Archive | Career Building

Taking the Leap to Fiction

I have long held to the idea that the greatest tragedy in life is that it is so short. This world is so big, and so full of strange and wonderful things, that I am often struck with a sense of overwhelming loss at the idea that I will only experience a minuscule portion of it. It’s the reason I exercise and why I quit smoking. If I can buy myself even a few more years on this planet, to explore the vast array of sights, sounds, and tastes it has to offer, I’ll do whatever it takes.

This has often lead me over-commit myself. I take on too many projects because I get excited about new opportunities. I know I do, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. Ever since I took this new job, freelance jobs have been coming out of the woodwork – go figure. Good, high-paying gigs have just landed in my lap, and I’ve had to hand them off to other writers I know because I simply don’t have time to do the work.

This has made me think seriously about going back to freelance. I like the flexibility and the diversity of the projects. I even took one of the jobs, writing for a new phone app that I can’t really tell you about yet except to say that it aligns with my travel writing. (I’ll tell you all about it once they launch.)

This little side gig is fun. It’s interesting. It’s a break from the norm and chance to try something new, which is always a draw for me. But it was due two days ago, and I’m going to spend all day today wrapping it up (today, which was supposed to be a day of fiction writing), and in the end, for the amount of time I will spend on it, the pay is a lot less than I’m making at my job.

Freelance work can be great, but it requires constant hustling for the next job, and it often doesn’t pay for shit. And all that has shifted my thinking yet again. The question came to me: what if I never go back to freelance – ever? What if I just put that out of my head entirely? What if I get up in the morning, write, go to work, maybe even write on my lunch break, and use my Mondays to write my novel instead of dicking around with little freelance jobs? That was why I negotiated to have Mondays off in the first place. I wanted more time for my fiction, but I keep getting distracted, and then frustrated because I’m not making more progress on the novel.

When I look at it like this, it feels stupidly simple. Focus. Cut out all the distractions and just focus on what matters most to me: time with my family and time to work on my fiction. It would be foolish to quit a job that pays me so well to do what I love. I think now is a time to stay the course and focus on my fiction.

One time, when I was in grad school, Janet Fitch said to me: “If you’re thinking of writing anything but fiction, just stop.” At the time I smiled and thanked her for the vote of confidence, and even though I wrote that on a post-it note and stuck it over my desk, I kind of ignored it. I don’t know why. I think it’s because it’s kind of scary committing to fiction. It’s an art, and being an artist is hard. It invites criticism, and requires vulnerability in a way that being a travel writer does not. Honestly, nobody is ever going to critique my work on this travel app.

So this is me, the fiction writer, deciding to make the leap. If you are in need of a good freelancer, please feel free to drop me a line – I know lots of good writers, but as for me, from now on, I’ll be writing fiction.

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When To Call a Book Done

office 1I started the new job last week, on Tuesday. In case you haven’t been following along, my new position is with a civil engineering company. I’m doing technical writing, and working 80% full time, so I have Mondays off (which so far is awesome). You can see the office needs a little decorating (I already asked them to move all those filing cabinets), but the simple fact that they got the accent right on the name plate made me feel very welcome.

It looks like I’m going to be doing a lot of work relating to the drought. The company I work for does a lot of water storage and management projects, and now, with the passing of the water bond last November, there is a lot of work coming down the pipeline (so to speak). It feels like a sweet spot for me, where my interests and abilities have come together in a way that actually gets me paid.

Then there’s the work I’m not getting paid for (yet). I’m still working on finishing a draft of the first novel, “The Feathered Tale of Tallulah Jones.” It’s getting close. This might be the week. The thing I’m struggling with now is when to call it done. I have a lot of writer friends, as you might imagine. Some say make it as good as you possibly can before you send out query letters, which makes sense to me, but others say that no matter how done you think it is, your agent/editor/publisher will have edits they want you to make, so you should make it good, and then go ahead and start sending it out.

Of course, those writer friends have friends who are agents, which gives them a foot in the door. They have agents who will read their work and pass on to their friends. But, if I’m an agent, and some friend of mine says “hey read this” I’m not going to get very far if I don’t love it, so it still seems like, as the author, you would want your work to be great.

I heard an agent at a panel discussion once describe her thought process. She said that she starts manuscripts in her office, and if something grabs her attention she will take it home and read it in bed. She said something to the effect of, “as a writer, you have to make me want to take your work to bed.” Because isn’t that what the end readers are ultimately looking for too? When I’m reading a good book, I can’t wait to crawl into bed with it each night.

