephen King, King says to “Kill your darlings”; I say you have to kill your characters (meaning the alphabet kind). Writing also helped me chuck 99% of my adverbs; nothing beats “he said” or “she said.” You want those dialogue tags to be invisible. I credit these two books and my experience as a student reporter in helping me get the job as a clarity editor for Grammarly.

Social media < Writing, Editing, Submitting

When I started my blog in October 2013, I thought I had to be as omnipresent as possible when it came to social media, but, after an incredible amount of spam I received on Twitter and people following just to get a follow, I ditched it and Pinterest, too. Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn is enough for me. (Often, what I post in one place gets posted in another). What time I used to spend trying to brand myself on all those social media accounts I could be spending building my vocabulary, submitting to actual publications, etc. I don’t have time to engage with all my followers — I need readers who aren’t writers. After more than three years of posting my Wednesday and Poem-a-Day prompts (in April and November) for Writer’s Digest on their blog and mine, I realized it was time for me to move on, which simplified my writing life even more. I needed content I could write ahead of time, so I could schedule it to publish on my blog at a later date. 

Submissions: Kitchen-Sink Theory Does Not Apply

I used to think I had to flood the market with submissions rather than focus on a handful of publishers. Targeting your publications gives you time to read and study them; submission guidelines alone will not provide intuition into what the editors are looking for. I have since discovered that my work would not be considered literary, so most small presses would not be a good fit; I have a better shot at larger publishers because of their more mainstream content. If I pick up a journal and don’t “get” any of the poems, then it’s the wrong publication for me; if I pick up a magazine and don’t enjoy any of the stories, then it’s not a good fit for my writing. This keeps me from being overwhelmed with reading material.

#Micropoetry Monday: Opposites

taijitu-161352_1280

He was a hard-boiled journalist
who believed that truth was so soon buried,
he would outscoop his colleagues
so that he could put it all out there ASAP;
she was a soft-hearted historian
who believed that by letting the dust settle,
the truth would either present itself
or degrade altogether.

She had an overactive imagination,
he, an overactive pituitary,
yet it was she who told the tallest stories,
him being the only one who understood any of them,
for his head was as much in the clouds
as her feet were off the ground.

He was journalism,
she, reality TV.
When they came together,
they created the fake news
that surpassed every rating
they’d ever had.

Stopping Something Old to Start Something New

Untitled

Sometimes you don’t know when the last time will be the last time, but as I was slogging through a group project for my Literacy for Emergent Learners class, inundated with texts and emails from group members, I realized that I needed to shift my focus.

When I saw the Writer’s Digest poetry prompt today, where I had to use 3 of 6 words in a list (one of my least favorite prompts, btw), I realized, after three years of participation, that it was time to retire “Writer’s Digest Wednesdays.”  November Poem-a-Day challenge will be coming soon; even though I feel I’ve mastered it, my focus needs to be on finishing school and building my (paying) writing career.  

I’ve always said that serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week, so #Micropoetry Mondays and #Fiction Fridays will be a mainstay, as those posts I can schedule in advance.  My work-school-life schedule has gotten too intense, and I’m ready for the shift to less timely writing projects. 

The time I’ve spent on my Wednesday blog installments has been well-spent—it’s instilled in me the power to meet 24-hour deadlines (which are a must in the incredibly shrinking newsroom), it’s helped me write a ton of poetry I wouldn’t have written otherwise, and it’s helped me cross over the 1000-post threshold—but I’m looking forward to working on longer form projects.  

I can finally work on editing my novel (for about the eighth time).

I will still post my short Instagram poems on weekends and writing tips on my Facebook page, but it’s time to do more “behind-the-scenes” writing on a regular basis.  I’ve already proven to myself that I can write something everyday; now, I want to work on projects that will take at least a week—projects I will actually take the time to edit.

I also want to learn how to illustrate my own work.

I enrolled in University, thinking I would be writing for the student newspaper regularly until I graduated, but I’m shifting focus to freelancing gigs.  I might still contribute an article if I happen to be attending an event that interests me, but creative writing will always be my first love (I don’t have to worry about transcribing audio or having to deal with flaky people whose information or interview I need to write my article).

I realize I’ve spent a lot of time writing for sure things—my blog, the college newspaper, etc.—instant gratification pieces. 

Now, it’s time to get serious and start writing those query letters.   

Me.jpg

Me, in one of my many offices, after a particularly trying day.

#Micropoetry Monday: The Writer’s Life

typewriter-1170657_1920

She was criticized for writing puff pieces
as light & airy as meringue,
but only those who knew her best
knew that she had many thoughts beyond
food & entertainment & all the little extras
that connected people of all kinds–
she just didn’t have the time
nor the energy
to deal with hate mail.

Blackie & Blondie had journalists for parents,
& so they grew up being asked
Who, What, Where, When, & so forth.
They learned how to remember
the important things,
so that they could tell the stories
that were true.
These stories they told of others
inspired them to live the kind of lives
worth writing about.
Because their parents had asked them questions,
they had learned to do the same
with everyone they met.
Though they’d been called inquisitive at best
& intrusive at worst,
they did learn something most valuable,
& that was how to take an interest
(& a very human one at that)
in other people.

She wrote the life she wanted,
only to realize that as she mirrored her life
after her own creations,
she was writing her future.