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#449: I hate my job, I’m broke, my commute sucks, and I maybe want to be a writer.

Hi Captain!

My main question is: how do I keep going? I have 99 problems, I need to fix at least 95 of them but right now I can’t even seem to fix 1 so I am stuck. I’ve been actively job-hunting for over a year now. I know others have it worse, either through bad jobs or no jobs at all, but I just really need to move on. I can never get past the first interview though, if I’m lucky. I’ve even written to Ask a Manager (http://tinyurl.com/9fvsx3r and an update here: http://tinyurl.com/aavl7hb) but things have only gotten more frustrating and stupid at work. I’m in debt and trying to get out.

I moved back in with my parents last year to save money. I would like to get my own place again. Or get a job much closer to my parents’ house because the current commute is REALLY getting me down. I’ve been doing this commute for eight years now and, I can’t deal with it. It’s long, stressful, involves multiple modes of transportation, etc. I work for a university and theoretically, once you’re in their system, it’s fairly easy to job-hop. If I’ve applied for let’s say, 100 jobs in the past year, with my current employer, then I’ve gotten interviews for like, 8 of them. That’s not counting applications outside my current employer. I’m seriously wondering if I’ve been blacklisted but don’t know it (I’ve had three jobs with this employer and only one was an actual bad fit so my supervisor and I were both happy that I moved on). I feel like my life needs to undergo a serious change but I don’t know how. I’m turning 30 this summer and the thought that my life at near-40 will be the same as my life now…I can’t. Things could be so much worse but I’m sure it could all be better too.

I’ve had dreams of being a professional novelist all my life and I was a journalist for a while but let that go too but then I just feel like I squandered those freelance opportunities to stay with my current employer, because it was a full-time, steady paycheck, health benefits, etc. I’m trying to keep my head up but I just feel like something needs to give/change soon– an actual job offer, winning the lottery, a friend saying “Hey, I’m moving to the other side of the country and need a roommate/admin assistant?”, etc. I’m even wishing I would lose my job even though I know that wouldn’t help my current situation. In short, how do I just keep going? 

Letter writer, you are going through a really hard thing. It’s hard enough to answer the big questions of “Why am I here? And what do I have to contribute? And what will people pay for me to contribute so I can make a living?” without having to live at home and have a hellish commute. There are a bunch of baby steps and small incremental changes you could make to make your situation better, covered in this old post about clawing your way out of a depressing living situation and  in this post about how to keep moving forward when your brain hates you that I found today (good post!). I think a lot of people feel like you do right now and can relate to your situation. Some suggestions and questions for you below the jump.

Use the job you have now to build up your skills and resumé. Can you take classes in something through the University? Or online, via something like Lynda.com? Can you find something that is nominally related to your current position but expands your skills in a concrete way? Can you find something that will get you writing regularly again? Look for classes that give you good portfolio pieces or very specific skills.

Does your employer have a confidential Employee Assistance Program? Call the number and talk to someone – a counselor, a career coach. You need a sounding board.

What happened with the eight interviews? That’s not actually that bad a statistic, so you’re doing something right. Did you really apply for 100 jobs with your same employer? If HR filters resumes and decides who to put forward to specific postings, someone there might have noticed that you apply for basically everything and not be putting you forward. I think this year you should be more targeted in your job search within your university system, and only apply to departments where you know someone or really, really want to work and have an interest in what they do. Also, talk to HR if there is something you really want to do. “I am currently a ________, but I really want to be an ________. What concrete steps can I take to make sure that I am qualified and able to apply for _______ jobs?” Even if they can’t help you immediately, you will put it on their radar that you are looking for a specific type of gig.

Use your performance review (or give yourself a performance review) to figure out what you’re good at. Then figure out how that overlaps or doesn’t with what you want. Some kind of list of marketable skills/things you enjoy/things you don’t actually want to do will emerge and help you be more targeted in your job search.

Ask your parents & friends for specific help finding a specific kind of job. I know you’ve been looking, but have you asked people you know directly to help you with this? Buy people cups of coffee. Like their Facebook statuses and endorse them for skills on LinkedIn. Then look for positions at their companies that you might be suited for, and ask them directly for help. “________, I am trying to find an administrative job closer to home. Do you know anyone who is hiring?” Don’t worry about it being your dream job – look for proximity, comparable salary to what you make now, cool people. Solve the dream job thing later.

One thing to watch out for – When I was like you and quit everything and moved cities during a recession and tried to start anew, I had a hard time finding jobs because I could not fake anything. If people asked me what I wanted to do, or where I saw myself in 5 years, I could not hide the small panic attack that that question made me have, and people could tell I was not actually into what they were hiring me to do. Are you in the United States? If so, find a way to give a measured, reasonable answer to this question even if you don’t 100% (or even 50%) believe it. “I like being an administrative professional, but I really need to find something closer to my family to cut down on my commute. Plus the widgets you make are so interesting and this seems like a really great company to work for. What has been your favorite thing about working here?” You’re not lying if you don’t tell them all about your writing dreams or quarter-life crisis. They don’t get to own that secret part of you.

Decide that you will spend this year “In The Library.” I love this piece from The Bloggess, where she decided to rename the year 2013 as “The Library”:

In The Library you are safe.  It smells of old books and worlds you’ve yet to explore.  It smells of worlds you’ve loved that beckon you back.  It smells of the bacon sandwich the guy in the corner has smuggled in while he devours words and food, not sure which is more filling.

In the library you are prepping.

Everything that happens in the library is just preparation for the next year.  That means if you fuck something up this year it’s fine.  This whole year is just practice.  The library is made for that.  Maybe you spend the year writing a book no one will ever read.  Maybe you spend the year recuperating from last year.  Maybe you burn the Thanksgiving turkey and forget an important birthday.  It’s okay.  It happened in The Library.  It was just practice for next year.  Maybe it’s insanity, or maybe it’s just me, but somehow I think we all need a year in The Library.  A year where it’s safe to make mistakes.  A year where it’s okay to have to escape and stare out the window without someone asking you when you’re going to get back to work and fix your life.  A year where we all whisper quietly about our plans and our wishes and dreams and darkest fears.  A year in The Library.  A year of getting lost in dusty, forgotten corners, and a year of finding the want.  (The want to leave.  The want to play.  The want to shrug off the dreams and walk out in the sunlight.  The want to pounce on 2014 with glee and rapture.)

The Library opened yesterday.  It closes 51.9 weeks from now.

Connect with people. I know that money is tight, and time is tight, but I think when you’re feeling stuck it’s good to find something that you do a) regularly b) outside your house c) that brings you in contact with other people. Board games/exercise class/working or internet surfing at a cafe instead of at home/volunteering once a month/catching up with friends/book club. Something besides your JOB and your DEBT and your FOLKS and your SCARY LOOMING FUTURE to look forward to and make your life right now, where you are, feel good.

WRITE. Now I am going to get a bit Cary Tennis on you.

You want to maybe be a writer? Well, plenty of writers had and continue to have day jobs. (More authors here). J.R.R. Tolkein was a professor, as is Audrey Niffenegger. J.K. Rowling wrote the first draft of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone at her kitchen table, as a single mom of two kids. It was her way out of what felt like a dead-end situation. Octavia Butler worked a zillion different jobs to support herself while she wrote. P.D. James and Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers (civil service, nursing, advertising copywriter, respectively) all worked and wrote. (Thank you, Twitter!) Kafka called his day job literally his “Bread Job” (Brotberuf) and lamented that he had to toil as an insurance agent and only write at night. Kafka-esque!

A novel might be too big for you right now. A short story might be good. A magazine article might be good. A list of ideas for short stories or magazine articles might be good. Three pages of longhand in a notebook, written every day first thing in the morning Julia Cameron-style or on your long commute might be good. A secret Word document on your work computer that you work on 15 stolen minutes/day might be good. Our beloved Lieutentant Trans gives himself a 300 word daily goal. At three hundred words, he stops, like Hemingway, so that he knows for sure he will have something to write tomorrow. A blog or online journal or something secret like 750 words might be good.

Anything that gets you writing is good. It doesn’t have to be polished, professional, perfect content right now. It just has to be “shitty first drafts“. It just has to be out of your head and onto the page, where it can become plans for where you might live next and dreams for what you want to do.

Writing isn’t a thing that will happen some magical someday when you get enough free time and will have novels spring fully-formed from your head onto the best-seller list. Writing is work. But it doesn’t have to be tortured, painful work.

Maybe you won’t be a professional writer right way. Write anyway. Give yourself that outlet, and that joy of creating with something new. This blog was started on a whim over a half-baked idea I expressed over brunch. One of my friends Googled and found out the domain was free, so I registered it, and then I had to figure out what to do with it, and the answer was “Might as well write!” I’m not quitting my day job anytime soon, but writing here has changed my life and the way I think about my circumstances and my future career prospects. It has connected me to thousands of people in a way that I could not have imagined when I started. It has gotten me into a daily or weekly habit of writing, of showing up at a page and trying to say something to the world. You guys all show up and read now, but you do that because I kept writing even when no one was reading.

You can’t control the economy, you can’t control what employers will think, you can’t control your commute (right now, that will change soon I hope), or whether you win the lottery, but you can control whether you write a little something every day or every week.

Here endeth both the lesson and the Winter 2013 Pledge Drive. You can donate any time, obviously, so what’s mostly ending is the reminders tacked onto every post. Thanks so much to all of you kind and generous people who have given $ or awesome Swag suggestions.

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About JenniferP

Chicago filmmaker, teacher, and blogger.

131 comments on “#449: I hate my job, I’m broke, my commute sucks, and I maybe want to be a writer.

  1. I have found that the forums at Absolute Write are excellent at being non-judgmental (in the sense that “writer” appears to be defined as “a person who writes, or tries to”) and encouraging. Also a timesink if you’re not careful, so yeah. There are often threads on juggling writing with dayjob.

    You might find, LW, that it helps to think of yourself as a writer, if you don’t currently. Something else may be keeping body and soul together, but that’s a technicality.

    • Omg, a ACTIVE writer’s forum! Thank you for linking this!

      /signs up happily

    • This is so awesome, thank you!! I’ve been begging everyone I know to get feedback on my novel and to bounce plot ideas off of, and I hadn’t found a good online resource.

      • I have a Critique Circle account – I’m not writing much currently because I’m finishing university, but I like their set up. You review a few chapters/short stories to earn ‘credit’ and then spend it by putting up your own work. The credit model means you are pretty much guaranteed to get useful feedback (if it isn’t useful, you don’t get credit) every time.

  2. LW,

    I’m with the captain on all of this, especially the writing. You know what you need to do to be ‘a writer’? Write. That’s it. I can so easily let myself spend hours feeling bad for calling myself a ‘writer’ when my insecurities and my lack of time keep me from writing and/or clicking ‘post’. Which is silly, because the answer is so easy. Just write.

    I made myself do that today, on a silly little blog post that has been languishing in my drafts folder. It was not nothing, but it wasn’t the work/school thing I was supposed to be writing either. But I did it, and a few friends as well as some strangers and even an internet person I really respect ACTUALLY APPRECIATED what I wrote. And it’s a small thing, but it’s something. It’s a step.

