7 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Going to Graduate School

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It’s extremely expensive and not necessarily a guarantee for the type of employment I would be suited for (writing, editing, and tutoring). I can’t afford it, so I would have to work a full-time job outside the home and study and conduct research on top of that. I’m ready to move on from the world of academia as a student. I’ve had a fine time of it—a great run.  

I want to take art classes instead. I want to learn how to illustrate my children’s nursery rhymes and create images (and take better photographs) for my blog posts. I also want to learn how to design my book covers; I’d rather spend $300 for an art class and DIY it than pay someone $300 to design a single cover.

I do not wish to pursue academic writing. I’m tired of writing papers I have to cite sources for, and I find the idea of writing a thesis or dissertation unappealing. The only type of nonfiction I want to write is creative nonfiction or journalism puff pieces (like humor columns, where I don’t have to transcribe any audio, which is a ginormous pain in the ass). I may be educated and a lifelong learner, but I am not an intellectual and never will be.

I want more time with family and friends. I want more tacos downtown and drinks uptown. I want more field trips with my daughter and quiet nights at home with my husband. I want to learn how to make sushi and macarons. I want to find an exercise routine I will stick with. I want to binge-watch Big Love.  I want to read every story that ever made it in The Saturday Evening Post. I want to decode the formula for writing a Harlequin Heartwarming novel. I want to teach my daughter how to read Green Eggs and Ham. I want date nights with my husband that includes more than just going out to dinner without the munchkin. 

I don’t need it to be a successful writer. If I spend another six or eight years in school, those are years I’m not focusing exclusively on my writing (or attending writers’ conferences or taking writing classes for fun). I want to get that novel published, sell my short stories, and explore other writing opportunities. If I’m working and studying all the time, I won’t have the time (or the cognitive energy) for anything else.

I am not grad school material. I am smart enough to admit that. I realized this while taking an American Literature class this spring (it’s midterm time, and I’m aiming for a B but praying for a C) because I don’t want to analyze texts that do not interest me. If I find a 4000 level class this hard, how much more demanding will a higher level class be? Besides, I just know that the whole time I’d be doing graduate school work, I’d be longing to write my words that were not based on anyone else’s. (I know there’s a lot of research involved in grad school.) 

I just don’t have the cognitive energy for the rigors of grad school. Also, by the time I get my bachelor’s, I will have been in school for seven or eight years (including a gap semester), what with working multiple jobs and being a wife and mom (and making the time to read and write in the midst of it all). I’m tired and ready to realize the fullness of my writing dreams. 

From Writer’s Digest to Harlequin Romance: Finding my online writing community

Damask rose

“If you want to make money as a writer, write romance novels,” my Creative Writing teacher said, even suggesting we could write under a pen name.  As for me, if I’m going through all the trouble of writing a novel, my name is going to be on the thing.

So, why doesn’t romance get any respect?  Is it because some of it can be labeled as purple prose, the genre is predominantly written by women, or both?  I’ll just pull a Nicholas Sparks and call mine love stories.

As much as I enjoy the poetic form, it is more something I publish on my blog for fun to build name recognition.  Though there is a huge market for poetry, I’ve found that the kind of poetry I like to write (and read) often isn’t the kind being published, which is far too abstract for my taste.  This is what I like:  Saturday Evening Post Limerick Contest.

In all the poetry I’ve submitted, I’ve sold one poem: (Seven Wonders in Every Wonder), and it was published in a magazine (Bella Grace) that I enjoy reading from cover to cover.  Too often, I’ve read poetry journals, wondering what the hell some of it even meant.  I have much better luck with short stories and creative nonfiction (which take me a lot more time to write). 

That’s not to say I’m eschewing writing poetry to submit for publication altogether—I’m just reassessing what I spend my time writing for publications other than my own.

~

Now, I’ve gone and joined the Harlequin Writing Community Facebook page.  What’s great about this group is how supportive they are (men are welcome, too!).  They have  flash-type (400-word) writing challenges every couple of weeks or so, with some pretty stiff stipulations (which only makes it more challenging); moreover, they only give you a couple of days to write them.  The only two I’ve written so far have been historical (maybe they’re looking for a historical fiction writer?), for which I set my scenes in Ancient Greece and in South Carolina during the Civil War.  The best thing is that you get feedback on what you wrote—and not just comments from other writers but actual feedback from editors—like the type I get from my Creative Writing teacher.  I never got this with Writer’s Digest, so if you’re interested in writing romance, check it out:  So You Think You Can Write.

