"There's no point in spending your life in the pursuit of something that's easy." - Alice Kuipers

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Have I Gotten Myself Into Now?

I've already written (multiple times) that I have to keep a day job besides writing in order to pay my bills. For nearly two years I've been working at a Home Decor store, but in April I started looking for a new job. I wasn't making enough money working there, I needed to upgrade. It didn't take me long to realize there wasn't much out there. For someone like me, a woman whose only secondary education was in massage therapy, there wasn't a lot of options. Every job I looked at paid just as terribly as my current job. So, I reached out to friends and family, asking them to brainstorm ideas of where I might be able to make a better wage. The only feasible idea they came up with was at a department store make up counter. Those girls were supposed to get paid much better, as well as earn commission - meaning I could have a little more control over my income. Excited, I set off to apply. Two months later, after four excruciating interviews (yes, four!), I had my first day.
Never in my life have I felt more defeated, deflated and depressed. When I signed the paperwork, I finally saw what they would be paying me. And I wanted to throw up. Ten dollars an hour and only 3% commission. Parking alone was $2.00 an hour to work there, so my wage was really only eight dollars an hour, and 3% commission meant that with every hundred dollars of product I sold, I would be paid only three dollars. Three dollars. Three f*cking dollars. I wanted to quit that day, but  friends convinced me not to.
"You don't know how much they sell in a day, it still might be worth it."
So, I decided to give the job another day to prove itself. Sadly, the outlook was horrible at best. The daily sales targets for my counter were two hundred dollars. That meant six dollars in commission, not even enough to cover parking. Determined to quit, I marched over to the manager and explained that I was actually making less money at this new job than at my old one, a feat I didn't think was possible. She convinced me to give it some time, explaining that the sales targets were so unbelievably low because no one had been manning the counter for such a long time. Frankly, I wasn't convinced, but I'd already booked the time off my old job, so I figured I might as well be earning something.
It's been two days now with me on the sales floor, attempting to sell my wares and I've only sold three hundred and seventeen dollars worth of product. The forecast for this job isn't bright. I'm waiting until after the weekend to give my pronouncement, but barring a miracle, I will be quitting soon.
I honestly don't know where this particular department store gets off offering such a shitty wage when the parking is so expensive. And offering 3% commission? Why not just be brave and slap me in the face? What a sneaky, underhanded way to insult someone. I don't know if I can stay, just from sheer disgust with the department store.
It's too bad, really. I actually really like the product. But I started looking for a new job to make more money, not less. And it's not as though working there is a carnival of ice cream and candy. It's work. It's long hour after long hour of work. If they aren't going to pay me properly for it, why would I stay? They need to realize this is why they're so understaffed. No one can afford to work there. You couldn't possibly live off the wage they're giving you.
We'll see what happens after this weekend, but stay tuned for the 'I quit my job' announcement. Because I don't think this place has a hope in hell.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Fair Lazy

Today I finished the first book on my summer reading list, My Fair Lazy by Jen Lancaster. It was actually really surprising. It never takes me that long to get through a book, especially one by my favourite author. Admittedly, this wasn't one of her best. It was a little boring, not as funny. But I really enjoyed the ending. She brought it all together at the end and I just can't deny that I adore her. I love her unconditionally. Why? Because she was the one that first got me thinking about being a writer. Reading Bitter is the New Black was the very first step in my journey towards becoming a writer. It awakened a longing in me. I know it's silly, but I never realized an author was allowed to write about themselves when their lives really weren't altogether that fantastic or unusual. I didn't realize that an author could be funny, that they could break all the rules. Reading her first novel, with all of its hilarious footnotes, was like seeing an airplane for the first time. I didn't realize it was possible to fly.
And so, I will always be grateful to her. And I will always be excited to read her books. Because she proves that its possible to follow your dream. Maybe one day I'll get to tell her that in person.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My First Feature

Another small step for me (and my career). I've received my first feature. I'll be covering the Taste of Saskatchewan for VerbNews and I couldn't be more excited. It's the first time I'll have to conduct an interview and my heart is all a flutter. What if I ask stupid questions? What if I don't get what I need? What if my interviewee thinks I'm completely unprofessional or immature? As my nerves begin firing in a fit of stress and anticipation, all I can think to do is prepare. I've been brainstorming questions and researching recording devices so I don't miss a word. I'm hoping to cover everything I possibly can, in as much detail as possible, in order to properly choose the direction of my article. If no stone is left unturned then nothing is left to chance. My biggest fear is sitting down to draft the article and realizing I didn't ask some all important question.
The feature itself is quite small (just 500 words) but it's an opportunity I don't plan to squander. The more experience I get, the more varied my repertoire, the better chance I have of moving forward. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Getting Some Sage Advice

