How My Bachelor’s in Writing Didn’t Prepare Me for Writerhood

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

~Henry Ford

In December 1999, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English/Writing and thought I knew everything I needed to know about writing books.

Why, yes — I am waiting for your laughter to subside.

Okay, okay, calm yourselves, please. What do you think this is, a late-night comedy club?

Sheesh.

😉

Idealist Writer Changes World — Details at 11

So. Here I am, 22 years old with all of three-and-a-half years of higher education under my belt. I’m off to former East Germany as soon as possible. I shall change the world one relationship at a time and write books while I do it. I am Tawanda, Queen of the Amazons. Hear me roar.

For my senior project, I’d completed a Monster Epic Fantasy Novel (aka MEFaN), which I’ve previously mentioned here. My profs approved it. Their praise wasn’t exactly glowing, but it was shiny, at least. I thought my novel was ready to shop to publishers.

Um. No.

If you click through, you’ll see that the MEFaN in question was a first draft. I’d heard my creative writing prof mention such hideous things as re-write and edit and multiple drafts

— but I was 22 and brilliant. What need I with multiple drafts?

*sigh*

Ow, My Aching Ego

I learned. I learned that I was good for a 22-year-old straight outta college. I learned that I was not as good as what editing, rewriting, and plain ol’ life experience could make me. I learned that my profs’ shiny-almost-glowing praise was for how far I’d come by then.

But good grades, I finally realized, were not the final measurement of my skills. I realized that my writing degree was my starting point. My writing degree prepared me to begin.

And I’ve spent the last 14 years doing the work.

But here’s what my degree did not prepare me for.

Money, Money, Money

As part of my general education in college, I was required to take an economics class. I ended up in a course called Free Enterprise System.

Sadly, this had nothing to do with liberated starships.

Sadly, I learned exactly two things in this course:

  1. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Booya.
  2. When one member of the project team doesn’t do his job, the economics prof doesn’t care that the rest of the team does theirs. Everybody gets penalized a letter grade because of the one lazy slob.
  3. Yay teamwork! I love teamwork!

Also sadly, I was not required to take any courses in personal finance (i.e. how-to-budget, etc.) or in finances for writers.

So, years later, when the husband and I got into serious trouble over self-employment taxes, my reaction was as follows:


 

 

 

 

 

 

Doing Homework

Let me be clear: I blame no one for this but myself.

I shoulda done my homework. After all, there is such a thing as thinking for oneself.

In the meantime, I’ve figured things out a little. I now understand things about withholding. I now understand that calculating my taxes myself is a rather dumb thing for me to do (especially when my info conflicts with that of the IRS). I now know to keep track of expenses like the ones listed in this article.

The business-sensible thing for me to do with this post would be to provide you with a list of such resources as that one. But I’m not writing this to be business-sensible.

I’m writing this to emphasize that even after getting our educations — whether that’s at the collegiate level or simply through life experience and trial-and-error — we writers still have to do our homework.

Yeah, we gotta research stuff for our writing. We read novels, articles, and papers. We drive to remote locations to get the feel and flavor of a place or to take pictures for cover art. We interview people. We visit museums. We sit in coffee shops, pondering and muttering to ourselves.

But we also have to research for our business.

It might be the most important thing I’ve learned about writing since graduation:

Writing is a business.

And the writer is CEO, VP, treasurer, secretary, and go-fer.

And this is every writer. Not just the self-published ones.

Writers, we must learn to think of ourselves this way.

If somebody had taught me this in college and forced me to sit down and learn the non-creative, non-artsy, non-inspiring, soul-sucking side of writing, it could’ve saved me a lot of trouble. And a lot of heartache.

So, do your homework, writers. Nobody’s gonna make you learn this stuff. You’ve gotta take responsibility (do as I say, not as I do) and do your research.

And for the love of all that’s good, true, and writerly in this world, keep track of your gas mileage.

__________________________

What financial education did you get along the way?

What’s been your experience with self-employment?

What’s been your experience thinking of yourself as a business — or not thinking of yourself that way?