As for the Facebook page, I feel that I’m a better fit for that community.  I’m not just writing for a hobby—I want to make it my career.  Many of us are in the process of writing a book to submit to Harlequin.  I’m not there yet because I don’t have time for a large project (70K words), though I am in the stages of outlining it. 

~

Though I miss writing book reviews, I don’t have time to write a full-length one anymore, especially with as much as I read; I also quit the university newspaper, as half the articles I wrote never got published.  Though I respect the editor’s decision not to print (or rather, post them), I spent too much time conducting interviews and transcribing audio for them not to get published.  I was graciously invited by the adviser to submit an opinion piece, so that is something I may consider after I finish this American Lit class that’s kicking my keister. 

Rather, I’m making the push to write more short stories (I’ve been reading everything Shirley Jackson has written and rewatching most of The Twilight Zone series—the legit one with Rod Serling; however, if the episode is about Nazis, boxing, or set in the Wild West, I skip it).  I got too hung up on writing novels (with short stories, you get paid once; with novels, you get royalties), but some stories just aren’t novel length.  This realization has opened up a whole world of possibilities for many of my ideas, which have remained dormant for years.  I’d been writing poetry and working on my novel (Because of Mindy Wiley) for so long that I’d forgotten how great short fiction (and creative nonfiction) can be. 

For now, I do expository writing for the Medium publishing platform: Medium/Sarah Richards, in addition to reposting my best blog posts.  I still have a couple of other accounts where I post short works that will eventually end up on my blog (I am planning an ebook on the writing craft, but I need to become more published to have credibility; I am also planning a book of short poetry for people who don’t like poetry), so it’s a two for the price of one deal.  I feel like I’ve finally found my writing niche, as well as future homes for my writing. 

Taking a college-level Creative Writing class, joining the Harlequin community, and letting go of some other things that were no longer paying off (but were, nevertheless, part of the process), has helped me reach this point. 

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.”

Sweet Little Nothings

Do YOU chocolate

She was as much Leave it to Beaver
as she was Married with Children.
She wrote children’s nursery rhymes by sunlight
& Southern Gothic horror by lamplight.
She loved her technology
but loved her childhood without it.
She loved the finer things,
enjoyed with the common people.
She was, as Maureen O’Hara would say,
“tis herself.”

2019: My Year in Review

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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!

A Life in Picture Books: Shutterfly for Beginners

Life, Inverse

It was the spring of 2017 when I took a poetry course, taught by the local poet laureate.  Being the anti-procrastinator I am, I started working on my final project the night after we got our syllabus.  The project was to create a chapbook of all or some of the poems we would be writing for class that semester.  I decided I’d make it easy on myself and create mine on Shutterfly—no staples or glue for me.  

All semester, that book was like a piece of sculpture I kept adding clay to and chipping away at.  Because all my poems were autobiographical, I titled it Life, Inverse.  In that class, I psychoanalyzed myself, sharing parts of my life I never thought I would share with anyone.

I learned a lot about myself that spring.  

I started my own book publishing company, Campbell Peach Press; my mom grew up in Campbell, Missouri, and we always wanted to go back to the Missouri Peach Festival someday.  I learned how to write short and overcome my fear of public speaking (almost). I learned to love the spoken word as much as I did the written—to appreciate the oral storytelling form—for such teaches us to be active listeners.

Before then, I’d thought that because I was a storyteller, I could not be a poet; like the ballads of Tom T. Hall, all my poems told a story.  They were grounded and concrete and that was okay, for a poem was whatever I made it. My love for poetry grew along with my love for Shutterfly, for I didn’t have to be a skilled photographer to make beautiful books.

Shutterfly was for writers, too.

From that final project, I created the second edition of Life, Inverse as a Christmas gift for another professor, under whom I worked as a work-study student in the English and Communications Department and where I would work for three more semesters; it was there I working when my mom’s time ran out, and there would be no more peach festivals.

Life, Inverse

Following that second edition of Life, Inverse, I decided that every person who had ever supported me in my writing would eventually get one of my one-of-a-kind Shutterfly books.  I wanted them to one day look at it and say, “I knew her when,” though I believe that everyone I have given one to will know me forever.

All that creating on Shutterfly helped me become more aware of not just the words and how they sounded but of how they looked on the page.  I was not an illustrator, but I could be a graphic artist, and so I began taking pictures whenever I saw something I thought I could use in one of my books. Because I sought out these images, I went to places I wouldn’t have visited otherwise.  I began to look more closely at everything—to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

That summer, I worked on Slow-Speaking Lady (a nod to Anne Waldman’s Fast-Speaking Woman, which had been one of the required readings in the poetry class) for my professor and now friend, with whom I collaborated on the school’s annual literary arts journal.  I also worked on The Post-It Poet (and other community college stories), based on my adventures at Pensacola State College—a gift to my other boss in the English department and the one who had hired me.  