    Speaking of which– Captain, thanks for linking to my nothing of a blog. I’m sure you already know this, but you totally made my day.

    • It’s a really great post!

      And Benchley’s Law is always in effect: “Anyone can do any amount of work providing it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”
      –Robert Benchley

      • Truer words. My sink is never cleaner than the day before an exam.

        • In college we used to call this “Active Procrastination.” The act of finding something else to do so you can put off the thing you’re supposed to be doing until later.

          • I actually almost put ‘active procrastination’ in my post. Because really, it’s the only way my house ever gets clean.

          • The best example of this I ever heard about is a friend of a friend (it’s always a friend of a friend, isn’t it?) who decided to trim the lawn with scissors rather than finish their assignment.

    • On writing vs. being a writer: I’m not a writer, but today I was reading part of V.S. Naipaul’s essay “Prologue to an Autobiography.” A significant part of this includes his jerkbrain going OH NO YOU’RE NOT A WRITER, NOT UNTIL YOU WRITE A WHOLE BOOK wait make that THREE wait make that SIX, WAIT YOU’RE NEVER GOOD ENOUGH. Jerkbrain.

      He appears problematic in a bunch of ways, but he also won a Nobel Prize, so, you know, he’s no slouch. Anyway, the point here is: even Nobel prize winning authors have horribleawful jerkbrains. If you know it’s a jerkbrain, does that make it a little easier to ignore it?

      • Having met many writers over the course of my own long struggles and adventures in publishing, I think MOST of them, no matter how successful, are hounded by that same doubtful jerkbrain from time to time. It’s the ones who AREN’T that I worry about; they tend to be the arrogant snots. ;)

        And yeah, as others have said … the only way to write is to write. Find time, make time. Practice, practice, practice. One word at a time, baby (as Stephen King says), one word at a time.

  3. Just want to echo the point that applying to 100 jobs at one location may be hurting your chances. When I was on a search committee at a college, I could see, along with every applicant’s online application, which other jobs they’d applied for. If someone had applied for “School Dean,” “Data analyst,” and “Janitor,” I went, “OK, this person is just desperate” and they went in my No pile. Focusing may feel like closing doors, but it actually makes you a more desirable candidate because you indicate that you have standards. I’d much rather hire the person who is skilled in this one area and interested in this one job than the person who appears skilled in a whole bunch of areas and interested in just about any job.

    I think right now you have this notion that “transferring within the university is easy,” and therefore your failure to get another job at the university means you’re really sunk. Forget about applying to any more jobs there for a while. You want something closer to home anyway, right? The Captain’s advice is good — talk to your network, offer to take some people out to coffee who are doing the kind of work you’re interested in or working at a company nearby you think you might like to work for. Focus on quality over quantity with your applications — 1 application for which you’ve done a ton of background research, talked to current and past employees, and practiced, practiced, practiced for the interview is going to yield better results than 5 applications sent off in a single day. You can do it!

    • Not to mention that focusing down on jobs you’re actually qualified for and want will mean less time wasted going on interviews you can’t get psyched up for, and less rejection from jobs you aren’t qualified for/don’t want anyway. Sure, it doesn’t sting as much to get rejected from a job you don’t want, but all that stuff adds up. Sending in resumes every single day might FEEL like “doing the work to find a new job,” but it might not actually be, you know? Good luck!

    • I can echo this. Speaking as someone who has been on the hiring side of the desk, one of the things I always looked for was fit: not just “is this person capable of performing the required duties?” but “would this candidate be happy in this job?” Any supervisor you would actually want to work for will care whether you will be happy in the job. Not out of niceness, but because people are a lot more productive and a lot more pleasant for their colleagues to be around when they are not looping “I hate this job so bad, I hate it I hate it I hate it” inside their heads all day. (Any supervisor who has written off a reasonably pleasant work environment with decent inter-collegial relationships is not one you want to work for). Which is why conveying “I want a (new) job so badly I will take ANYTHING” is not good; it gives the impression you haven’t considered fit at all yourself, but the hiring person knows that once you have the job it will matter whether you hate it.

      Which is not to say you have to convince them that it is your dream job. For a lot of jobs, the hiring person knows full well that’s an unrealistic expectation! But take the time to learn what your job would consist of, in terms of hours and what you would be doing, and how you would be required to interact with other people, etc. Figure out why you can picture yourself reasonably happy in that job for the time being, so you can convey that to an interviewer.

      The level of job and the amount of training that will be involved in getting you to full productivity, as well as typical turnover rates in that industry/type of job, will affect how long you have to make them think you’d be content in the job. For a lot of non-professional jobs, a year or two is all they have any expectation of getting.

      Which is why it might even be perfectly workable to say “I want to be a writer, but to be honest I know I am a looong way from being able to make that my day job — it sure isn’t going to happen in the next two or three years! — so I’m looking for a job where I get to use my writing and organizational skills, be creative in other ways, work with interesting people, and leave at 5 on the dot with no take-home work so I can be a writer in the evenings and on weekends.” Or whatever applies to you and that job.

      Put yourself in the hirer’s shoes: which of the many things that are true about you would you want to hear about the candidate if you were on the other side of the desk? Don’t lie, but select the facts that will make them think “I can totally see working with this person. He/she has the skills and/or is clearly trainable, and seems to be looking for just the type of situation we’re offering. He/she will be reliable, get along well with others, do the job without a lot of nagging or hand-holding, and not require a lot of active managing. Yay! We can stop interviewing!”

      • “Figure out why you can picture yourself reasonably happy in that job for the time being, so you can convey that to an interviewer.”

        This, 1000%. I think I’m pretty good at interviews (I got my current job without knowing anyone here beforehand, which I feel good about) and I always prepare a true story about myself and why I want the job. If I can’t come up with real things to say about why I want the job and think I would be good at it, That’s a sign I shouldn’t apply for that job. Because I don’t actually want it at all.

        And honestly, I am not that good an actor that I can make up a whole character with goals and experiences who is as compelling as my real self and then sit in a stressful interview in character.

    • Would also like to second the thing about not applying for every job at the university. Frankly, it’s a waste to pull in AAM for some physical-setup bs that you should have handled with HR by yourself. You need to pay attention to the rest of her advice, the stuff about how to get a job. Like revising your resume and/or cover letter skills, as those are probably not as up to par as you think. Like truly preparing for interviews, not just showing up like you already know what this university is like as a whole. Like carefully not harassing people who do the hiring.

      Your HR already has you on their radar as someone who couldn’t handle negotiation with your supervisor (right or not, that happened), as someone who is desperately unhappy with where they are, and who is basically creating a lot of extra work for them by shotgun-applying to everything indiscriminately. You’re going to have to seriously lay off them for a while.

      But then again, you’d be a lot happier with a job elsewhere, with a reasonable commute. So stop wasting your time. Follow the good advice here, both CA’s and other commenters’ :-). Alternately, you do have a job, but you say you moved in with your parents to save money. Has that been worthwhile? Do you in fact have money saved up and a plan about what are you going to use it for? If not, maybe you should get a small cheap closet near work and at least stay there during the week, in order to fix one major problem?

      • Wow, this comment sounds really unhelpful, at least the start of it.
        “You shouldn’t have written to an advice column for advice about the exact topic of the column”? Really? That’s what you want to start out with?

        Pretty out-of-place message for this otherwise fantastic venue.

        /lurker’s two cents

  4. The last bit about writing even though no one is reading is so true, I think. Pretty much every writing career starts with no one reading. The only instant-hit book series’ or blogs or w/e are instant because they already have name recognition from a famous contributer or something like that, but even they had to get famous first. There was plenty of time after Harry Potter was written when NO ONE knew what it was except for Rowling and her kids and, idk, maybe a couple of friends. I have a blog and I have no illusions that any more than a few people read it, but occasionally someone will link to a post on their slightly more-read blog and that’s like being famous. You know, for a few minutes.

    Also, I love the idea of the Library. I might have to do that the year after I finish studying.

  5. The Captain’s advice is good, as always. I’ve made the decision to strike out and get some stuff published, but the main thing, for me, is that I try and set aside some time to write no matter what, because I truly enjoy it and it keeps me happy.

    What I did when I had my last project was write during nighttime after work, and even if it wasn’t much, it helped me relax and unwind. I have a couple of pieces in a webzine, but right now I’m working on a longer piece to submit to magazines and the like, and there’s a series I’ve been tinkering with for four or so years, along with another one percolating on the back burner. The latter I’m hoping to publish as a novel or a few, although the industry has me a little scared…

  6. If you want to be a writer, you need to write. Not talk about writing. Read The War of Art(yes, that’s the title.)

  7. Or even get a writer buddy to challenge you to write something each day, using whatever prompts you exchange with each other. Can’t hurt. I did that for almost a year– my imagination eventually punked out, but I have the eBooks as proof.

    • I second this suggestion. My creative outlet is music, but it wasn’t until I got involved with a duet partner that I was really motivated to go anywhere with it. Knowing that somebody is counting on you to get some writing done each day or each week is a great way to fend off thoughts of “I’ll do it tomorrow…no, tomorrow…no, tomorrow…oh, fuck it, nobody’s ever going to read this anyway, so who cares.”

  8. I agree – Get a WordPress blog, and start writing! I just started a new business after recovering from a stroke – thought I was providing needed service to small community (computer classes). Put lots of effort into setting up, launched and….Nothing Happened.. for six solid weeks – not one registrant or inquiry.

    During week 3, I returned to good, ole Word Press blog, writing to fill my days and give me joy – in the last week, I’ve gotten 2 new websites to build and a host of other small business support jobs – all due to folks who subscribed to my blog being reminded I’m still alive….

    Doesn’t always turn out like you think, but if you want to write…if you dream of being a ‘writer’ – -then just start and follow your passion – I’m convinced it will open new doors/opportunities for you!

  9. I’m going to wander away a bit from the Captain’s advice to zero in on the writing thing, because I’m someone who *has* successfully transitioned from “terrible, soul-sucking day job” to “full-time writer” and it hasn’t exactly been rainbows and kittens, but it’s do-able. Here’s what I did. Your mileage may vary.

    I do freelance web content. I started out with a number of brokerage sites that basically act as middle-men between writers and clients, then branched out and found more clients independently. Some of the (many) sites I’ve worked for: Interact Media, eCopywriters, Textbroker, Constant Content. You can find a whole bunch more here: https://sites.google.com/site/newentrepreneurcuresite/employment-opportunities/time-tracker

    These sites are called “content mills” by some and are looked down upon by “real journalists,” but they pay my bills and I’m not ashamed to say it. The job isn’t for everyone. You don’t get paid much, especially starting out, and you sometimes have to write really inane shit. But you can *write*, you can choose the topics you write about, and you can get paid for it. Working in the evenings after my dead-end call center job, I was pulling in an extra $300/week (on good weeks anyway). Put that money in the bank and it adds up fast.

