Monday, October 24, 2005

Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic

I’ve often said that many writers, including myself, would rather be writing than doing anything else, particularly when it has to do with public speaking. Public speaking is to most writers, like getting math; we just don’t do well at it.
However, many jobs, no matter the seemingly introvert nature, require at least some form of public speaking, from speaking to an auditorium, to a room of people or even to five “suits” from corporate. Writing is not excluded.
This past Saturday, I did my first reading of one of my works. This may seem surprising, given that I’ve been doing this freelance gig fulltime now for close to seven years, but I had somehow managed to get by without getting up in front of a room full of people to read.
Sure, I’ve been teaching for a while, but my classes are intentionally small and although I write the curriculum, much of what I teach are not my own thoughts about the writing process, but thoughts I’ve borrowed from other writers. I also make the classes interactive and so we also get the thoughts of my students.
The reading I did was for the launch of the third “Kansas City Voices,” magazine, a truly remarkable collection of fiction, essays, poetry and art from very talented regional creators. It is very humbling to be among the writers included in this edition and I was even more humbled to be asked to read my work. Still, I knew this day would come, the day I would have to get up in front of a group of people and read something I wrote, be it a stand alone essay or from my book. Besides, part of being a writer is having new life experiences, so I said “yes.”
Of course, my nerves began to tingle when I was asked to read my essay about the Kansas City Crossroads district, but I really didn’t let it affect me until this past week.
On Monday, I began the week, as a usually do, plotting my “to do” list and making careful notes of deadlines. One of the things at the top of my list was to pick up my essay and read it aloud at least once a day. I also planned to tape myself to pinpoint where I needed more inflection and to hear which words I was stumbling upon.
But, as they say, best laid plans. On Tuesday, my mother lost a very dear, longtime friend, my godmother, and my plans for the week went askew. When I remembered my commitment to read on Wednesday afternoon, I picked up the essay and read it aloud twice. I couldn’t locate my tape recorder, because another thing on my list was to clean my office, which was put off as well.
I noted the humorous aspect of the essay, made a note to take care during those parts with more inflection, marked a couple of words I kept stumbling on – plethora was one, a favorite of mine to write, but harder to say aloud. I practiced at least twice a day for three days, trying to imagine an audience in my otherwise empty office. My husband, Dale, even came in once asking why I was talking to myself.
Saturday morning came and I limited myself to one cup of coffee to help ease the butterflies, which amazingly didn’t start fluttering until I was introduced to read. I got up and walked to the front of the room, which held about 40 people. I had long ago found out that imagining the audience in their underwear did not help me in such situations and I am not good enough to be able to just imagine the room empty.
On that morning, though, I realized for the first time, an advantage to being near-sighted. Thanks to my eye doctor, who did not get my bifocal prescription right, I cannot read with my glasses on. When I stepped up to the podium, I immediately removed my glasses to read, looked up and all I could see were blurry dots. Besides a few chuckles at my humor and an “ahhhh,” at my ending, it was easy to imagine I was reading alone.
For this writer who has always shied from public speaking, I finally found the complex answer to making it through. Now that I’ve passed the writing and reading test, I can still hold out hope there is a trick to that ‘rithmetic.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Who Needs a Real Job When We Have Writing

One of my colleagues in my Tuesday morning non-fiction writers group said once this summer, “Sometimes I think I should just go and get a ‘real job’ and not have to worry about writing all of the time.”
We’ve all been there. When I first started freelancing full-time seven years ago, things were great for the first year or so. I had built up our savings and was getting enough work to keep the bills paid. But like any business, I had my ups and downs, specifically after 9-11. 2002 was my worst year for my freelance business. Our savings dwindled and my husband started telling me, “Maybe it’s time to start looking for a ‘real job.”
I knew he missed the security of my working for a large corporation that was growing. I knew he missed the insurance benefits, the profit sharing and the stable income that allowed us to pick up airline tickets for weekend mini-vacations on a whim. I missed those things too.
What I didn’t miss was sitting in a pod surrounded by gray walls with supervision so tight that they told us what we could have at our desks to drink. And while I had a flexible schedule, that schedule had to be turned in and approved a week in advance and my sick time didn’t cover my dependant pets. I didn’t miss the 30-40 minute drive North toward the airport everyday, especially in the snow. And I didn’t miss wearing those hose!
So I persevered. I used the skills I had developed in the corporate world to market myself and network. I used my business degree for creative accounting and financing and we dipped into our savings as little as possible.
Now, the tables are turned. I think my husband sees the benefits of my owning a home based business sometimes more than I. Like my friend, I sometimes hear a voice in the back of my head telling me to just go and look for a ‘real job.’ After all, that voice reasons, wouldn’t it just be easier to get up and go into a 9-5 job, clock in and clock out and come home and not have the worries of dealing with my own business? If its not deadlines and reaching sources, it is marketing and bookkeeping. Although I have reached moderate success – and by that I mean the bills are being paid every month – I haven’t found the key to success that some writers have. Some of the writers on one Internet discussion board talk about what duties they give their paid interns.
I’m still trying to teach my dogs to take papers to the recycling pile for me!
Although my last vacation seemed it had a cloud over it knowing all of the work I had waiting for me when I returned, I can keep that voice in the back of my head that blathers about a ‘real job’ on mute most of the time. At least the work is here.
I told a writer who is entering the world of freelance the other day that I have never seen a profession where people work so hard to make so little money. I think I scared her, but she shouldn’t be.
I should have added, “but I’ve never done anything in my life so rewarding.” I wouldn’t have stuck with this since November 1, 1998 if it weren’t. At least I’m sitting here in a robe surrounded by the people, animals and things I love. And since writing is my therapy, I’ve probably saved myself thousands in counseling!
And I’m not staring at gray pod walls with a mortal head wound bleeding my creativity all over my desk while waiting for permission to have a drink.