I promised something momentous. You wanted it to be a major publishing contract. You may have wanted it to be an appearance on a talk show.
Maybe you wanted it to be my first squash harvest of the season.
Well, I did just harvest some zucchini, so that’s something.
The truth of the matter is that it’s none of those things. However, what I wanted to talk (write) about is very related to my writing career.
No, I’m not giving up. Nothing of the sort.
You see, I’ve been thinking about myself as a writer, the kinds of things I write, the kind of writing I can do well, the kind of writing I still am not at all good at—meaning novels.
Anytime I consider myself in this way, my main thought is not very helpful: I feel lazy, unfocused and undetermined.
By the way, here’s the song I’m listening to right now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_2w4vl9mt8
Now I have had people tell me that they think I work really hard, that I get a lot done.. and so on. The truth is that I feel like I’m pulling the wool over people’s eyes. I see the minutes in each day that has passed and I feel like too many precious minutes have been burned on the altar of fiddling around. I feel like a procrastinator, a lollygagger, a directionless oaf, and… a bum.
I’ve changed my career from being an educator, quit a master’s program (although I have to add that when I have the Spirit with me, I feel like that was not a mistake), and have tried to support a family of five kids as a freelance writer.
All of this adds up to regular, considerable doubt and a lot of hits on what used to be a pretty invulnerable self-esteem.
By the way: here’s the current song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLbeLO6BlJI
So am I a writer? Is this really the right way for me to go? I mean, this is a pretty serious question, considering I have a large family that seems to constantly be eating and that we have a rather tiny house. No, seriously. Should I have some other full time job and try to fit in story and novel writing on the side, like so many of my heroes, colleagues and friends? Stephen King made it work. Sanderson, Jordan, Salvatore: they all did it.
But then, how many didn’t do it? How many have had the dream and had it fizzle? And how many of those did all they could, had talent, but circumstances simply never allowed success?
These are the types of questions that slap that self-esteem around.
Let me describe how freelancing works, in case there are readers who are not familiar with that particular world.
You are constantly fishing for clients. Usually clients who advertise their needs have attached a budget. You want to charge your usual rate, but you really need the work, so you go for it. The job takes a little longer than you expect, mainly because there is always a learning curve with each individual client, their industry and the style/tone they are looking for.
But the time you put in is immaterial to them, and they are the people paying you. They are paying you for what you produce, say $10 or $15 per article. You had planned on doing about 1 ½ pieces per hour, hoping to thus approximate your usual rate.
That didn’t work out. You’re not getting compensated for how long and thoroughly you research a subject. You’re not getting paid for the time you spent finding the exactly right tone, style or source material. You’re ONLY getting paid for the pieces you send on and they approve.
To clarify: you are only employed when you get paid. You only get paid when you send off a project. You don’t get paid for your time. So you try to compress the amount of time you spend doing a project in order to increase your hourly rate. Because $12/hour sucks if you have a BA, a graduate certificate, are 35 years old and have a family and a mortgage.
Current song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQ3qJmgktS0
But I freaking love it. I love being able to turn out great copy, meld key words into marketing articles, teach people about gardening, asset tracking, personal finance, air compressors or whatever else I write about.
That’s not all. I’m damn good at a lot of what I write. SEO articles—somehow I have mastered the art and while it can get a little old, I love the comments I get from my clients and I like being paid for doing something I enjoyed quite a lot. I’m also pretty good with my personal finance articles, although there is still a pretty steep learning curve in some areas. And I totally get off on writing about politics and gardening. An odd combo yes. But are you surprised?
In any case, I’ve certainly been forced to learn the business very quickly. Considering that I’ve only been freelancing full time for about two years, I have to say it’s gone miraculously well.
Let me provide some details of recent miracles.
I currently write SEO articles for Clearlink, a SLC based communications marketing company. I like the people at that company a lot, love their dynamic, and think they are really going in a very exciting direction. They have said I can write as much as I want; they will pay me for each article.
I’m exploring going to work full-time for them.
I also write passages for the English Language Center at BYU—yes, that is where I used to work as a teacher. These passages are on academic topics and are actually pretty fun too. They are non-fiction. I get paid per hour, which is really nice, except that the rate is just over half of my normal fee.
I’m doing some editing/proofreading for some professors working on a manuscript as well.
Current song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKKpd5piitc
I’ve also taken a temporary, very part-time teaching position with a local ESL school. It pays very well, but the trade-off is that it is cutting into my time on my family’s trip to Alaska. That’s okay, but I’m sad to miss two weeks of Eden (Alaska).
So the work situation is busy and compensatory. It’s still tight; I still have to be producing at every moment that I’m working, unlike how it works at a regular job.
But things have turned and I absolutely see it as a miracle.
And remember, you can Google: Jared Garrett and at least 9 of the first 10 organic results are me.
Current song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeDeImahXyc
Anyway, so that’s basically an update on the writing career. In my good moments, I know this is the right place for me, the right work for me, the right direction for my career. I still fear for my family sometimes, but I know Heavenly Father has ratified this direction and He tells me not to fear.
Incidentally, I’m still planning on starting school in the Fall. Instructional Psychology and Technology.
Now for that momentous thing. You see that word up there that is underlined, bolded, italicized and large? By my calculations, that is my 1,000,000th career word. Why is this significant?
John D. McDonald once said that you had to write a million words before you knew what you were doing. I got this from Elmore Leonard’s blog: http://www.elmoreleonard.com/index.php?/weblog/elmores_first_million_words/
Current song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjLYnNbdls0
Do I know what I’m doing?
Granted, the point of that statement was really to say that you need to write a million words in your style and genre of choice in order to really have an idea of what you want your writing to sound like. And granted, I write in a lot of different mediums and for a lot of different purposes and audiences. So this will probably apply better when I hit my million fiction words, but I think it’s a nice milestone.
So what does this mean for me as a writer? What can I be doing more or better as a writer?
Current song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pu7AR0-FRro
Here are my goals:
1. Do a little rewriting of The Cabin every day. Even if it’s just for five minutes.
2. Read good writing. Right now I’m reading some McCullough and poetry by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Gonna move to other modern classics as I go.
3. Take writing classes. Hopefully for free. If this doesn’t work, I’ll read books on writing. I have to learn this art.
4. Schedule my days so I don’t have to stay up until all hours to finish projects. Ambition seeps out as fatigue sets in.
5. Full-time work. My family comes first.
That’s all for now.
This journey has been ridiculous at times. I haven’t felt my heart jitter so often ever before in my life. As I was writing The Cabin, I actually felt something moving through me that filled me with exhilarated, painful, fearful wonder.
I want to write good. I want to write well. I want to tell stories that will move, that will inspire, that will make people think. But the me that I am right now seems to not have enough deep thought going on to qualify as a writer who inspires others to deep thought.
I have to change that.
Current song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uiqr9HwPI4
The sum of my existence is not to be a bum who just barely squeaks by each month, my family feeling the stress of my laziness. But I don’t reach past each moment enough. I don’t look far enough forward with my minutes and hours.
I have to change that. Tomorrow I’ll be there.
Okay, maybe not. But I will not settle into lame existence as often. I will lengthen my stride. I will create good. I will write Good and will inspire Good.
I want to welcome the good in my life by filling myself full of it. There is so much out there to live, to experience and to write. I will be patiently impatient. Writers, I know you get exactly what I mean by that.
Current song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTg6MPerdzM
And I won’t fear going deep. I think I have to work on that a lot.
That’s it for now.