    Step two: Learn how to live on very, very little money. It’s not glamorous, but it’s do-able. The better you get at cutting costs, the less money you need to earn to feel secure. Put every extra penny in the bank. Pay off as many debts as possible while you still have a stable job.

    Meanwhile, look for writing gigs everywhere. Check Problogger, FreelanceWritingGigs and WritersWeekly every day. Check Craigslist. Apply for everything. Work for as many clients on as many sites as possible.

    You might find, as you start making money, that you have more flexibility in shopping for a day job. Maybe you can find something part-time that’s closer to home and with crappy pay but full benefits. Suddenly that becomes an attractive option when you have writing income.

    I know it’s not “ideal” in terms of writing, but for me it was a very freeing way “out” of a crappy situation. Now that I’m doing it full-time, I can divide my days evenly between freelancing and fiction. I consider the fiction an investment in my future. Especially with the advancements in self-publishing and royalty structures lately, writing fiction *can* be a good way to generate passive income; the more backlist you build, the better your odds of making decent money become.

    But, of course, that’ll only happen if you have the experience to write good stories and the perseverance to market them like a beast. And it takes time. (Hence the freelancing fall-back plan.)

    Just my (way more than two) cents about being a full-time writer.

    • Just to back this comment up: heard of John Scalzi? SFWA President John Scalzi? His bread and butter money, before his SF books started selling, was from web content, mainly in the finance sector.

      He’s written a lot on his blog about the financial side of being a writer. You can do a search for Scalzi and writing and money and those posts will come up, or he collected them all into a book (called ‘You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop’.) They’re worth a read even if you don’t really like his writing (or, indeed, SF in general.)

  10. Good post. The author’s name is spelled ‘Tolkien’ and JK Rowling had one kid when she was writing the early HP books. She got married later on after her success and had another child.

  11. It’s times like these I’m thankful for things like blogging and fanfiction. I truly believe that any kind of writing is heaps better than no writing at all.

    • I’ve actually heard the argument that fanfiction can be really helpful for aspiring fiction writers. I think it was along the lines of: You start writing using already established characters and you have to think about how those characters would behave in the context of your scenario and doing so can eventually help you create your own consistent and believable characters in your own work.

      • Very true! I had an original story that got my love of writing started, but fanfiction was what I cut my teeth on when it came to characterization skills, and it gave me the confidence boost I needed when I finally decided to write original stories again.

        • I’ve also heard erotic fanfiction can get some decent recognition in the Romance novel department, which seems to pay decently. I’ve been working on an original bodice-ripper for months, but been too intimidated to submit it anyway. I’ve also heard of fanfic writers who used their established communities to launch self-published eBooks of original works, and done fairly well.

        • Three jobs where fan-fiction is full-time work: licensed novels, movie sequels, and television episodes.

      • This is true. What’s also true is that fanfiction teaches you a lot about what sort of stories you want to write. Enjoying your own story is critical to its success. No one knows what they like in a story better than people who read and write a ton of fanfiction.

      • The most useful fanfictiony thing I did was join an RP site. It made me actually write decent dialogue! And believable characters! Plus it was great fun. It is a bit of a time-suck though, I’ll be honest.

      • The other nice thing about fanfiction is that you usually get feedback, which can be hard to get on original content, especially when you’re first starting out. While this may not be up LW’s alley, it’s worth looking into sites like Archive of Our Own because they also have sections devoted to original fiction as well as to stories based on more general cultural influences, like fairy tales.

      • I feel like writing fic is akin to writing the third book in a four-book series — you’ve got established characterizations and settings that you get to play with and stretch and knead, but you’ve got them.

  12. Oh, LW, I feel for you. What you’re going through is rough.

    When I was in my early twenties, I wanted so bad to be a writer but I didn’t know how, I had no ideas and I hadn’t written an actual book since I was 15, although I had started many (they mostly consisted of lists of the fictional names I would give the people in my life when they became characters, and they all took up approximately two pages of a brand-new but cheap-ass notebook bought for the purpose). I was out of practice and, I thought, doomed.

    I had a friend who felt the same, and we used to meet in a cafe on Monday nights and write. We would come up with topics (‘Ten minutes about feet!’) or we’d pluck topics from a book of writing exercises I bought once in a fit of optimism. Sometimes we’d theme the ‘workshops’ and tackle writing sex scenes or fight scenes. Neither of us was working on a ‘project’ – a book, an article, a short story, a hulku. We were just writing and having fun with it.

    Looking back, this may be the smartest thing either of us ever did, even though at the time it felt like directionless fun.

    Firstly, because never underrate fun when you’re young, working a job you don’t love and commuting for hours.

    Secondly, it demonstrated to ourselves that we were committed to doing this writing thing, that we didn’t just want to be famous writers, that we were willing to write because we liked it, even if it meant sitting in a cafe on a rainy Monday night and arriving home late with wet feet.

    Thirdly, it got us writing, even if it was only a small bit once a week. Since then (5-6 years ago) we’ve both finished three novels and are actively working towards publication.

    It’s important not to put yourself under pressure, though. You need some time in the library. My friend and I wrote some things that were daft, some that were good and lots (honestly, most) that were pointless. That’s OK. Remember that someone has paid you to write before and they don’t do that for any reason other than the fact you’re good at it. Remember that you have that ability in you and I hope that knowledge will help to carry you through the doubt.

    I recommend reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones – she is a practicing Zen Buddhist and her faith informs her writing a lot (if this is likely to bug you then maybe give it a miss) but she writes well about getting words on the page without judging yourself.

    I wish you the best of luck, LW, and I hope you can get back into writing regularly and that it brings you lots of joy. And good luck with pursuing a job you like better in a location that works for you and in finding your bliss.

    • “I recommend reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones”

      YES. YES YES YES. LOVE IT.

      *ahem*

      LW, your shoes, I am in them. Hated my job, wanted to be a writer, but was convinced by my jerkbrain that it would never ever happen.

      Some things that worked for me:

      Temp agency. I friggin’ love temping. I get to take jobs and get income and get my resume in front of all kinds of people without doing the exhausting legwork and selling of myself that burns me out on an ordinary job hunt. Plus, I’ve been told that workers are more likely to keep and enjoy jobs they found through temp agencies than conventional means, so there’s that.

      Temping also gives you the ability to say, “Look, I know my resume says I am awesome at fast food service and gas station attending, but I really want to get into administrative work, so I’d rather focus on that.” If you’re looking to switch industries or build skills in a different area than where you’ve historically been working, temping is a great way to do that.

      Also, blogging. I blog under a psudonym so I don’t have to worry about editing content for certain friends and family members. Before I launched my blog, I actually wrote a backlog of half a dozen posts – because I knew if I didn’t, I’d eventually run out of things to write about and just give up.

      Sometimes it helps to give yourself assignments and deadlines. Sometimes it helps to go to meetups. Almost all the time it helps to remind yourself that not everything you write will be awesome, and sometimes it’s okay to make shitty art. (I highly recommend this post as an example.)

      There seems to be lots of good advice in this thread on the writing side of it, so I won’t reiterate. But hang in there, LW. It can get better, and it will.

      • Thirding “Writing Down The Bones”. I come back to it every time I’m having a hard time writing. My sad little paperback copy is so dog-eared and coffee/tea stained… when it finally falls apart I’ll have to buy an ebook copy.

      • I’ve had great experiences temping too. Depending on where you are, you can end up with an annoying commute, but (1) you-LW already have that and (2) it’s temporary! For times when you want a day job that’s only in the daytime, temp work is perfect. Also, everywhere I’ve temped has wanted a temp-to-permanent person really, even if they didn’t say that going in, but it’s also very easy to get out of situations you turn out not to enjoy — the agency is on your side for the most part, and there’s a built-in exit date for every job.

        • Yeah, I’ve been temping for a while and the only times I haven’t been offered a permanent position were in situations where I was covering for someone on vacation or maternity leave, who would be returning. I’ve been temping through grad school and it was really ideal — you could say “no thanks” if you have a big paper or exam or something, or ask for more assignments when workload is light.

          • I’m glad that you’ve had good experiences with temping–that’s awesome!–but I want to share a different perspective. My experience with temping has been really stressful, and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

            I’ve been temping for almost two years while trying to find a permanent job, and very few of the places I’ve worked are trying to hire someone permanently–usually, they’re cycling temp workers to avoid paying for permanent workers, or to cover sick days so that they don’t have to hire as many people.

            What I hate about temping is starting again at the bottom, over and over again, with little or no hope of advancement. The temp agency usually doesn’t give me an end date, so I have the constant stress of not knowing whether an assignment will end next week or in two months–or tomorrow. Sometimes I get a week or two’s notice before a job ends, but sometimes, depending on the nature of the job, I get none.

            And every time I start to get used to the way one office works, and to get to know and like the people, the job ends and I have to start from scratch somewhere else–if another position even comes up.

            Lately, I’ve been getting called in for one-day assignments to cover sick days, which means getting called in the morning and asked to come in immediately. It’s ridiculously stressful feeling like I’m constantly on call, but never knowing whether I’ll actually have enough work to pay my rent. Some weeks I work full-time, other weeks I work a day or two, some weeks it’s just half a day, and I have no control over it.

            And I’m lucky to have any temp work at all, because I signed up with five or six other agencies that never found me any work before I signed up with this one.

            Sorry to complain so much…I’m just sick of reading about temping being this great thing, when it’s been really stressful and soul-sucking for me. I think it depends a lot on the agency, and the particular jobs, and your temperament (i.e., whether you find the uncertainty and constant change stressful or exciting).

  13. Oh, hello, LW. Are you me? Also stuck in a job I hate (overworked, underpaid, been turned down for promotion three times), had no luck with applying externally, living with my parents and am not an admin in my soul but a novelist and/or a literary professor.

    Two things helped me – firstly, I went to grad school in the evenings. I have no idea if you could do something like this, but I’m fortunate enough to have a very good evening university in my city, and I’m now almost done with an MA in the subject I love best. It’s been grueling, I’ve had no free time for two years, I’ve spend all my disposable income on tuition and I’ve got to write a 15k word thesis before the end of October, but it makes me feel more like myself than any amount of report filing can possibly do.

    Secondly, I met and became friends with a few other writers, and it’s just wonderful to talk to people who love to write and know the problems and perks of writing fiction. I now have a ready-made pool of critics, idea consultants and ego masseuses. And of course, as the Captain says, connecting with people helps almost all the time.

    Thanks Captain for the advice on getting a new job – will definitely be putting that into practice!

  14. I am in a somewhat similar situation, late twenties, jobless, and had to move back in with my parents. I was hoping it would be for a month or so but has now stretched to ten weeks and still no sign of a job. I am getting to the point where soon I will have to take a nanny job (I worked as a nanny before I went to uni, and part time while I studied) and try again at finding a job in my preferred field later.

    So, I’m not necessarily in a position to offer great advice, however I will say a couple of things that I’ve found useful.

    1) Taking online courses. I’m on basically a budget of zero so I’m taking free classes through Coursera and EdX. I’m currently taking four, two are related to my field of study, two are just random things that interested me. I don’t think taking the classes will add much, if anything, to my resume, but they are keeping my brain in gear and helping me fill the days constructively. Also, I think it is useful to be able to tell interviewers that I have been using this dead time to study further rather than watch daytime TV.

