Monday, July 12, 2010

The perfect day job for a writer

Lately I've been thinking about what the perfect day job for a writer could be.

Obviously it can't be a black hole for creative energy. Trudging home after a tedious day at a soul-sucking job leaves you no chutzpah (along with no time to rock out "witch yo bad self," but that's another post entirely). The last thing I want after getting home from a crap commute is to shovel lukewarm Mac & Cheese down my gaping maw (because though we love cooking, cooking takes time and time is not something we have a lot of with a day job) and spend the handful of remaining hours at home sitting at a desk, trying to be CREATIVE Goddamnit because this bestseller isn't writing itself as it teases us with its blinking cursor and why am I still on page 57 and oh hell it's already way past bedtime and I've got exactly 5.5 hours to sleep before morning hits and I have to fling myself out of bed from a deep slumber wherein I'm dreaming about having cocktails with Cary Grant and one of my novel's main characters just so I can sit at a desk again that following morning to waste another day, ghostwriting for a CEO who takes all the public credit for my words and research while I get none. Nothing. No credit. No byline. Just free espresso, the occasional $500 Amazon giftcard and the perk of having my office chair be a Herman Miller original.

Ladies and gentleman, that was a short snippet of my life as an editor/writer with a certain, unnamed company. Nope, didn't really enjoy it.

I was lucky that aforementioned job I ended up leaving last year still fell in the "journalism" (financial journalism) category, and in the beginning it was fantastic. I got to edit the hell out of all the bad writing we'd receive and work with our reporters and freelancers to make them better journalists and I'd occasionally get to write a short column and it was great. Then everyone started getting laid off except for me (ironic, isn't it? the one person who wouldn't have really minded getting laid off was one of the Last Men Standing), until finally my job description morphed from me enjoying my job to me doing more marketing/PR than journalism while ghostwriting most of our investment articles and mutual fund reports for our CEO. Like 24/7.

It doesn't matter how soft and luxurious that damned $1,300 Herman Miller chair was or how much I got paid (it was more than I expected in such a position, says the girl who wanted to be laid off), I knew it was over when I began seeing my articles show up on national websites with my 29-year-old CEO's name in the byline as though HE'D written them. That was really the last straw. Especially when he was in talks to appear on Fox Business News (for what? funding a company who made him sound smart?) and was also "writing" an investment book (which, for the record, was written by some for-hire ghostwriter -- thank God I didn't have to work on that behemoth with no credit). But I digress: this isn't meant to be a rant on my last employer (again, my first year there was amazing) or a tirade against my loved to take credit for everyone's work while he's out wine tasting on the west coast and taking month long vacations in Europe CEO. No, this isn't that.

When I realized in that job, after about 5 years of being a journalist/writer/editor, that I had actual standards for my life and career (suddenly -- poof -- I was an adult), that was it. I had reached a point of what I wasn't willing to accept in my life. I quit shortly after seeing his smiling mug next to the titles of my articles made me want to take off one of my heels and smash it through my computer monitor. Life is just too short to not have creative ownership. If you don't have that, you've got nothing. (And yes, I get that ghostwriting might not sound that bad. Many people do it professionally, but it made me feel like a sellout and a whore, plain and simple.)

Now that J and I are back on the west coast and I'm outlining my third novel, I've decided that it's time I venture out into this whole day job thing again. With J studying for the Bar and about to start a short-term clerkship with a judge in SF this August, I want to contribute to our Buick Fund (what we've decided to call our "Hopes and Dreams" fund; don't worry, we're not really buying a Buick...but then again, that would be hilarious).

So what would be the perfect day job for someone like myself? I've decided it would have to include the following:
  • Journalism and/or somehow publishing-related. It doesn't have to center around writing full-time -- in fact, I would actually prefer it didn't. In an ideal world I would preserve my writing juice for other, more personal projects -- like books. The occasional article/column/blog post (with byline) at work would make me happy.
  • No full-time marketing or PR. I haven't yet had to convert to the Dark Side and I hope I never will.
  • Something that's intellectually stimulating. I like a challenge. Part of the problem in my last job was that aside from my convert of a PR/ghostwriting-fueled position, it wasn't fast-paced enough. In those last, tedious months it lacked the je ne sais quoi that made me want to get into news in the first place. I wanted to be Ben Bradlee in All the President's Men; instead I was Kate Hudson from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, daydreaming about other options.
  • Something that utilizes my degrees. This goes without saying. I worked hard for them and chose those fields (English Lit and Journalism) because I loved them, not because I wanted to play beer pong for four years of my life then figure out what I wanted to do in my 20s and beyond. I know the stereotype: Artists do things like wait tables to make ends meet, which is fine. But I don't want to wait tables with my resume.
  • Editing. If there's one thing I love more than writing (ok, and dancing, but the latter isn't a viable career path at this point) it's editing. One of my goals was to become a managing editor before 30, which I did and loved being so in control of the content/content flow/publishing decisions/etc. It was never a dictatorship (hello? I don't run my newsrooms like Cuba), but I enjoyed improving the writing that came across my desk. To see what didn't work with news and feature stories made me a better writer, just like how reading hundreds of good books in a lifetime makes you a better scribe than one who reads nothing. As a writer I feel you learn by example and by tinkering with malleable pieces of content. I like it, find it challenging, and fit seamlessly into a newsroom environment.
Which brings me to an interview I had last week.

