Blogger’s Note: The whole idea behind these “Second Third” posts can be found here.
Since high school at least — maybe even prior to that — I’ve wanted to write, if not for a living, than at least for kicks and a few extra bucks. I went to college thinking I wanted to teach biology, but a year of chemistry and lab alongside my first English class (a creative non-fiction course) tweaked my thinking. I felt like I could write, felt like I should write…and by sophomore year, I figured I would write if I could find a way to make a go of it.
A poetry professor, when he learned I hoped to be a writer, advised that I not major in English (Yale didn’t have journalism), insisting that those who hire writers would see someone who know composition or literature and little else. He said I should choose a major that permitted me to take a little bit of everything, so I would emerge a well-rounded thinker. I chose anthropology, focused on human evolution, and took science courses, history courses, you name it.
I graduated and began looking for work as a writer. Everyone seemed to want experience, or an English or Journalism degree. I applied for obit writer in the Rapid City Journal. No dice. I sold housewares and luggage at Younkers department store in Sioux Falls, and began to think about teaching again. We learned we were pregnant, moved to Michigan, and I took temporary work installing fixtures in a new Kaybee Toys store outside Detroit. The new manager saw potential and offered me full-time work when it opened. Instead we moved in with my folks and kept looking.
Finally I got an interview with The Pioneer, a six-day-a-week newspaper where I grew up. The editor told me later they were looking for someone with experience or a journalism major, but wanted to know what a Yale grad was doing applying to their little paper. I showed them some writing samples, and they agreed to “test” me — have me come to a city commission meeting with the editor and write a story, not for publication, of course; her story would be for paper. We went to the meeting; I wrote the story — not as fast as she would’ve liked, and I didn’t know AP Style, but the story was solid. She actually agreed to run it and pay me as a freelancer for several weeks while the reporter I was replacing wound down his remaining time at the paper.
I’ve worked as a writer ever since, which is a victory. In my time at The Pioneer, I served as a reporter, editorial writer, columnist, copy editor, night editor/paginator, weekly editor, assistant managing editor, and occasional photographer. (We all took our own photos.) After that, I went to work for Ferris State University, initially as a three-quarter-time, multi-purpose writer: alumni magazine articles, fundraising pieces, letters…until my boss decided, after a couple of rewrites by her marketing firm, that the new Ferris view book needed a different voice, relatively young but well informed. She turned the entire piece over to me, an amazing amount of unwarranted trust. It came off well, and they hired me as full-time media relations manager. From there: corporate marketing, writing sales material, direct-mail copy, and web content for FedEx, Cargill, Sherwin Williams, and RSM McGladrey. Then back to campus at the University of Minnesota, first as a “strategic writer” (a multipurpose position like my first stop at Ferris) and ever since, as presidential communications officer and speechwriter. I’ve even done a little freelancing in my free time, for neighborhood newspapers and international martial arts publications. I’m a kung fu writer!
It’s been a good career, encompassing nearly every kind of professional writing you can imagine outside of fiction and poetry. Unfortunately, there lies the problem.
You see, I’ve dabbled in poetry for years, and have more than one novel started…but as a father of four with a full-time job, I barely find time enough to spend with my wife, let alone hole up again and write fiction. In this regard, in fact, I sometimes wish I’d taken the Kaybee job: At the end of a long day writing, the last thing I want to come home to is more writing. Get up, battle traffic, write, review, revise, review, revise, battle traffic, eat, crash, repeat. My kids used to say I was a writer, until they asked me to show them something I’ve written. It wasn’t a book. They were underwhelmed.
In my Second Third, however, things are looking up. My infinitely patient writer friends continue to prod and cajole me. And I’ve lined up a new position, working on a few bigger publishing projects. I’m looking at a much more flexible schedule in the short term and the ability to work remotely. Less time on the road and in the office. Less time shopping content to multiple reviewers. More time to read and write — and the ability to carve out blocks of time to work on my own stuff.
Y’know how smokers are told to never quit quitting. Rest assured I’ll never stop starting — but it’s about time I finished, don’t you think?