If you’re more into the business side than the creative writing side, what one thing do you think writers need to be aware of?

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

There is a children’s book which, sadly, I have never read. It is Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Although my English teacher mother and my bibliophile father kept me in English-language books whilst I was growing up in Germany, they seem to have missed this one somehow. I arrived at college in Oklahoma in 1996 to find fellow students referencing this little book all over the place. This book, and the film The Princess Bride. I didn’t know what anyone was talking about.

In the interim, I’ve seen The Princess Bride about a bajillion times — but I’ve never gotten around to getting my hands on Alexander’s story. For my purposes today, however, all I need to know about his story is the title and the cover art. I can extrapolate pretty well: Alexander’s day is starting out sucky and it’s just getting worse.

(On a side note, my fingers keep wanting to type “Aleksandr.” Apparently, I am Russian today. Yeah, baba.)

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Wednesday

Yesterday, I could relate all too well to Alexander’s story. It all started when I poured my coffee, zested it up with Truvia, and then opened the fridge — only to discover that there was no milk in any form. No cow, no goat, no almond.

I cannot drink coffee without some form of milk. My tastebuds haven’t the constitution for the purely black stuff.

So. No coffee for Courtney. If you know me at all, you know that this was pretty much THE harbinger of Doom.

The doomish trend continued when I settled in to work out our monthly budget, which I do at the start of every month.

NOTE TO SELF:

Never do a budget without having fortified self with coffee.

I shan’t divulge my budgeting details, ’cause that’s nunya. ; ) However, I will say that upon close review, the finances looked worse than I’d anticipated. In fact, I’d been anticipating good stuff. There wasn’t any. Just bad stuff. I slumped in my chair, rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands, and plodded on.

Things got worse when I opened a bill, and it was medical, and it was unexpected, and it was for several hundred dollars, and I don’t think I should have to pay it. A phone call confirmed my fear that the only way to get out of it will be to haggle with the insurance company that hasn’t provided our insurance in almost a year.

The only haggling I enjoy is the haggling one does with European vendors who don’t speak one’s language.

Yes. I would rather stand in a dirty, open-air market and argue over trinkets at the top of my lungs with an irate vendor who is trying to cheat me and whose language I don’t speak than have a phone conversation in English with an insurance company.

But that’s beside the point.

The point is that by now, I was bawling in horrid frustration over my budget forms. This was followed in quick succession by slamming the back of my head into the corner of the kitchen cabinet and then poking myself in the eye with a fingernail.

My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

In Which Things Get Better

Since Judith Viorst’s book was published in the more innocent, less snarky age of 1987, I’m assuming Aleksandr’s story has a happy ending and a Moral To The Story. (Word.)

My happy ending came in the form of a phone call from my mother. (How do mothers always know?) She said, “Daddy and Grandpa stopped at Sonic on their way home, and Daddy paged through a Gazette while they ate. Here’s what he found… .”

What Daddy found was an article in the Oklahoma Gazette. And the article was about my book.

As a placeholder for what you’re reading right now, I posted the following on my blog yesterday:

Odds bodkins and gadzooks! My novel is in today’s Oklahoma Gazette!

Read article “Write-hand view” by Danny Marroquin.

Cramazing!

 

Every Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Has Its Silver Lining

And that, my dear inklings, is your Moral To The Story.

Are you having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?

I’ve minimized a lot of my worries through witticism and sarcasm in this post. I won’t minimize yours. If you’re struggling with something more serious than budgeting woes and bumps on the head, my prayers and good thoughts are with you. I understand that there is darkness so deep, silver linings aren’t visible. (I’ve been there.)

But if you’re just having a bad day — what’s your silver lining?

It doesn’t have to be something like your first novel’s cover art in the newspaper. (Although that’s pretty freakin’ cool, lemme tell ya.) Your pick-me-up might be a literal ray of sunshine. A smile from a stranger. A call from a friend.

Or maybe it’s chocolate. I ate a lot of that yesterday, too. ; )

How do you turn a bad day around? Let’s talk.