I got an email from a legit news outfit in SF that had been recommended my name from that one bay area publication I had to turn down last month due to the low salary offered. I was shocked at getting the email (seriously, how often does this happen??) and told them that of course I'd love to come in for an interview. Two days later I was in the office meeting with the Editor in Chief and Managing Editor -- both very polite, professional, experienced journalists (real journalists...yes, they still exist!).

The interview went well and I left wanting the job. Badly. Not only would I play a part in leading a prominent newsroom as a higher-up editor, but I'd be able to work one-on-one with budding reporters and -- get this -- work in the news niche I'd originally wanted to go into after grad school: Political and legal journalism. Is it the age of Aquarius? Have the stars aligned in their own, twisted way? I don't know, but after my horrible experience with El Company de Indecision and their three drawn-out interviews (the first of which I flew cross-country ON MY OWN DIME for) (clearly I am still very bitter about this), I figured maybe I should wait a while. See what opens up. Then this unbelievably amazing opportunity falls out of nowhere without me even having to fight to get my resume noticed out of hundreds of hopeful applicants. How do these things happen?

Anyway I got home from the interview feeling all rainbows and unicorns and found an email waiting in my inbox, thanking me for coming in and asking for references (two of which they called before Saturday). If I actually prayed, I would pray that this is a good sign. Not only is the job perfectly suited to what I'm looking for, but for a journalism position it (surprisingly!) pays bank ($60s, starting) and has lots of room for growth and creative input and chances to actually make a difference in this cray cray world we live in. I mean, they made a point to emphasize they look for quality over quantity in their news stories (what a novel idea!).

Read: This is not the kind of boring, unchallenging desk job that would lead to tired commutes home punctuated with lukewarm Mac and Cheese and sad reruns of The City that serve as (much-needed) escape from the daily grind. No, this job would be a breath of fresh air in a field most are being laid off in or leaving entirely for more lucrative options (*cough* marketing *cough*). It would engage me, it would inspire me, and best of all, it would even pay me. To quote Gollum, "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious."


Carrie said...

I loved this post. I'm a habitual blog post skimmer, but I never skim your posts. They're always so engaging & entertaining. You are the bomb, they have to hire you!

Jessica @ Wanting Adventure said...

Wow, that sounds absolutely perfect! I'll be keeping my fingers crossed!

Parisienne Farmgirl said...

Best wishes.
I love reading whatever you write!
Come by for a giveaway if you want.

Tami said...

Eeek - sending triple the amount of good vibes for ya!! xoxo

The frugal ecologist said...

I hope you get it! Sounds like a great opportunity!

Chris Rodell said...

Good luck, Crystal! I hope we'll be reading some dynamite news from you any day now.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome and helpful for me too! I have to figure out what I am going to do job-wise when I move and the idea of going back into PR makes my soul hurt. But, I don't really want to wait tables or work retail unless I absolutely HAVE to considering I have tons of work experience and a college degree.

I want to find something that doesn't drain me so much during the day that I am completely unmotivated to focus on my own work...

This will be a post I will re-read again and again as I search for a job.

Scott said...

Good luck! I did the first few paragraphs type job as a copywriter/proofreader for 12 years and by the last two, I would come home, walk the dog, and go to bed without writing really anything. It was horrible and I quit to live the dream of writing and now, 4 years later, my money is nearly gone and I have not sold a single thing and have to think about work again...and I don't wanna go back to that hell.

Here's an example: my stupid boss had me proof the labels he was putting on his friggin desk drawers. A waste enough of my time, but even worse, he spelled "drawer" as "draw" on every one. As in "Trade Show Draw." He heard it pronounced, and people can trail off the end when its a "w e r" word, and apparently never once read or saw printed the actual word drawer, or never noted it. How do you make me proof labels that only you'll see anyway and then misspell the actual thing you're labeling?

I can't go back to that. I can't do it. I won't. I'd rather be dead than do that BS again for some idiot who makes ten times my salary. No. It's hell, it is.

paisley penguin said...

Sounds like its perfect for you dahlink! Good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Wow! I am 1) completely happy for you and 2) a wee bit jealous (hey, I'm not ashamed to admit it).

Seriously, the more I read about your life, the more you sound like me (and my complaints, hopes and dreams).

I really hope that you land this job. It sounds like it is not only challenging, but also lucrative and something you will truly pour your heart and soul into.

Good luck girlfriend!

Anonymous said...

I hope you get it! I'm in PR, and it isn't all that dark. We don't have any unethical clients, and honestly some of the boring stuff we'd write, I don't think I'd really want my name on it anyway! But despite not being bad, I can't imagine doing it my whole life.

The Depressed Yogi said...

Fingers crossed, doll!!!

Lauren said...

I've been following your blog for a while and have been really enjoying it! I wanted to come out of the digital woodwork and wish you good luck!

Anonymous said...

All my life I wanted to write for a living. The funny thing is, now that I've graduated, started working and starting to get older (22! OMG!!) I'm starting to realise that I, too would like to keep my writing primarily for myself and my own enjoyment. I get easily bored and enjoy having a whole range of tasks at work - not least among them editing, subbing, layout, social media and other webby things.

Anyway, I love love love this post!

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