That’s what I’m hoping to create: something that people can’t wait to pick up. It’s getting close. I’m working to print a copy for Daniel (always my first reader on anything) this weekend. I’m also considering hiring a professional editor, some objective professional to give me their opinion. But then again, I might have a few more friends read it first, and my writing group. They’ve already read it twice, but hopefully they’ll read it again. It has changed quite a bit in this last revision.

I’ll let you know next week if I’m successful in finishing the draft.

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Balancing a Writing Life

Disneyland
I had a great week last week. I got a ton of writing done, I checked off about a dozen items from my long-standing to-do list, and on Friday, we took the kids to Disneyland.

This is the first year we’ve gone in for the annual pass. We bought the cheapest version, which means we can’t go on weekends, or holidays, or pretty much any time in July, but we only have to go three times a year to make the expense worth it. We went once for Daniel’s birthday, once for my sister-in-law’s birthday, and as it turned out, my girl’s school had a teacher work day Friday, and and I don’t start the new job until tomorrow, so it was the perfect opportunity. We have officially made the annual pass worth it. And the kids are the perfect age. The boy is still a little hesitant on some of the bigger rides, but we had a blast.

And now it’s Monday, my last day before starting the new job. I’m a little nervous, and excited. I’m also a little sad to be stepping away from all the writing I’ve been doing, but I’ll still be writing, it’ll just be science writing instead of fiction. And I’ll still have my mornings. I made more progress than I expected to on the novel last week, and I think with another week or two of mornings working on it, I should have a draft before long.

Then there’s the new story. I’m very much wanting to get back to it, but I’m too close on the first novel to drop it. I’m going to at least wrap up this draft, then jump back into Novel #2. Such is the life of a writer, always balancing the demands of story, with the need to make a living. It can be a busy life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I Got the Job!

Last week I told you that I was talking with an engineering company about a full-time writer position they are looking to fill. Shortly after I posted that, I had an in-person interview with the man who would be my supervisor, which went really well, and all signs were pointing toward it being a really good fit.

Then we scheduled a phone call with me, the President of the company, and their HR lady. I knew this would be the brass tacks call, so to speak. That wonderfully fun conversation where all parties dance around the topic of compensation, because really, really, man oh man, nobody likes to talk money.

So I knew I needed to decide on what I wanted to ask for in terms of compensation. I called my mother-in-law, who was a pretty fancy CEO up until she retired, and who is still active with a lot of start-ups in the silicon valley. She gave me some pointers. The main thing it came down to for me was that I wanted to work less. Given the choice between more time and more money, I wanted the time.

The next day, on the call, I framed the discussion in terms of working 80% full time. That was what I wanted more than anything so it just made sense to frame the discussion starting there. I was pleasantly surprised when that suited them just fine. We worked out the details, and came to an agreement. The next day they sent me a letter highlighting the basics of what we had agreed to. I signed it and sent back and ka-zam – I got the job.

I am so excited about this, that for days I’ve been waiting for them to call up and say they made a mistake of some kind. I get to be a full-time writer, working four days a week, with super cool science nerds. I won’t be making any more money than at my current job, in fact, I’m taking a small cut, but if you break it down to an hourly rate, I actually am getting a pretty good bump in pay. And anyways – who cares! Full-time science writing. No more project management (which has always stressed me out). I get to just go to work, do a great job, and go home at the end of the day.

Daniel took me out to celebrate on Thursday, and I gave notice on Friday. My boss wasn’t thrilled, but he’s been very understanding. He knows this is a great opportunity for me, and it’s not like he’s loosing the client. My last day will be February 20th. After that, I’ll have two weeks before I start at the new job. I’m going to take the time to wrap up some projects, not the least of which is my novel. I don’t know that I can get it across the finish line in two weeks, especially considering some of the other things I need to get done (take the car into the shop, help my sister plan her wedding, run the kids to soccer practices), but I can make some good progress, I’m sure.

2015 is off to a great start.

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Unexpected Possibilities

An interesting thing happened to me at work a couple weeks ago.

I was on my regular conference call with a client, the President of a civil engineering company. We check in twice a month and he updates me on what’s happening with the company, so that I can then draft articles for the company blog, and update their website, and manage their social media. He mentioned that they needed to create a job posting for a full-time staff writer.