    2) Asking for feedback from interviewers. I’ve gotten through to the first interview stage for about half of jobs I’ve applied to (apparently I look good on paper), but obviously haven’t got a job yet. When I’ve received the e-mail/phone call saying I’ve not got the job I’ve thanked them for letting me know and asked politely if they can give me a brief indication of why. Now, 9 times out of 10 they’ve said they’ve simply gone with a candidate that had more experience, but occasionally I’ve actually gotten something I can use to improve future interviews.

    3) Do fun things when you can. My parents live in an extremely rural area and I currently can’t afford a car so most days I am stuck in the house all day. I go for walks (something I enjoy), fill in job applications, do my online classes etc. but it gets old quickly. I’ve been taking every opportunity I can to meet up with friends, go to museums, etc., mostly by making sure when I attend interviews in the city (giving me a legitimate reason to pay the train fare) I meet up with at least one friend, visit at least one interesting place, etc. It tides me over until the next interview. I realize you are working and have a long commute so probably quite full days but squeezing some fun in when you can helps everything seem less miserable.

    • They may not add to your resume, but they could give you some good talking points for future interviews. Thanks for the suggestion, I’m bookmarking them!

    • If you are studying – anything at all – then you are adding to your resume, if only as an interview talking point.

      In the days before internet classes (or at least, the days before I had access to internet classes), I got interested in gothic novels one summer. I’m talking about late 18th/early 19th century stuff: The Castle of Otranto, The Monk, the novels of Ann Radcliffe – the pulp fiction of Jane Austen’s time. These books are not easy reads! But I spent a summer reading every one the library had, and reading analytical studies of them, which led to reading some historical non-fiction about the time and society that produced the genre. I now know a ton of (mostly useless, but interesting) trivia about day to day life and society in Regency England (this has made the vast majority of Regency romance novels unreadable to me due to historical accuracy issues, but…oh well).

      Even though this was self-imposed course of study, it made a great talking point in interviews for less crappy jobs. A lot of interviewers seemed really impressed that I’d created my own course of study.

      It also made a great answer for interviewers who ask difficult questions about hobbies and interests, and it made me memorable.

  15. I can’t track down the statistic right now, but IIRC less than 1% of published authors make a living from their books. So once you’ve achieved your goal of being a professional novelist you will still almost certainly have to have a day job :( What can I say, it’s the human condition.

  16. Another random suggestion about writing. You said you have an awful commute. Can you use that time for writing? About anything.

    Hey, what if that woman at the back of the bus is on her way to the opera? What if that guy forgot his anniversary, and his boyfriend is going to have a cow? What if that girl needs a liver transplant? What if that woman’s daughter is an axe murderer and she doesn’t know it?

    I’m not a writer, but being one is all about writing. To quote Neil Gaiman, “one word after another until you are done.”

    • I’m not a writer either, but that sounds like a lot of fun.

      • I do this! And sometimes you overhear something brilliant once you start paying attention to what’s going on around you. The best thing I ever overheard in my life was ‘Well, her tarot card reader says she doesn’t need to see a therapist.’ There is a novel in that, if the LW or any of the Awkward Army fancy writing it :)

    • Thirding this! I keep a notebook in my bag and use my bus ride for brain-emptying! Even if it’s not based on the people around you, it’s a great time to focus on just getting words on paper––and you don’t worry too much about quality, which is a big fear factor for me personally. It does get a little tiresome because I get motion sick on any vehicle ride longer than 20 minutes, but I’ve gotten some good stuff out of these writing spurts!

  17. I got burned up by not getting jobs in an organisation which was supposedly easy to move within. I eventually realised I had not controlled my image carefully enough. Because I didn’t value the job I was doing, and I was ill and unhappy, I looked every bit of my low-salary, low-responsibility role. I realised it was too late to change everyone’s perceptions of me, took time off to do a postgrad (lucky me) and worked hard to create a new image in new organisations. I never let on by word or look if I disliked anything or anyone; I dressed as if I was working two levels up; and I tried to be a fun and reassuring colleague. It totally worked, because I got invited several times to apply for internal jobs after I joined a new organisation (and got them.) Also, being all professional and nice made me feel better when the work I was doing was shitty or when I had horrible colleagues to deal with.

  18. Hey! I can’t really give any advice on the job-hunt thing, as I am currently freaking out about how I am going to find a job when I finish my master’s program and. . . yeah. . . anyway.

    I can, however, sympathize MIGHTILY with the writing thing — I was the LW for this letter. There’s some great practical advice in the response and in the comment thread for getting critique and making submissions and so on. I don’t know where you are in your quest to be a writer, but it could be helpful. And, well, I still haven’t been published, but I have written three more short stories since that point and some flash fiction and made a bunch more submissions and done a bunch of editing.

    I would definitely get behind any advice to start small. I mean, definitely outline your ideas for a novel, or a few novels, or an epic series of novels! Definitely write any scenes down that you have in mind! But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have a whole novel-length story organized right away. I think that often books take a long time to percolate in people’s heads, and every small piece of writing you do helps you figure out a new way to represent your thoughts and a new way to tell a small story that may help you piece together how you will tell a bigger story. I definitely am mentally soothed by having a few short (or short-er) stories finished. It’s something to throw at the jerkbrain when it goes WHY AREN’T YOU WORKING HARDER, WHY AREN’T YOU PUBLISHED YET, IT MUST BE BECAUSE YOU ARE REALLY STUPID AND LAZY. I now have a (relatively tiny) portfolio of writing built up, while I am working on my longer, hairier projects (eurgh.) But, yeah: Just start writing, even if you know it’s crap. I journal and blog and write long emails and start a lot of stories and finish a few, and a lot of it is junk but I think some of it is okay.

    I would also recommend submitting a few things if you can, even if it’s exhausting and discouraging. I still feel disappointed by every rejection I get, but I do get some bitter satisfaction out of knowing that I’m not backing down from the hard parts. I think sometimes it helps if you can think of yourself as intrepid and determined because you are honestly struggling toward something you want. Give yourself ALL THE CREDIT for every step you take forward.

    • Some people are natural short story writers, some people are natural novelists. It’s like riding a bicyle vs riding a motorbike – one might help you a bit with the other, but you need to pick up the right skills, and a pushbike is not a step towards a motorbike.

      (Also, go you: writing and editing and sending things out is awesome!)

      • Oh yeah, but it’s worth trying both (and many writers are good at both!) And short stories do frequently (though perhaps not always) have the advantage that draft one generally takes less time than draft one of a novel, so if you are just looking to confirm with yourself that YES, I CAN DO THIS! on a periodic basis, they are very helpful in that way. (Again, using myself as an example: the fastest I could possibly finish a book-length piece — with minimal editing — would be 9 months, but the fastest I could finish a short story piece would be 1-4 weeks.) I suck at flash fiction (<1000 words), but I still write it because it's a good way of challenging my skills and it feels nice to have some small finished things.

        I also think, though, that sometimes it takes YEARS to figure out what sort of writing you are best suited to. And of course it changes.

  19. LW, that commute of yours… can you spend any of it writing? Even if it’s half an hour standing in a crowded subway car dreaming up plots in your head, followed by five minutes dashing down notes longhand while you remember, it’ll still keep your head in the game and make your commute less awful. And if you get to spend a significant part of it sitting down with a computer on your lap (and don’t get motion sick from that) then so much the better.

  20. Aspiring writer here! The Captain’s advice is spot on. The world is full of literally thousands of people who “want to be be a writer someday”, most of whom have never so much as written an outline for a story. You have to get words on paper and get out there. There’s loads of ways to do it.

    The hobby-focused ideas from The Captain are brilliant. But if, like me, you struggle to self-motivate, you might do well to try for some small paid or unpaid-but-for-some-one-else gigs. Look online for small publishers, online magazines and publishers soliciting shorts for anthologies. There are SO MANY out there open to submissions. Some will pay, albeit usually only a token amount, and others will not pay but will at least give you something for your portfolio and the reassurance that your writing is good enough to publish. Browse them, pick half a dozen and try and write something for them. Those sorts of gigs often have a prompt or theme they want you to work from as well, which can either help you find inspiration or help push you to write something you normally wouldn’t.

    Check all sorts of places out. Last year I wrote a short story for an anthology for a writer’s forum I belong to, and it was chosen as one of the few that they published.

    Or you could try doing some freelance work on the side. I’m currently selling my writing through fiverr. It’s nothing much – really short stories or articles (500-1000 words), often things I’d never think of writing myself or things I’d normally have no interesting. And the pay isn’t great by any means. But it does mean I’m writing something at least once a week, usually more often, it forces me to work outside my comfort zone for clients and it reassures me that my writing is decent. There are other freelance places like peopleperhour and elance where you can look for small writing jobs, and it might help to finish a few pieces of flash fictions, a couple of short articles and some other bits and bobs to put together a portfolio to show off.

    Finally, going back to the hobby stuff, I keep a folder of writing snippets on my computer. Any time I get something stuck in my head, I write. Even if it’s just a paragraph, it’s something from my head now on paper, and can either be used in a larger body of work later or might give me ideas for a bigger piece of work.

    • Great ideas! There’s also Duotrope dot com. It’s a great place look up journals/magazines/contests that might publish your work. They keep track of acceptance rates, best place to submit poems, stories, or full-length manuscripts of all genres and help you track your submissions. It costs a little money now, and of course LW should probably focus on making a writing habit first, but it might be a fun thing to check out down the line.

    • Oh! Also, MIT now have the full course materials of ALL of their course modules downloadable, free, online. And that includes a huge list of writing modules. I recommend you take a look!

      • If you have apple products, you can also use iUniversity or whatever it’s called. It came with one of the recent updates, I don’t remember the name for sure but I’m doing a Yale philosophy class in my free time.

        Of course, the difference with a lot of these online class materials and a class is the interaction with a teacher and other students. Especially with writing, that matters. At the very least, do the exercises, even though nobody’s going to make you turn them in. And try to get someone else to read them.

  21. LW, this is probably one of the most inspiring passages I know about writing, from “The Nine Tailors” by Dorothy L Sayers:

    ‘H’m!’ said Wimsey. ‘If that’s the way your mind works, you’ll be a writer one day.’

    ‘Do you think so? How funny! That’s what I want to be. But why?’

    ‘Because you have a creative imagination, which works outwards, till finally you will be able to stand outside your own experience and see it as something you have made, existing independently of yourself. You’re lucky.’

    ‘Do you really think so?’ Hilary looked excited.

    ‘Yes – but your luck will come more at the end of life than at the beginning, because the other sort of people won’t understand the way your mind works. They will start by thinking you dreamy and romantic, and then they’ll be suprised to discover that you are really hard and heartless. They’ll be quite wrong both times – but they won’t ever know it, and you won’t know it at first, and it will worry you.’

    ‘But that’s just what the girls say at school. How did you know?… Though they’re all idiots – mostly that is.’