Tonight I had coffee with Amy Jo Ehman, city editor at Western Living magazine and author of Prairie Feast, A Writer's Journey Home for Dinner. She was kind enough to sit down with me and let me pick her brain on magazine writing, freelancing and writing in general.
It was a lovely evening, Amy is a gifted writer with an incredibly kind and generous spirit. Talking to her started all the rusted wheels and cobs in my brain turning. She gave me advice on possible magazines I might want to try breaking into, on the types of pitches they're looking for and things to keep in mind with query letters. If there's one thing all potential writers should keep in mind, it's that a query letter should be of the highest possible quality. It's an editor's first taste of your writing, and if it isn't top notch, why would they keep reading? Having a great idea isn't enough, the presentation has to be stellar as well and fit with the magazine's tone, style and interests.
Talking to her, I felt the ideas begin to flow. After all, there's something so inspirational about talking shop with a fellow writer. (I use the term 'fellow writer' loosely, as she's clearly miles and miles ahead of me.) You'd think writers would be competitive and catty with each other (and God knows, some of them are), but as for the rest of us, there's a communal spirit, a comradery that binds us together. Maybe because we all know what it's like, the struggles, the ups and downs. Fellow writers get it in a way that others can't. I don't know what it is, but sitting with Amy I felt a renewal of hope, a surge of will to keep on trying.
I think it's important that all writers connect with the writing community around them. It keeps us motivated, challenges us to take our work to the next level, and offers much needed support. If at all possible, you should check out what's available in your area and tap into the creative channels that surround you. You'd be surprised just how much it helps to just sit down and have coffee with a fellow writer. God knows, it does wonders for me.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Starting At Rock Bottom

Being a writer is a very humbling experience. There are very few that start off already on top. I have absolutely no statistics to back me up, but my guess would be no higher than one percent. Think about J.K. Rowling, she started off writing notes on napkins. It seems that most of us come from humble beginnings.
I'm certainly no different. My day job gets me down some days. It's a hard hit to one's self esteem when you realize that others value your time at only ten dollars an hour. That hurts. You feel like a failure. Couple that with all the rejection that comes with writing and sometimes it's hard to get out of bed. But I just keep slogging through the mud, pushing through the pain and frustration, hoping that one day it will all be worthwhile. I don't need J.K. Rowling's level of success. I'd be happy just making my living from writing (no day job!).
A lot of the time it's just pure force of will that keeps me going, the belief that I'm worth more than my current state. My skin isn't always as thick as it needs to be, but the hurt helps fuel me on. Maybe if my day job wasn't so mind numbingly painful I wouldn't be so driven to follow my dream. I don't know if I'll ever be a success. But I do know I won't ever stop trying.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Expanding My Repertoire

Now that I've gotten the hang of writing for VerbNews I've decided it's time to continue my search for publication. Just because I have one job doesn't mean I shouldn't be on the search for another. After all, if I ever hope to make my living solely from writing, it definitely won't be with just one gig. VerbNews is great, they gave me the opportunity to get my foot in the door, gain experience and build up a few clips, but I won't be happy with just that.
I've decided to start small. I'm reaching out to all the small, local papers and publications, hoping to catch my second break. If/when I do, then I will learn all I can from them and continue expanding. Next will be more provincial publications, followed hopefully by national ones. I'd love to nail down a job blogging or writing a column. My favourite is the personal essay (aside from novel writing of course), and if I can find a few publications that like one or two enough to print them I'd be in heaven.
It's always a little intimidating plotting out an e-mail, reaching out to people, knowing that rejection is a major part of the game, but it's better than plateauing. I don't want to get too comfortable. Success requires constant drive and a never give up attitude. To be incredibly lame, I have to be like the little engine that could. Do you remember that story? "'I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...'" It's silly but it's true. With all the rejection, writing can sometimes feel like you're trying to ice skate up hill. Why bother? But I have to bother, I have no other options. The only back up I have is working a dead end job and I really don't like that back up.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Comedy of Errors

On Wednesday night I was sitting at home in my sweats, waiting for my hubbie to get home with a pizza, when I received a text message. It was from the photographer I work with at VerbNews, it read: "Am I at the right place?"
I froze, feeling the ripples of adrenaline and shock start rippling through my body as the realization washed over me. I forgot. I forgot about the restaurant review I'd booked for that evening.
I flew off the couch like someone had lit me on fire. I dialed him up, screeching that I'd forgotten and I'd be right there, all the while ripping off my sweats and throwing on a pair of jeans. I ran out the door and down the walkway - and it's at this point I should tell you I'd been watering the lawn for the past hour - and biffed it. Hard. The phone flew out of my hand as I fell flat on my butt on the wet and filthy walkway. Foot throbbing, I grabbed my phone yelled into it that I fell (not sure why) and that I'd be right there. I jumped in the car, immediately realizing that I'd forgotten my notebook. I ran back into the house, snatched it and sprinted back out the door. I didn't bother to lock it, and as my neighbour came running, asking if I was okay, I realized I didn't have time to call my husband and tell him why he'd be coming home to an empty, unlocked house. So I asked her to tell him, and look after my house. Well, not so much asked as screeched hysterically. But she got the message and I jumped in the car and raced off to the restaurant.
On the way to the restaurant I realized that my hands, forearms and elbows were smeared with mud. So, of course needing to get cleaned up, I proceeded to lick my hands and rub them on the seat to clean them off. I know, I know, disgusting. But desperate times... in any case, it worked. I parked and ran down the street to the restaurant, realizing as I ran that my butt was wet from falling and people probably thought that I was a) crazy and b) had wet my pants.
I arrived at the restaurant and the rest of the evening was lovely. I had a wonderful time. It was only when I got home that evening that I checked out my foot and realized that I'd grated it like cheddar on the sidewalk and it was swollen to goose egg proportions. Which brings me to the next morning, standing on one leg in the shower. I was doing this because it hurt like hell to have my foot in the water, and as I shampooed I couldn't help but think, "if this is how I die... slipping in the shower, standing on one leg... I'm going to be so pissed."