I reminded him that we (meaning the company I work for) would be happy to do the work, but he admitted that it didn’t make sense financially for them to hire a consultant to do full time work. They wanted to create a new position within the firm.

Treading carefully, I asked if I could be considered for the job. We both got quiet and agreed that we shouldn’t talk any further without first talking to my boss. Which I promptly did. Which is why I feel I can write about this here, even though it is still very much speculation. They’re not exactly sure what they’re looking for, but basically, they are doing a lot of drought management work, and they need someone who can understand the science, then translate it all into easy-to-read reports for the decision makers and board members of water districts across California.

I don’t want to get my hopes up, but this sounds like an amazing opportunity. My background in science, combined with my masters in writing, and experience in local politics (at my current position) make me a perfect match, if I do say so myself.

Anyhow, there’s not a whole lot more to say about it right now, but it is an exciting and unexpected opportunity. I will keep you posted on how it unfolds.

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Happy Birthday to my Blog!

My blog turned 4 this last weekend.

four candles

It’s been four years since I first hit “Publish” back on my modest little MobileMe site (remember MobileMe? No? Neither does anyone else). Since then I’ve written 274 posts – just over a post a week. I also earned my masters degree, had a baby, finished a few short stories, wrote a travel book, did some actual traveling, took a full time job and well, lived life. A lot has happened.

Looking back, my first post was about trying to hit a deadline. I was writing the first draft of my novel to turn in as the thesis project for my masters. I wrote 45 pages in three days!

Whaaa?

These days I write about 200 words a week. Granted, I only manage to squeeze in a few hours of writing over the course of seven days, but still. Did I suffer a serious blow to the head or something?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. The 45 pages I wrote in that crazy long weekend were not good. But are the two hundreds words that I spend a week on now-a-days THAT much better?

I think I need to lighten up a bit. I so over think every word I write lately that it’s becoming paralyzing.

Actually, that’s not true. At work I pour words out all day long. I have to. I have deadlines. And come to think of it, I wrote those 45 pages on a deadline too. So maybe what I need to do is set deadlines for myself. Just bust out some words because that’s what I’m sitting there to do. At work I don’t second guess every word. I write them, then I review them to make sure they say what I meant them to say, edit a little as needed and move on. My fiction-writing self needs to take a hint from my corporate writing self.

So resolution for my fifth blog year: just keep writing and stop over-thinking.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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Not-A-Performace-Review Update

I promised to tell you how my performance review went last week.

As suspected, it was not a performance review. He never said it would be, so it’s not like there was any false advertising. Mostly we just talked about the company and our current projects. He did ask what the three worst parts of working for the company have been, but he said it laughing, so I couldn’t tell if he was joking. I was honest, but gentle.

There was no mention of a raise – again, not that I really suspected there would be. That conversation will come eventually.

So work continues on. We have some great clients, and I have many fun writing projects on the horizon. That’s one thing I really love about my job. In one week I can write about tree maintenance, the downfall of redevelopment, water recycling and Twitter’s new emergency alert system. And we might maybe have a new client that I am super excited about. I can’t say anything just yet, but if it happens, I will let you know.

So that’s the haps. More than anything, this post, and the one last week, are a test to see if my boss reads my blog.

Boss man? You there?

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My Upcoming Not-A-Performance-Review

As I’ve mentioned, I just passed the one year mark as a full time employee with Tripepi Smith. Well, tomorrow my boss and I are going to visit a client at 1, so he proposed we meet early for lunch to discuss my first year with the company.

“Sure,” I said, and then got the Google calendar invite for a lunch that is slated to last an hour and a half. The restaurant is only five minutes from the place our meeting is after, so I got to thinking, what are we talking about for 85 minutes?

Not one to wonder in silence (or at least, without writing) I drafted a long email asking what to expect, and how to prepare. I wanted to be able to organize my thoughts, maybe make lists of my accomplishments this past year, my goals for the future. You know, that kind of corporate stuff people do.

This is what he wrote back (copied directly)

no prep. we can talk about where things are at and where they are going.

I swear, if he hadn’t blocked out an hour and a half I would think I was getting laid off. Am I being paranoid?