    ‘Most people are,’ said Wimsey, gravely, ‘but it isn’t kind to tell them so. I expect you do tell them so. Have a heart; they can’t help it…’

  22. Hi LW,
    sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. But instead of thinking ‘I have 99 problems’ please look at that list again. You probably only have two or three problems – but they’re big, life-eating problems, and they cause a whole lot of trouble. So rather than be overwhelmed by everything, spend a week or two just listing them and grouping them and working out a) what needs adressing most urgently, b) how to address it (working harder is not the answer. If you’ve given your all and weren’t successful, you need to try something else), and c) which areas of your life can do with an upgrade and how to achieve _those_.

    Money is a big issue. (I’m a freelancer, building a business and temping whenever the opportunity comes. I know a lot about major money worries). Money worries can be addressed in two ways: spending less and earning more. On the other side are necessary expenses. And part of the necessary expenses are investments in your life: making sure that you eat well, sleep well, have the means to get to work on time, and look after your mental health.
    Over all of the problems with your jobhunt, don’t forget to look at smaller things that can make your life more awesome. Quite often very cheap stuff is also nasty and doesn’t last long, and it’s a constant reminder that you don’t have money. So if you can ditch the cheap saver dishwashing liquid or hand soap for the good stuff, or buy one nice shirt instead of three nasty ones, you’ll improve your life and mood without making a major dent in your budget. Then look at all the aspects of your job search – get professional help with CV writing and which jobs you should apply for; know how much you need to earn in order to put a little aside and make a dent in your debts, consider applying to jobs further away and investigate what the (income – expenses) calculation will be there. Can you freelance? Is there a viable temping market where you live that would get you through difficult times? Can you build a microbusiness selling crafts or services to give you a little extra money? Brainstorm with friends, particularly jobhunting or formerly jobhunting friends.

    It’s a long hard road ahead, but you can do it.

    I’ve had dreams of being a professional novelist all my life

    You and thousands of others. At this point in time, I know three or four full time novelists. Given that I’m a writer, am active in fandom, and work as a freelance editor, and through all these things hang out with writers a lot, that should give you pause for thought. The part-time novelists include some big names, including people who ten or fifteen years ago made a decent full-time income as writers, but the publishing industry has changed to a degree that what it takes today to be a full-time novelist is six or seven successful novels under your belt, and then there’s no guarantee that you’ll stay able to make a living at it. So don’t give up the day job any time soon or, quite possibly, ever.
    If you want to write novels, though, then WRITE. The worst that can happen is that you can inconvenience some electrons – you don’t have to spend money, and you have nothing to lose by writing something you’ll never show the world because you dislike it. If at any time you discover that you’d rather write non-fiction or be a journalist or write short stories or poetry or fanfic… you’ll have discovered that, and learnt things to boot. If not, and you’re bitten by the bug, you’ll have written something and take it from there. For brilliant, down-to-earth writing advice I recommend http://pcwrede.com/blog/ – it’ll have plenty of stuff to get your started. (Absolute Write has been mentioned, and you can do worse than check out your local Nanowrimo group for meeting fellow novelists.)

    Best of luck!

    • Definitely nanowrimo. It’s a pretty awesome tool for getting to just putting words on screen, and a lot of the time people find amazing plots happening after they struggle through.

      It’s a challenge, though. I have made the word count but I’ve never really sketched a whole story in 50K.

      SOMEDAY.

      It’s hard not to compare myself with someone I know who did a three-day writing thing and turned her book into a published novel that I thought was great. (Terroryaki! by Jen Chung. Here on Amazon.)

  23. On the subject of writing: another thing you can do to work on your writing is to read about writing. There are zillions of books about dialogue, plot, character development, etc. etc.

    I had never taken a creative writing class, or written so much as a short story when I quit my job to write a book. Those writing books were hugely helpful! I now HAVE written a book, and folks who’ve read the manuscript at least SAY it’s really good… I’m now working on revising it, and trying to get it published — while also looking for a day job, because I’ve got some college tuitions to pay for, and I’m pretty sure I’m not actually the next J.K. Rowling in terms of anticipated income stream! But I definitely intend to keep writing…

  24. Don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration is overrated. Set time aside and write then, even if you hate it and think it’s absolute crap. You can always go back and edit.

  25. The Captain’s overall advice is excellent, as usual, and there’s a ton of helpful thoughts about the writing aspect and focusing the job hunt in the comments as well. I’m gonna go on a slightly different path and focus on the suggestion to volunteer.

    Volunteering is often suggested as a way to get out of the house in a bad circumstance or a way to give one’s life more purpose, and it’s definitely great for those things. But volunteering can also help open paths to new career/life pursuit avenues, or reinforce existing professional skills in a way that helps with a job hunt, particularly if you pursue volunteer opps in realms you’re already interested in.

    In my younger days, I did a lot of volunteering that was fandom-related (conventions and such), and while that might seem frivolous on the surface, it was really useful in building up skills I already had and demonstrating that I knew how to use them; it was also helpful in showing me what I COULDN’T do (and wouldn’t put up with) in a circumstance where I could walk away without a significant career or monetary penalty. The experience I got in that volunteering was a big help in several job situations, and is still informing what I pursue in job-hunting now. A few years ago, when I was really stuck in a life-rut, I took a leap into a realm I’d never worked in but strongly cared about (wildlife conservation and education), and it literally changed my life, in that it gave me purpose and focus again but also showed there were things I could do in that area that I’m really good at and that could eventually become a job for me. This realm also gave me a lifeline when circumstances changed drastically and I ended up cut off from most of what I’d had previously (and was basically forced to give up the career I’d had for two decades). Now I’m not only doing this volunteer thing I enjoy, but I’m helping with reorganizing the facility and working on creating new education opportunities and research support, applying the skills I already have in new ways, and the contacts I’ve made (partly through writing-related pursuits) have led to people wanting me to attend a conference where I’ll gain more knowledge and contacts in the field. It’s not a new career–yet–but I’m on the path to it, and there’s a lot of fulfillment in the meantime.

    TL, DR: volunteering isn’t only a way to pass the time–it can genuinely help with making your way to a goal.

    LW, I understand what it feels like when you’re not sure how to climb out of a hole. The advice here can really help, and I hope you soon find yourself standing aboveground and enjoying the opportunities available to you.

    • A friend of mine is using her con-running superpowers in her high powered administrative job. ‘And what do you do for fun’ ‘organising events for several thousand people’ (or ‘administering a budget of x’ or ‘managing a team of five people’ or ‘running a small highstreet shop’ or…) isn’t a bad thing to put on a CV.

      Also, quite often interviewers want to know that you have experience doing stuff (whether privately, in a job, freelancing, or volunteering), and you’ll be able to support your awesomeness with concrete examples of ‘in this role, I have done that’ rather than just sitting there eager going ‘I know I can do this, really, give me a chance.’

  26. Man, LW, I completely feel you – I feel like this letter describes my situation pretty perfectly.
    I graduated with an MA in the humanities, little idea of what I wanted to do, and ended up spending two years in a decently-paying but mind-numbing job. Given that I had graduated in the depths of the recession, I was constantly being reminded that I was lucky to have a job, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Unfortunately, my jerkbrain had gotten really good at making me feel like I was going to be a sad admin assistant for the rest of my life, and eventually that mutated into full-blown depression, which made everything exponentially harder.
    The other commenters have given great advice and I don’t want to be repetitive, but I will say that while the job thing may seem insurmountable (and I wanted to punch everyone who told me to “just find another job!” as though they were pennies on the street, and the job-searching process is time-consuming and soul-crushing anyway), there are other things you can do.
    One thing that really helped me was finding some volunteer work. It gave me a reason to get out of the house and go interact with people, gave me something to beef up my resume with, and since it was something I was enthusiastic about, I didn’t have to fake it when it came up in interviews. Since you are interested in writing, you could volunteer to help an organization with its newsletter or web content, which gives you something to put in your portfolio.
    Trust me, I know how hard it is once the inertia and the depression sets in, and it feels like rolling a stone uphill and just getting through the bare minimum every day is a challenge. It’s a delicate and hard balance to find between letting yourself make mistakes and being good to yourself, and making yourself do the work that is hard and scary.
    Good luck!

  27. In all of this, (which most everyone has covered better than I would anyway), what actually struck me and made me laugh is that Kafka’s life was, in fact, Kafka-esque. PERFECT.

    • Kafka’s day job was miserable but inspired many of the themes in his work, that particular brand of depression-cum-bureaucracy which is synonymous with his name, and I doubt he would have written such genius without it. His museum in Prague is a wonderfully creepy art installation that embodies the emotions in his work, and the section about his civil service job gave me nightmares (in a good way!). Apparently he was responsible for writing technical documents, including a manual about worker’s comp that detailed how much compensation employees could receive for losing limbs and fingers. There were all sorts of sanitized bureaucratic diagrams of hands missing fingers, and he wrote sanitized bureaucratic language about how a ring finger was worth more than a pinky, and recorded the bizarrely convoluted process of applying for compensation. Which just goes to show that any unhappy experience can fuel great art, even if that experience is tedious and boring.

  28. LW, I feel you on so many levels here. I’m currently procrastinating on writing myself, even though I have had time (unwillingly unemployed). Battling depression throughout the years hasn’t helped and I’m my own worse critic.

    But I have made progress. Even though I’m writing fanfiction for an obscure RPG with original characters that barely gets any hits on FF.net, at least it’s giving me practice. When struggling with writer’s block, I got involved in a comedy troupe and submitted sketches for it that got good reception — and were actually staged. I haven’t lowered my expectations and standards, just changed my perception a bit so I’m not constantly beating myself up. That I have actually done Stuff.

    I also second checking out the Absolute Write forums. They’ve been very enlightening.

  29. DO NOT do your writing on your work computer! If you write the next Harry Potter on your work computer, your employer will have very good legal claim to say that it’s their intellectual property, not yours, just like the TPS reports you write for work are their IP. It’s important to be careful about these things. As a software developer I have to be careful that any personal projects do not go anywhere near the corporate computer or corporate network.

    • Very good point here. Heck, back in my temping days, one of the things I did when I dealt with long commutes on public transit was to have a small notebook with me so I could attempt to get some writing done, even if it was in longhand. Then I could look forward to transcribing my stuff on my computer back at home.

    • Watch out for work contracts that claim all your creative output during the term of employment belong to them, too, regardless of whose computer it’s on. The company that tried to pull that one on me was a bad place to work in other ways, but it would’ve been a worse one if I hadn’t nixed that bit from the start.

  30. Also, re: the whole volunteering thing, a lot of arts and culture centers are run on volunteer labor, so it may be worthwhile to volunteer for a shift or two per week at a museum welcome desk or something of that ilk, if you are (like me) one of those people who likes to be in a creative environment/around creative people.

  31. You’ve got lots of great advice about the writing side of things, so I won’t go into it. But I was in a similar boat as you last year–sucky commute, job that was stressful and I needed to get out of, feeling like I was going to lose it or go into deep depression if something didn’t change soon. And then, on almost complete chance, a friend mentioned that her employer had a job notice up in the same town I lived in, a job that I was a great fit for. I got it, and my life has turned a 180.

