Friday, November 1, 2013

Why I'm Glad I Write (Even Though I'm Not Published...Yet)

I'm presenting a research project at the South Carolina conference for Applied Behavior Analysts on Monday, and I've been thinking a lot about how writing has helped me to prepare for a career. This last two years has been a huge transition for me as I've gone back to school and work, but it has been made easier by some of my experiences as a writer, specifically a writer going to conferences and trying to snag an agent. So here's what I've learned:
  • From reading hundreds of query critiques and having my own queries critted, I learned how to write a real business letter. One that conveys a little personality without trying too hard and gives the important information quickly and clearly. Or so I hope:) The complexities of the query made a simple resume a walk in the park while eating cake and occasionally petting my unicorn. Really. Queries are that tough. And the two page synopsis? Uggggh.
  • I learned self-confidence. Going to an interview when I was looking for a job was not nearly as difficult as going to a conference and sitting down across from an agent and discussing what works or doesn't work about my writing sample. Maybe because writing is so personal? It's the emotional equivalent of taking off your clothes, so in a job interview, I felt more like, "Whew! I'm talking to this person about a possible job, but at least my soul is dressed!"
  • Also from various query critiques I've had with agents, I've learned to relax and get over myself. I blogged about it at the time, but now all I remember about my first query critique was how sick-to-my-stomach-nervous I felt. My stomach turned for hours afterward while my mind replayed the conversation and I wondered if the agent thought I was an idiot or just incompetent. 
  • The next time wasn't so bad. The time after was almost easy. I had moved up to being one of the writers just waiting instead of compulsively reading over my elevator pitch and hoping I didn't do something stupid, like paraphrase my perfectly-crafted, exactly 150 word synopsis. Because that would be the end of the world, right? I even gave some advice to other folks pitching for the first time and felt very comfortably patronizing doing so! Isn't it lovely sometimes to be on the other side?
  • I have gotten pretty good at writing for other people. There's a huge difference between writing for yourself, where you just have to remind yourself of what you were thinking, and writing for others, where you have to be able to put yourself in someone else's head and understand what they know and don't know. Most of my writing right now is technical writing for behavior plans, but all those years of writing fiction still help me to keep the reader in mind. I still like to get a few people to read over tricky programs, though.
  • I type faster, which should have obvious benefits. And as a side note, we're making all of our kids take typing classes as soon as they're available. 
And on the negatives side
  • I have to really really fight my inner-editor about leaving other people's spelling and grammar blips alone. I am not the office editor. I am not the office editor. Repeat ad nauseum. I do get asked to read over things sometimes, and I am happy to do so, but I try not to stick my nose in other people's business because I want my coworkers not to think I'm insufferable. Funny and good at my job is my goal:)
My plan five years ago was to write, write, and write and get published, published, and published. When I realized that my family would be better served by my going back to school and working, and to keep writing as a hobby, I was very sad. And a little angry. And bitter. Hadn't I worked hard? Hadn't I put myself out there and written a great story? Why was I having to come up with a Plan B?

Right now, I don't believe that I would be happier if I were writing full time. Maybe that's a little taboo to say on a blog almost entirely friended by writers, but I like who I am more now than two years ago.

I tend to get a little wrapped up in imaginary people and worked up about the whole querying process, and I think I'm a healthier person when I have a foot solidly planted in the real world, where I get to work with real people and make a real difference for my kids. Have I mentioned I love my job? Happy sigh.

Don't take this wrong. This is not a "I'm done with writing" post. Far from it. I love writing and I love having my secret world and my imaginary best friends as well. I'm just saying that writing prepared me to do more than just write.

If only writing could have trained me not to say "um" every 5 seconds while I'm speaking. We did a practice run through at work today, and they "buzzed" me every time I said "um." Fifty times in a 15 minute presentation. Not the end of the world, but something to work on:)

Happy writing!

Glutton for Punishment?