You have to admit, that’s pretty vague. Where things are and where they are going…

So naturally, I’ve been googling phrases like “employee annual performance review,” and journaling away my ideas, just to be prepared for any question he can throw at me. I’m probably being really over the top about it, but this seems like a real opportunity to discuss what I feel I’m doing well, and what I could do better. If I don’t prepare, I’ll be driving home tomorrow night kicking myself for all the things I forgot to say (which is hard to do while you’re driving).

Also, I will admit, this is the first time I’ve had a performance review (aside from a very awkward hour spent in the back room at a Starbucks in San Francisco with a male supervisor who had a crush on Daniel). I have always worked freelance, or temped, or waitressed while working freelance/temp. I’ve never been a corporate type. This is all very new to me. Until I googled the topic of performance review, I didn’t even know that this was the time of year that employees sometimes (usually?) get raises. That’s a thing.

Anyhow, I’m nervous. And I’m trying not to be nervous which just makes me anxious. Which just leads me to drink. Just kiddding. Kind of.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Short Stories to Build a Writer Platform

I have thirty-five pages left to edit. They are thirty-five of the newest, and roughest, pages in the entire manuscript, but still, it’s only thirty-five pages, which is pretty exciting.

I’ve made a list of things I need to do once I’ve finally finished the draft. While my lovely readers are compiling their thoughts, I will be working on the following:

  • My synopsis (ug)
  • A list of thirty agents who have represented work like mine
  • A query letter to send to said agents, and
  • A few short works to send off to journals to see if I can’t bolster my platform a bit before sending out the query letter.

I was talking with my writing group about that last one, wondering what pieces I should polish up for submissions to journals, and they suggested I try to pull an excerpt from my manuscript. At first I thought it was impossible. They whole thing seems so interwoven that I couldn’t figure out what section could stand on it’s own, but in the pages I worked on last weekend I think I found a chunk that could suffice.

It would likely need some editing, to lay some basic story background, especially since the chunk I’m thinking of using comes late in the story, but it could be done. And actually, they are some of my favorite pages.

I also have three other short stories that have been languishing on my hard drive for years. I’m not sure how much work they would need, and in fact, I’m very curious to re-read them now that I’ve learned so much about writing as a craft. I’m hoping the holes that made them unsatisfying when I abandoned them will seem less daunting now that I have more experience. That would be great.

Then there’s the Writer’s Digest writing competition. I received a flyer for it in the mail last week. I usually toss the flyer, because I never have anything that’s polished enough (because I’ve been working on the novel FOREVER), but this might be the year I submit. The early-bird deadline isn’t until May 6th. I bet I could put something together for that. I know the odds of winning are slim, because they get a brazillion entries, but if I don’t enter I definitely won’t win, right?

It’s time to start putting my work out there.

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I’m Not The Same Writer I Was In August

On Monday I posted about a panel I’m going to be on next week, about branding in the modern age. In that post I said that I’m “someone who does branding professionally.” This is true, but as I reread it, I can’t help but cringe.

As someone who works on branding and marketing professionally, all day every day, I have come to hate my website. It needs a lot of work.

Here’s the thing – when I set up this website, which is actually the third design iteration of aprildavila.com – I was in a very different place as a writer. Back then, I was working as a freelance writer. I was looking for work anywhere and everywhere. I needed to showcase my feature articles, my travel writing, and my copyediting, not to mention my fiction.

But the day I took this full time gig, that all changed. I don’t have time for writing assignments. While there is a part of me that would love to write more features, the truth is, I don’t have time. And nothing makes a girl prioritize like a serious time crunch.

All I want to write (outside of work) is fiction. Fiction, fiction, fiction.

And all I want to blog about is my fiction. In fact, looking over my posts since September, when I started full time, almost all of my posts have been about fiction writing. So I need to do some serious re-branding.

So I’ve started to think about another website overhaul. (As a side note, I tell clients at work that websites need to be completely updated every two years. They never believe me, they want their sites to last a decade, but things just change too quickly for that. I last renovated my site in early 2011. So I’m totally practicing what I preach here.) I want the new one to still be centered around the blog, but I’m going to downplay all my writing that isn’t fiction.

Instead of pushing myself as a writer who can and will write anything (which you have to do when you’re living the freelance life), I’m going to change the site to reflect what I really am now – a full time working mom and wife who takes advantage of every free minute to try to finish her novel and get it published.

I’m still working on design ideas, so it may be a few months in the making still, but doubt not – it’s coming.

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