    What I’m saying is, you don’t have to be totally on your own in this. Other people can help you get jobs (they’re not obligated to, of course, but usually friends/family will help when they can). Nearly every job I’ve ever gotten was because I A) knew someone who worked there or B) knew someone who had worked there previously. Not every job, mind you, but most of them, and none of those people were even involved in the hiring process. It just helped to mention that I knew so-and-so (provided so-and-so was a good employee) as a way to get my foot in the door, or even if I didn’t mention it, so-and-so had told me about a job I wouldn’t otherwise have known about. So be sure you’re talking to friends/family about your job search, because they might hear about something you’d be great at.

    The points about focusing your job search are also something to take into account. As the Captain suggested, take advantage of whatever job training opportunities you can get while you’re still there. But have you tried looking at other universities? Also, you mentioned giving up freelance work in favor of your current job–is there any chance you could pick some of that back up, even if it’s just one thing every so often, so that you feel back in the game?

    Also, don’t beat yourself up about looking for a year and not getting hired. My brother looked for 3 years before he got a job last year, and that was extremely rough for him (he was living with my mom the whole time, and dude, that was not the healthiest thing for his mental health even if it was better for his finances). He kept watching his friends getting married and having kids and careers, and it sucked. But even though it felt like he was going to be stuck there forever, things picked up for him. You might feel like you’re trapped, but you will make it out. Something will turn up eventually. Until it does, work on doing things to make you happier in the now, because that will help your job search, and it will continue to help you even after that.

  32. The suggestion to set an achievable writing goal is a fantastic one. Here’s another example of how that might look in practice: Elephantine is a “lifestyle-ish” blog with photography and recipes and the occasional fashion post, but the author posts a very short piece of her original fiction writing every Friday:

    http://www.elephantineblog.com/

  33. A great book that takes a different approach to writing is Lynda Barry’s “What It Is”. The book is part comic/part collage that explains her relationship to books, storytelling and writing. She has short exercises where you do things like set a timer and write about a topic for 5 minutes, focussing on your impressions like “Where were you ?” “What does it smell like ?”. She encourages readers to write everything down by hand, which she feels becomes more of the physical experience of writing (and there is no delete button). I found this book to be really inspiring, in that it sweeps aside all the conventions in favour of a start now and do something approach. She also has a book about drawing called “the Near Sighted Monkey” that takes an identical approach, which is basically to tell your critical, fretting brain to STFU so that you can start trying to make/do something, as well as forgiving yourself the attempts that just didn’t work – they are all part of the process.

    • I need these books.

      • They are totally worth owning. Her novel “Cruddy” is a very dark tale. All of her comics have goofy joy and fun, but are also underpinned by tales of trauma, dysfunctional parenting, being an outsider, etc. All of her books are worth reading, as far as I’m concerned. She even made a great coloring book for adults called “Naked Ladies ! Naked Ladies !” in the 1980′s which subverts many porn/pin-up standards. Out of Print but totally worth it if you can find a copy. She also has a blog(google Near Sighted Monkey), where she posts all kinds of stuff, including work for and from her classes on writing and drawing – which were like no classes I ever took at art school ! She is way out, man, but also so right on ! Her approach to just letting go of all the reasons that are the barricades/obstructions to drawing/writing are revolutionary, as far as I am concerned, but really fun, too.

    • more of the physical experience of writing

      I never wanted to write until I had my first computer; then it just took off.

      For me, writing my hand is laborious: I need to concentrate on the act of moving the pen, and keeping things legibile, and I end up writing the shortest way possible – I don’t, unless absolutely necessary, cross out and write better.

      When I type, on the other hand, thoughts flow from brain to page with no effort – I can dive into the story, I can, if necessary, close my eyes or stare out of the window and look at a map that I’m describing in that moment, and the words will still come out and most of them will be reasonably correct, even though I need to do a pass afterwards.

      Since I got my iPhone I very gladly got rid of paper notebooks and pens (pens which, despite my best efforts, would wear holes into my pockets eventually). Now transferring the product of a mobile writing session (in the supermarket queue, at the bus stop, wherever) is a matter of emailing it to myself and quickly pasting it in the desired format; the whole hassle of typing it up and polishing it has just been taken out of the process. So. Much. Win.

      • I enjoy the mechanics of writing by hand, but it limits how much I can write because I’ve usually covered less than half a page before my hand REALLY REALLY HURTS. I’m also a little weird about crossings out and messy bits, and have a tendency to make a mistake, and want to start over on a fresh page so it looks all nice and not-scribbled.

        It’s so much easier to type – when words are flowing well I can churn them out as fast as I think them, and not feel like I need to stop before they run out because of pain.

      • My first story that I got into writing–like really, really into writing, I wound up doing by hand at age thirteen. My mom had to practically drag me to the computer to put it down, mainly because I’d already gotten used to spending nights after dinner doing nothing but writing everything in my little notebook listening to the radio.

        Of course now, I’d rather type, but only because as an adult I’m really not in love with the way my handwriting looks.

    • I taught a class using “What It Is.” It was a lot of fun doing the exercises. Also, if you ever get a chance to see Lynda Barry in person, take that chance. She’s the most inspiring speaker I’ve ever seen, also hilarious.

  34. LW? Hello? Me-last-year from another, ever-so-slightly different dimension?

    Let me tell you a story, LW. This time last year I was miserable. Miserable. I was working the dead-endest of dead-end jobs where every moment I was there felt like hours, I felt like all of my energy and time were being drained away just to pay the damn bills and get up for another round of it. My living situation hadn’t worked out the way I’d planned and the lovely roomie I thought I’d ended up with spent almost every single day and night at her partner’s place- seriously, I saw her about once a fortnight. I wanted to write but work drained all my energy, my looooong commute took anything that was left and all I could do at the end of the day was flop down on the sofa and sleep. I was terrified of ending up spending my life like that. And I was terrified of what would happen if I didn’t have a steady paycheck- no matter how small- to keep myself going.

    It. Sucked. I was desperately unhappy. I didn’t know how the hell I was going to get out of it. I applied for a bunch of jobs and every single rejection letter I got tore at me. Eventually I ended up doing a TEFL course to try and get myself anything, and the stress of that and my first ever teaching job sent me into a full-blown spiral of anxiety and depression that by August had plonked me out of work and unable to afford the rent anymore.

    Let’s say that I’ve had better days. And that most of the better days I’ve had have happened since then.

    So there I was, unemployed, with a few weeks to go before my lease on the flat was up and no way of renewing it and a massive case of anxiety. That’s the kind of space that’s supposed to be Rock Bottom, isn’t it? Right?

    It wasn’t. It was kinda the opposite. You see, rock bottom was what happened before that. Turns out that couchsurfing and staying with friends for a little while isn’t so bad. That a friend had a spare room she was able to loan me for a few months. That living on the dole sucks but is really pretty-much okay if you don’t have major expenses or dependants. And if you’re gonna be a writer, there’s nothing like being broke and having to drag your ass out of bed every morning to get typin’ away to prepare you. I’ve spent this last six month working my ass off at writing (yay, my blog! yay, other blogs I write for! yay, getting to know loads of people who do this and some who actually make money by writing words on screens!), working my ass off at therapy, getting involved in activism that I’m passionate about, discovering some new hobbies and figuring out tons about What Happens Next. I’m not scared anymore.

    I’m not saying, by the way, that you should quit your job and spend the next six months typing your heart out while you work out what on earth you’re going to do next as your 30th birthday looms. I’m saying, though, that these situations can feel so damn scary and unescapable, but sometimes it’s the thing that you’re most scared of- in my case, being out of work- that you gotta go for. When you’re in a rut and feel like there’s no way out, maybe you can’t see the ways out that are really there?

    Good luck!

    • So much this. Instead of in the lovely-with-a-garden cottage I was renting (no central heating, landlord dragging out essential repairs – like the stovetop – for months on end) I am now in a suburban street in a friend’s back room, and we get on exceedingly well and I’m having a blast and I can concentrate on the future instead of swimming to keep my head above water (and occasionally failing).

      I am ever so glad you’ve found something that works for you, and hope your positive trend continues – sounds as if you can now pour your energy into things you like and that move you forward!

      • Isn’t it funny how things work out? I always had the “must be financially independent or I am Useless” script in my head, which worked fine until I ended up in Dead End Job That Made Me Incredibly Unhappy. Replacing that script with “it is doing useful things, not getting paid for them, that makes me Useful” was the best thing that this year could have done.

        • That’s what I need to learn. The “get a real job you slacker!” mentality from my family and friends is a hard one to break.

  35. Wow, this letter really resonates with me. Trade “parents” for “crappy roommates” and I could have written this myself. I have not applied to tons of other jobs, mostly because I’m having trouble finding ones for which I would be comfortable leaving the security and benefits of my university job!

    My brain also has entered the painful loop of “I don’t like my life –> I need a new one –> these are the things that I need to have a new one –> OMG those are impossible things–> this is my life forever –> I don’t like my life.”

    The thing I’m trying to remember is that I’ve felt like this before and things HAVE changed and pretty much nothing is forever.

    I heartily second, third, whatever, the volunteering advice. It’s a win-win. Volunteering is good for a depressed soul, and you can find something that will help you demonstrate skills on your resume. I would go further in that if you feel there are certain qualifications that would make you an IDEAL candidate for a job you’d really like, go out and learn that skill, and then specifically seek out a volunteering opportunity in which you would use that new skill. When you build your skills and experience in this way, it really shines on a resume and gives you something noteworthy to talk about in your interview. And in the meantime, you have something concrete to focus on that is leading you to your own goals.

    • Volunteering is good for a depressed soul

      With one caveat. When I found myself out of work in the UK and without references, I tried to volunteer. Most of the charities were asking you to fill out applications that were every bit as detailed and intrusive as job applications… and I got turned down a lot. And if there’s anything more soul-destroying than being turned down for jobs where the employer has to pay you, it’s being turned away when you say ‘here I am, I’ve got experience, I want to give you my time for free’ and they don’t even want you under *those* conditions. After about six months and 20+ applications, I gave up attempting to find a volunteer position and concentrated on paying jobs – the effort was the same, but success in a job application would give me everything a volunteer position would give me *and* money on top. I also got much nicer rejections from jobs than I did from charities. When you can choose between ‘despite your impressive credentials we regret to inform you that we cannot employ you at this time’ and no response whatsoever (or a brief ‘you do not match our profile’) then charities might not be the way for you.

      Volunteering work, if you can get it, is great. When you have to hunt it and spend more time looking for an opportunity than you do actually volunteering, this might not be the best way forward.

      • One more UK caveat. If you’re unemployed, there might be a limit on how many hours you’re allowed to volunteer. I was told that any work – whether it’s the odd one-night temping job, odd jobs sold freelance or volunteering – had to be declared and there was an upper limit on 16 hours per week. More than that and you lose your benefits.

        So if you do decide to go down the freelance writing thing like I have been, you might need to either limit the number of writing gigs you take on, or only volunteer a very small number of hours to make sure you don’t accidentally go over.