Slow Speaking Lady

Community College.png

That following spring, my mother was in an automobile accident.  Following her heavenly transition, I created Stories of Mom:  The Memories, the Moments (as compiled by her daughter). 

Just Mom

With that book, I was able to encapsulate memories Dad had forgotten, my brother had shared, and my grandmother had never known.  I did what I wished people had done on her online obituary guestbook—share memories of her, no matter how small, for you don’t realize how precious a memory is until you know there won’t be any more of them.

The summer after I graduated with my A.A. and my A.S., when my friend retired from the English department, I gifted her Dream in Chocolate When You’re Feeling Blue—a collection of brief poems inspired by the silly little sayings inside Dove Chocolate candy wrapper foils.  Dream was also largely autobiographical, with the inclusion of old family photos and snapshots of my college life.  What I remember most about creating this book was that the bulk of it was done during that long, hot summer when my husband, my daughter, and I were carless (eventually becoming homeless).  I was spending an insane number of hours in the Math Lab, conquering algebra by using it as an escape from my fear of being trapped in a desperate cycle of financial instability. I would often be on my laptop under the breezeway after class, working on Dream.  I didn’t know to whom this book would go then, but I knew it would be ready when I knew the answer.  

Dream in Chocolate.png

This summer, I worked on A Memoir of Mother Goose—a series of vignettes based on the nursery rhymes Dad always read to me, and Children of the Blue and the Grey, about life in the American South and the transcendent nature and suburban graffiti that is prevalent in Pensacola.  These books were for two Facebook friends I have never met but who have supported my writing.

memoir

Children of the Blue and the Grey

This Christmas, I made a chapbook of poems on motherhood for a friend who had just published her own beautiful chapbook of poems, Queen and Stranger.  Even though I never took her class, I feel like I know the core of who she is from reading her work, especially when I hear her read it; for no matter how much we try to hide behind our work, poetry is extremely personal. 

It is not another person’s fiction but our truth.   

When someone shares their poem, they aren’t just sharing their workthey are sharing a piece of their soul.  

Hymns of Motherhood

My books have continued to improve (I still need to take a different peach photo) as I learn more about how to use the app.  The advanced editing feature is a must-use.  

This hobby can get expensive, but only if you let it.  The way to get the best deal on Shutterfly is to have your book ready so that when you get a coupon code for a free book, you can combine that code with unlimited free pages (I’ve had to do this with a couple of my books that have exceeded the 20-page minimum).  You also want to make sure that your book is set to hardcover (my preference), as the free book codes usually include that; (if your book is set to softcover, it won’t have a spine).    

These books, however rewarding to give and receive, are also very time-consuming; I have worked for months on one book.  When I was working full-time at my alma mater, I would spend my lunch hours in the Writing Lab, working on one of these.  For someone whose main focus is photographs (see what I did there?), it might not take as long to put together, but because mine was text-heavy, punctuation like em dashes and apostrophes did not transfer over when I copied and pasted them into the app.  It was a tedious process; even after I made all the corrections, I would read every piece aloud, sometimes twice.  The eye is good for grammar, but the ear is great for flow.  

My next project will be to write a storybook for my daughter based on the Calico Critters (the Hopscotch Bunnies, in particular), using their Instagram photos, as well as Hannah’s Hymnbook—an ongoing scrapbook in which I document all the memories of my daughter as they happen or as I remember them.  Trying to capture everything with a photo or video would be ceasing to live in the moment.  Shutterfly, rather, helps me relive that moment by providing a beautiful medium to place those memories—in a physical book and a digital copy that will endure forever.

Through Shutterfly, I discovered not only my love for graphic design but how to share my writing in the old-fashioned way that is becoming more beautiful the more rare it becomes.

I have not been paid to endorse Shutterfly in any way, nor do I receive any special discounts for promoting them.  I simply love their product.

How to schedule posts ahead of time on your Facebook author/business page

This semester, I chose Professional and Technical Writing as one of my electives.

One of our assignments was to create a set of instructions.  Immediately, I thought of something I already knew how to do, which was how to schedule Facebook page posts ahead of time.  I spend about a day or two before a new semester starts, scheduling posts three days a week for the next four months.  (It helps to have plenty of content.)  I also have my Instagram set up to automatically post to my Facebook page.   

This instruction set got a 100% and some fab feedback, so I felt confident enough to share it.  🙂  Let me know how it works out for you in the comment box below.

Front page

Click here for the full instructions:  Resdesigned Facebook instructions