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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Dealing with Anxiety: How I Learned to Cope

**I apologize in advance to my readers who were expecting a blog about writing or publishing. While this is different than my usual blogs, I feel like this is a topic that needs addressing since it’s close to my heart and worth a discussion.**

Anxiety sucks. Period. There’s no reason to sugar-coat it. Anxiety is a disease (yes, a disease) that plagues almost every single person, and while some have easily overcome it  a good workout or a walk in the woods, there are others, such as myself, who have to deal with it everyday. And unfortunately, there are some who have a harder time of coping than others.

Just a little backstory: I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was 17 years old. When I was a senior in high school, I used to get panic attacks almost every single day, and let me tell you, it almost ruined the entire year for me. I’d have “episodes” where I wouldn’t be able to talk or function, and literally just pace back and forth until my heart rate decreased and my anxiety faded.

This went untreated for years. It affected relationships, friendships, work, school, and almost everything going on in my life. Every time I went to the movies, I had to sit in the seat near the exit because I was afraid of having to leave due to anxiety. When I started new classes at school, I chose the seat closest to the door because I knew I had to be able to leave inconspicuously as possible in the event of a panic attack. I once drove two hours for a big event up in Scranton and then had to drive all the way back a half-hour later because of a severe panic attack. When I was 20, I had episodes so bad that I was afraid to even leave the house out of fear. Anxiety had taken over my life.

I was lucky when, the summer before 21, I started taking medication for my anxiety. It was like a miracle. I felt like I could take over the world. It was my lifesaver.

Now, to some people, it may seem like I “chickened out” by taking medicine for my anxiety. But let me tell you: it is 100% worth it. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived these panic attacks over the years without it. It’s a shame there’s such a stigma over medication for anxiety when it’s proven to work. While you may be against taking the medicinal route, I highly recommend asking your doctor about it. Don’t look at it as taking the easy way out; look at it as a way of taking back the control over your life.

Now, for 3-4 years, I didn’t have the benefit of medicine. And I know there are people out there who may not have such easy access to doctors. That’s why I’m writing this blog. I want to help people cope. I want them to avoid suffering from crippling anxiety like I did all those years ago. Just a forewarning: I am not a licensed or experienced psychologist. I’m just a normal guy with more than 10 years of experiencing and coping with anxiety, and I am merely passing on my knowledge so that some other soul may benefit from it.

Breathe

This will seem cliche, but it’s the honest-to-God truth. The first step towards overcoming a panic attack is to not just breathe, but to focus on your breathing. When I briefly saw a psychologist many moons ago, he showed me a technique for getting my anxiety under control. What you do is breathe in through your nose while counting (in your mind) to three. Then you exhale through your mouth, while counting to three again. I forget his exact explanation, but he told me that, by focusing on counting your breaths, you are able to distract your mind from whatever is causing your anxiety. Back then, it sounded crazy to me. After all, I was a 17-year-old who thought he knew everything. But now, it makes sense. Anxiety is mostly over-thinking. Well, if you want to get technical, it’s kind of an evolutionary trait we developed for fighting off predators, but we don’t have to get technical. So the best solution is to distract your mind. Focus on your breathing, and let your body do the rest.

Think

Anxiety stems mostly from us over-thinking. I’ve become the master of over-thinking. I could take one small comment from a friend and completely blow it out of proportion. But if we have the power to ‘think’ ourselves into having a panic attack, then theoretically, don’t we have the power to use over-thinking to get ourselves out? I was told by my psychologist that our body only produces ‘about 30 minutes-worth of adrenaline” at a time, and that panic attacks shouldn’t last much longer. Yeah, 30 minutes seems like forever to be having an anxiety-induced meltdown, but when you look at the grand-scheme of things, it’s not terrible. When I learned this fun factoid, I found it much easier to endure my panic attacks because I knew they would subside in a few minutes. It gave me comfort. I knew that this wasn’t a permanent state of mind. My body would find a way to regulate itself within the hour. I just had to tough it out.

Wait

You’ve done your breathing exercises, you’ve thought about it, and you’re still having your panic attack. Now what? Well, looks like you’ll have to wait it out. Sorry if that’s not the answer you wanted to hear, but sometimes, the best way to get through Hell is to actually go through it. I hated having to go through the panic attacks, but I knew there wasn’t much I could do except fight through it. My coping method for anxiety attacks was to pace. I’d literally just pace back and forth and not talk at all for about 20 minutes. It must’ve been a hell of a sight. But, you know, it worked! I’d feel good as new after the attack subsided. In fact, I’d actually be as happy as ever! There’s a neat article about how anxiety can cause euphoria that you should check out. However, I definitely don’t recommend inducing anxiety JUST to get that episode of euphoria afterwards. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

Whatever your coping method is, go for it. If you need to pace, like I did, then pace. If you need to excuse yourself from a meeting, then do it. If you need to take a quick drive, then drive. Your health is the most important thing, and nothing should get in the way of you taking care of yourself. If you think, “Well, I can’t leave in the middle of an important meeting,” or “I can’t start pacing in the middle of class,” then I recommend you speak to your teacher or your boss. In the past 10 years, I’ve never had a single problem with a teacher or a boss when it came to dealing with my anxiety. It’s not an inconvenience; it’s an actual illness, and you need to take care of it.