        Which pisses me off when the work-for-benefits work programme allows companies to have you for full time, for free (for them – the govt still pays you) so multimillion £ businesses get free labour for unlimited hours, but charities asking for volunteers don’t. But that’s another point entirely.

  36. I don’t want to rain on the parade, especially as the Captain’s underlying point is proved by the other examples, but Rowling’s really not the great example folks put her forward as, her story having a few complications that are generally left out in the retelling. More, for those interested, in brief summary at: http://www.cracked.com/article_16989_6-inspiring-rags-to-riches-stories-that-are-bullshit_p2.html

    • That Cracked piece is… misleading, if not outright false. Rowling worked at some entry-level jobs in England and then taught English as a Foreign Language in Portugal. She didn’t “leave her job” when she had a kid — she fled an abusive husband (who has publicly admitted that he hit her) and moved to Scotland to be near her sister. Her two years on welfare was in no way a “business plan,” she wasn’t qualified to teach in Scotland so she couldn’t just find a new job teaching there. And at that point she was clinically depressed and contemplating suicide, raising an infant by herself, and at one point had to obtain a restraining order because her husband had come over to Scotland to try to track her and their child down. She spent something like 1-2 years after that move finishing the first Harry Potter book, and then enrolled in a full-time course to become qualified to teach. And I don’t know why the fact she received a grant specifically aimed to help writers write (which Cracked calls “generous” though it was £8000, nothing to sneeze at but not exactly enough for her to be living big) is “unprecedented” — the Scottish Arts Council gives out grants to writers every year — or somehow diminishes how difficult her life was at that point or how inspirational her success is.

      Apologies for getting off-topic, Captain, but I just saw red reading that article. The idea that Rowling manipulated the system to get a “book advance courtesy of UK citizens” is just so offensive and shows a complete lack of understanding for the situation of a woman fleeing an abusive marriage and trying to raise a child alone while battling depression and without a marketable employment history.

      • Also, not only did the taxpayer’s investment pay off – she paid many times the amount back in taxes – she’s also chosen to stay in the UK, pay UK taxes, and has been an advocate for giving other people the chance to survive on benefits when they really need it. Whatever one thinks of her writing skills, that’s awesome.

        • Would like to add that I love that she absolutely pays it forward through paying her taxes properly and contributing generously to various organisations, and that it is disgusting how people are suggesting she played the system.

    • Maybe the J.K.Rowling “myth” is very different in the US, then? Here in the UK, she’s always completely clear that she was a middle-class graduate but needed benefits for that part of her life, and that having assistance then was what helped her be successful in the future. There’s a lot of stigma attached to going on benefits here, so she’s always absolutely clear that she had a degree and had worked before but that she needed help at the time and that help should be available for those who need it.

      Even if you discount the amount she personally has given to charity and the amount she pays in tax, the amount of money the Harry Potter brand has brought to the UK is massive. I mean, if taking £30k in benefits over two years and then bringing the exchequer literally millions is a bad thing, then let’s have more of that kind of badness.

  37. Hello everyone! Letter Writer here. Thank you very much for all of your replies and suggestions. A lot of the options suggested are actually ones I’m already doing (or have done). I do currently write for a few different stationery-themed blogs,, I’m co-editor of a magazine that my friend started, I was the ML for my NaNoWriMo region this year (Co-Editor was the previous ML which is how we met), etc. None of them are paid gigs, which is only a problem when my JerkBrain is all, “Why are you wasting your time on unpaid writing jobs, you no-good hack?!”
    With the job hunt: I have been tailoring my hunt to jobs that are pretty similar to my current role–they’re just in different departments around campus. At this point, I’m looking for jobs closer to home (or at least easier to get to even if they’re still in the city), with not-toxic coworkers.
    I am taking graduate classes part-time via my job. I’m a little more than halfway through my program, for a Humanities degree (my BA is Communications). Currently, I’m finding it hard to see the point to it though. I’ve been through my job’s EAP several times over the years, and non-EAP therapy too, for different issues relating to anxiety and depression. I know I need to get back into proper therapy.
    The big problem with the commute is, it’s just becoming such a pain. Drive to train station, take train to transportation hub in city, then take bus, subway, or walk to actual office. Do it in reverse to go home. But the various components don’t “mesh” well– their schedules don’t really line up. A bus or train that’s five minutes late, or an extra-long traffic light could mean another half hour or hour before I actually get to my destination.
    Sorry, I know I’m whining. Again, I really do appreciate everyone’s advice and concern. It means a lot. I’ve been reading Captain Awkward for several months and the community here is so supportive and knowledgeable.
    Shoot, there goes my train of thought. That’s what I get for typing while my dad watches Total Recall in the background.

    • Sorry, I know I’m whining.

      Yeah, but those things suck. And talking about them is better than not talking about them, unless you get stuck in an endless complaint cycle (doesn’t sound as if you do).

      could mean another half hour or hour before I actually get to my destination

      When that’s the way to work, that sucks, but here’s the thing that worked for me:

      I’ve got an iPhone which I love. (Any smartphone or tablet with a decent wordprocessing function will do). If you catch all connections, you reach your destination early: win.
      If you miss a connection, you get half an hour _where you have nothing else to do but write_: win. The universe is delivering writing time to you: how awesome is that? Sit down with a coffee or a thermos, and write. Instead of having to listen to a TV show you dislike, you get uninterrupted time, just you and your novel.

    • Wow, well done :) You’re doing lots of awesome stuff!

      If it isn’t there already, remember that MLing looks good on your CV. I ML for a small, laid-back region where all we do is weekly meet-ups, a kick-off meeting and a lunchtime meal out to mark the end of November madness, but here is how that looks on my CV:

      Organising weekly meet-ups for participants and ensuring an all-ages-appropriate space (PS – my region has a few teens so this is actually important!)
      Welcoming all meeting attendees, spending time forming relationships and encouraging repeat participation
      Maintaining an active social media presence to advise and encourage participants online
      Coordinating group meet-ups to celebrate the start and end of the programme
      Liaising with Co-ML
      Identifying possible future volunteers to ensure continuity of the community

      I put it under the Interests section on my CV (common where I live, maybe not so much elsewhere) because all of my hobbies are solitary (writing baking, knitting) but I’m actually outgoing and love people and love teamwork, so to demonstrate that I play up my MLing experience. Although I call myself a Local Representative or Local Volunteer because it’s a more common term than ‘municipal liaison.’

      Sorry if this is derail-y – thought it might help the LW to play up her awesome experience. LW, I bet your editing experience can be made to look even more kick-ass than MLing can.

    • OhmyFSM, Gracie, you are brilliant. Like, properly brilliant. You’re working a job that does your head in and has an awful, frustrating commute, and still finding time to co-edit a magazine, write for a bunch of blogs, work on a graduate program, organise community AwesomeThings and slog away at applying for new jobs. Your JerkBrain may be telling you that you’re in a useless pile of uselessness, but from the sofa where I’m sitting, you’re pretty much the exact opposite.

      Some things that helped me in dealing with my own similar JerkBrain:

      *Unpaid ≠ useless.
      Especially these days, but also always. The Venn diagram of the things that are worthwhile, useful and valuable, and the things that you can get paid for? That’s two intersecting circles and one is way bigger than the other. Tons of the most valuable things we do aren’t things we get money for. Sometimes the things we do for money seem like the least worthwhile parts of our day. And these days loads of the really interesting, worthwhile things are done by people and groups who are seriously short of cash. It sucks, but it doesn’t mean that you’re useless. It just means we live in a cobbled-together economic system that’s not working too well at the moment.

      *Doing It All can be exhausting. It’s okay to need to whine and vent every so often. Seriously! Your JerkBrain is telling you you’re being a big whiny-poo for doing all of the things you do in a situation that’s giving you none of the rewards it promised you and is throwing up all sorts of obstacles you can’t control in your way (“Oh sorry, the bus left just before the train arrived today. SUCKS TO BE YOU LOL,” says the world). You get to vent! You get to whine! You get to feel like it’s not fair! You get to have days when you feel like there’s no way you can keep slogging on and on and on at this! Those feelings are completely normal in a situation like this, because there’s aspects to your situation that legit suck. And I’ll bet when you were a kid, nobody told you that you’d be facing down 30, stuck in a dead-end job and living with your folks, eh? But that’s how things are for a lot of us. And that sucks, and doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

      • that sucks, and doesn’t mean you’ve failed

        Thank you. If people say it often enough, I might believe it.

        (Had a phone interview this morning. In which I… babbled a lot. Brain weasels tell me that it sucked a lot. Interviewer told me that responsible manager (in US) is likely to pick by CV, and that they have three candidates with similar CVs/experience – hey, my CV did not stand out as being totally sucky. How cool is that?) so not getting it won’t mean that I’ve failed, but,.. yea. Feels like it.

        Just heard back from recruiter. Didn’t get the job, but feedback was he thought you came over really well.
        Gap between perception and reality: I haz it.)

        • Mostly Lurking, that’s still awesome! High five! I know what you mean about that gap between perception and reality. It sucks.

          • HIgh Five back atcha! And given how many things you are doing, there’s no-one who can accuse you of just sitting on your backside doing nothing to improve your life. Not even your very own brainweasels.

      • And props to the Doctor Who clip :-) I just finished rewatching the whole series, from Nine up to the latest Eleven Christmas special. Maybe I need to adopt Tennant’s Ten (hee hee) as my personal cheerleader.

    • Dude! You’re not “wanting to be a writer”, you ARE a writer! And you’re doing loads of excellent stuff.

      Remember when Jerkbrain tells you off for not getting paid for your writing… all the stuff you’re currently doing goes on your CV and in your portfolio. It all provides evidence, should you apply for any paid writing jobs, that you can write well, consistently and to schedule. It’s

    • Wow, Gracie, you’re doing a lot of stuff that is moving you forward, even if your jerkbrain is telling you you’re stuck.

      I feel like you! I also don’t like my job, my commute sucks, and I am way indecisive about what I want to do but writing is one of the (scary) possibilities I keep thinking about.

      I just wanted to talk about the commute specifically. I hear you so much about the multi-stage commute: I had one for years where if I missed my connection it made me half an hour late or more, and it could really get me down and swear-y. I haven’t yet gotten a smartphone, so these are my commuting mainstays:
      - Writing in a notebook and my journal
      - Reading
      - Audiobooks or podcasts for modes of transportation where reading and/or writing aren’t going to work
      - Calling or texting people I care about

      I really like Mostly Lurking’s way of saying that if you miss a connection, “the universe is delivering writing time to you.” When all else fails, I get upset about being late and it sucks. But I’m trying to change the way I see my commute: a commute isn’t a gap in my life when nothing happens, it is part of my life, and things that are important to my life (like reading, writing, encountering new ideas, pondering, noticing beauty, being considerate to people) can happen during my commute if I want them to.

