Taking a Big Risk: How I Started My Career in Writing

This isn’t one of my usual blog posts where I offer my sage advice (although, you may learn a thing or two by the end of it). This is going to be a more personal post where I discuss how exactly I dove into the world of writing, both personally and professionally. I briefly discussed some tips and tricks on how to make a career in writing in a previous post, but I didn’t go in-depth on my own personal journey into the industry, and I feel like I owe it to my readers (all four of you) to explain myself. After all, if you’re going to take writing advice from a stranger on the Internet, you want to at least know their experience, right?

I graduated from Temple University in 2011 with my Bachelor’s in English. Up until my final year, I had planned to become a high school English teacher. Those dreams were destroyed (or at least put on hold) when I realized just how difficult the world of teaching is and how I wasn’t right for it. While I may not be cut out for shaping students’ minds in the classroom, I thought there was still a way to pursue a career revolving around literature and writing. Therefore, I dropped my Secondary Education program and focused only on English.

The problem is that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my English degree. I knew I couldn’t just find a job as an English major. I needed a focus. Did I want to work for a publisher? Did I want to be a journalist? Did I want to be an editor? There were plenty of opportunities, but I knew I wanted to do something involving actual writing. My main problem was that I didn’t have much experience. Sure, I wrote some articles for  newsletters and circulars and whatnot, and I had just finished the first draft of Dodger’s Doorway, but I didn’t have much on my resume that would make recruiters scramble to hire me. I was in the middle of a lake with no paddle.

Then I had some… unusual… luck.

Monster.com has changed a lot in the past few years. Back in 2011, you were able to filter jobs based on sectors and industries. I narrowed my search to look for jobs in “printing and publishing.” I thought, “Well, if I can work for a printer or publisher, that’d be a good way to get my foot in the door, right?”

About a week after I graduated, I got a call from one of the places where I applied. I won’t name-drop, but it had “printing” in the name, and me being the naive recent college graduate, I thought maybe I scored a decent opportunity. We discussed my resume, set up an interview, etc.

When I went in for an interview, I was met with an interesting surprise. You see, the printing place was contracted by a technician business, which was in charge of servicing machines in various convenience stores around the state. I was interviewing for a service technician job… when I thought I’d be working in some printing or publishing company. That’s like applying to be a police officer and instead getting a job as a car salesman. Needless to say, I was a bit confused. But I needed a full-time job, so I took the offer.

For several months, I worked as a technician, and I’m proud to say that I was good at it. It wasn’t the best job in the world, what with the long hours and less-than-stellar pay, but it was helping me pay back my student loans and allowed me to put money toward self-publishing Dodger’s Doorway. I was just living my life one day at a time, not a care in the world.

Later that year, I received a call from a major insurance company that found my resume online and wanted to see if I was interested in a change. This would be a completely different position where I would just be sitting in call center with a headset on for eight hours a day. This is going to sound strange, but when I was in college, I knew that if I wasn’t going to be a teacher, I would’ve been perfectly content working in an office with my own little cubicle. I didn’t mind being an office drone as long as it was a steady paycheck with health insurance. I jumped at the opportunity and took the job. Better pay, better benefits, vacation time, etc. Maybe I had found my “career.”

The glory lasted for about six months.

The job was pretty great during the initial ramp-up period. I liked my co-workers and I felt like I was actually an adult with a “big-boy” job. Then things started going down-hill. I won’t get into details, but it was like everything that could go wrong DID go wrong. I wanted to stick it out and keep at it because I thought that this was going to be my career that could set me up for life, but I was not happy. My days would drag on and on, and I would find any excuse to get away from the office. I would wait to come into work until the absolute last second, and I would leave the second my shift ended, I would take a bathroom break whenever I could – I even began using up all my vacation days so I wouldn’t have to spend an entire week in the office. It was Hell.

Then I woke up one morning and it just clicked. I needed to do something. If I wanted to be a working writer, I needed to pursue it. It wasn’t just going to fall into my lap. Unfortunately, having been out of college so long and having no real work experience besides customer service, I knew I was in for a challenge. I needed to start from scratch, which meant completely revamping my resume.

Here is where things get interesting. I received a call from a company after I had submitted my resume and spoke with the managers about the position. This was when I was first introduced into the world of SEO and copywriting. I had never really thought about it all that much before. It seemed like the way to get into writing as a career was to think about it in a marketing sense. Looking back, I wish I had double-majored in marketing (a lesson for anyone currently in college and looking for a way to possibly turn writing into a career!).

If you’re taking notes, this next piece will be worth highlighting. This writing job was a great opportunity, but I was leaving well-paying, secure office job at a major corporation, to go to a small business for less pay and no health benefits. It was a MAJOR risk, especially since I had to go through a three-month trial period before I was “officially” brought on. I’ll never forget this moment: the owner of the company called to offer me the job and I told her I’d have to think about it over the weekend. I went back to my cubicle and took a call from a customer. It was a rude woman who yelled at me because she didn’t understand how a spacebar works (I’m barely exaggerating). I was so infuriated after the call and realized that I did not want to do this any longer. I called the owner back and accepted the job.

I was officially an employed writer!

This isn’t the end of my story, though. Remember: I didn’t have much professional writing experience. I wrote essays and research papers in school, and I also wrote Dodger’s Doorway (and if you’ve read the first edition of that book, you’d be… less than impressed). I hate to say it, but it didn’t fully prepare me for writing as a career. It was a rough start for me. I was terrified of being fired from my job in the first few months because I didn’t think I was performing as well as I should’ve been. Not only was I going to lose a job that I actually really, really liked, but I was starting to realize that maybe I wasn’t good at writing?

If you’re a fan of The Office like I am, then you’ll remember the Michael Scott Paper Company story arc (if you don’t watch the show, you may want to skip to the next paragraph). Remember how at the beginning of the arc Michael and Pam were worried that they had given up their perfect jobs only to fail at their new startup? Then Michael explained how he thrived on the pressure of failure. And then their company started to do better? I like to think I embody that same notion.

When there is pressure on me, I seem to do my best. If I’m on the brink of failing, I make a hell of a comeback. Sure, I’d like to avoid getting to that point in the first place, but I know that no matter how close I get to that edge, I will always find my footing and push back. And that’s exactly what I did. I found my footing. Things turned around and I started doing better. My writing was becoming more polished and refined. I wasn’t just an employed writer; I was an employed, competent writer!

It’s hard to believe that was about five years ago. I’ve since moved on and pursued other jobs (still in the same field), and my writing has only gotten better. Looking back, I do not have one single regret about my decision. Taking that big risk and following a writing career has had significant impacts on both my professional life and my personal life. It’s what prompted me to release a second (well-written) edition of Dodger’s Doorway and allowed me to continue my passion. Had I not taken that leap, I’d probably still be slaving away in that call center, taking call after call and sinking further into depression while my laptop gathered dust and my ideas went unwritten.

If you’re going to take away anything from this story, it’s this: take a risk if you want to pursue something that will make you happy, but be smart about it. When I took my first job as a writer, I was still living with my parents. I wasn’t worried about supporting a family or having to pay a mortgage. It can be harder to take risks later on in life when you have more responsibilities and less of a safety net. I encourage you to take risks if it can make your life better, but be wise about it. And remember that opportunities won’t just fall into your lap; you have to go out and get them.

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