Get Help

Sometimes, you can’t do it alone. You need a little bit of help. I’m going to say this over and over again if I have to: There is absolutely nothing wrong with using medication for anxiety. Again: There is absolutely nothing wrong with using medication for anxiety. I abhor the stigma associated with using medicine to treat mental illnesses. Yes, anxiety and depression are an illness. And when you are sick, you take medicine. You should never, EVER feel ashamed for having to turn to medication to help you cope with anxiety. I used to be adamant against using medicine because I was afraid of being dependent and because I was slightly ashamed; but after all these years, I wouldn’t change a thing. Taking medicine for my anxiety was the best decision of my life, and I’ll be damned if I ever let anyone shame me for it. If you think your anxiety has taken control over your life, then please, please, please, don’t let stigma stop you from talking to your doctor about medicinal options.

Anxiety is more than just a bad case of worrying or being nervous. It’s a feeling that can prevent you from living your life to the fullest. If you think anxiety is taking over, then it is time to seek help.

While I am not a trained psychologist, I am always willing to offer advice and guidance on how to deal with anxiety. Please reach out to me if you ever want to talk. But I advise you to speak with a doctor if you feel like your anxiety is severe.

 

What I’ve Been Up To

Sorry, folks. This post is going to be a bit more personal. I thought I’d update my fans, followers, and friends on what’s been going on with my life and why I haven’t been as active with my blog. On the bright side: this will give some insight on my current and future projects, so you’ll know what to expect from me in the near future.

First off, as I mentioned a few times before, I got a new job back at the end of August. After working from home for three years, it was odd getting back into the groove of having to go into an office, interacting with people face to face, and having to wear pants on a daily basis. By the time I get home at the end of the day, I’m so beat that I can barely get off the couch, let alone boot up my laptop and pen a new blog.

I also got my own apartment. I moved in about two months ago but I’m still in the process of getting settled. Yes, it’s bad. My desk is a total mess, and I feel a twinge of disappointment in myself every time I look at it. One day it’ll be clean and organized. One day…

I also published my second book, Return to Storyworld, which is the sequel to Dodger’s Doorway. You can purchase it on Amazon, and I’m slowly working on getting it on digital platforms as well. I’ll admit that I’ve been dragging my feet a bit here. My biggest problem is the fact that I’m so overwhelmed by so many things to do that I’m at a loss as to where to start. I need a day to settle down and get my ducks in a row, but it’s much easier said than done.

I’ve definitely failed on the whole “keeping the blog updated once a week” aspect that I was originally aiming for. As I’ve explained, I’m super busy, but that’s not much of an excuse. At this point, I’m just trying to provide some sort of updates as much as possible. I have an editorial calendar all set up with post ideas – now I just need to execute them. Hopefully things will slow down enough for me that I’ll be able to be more consistent with my posts. In the meantime, here are a few topics that I’ll be discussing in the future:

  • Handling “Haters” – How do to deal with people who mock you or don’t believe in your writing goals
  • Finding inspiration and ideas for your writing
  • How to gain reviews for your newly published book
  • Crafting a powerful author social media presence
  • Reading your own work and why you need a second pair of eyes to do your edits
  • Finding your genre/knowing what you want to write about
  • Networking and working with other writers

I’m also going to be reviewing more books from independent writers. I have a whole shelf full of them, but I’ve barely had time to sit down and read anything due to my busy work life. It’ll happen eventually, I promise!

Besides this blog, I’m also working on multiple writing projects, including the following:

  • The third installment of The Storyworld Saga
  • A horror/thriller story along the lines of Dante’s Inferno
  • A thriller series in the same vein as Hannibal Lector meets Castle
  • An educational series revolving around various historical artifacts – think Legends of the Hidden Temple meets Battle Royale
  • An action/adventure story about various mythological gods duking it out with one another
  • Possibly several movie scripts and a comic idea as well, but those are at the bottom of the stack for now…

Anyway, that’s a basic overview of what’s been going on with me. If you have any topics you’d like for me to discuss, or if you are curious about anything regarding writing, editing, marketing your book, self-publishing, etc., please feel free to reach out to me. I am always willing to help out.

 

My Road to Writing

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

– Ernest Hemingway

 

Writing has always been a passion of mine. Actually, let me be more specific. Creating stories has always been a passion of mine. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to tell stories. There was just something about creating a vivid tale of adventure and wonder that really fascinated me. I can’t explain why I was so enthusiastic about producing such tales, but I can tell you that it’s become a major part of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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