  38. Shoot, I also meant to say, thank you too, for the suggestions about places like Duotrope, content mills, etc. I was flailing when trying to seek out paid freelance writing opportunities on my own– where to even start, which ones are legit, etc. So thank you as well for those suggestions!
    Basically, thank you everyone for your stories and kind words :-)

  39. I haven’t seen this addressed in the comments so far (but then, I’ve yet to hit refresh), so for what it’s worth:

    The advice above to focus your job search and to have an idea of what you’re looking for / where you fit best is excellent for your job AND for your writing. As someone who works in publishing (not in trade, but many friends are, and I’ve seen the same basic principles apply in my division), I can tell you that publishers can tell when one has submitted a manuscript proposal because the text fits well with their outlook and backlist, and when one is submitting manuscripts to every press possible out of sheer desperation to be published.

    Don’t give up hope, and don’t stop trying! A friend recently had a book signed and got an advance for a second, which came after years of shopping their manuscripts around before even finding a publisher, which came after needing to apply to multiple writing degrees before finding one that would accept them based on their portfolio. Not all stories will end that way, of course, but once you’ve achieved your dream of writing something, don’t let a rejection letter or two (or ten) tear down the dream of being a published author.

  40. Writers write. I was once stuck in a job and in debt, getting even second interviews and still failing. Turns out I was carrying pheramones from my current job into the room. They could tell I was desperate. To prove it was my “smell” and to save you the trouble, I was left no choice but to save up 3 mths salary and quit. All my following interviews were strong. I was free of the shadow of the hell I had left and could answer with confidence the question as to why I quit my last job, (rather than it be a current problem) “Cause I wanna work in a place like this and so Ive taken the time to find the right place”
    So try and cultivate some air of”control” that shows you are acting in order to soar, not to just crawl out of a swamp.
    As for writing, all great advice above. We all deserve perfect self expression, and this art form can be some of the most rewarding, regardless of range in being published. What’s more, is that omce you have a body of work, you will forever have ‘a place to return to’ that field of perfect self expression that represents Team You more than many other reminders, specially during periods working ”straigjt” jobs.
    Don’t be afraid of feedback, and feel free to ignore it. Sometimes it’s the editor who magically figures out where your story really starts (page 57!) So learn to not be too attached to material that gets cut or sent down. and enjoy the process. LW , you’re in the quite typical position all writers find themselves in at some point along the way.

  41. Speaking of wanting to be a professional creative type – I could never be a writer, but I would like to be a photographer. Actually, I’d really like to be a travel photographer, but that often means being a travel writer too so double whammy. Yeah, jerkbrain here working hard to stop that happening.

    Anyway, I have only been reading here a short time, but this is truly one of the best communities existing anywhere. I’d like to start a flickr group for the Awkward army if there is any interest, and if the Captain is ok with it. It’d involve encouragement, critiques (if wanted), advice, challenges, themes etc.

    • If you’re looking to do advice, challenges, etc., and making a bit of money, you might consider RedBubble? It’s a print-on-demand site like Cafepress/Zazzle, but the quality seems to be higher, it’s focused on *artists*, and they have good community/groups infrastructure with builtin tools for challenges and stuff.

    • Very cool! I love photography, too, and don’t do enough of it.

    • Flickr group sounds great – count me in!

    • Oh, yes to a Flickr group! I’ve fallen into shooting only a certain type of thing (concerts) and want to push myself in other areas.

  42. Another writing-for-money path is technical writing. It helps to have a technical background of some, of course, but you can get full time benefited jobs that pay pretty well at companies that do not suck. Some of that freelance work can get you into full-time techwriting, depending on the kind of work you do; you might be able to change your degree into something more targeted as well, something that ends up with a piece of paper that makes you look qualified to do an actual job.

    Technical editing is a variant on editing, similar to how technical writing is a variant on writing, although there are fewer jobs (but considerably less competition, at least at “has real editing experience” levels). Technical editing is probably transferable to academic editing and vice versa; it’s different from fiction editing, and from copyediting, and these are all writing-related jobs.

    Another way to shift the degree might be library science, although depending where you are the jobs you get may not be very good. Reference librarians do just fine, i think, if they can manage to find an actual reference librarian position; I know at least one who converted the degree into techwriting. It’s all words, you know?

    Where I am, the market is looking for people who can write grants. That’s a specialized skill, but one you might be in a position to learn, since you work at a university… where people need grants. Do you have any friends among the more academic positions who need help? You can start by just asking to read and maybe give comments, and then kind of worm your way into some grant-related responsibility. Even if it’s unofficial.

    One of the paths into techwriting that I’ve seen is someone with a different job title starts documenting things that need it. Usually internal docs, like processes and such, and occasionally customer documentation if appropriate. It probably won’t work very well in a university that certainly already has lots of people documenting processes, but maybe at your next job, you can do something like that, and kind of add writing to your job description. If you do it well and cheerfully, you can end up being the Repository for Information, which makes you important. It can backfire since companies often think documenting things is trivial, so do it all yesterday what’s the problem, but you can still turn that situation into a formal junior techwriter gig elsewhere.

    I have a problem where I feel like my writing drive is eaten by my work nonfiction and so I don’t write fiction, but probably it’s just more true that I like reading blogs and playing skyrim more than I like being disciplined about cranking out words.

  43. ” I have 99 problems”

    But a b*tch ain’t one.

    Sorry, it’s been stuck in my head ever since I first read the post.

  44. This is a great post. It has a balance of realism (working with what you have now) and encouragement (taking small steps to do what it is you want to do). Thanks for this advice! Granted, it wasn’t written for me, but I can relate.

  45. This letter was eerie because it sounded exactly like me until the writing part. I don’t have any advice, but I DEFINITELY feel your frustration and wish you the best of luck, LW.

  46. “I just feel like I squandered those freelance opportunities to stay with my current employer, because it was a full-time, steady paycheck, health benefits, etc.”

    Oof. I hear that one hard, LW. In the past year, I buggered up and squandered two great opportunities (and one would’ve had me working with a writer I’m a big fan of) for the exact same reason (fulltime “real job” took all my energy, but I’m too chicken to quit) (well, plus a tiny dose of social anxiety that had me freaking out over every email sent). That’s a hard feeling to come back from, and it makes getting back into the game feel awkward as hell. I mean, is there a way to go back up to those people that were interested in working with you months later, or do you just look like a flake who dropped the ball?

    Sorry, that’s less than helpful, but if anyone’s got suggestions…

    But if you’re a writer, write. I’m making that change these days. I may have to say goodbye to those lost opportunities and networkings forever (I hope not; my field is pretty insular, and I’ll still have to see these folks every now and again), I may not, but all I can do is move forward and make myself better as a creator. I’m building my portfolio and making myself work on something every day.

    Think of it like…eh, the Shawshank Redemption. Your crap job is the prison (the metaphor’s a little subtle, but stick with me), and you have to escape into the freedom of Dream Job. To do that, sorry, you’ve got to dig your way out through the crap hole. You’ve got to chip away at solid rock and earth until you’ve made your tunnel, and it is slow going. The only way to get out is to dig every single day, whenever you can make the time to spare.

    Maybe give yourself a finite goal. Ray Bradbury once suggested trying to write a short story a week, because no one can write 52 terrible stories.

    And here’s something I learned from Boggle the Owl–whatever your dream is, do something today that pushes you forward. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Even if all you get down is one sentence, hey, today, you Worked On Something Creative. You took a step toward changing your circumstance. I’ve been trying to keep a ledger-journal. Not a real journal. Just every night, before I go to bed, I write down bullet points of what I did that day. Maybe all I managed to do was laundry. Maybe I just managed to get to bed before 4AM. That’s fine. Writing down even the little accomplishments made me feel like I hadn’t completely wasted my day.

    Best of luck to you, LW. Fist bump.

  47. Hi LW!

    I feel you on the wannabe novelist front. Everyone and their mother seems to think they have a novel in them, so it’s easy to doubt yourself when you think that you, too, might have a novel in you. But you have to forge ahead, because you simply never know what might happen. You might, indeed, have a publishable novel in you!

    You’re volunteering with NaNoWriMo, which is a great idea. I have some other suggestions; things that have really helped me get the novel-writing thing going.

    1) Write fanfic. Seriously, I spent years writing schlocky fanfic, but it made me such a better writer, and particularly attuned to audience, character development and voice.
    2) Then stop writing fanfic. I couldn’t come up with even halfway decent original ideas until I stopped playing in other people’s sandboxes.
    3) Keep an idea file. Write down all the plot bunnies. You never know which one might be The One.
    4) Read constantly in your chosen genre. I am equally inspired by good books and bad books (though really bad books tend to inspiring the best writing sprints), but also it’s smart to know what’s out there. Having an astute list of comps in your query letter can make you stand out to an agent.
    5) Follow industry people on Twitter, especially literary agents, editors and authors. I’ve found that the publishing industry is very active on Twitter (especially the YA genre), and often authors and agents will actually respond to you if you interact with them like they are normal human beings. It’s great for building industry knowledge, and possibly a relationship!
    6) Get Scrivener, if you don’t already have it (you might, via NaNo). This software SAVED MY LIFE. Best $40 I ever spent.
    7) Set small, regular word count goals. Personally, I’m not a fast writer, and NaNo is fun but completely unrealistic — I am not going to be The Guy who writes 50K in a month. But I can manage 5,000 words a week/20K a month. Embrace whatever your natural speed is, accept that most first drafts are kind of shitty, and just get the words down on paper. (this was the biggest hurdle for me, as a perfectionist)
    8) If you need a cheerleading section to write, find some good writing partners/critique partners. I learned via fanfic dabbling that I write better when I have a beta reader on Gchat, etc. to listen to my ramblings about plot, character, dialogue, etc. The rough part is finding someone who is willing to be your sounding board.
    9) There are some AWESOME blogs that hold regular critique contests, critique partner matching services, agent interviews, etc. For me, reading about the industry, success stories, critiquing other people’s work (I LOVE editing queries!) helps to keep me engaged, inspired and writing. My favorites:
    http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/
    http://brenleedrake.blogspot.com/
    http://cupidslitconnection.blogspot.com/
    http://queryshark.blogspot.com/
    10) Get involved in things that involve your chosen genre/publishing professionals. Personally, I used my fandomy inclinations to organized a YA track at a fan conference, and this put me in contact with a lot of people I admire. I’m currently on staff for the YA lit track at Dragon*Con. These are great ways to be super engaged with books and cross paths with authors, agents, etc. You could attend writer’s conferences (and sign up for agent pitch sessions). It’s always an added bonus to be able to lead your query with “We met at X conference.”

    That’s just a few ideas :) Good luck! Stay confident, and keep writing!

  48. Gracie here again! I just wanted to say that this week, I got like, three different out-of-nowhere emails from people who saw my resume on sites like Indeed.com and want me to contact them about possible interviews. I hadn’t even applied for the jobs yet, but I now have an interview scheduled for this coming Thursday. It’s similar to my current job and the company is also in the city but it’s MUCH closer to the city’s central transit hubs. I never even thought about checking that place out for job openings before because I didn’t realize how close it was to the main rail lines! Anyway, thank you all again for your support, comments, suggestions, etc. It really means a lot to me. I hope I can pay your kindness forward some day soon.

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