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Friday, March 26, 2010

Writer Spotlight: SmartGrrrl aka Michelle Wiener

When Kurt invited me to write something for Write Club, I was pleased -- and more than a little surprised. It hadn't been very long, maybe two weeks, since I'd put up a temporary page on my website with writing samples and a relatively calm but still sorta desperate plea for work. "Hey, if you like what you see here and what to hire me to write for you, call me. I AM AVAILABLE." While I was fantasizing about offers trickling in, I wasn't really expecting it.

I have worked in publishing since 2005. Before that, I was a writing instructor and PhD candidate a few revisions away from finishing my dissertation. My reasons for leaving academics aren't all that interesting -- chances are, you know someone else who left the profession for similar reasons. But among those reasons was this prickly feeling that I didn't much care for academic writing. Granted, once I had finished my dissertation, which traditionally requires one's academese to be at the pinnacle of complexity, and then further revised it for publication, I'd be able to write however I wanted and whatever I wanted, but I still felt confined and didn't much feel like facing another decade or so of writing within some predetermined institutionalized code just to prove that I could to people who would first give me a job and then maybe give me tenure. (But I'm not bitter.)

So I had my mid-30s career change, which scared me a little and terrified the hell out of my parents. I went into publishing because that made the most sense to me -- I knew I could write well, even if I was untested in the non-academic field, and editing couldn't be that much different than grading student papers and helping young writers find their voice. I was fortunate to land an associate editor job, writing the front of book blurbs and short interest pieces, and managed to get one feature-length story in before I left to become managing editor of a startup online magazine. And here's when I learned that the same job in publishing can mean extremely different things to different companies. I've worked at places where the managing editor does a great deal of the editing and copyediting, and others places where the ME holds a more administrative position, making sure copy circulates among writers and editors, but not really doing much of the work herself. I found managing to be not as fulfilling a job as I had hoped it would be -- I craved more hands on experience and more creative input. Fortunately I had a couple friends who were magazine editors at different craft magazines, and they threw a little writing work at me. Writing articles on the side was a great outlet and way to keep on top of things that interested me.

When I lost my job in June of last year, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. I was pretty sure I didn't want to have any sort of administrative/managerial job again, and equally sure that I wanted a job that would both require me to be creative and allow me to develop new skills and grow with the position. It is exceedingly tiresome and soul-sucking to have mastered all the skills you need for any one particular job, and then not be thought capable of or allowed to do anything else. In the back of my head I could hear a soft voice telling me to write, but I felt overwhelmed by the idea of starting out brand new at something that it seems everyone in this city wants to do.

Then one night I was having a conversation with friends, and one of them made a comment about how frustrating it can be to compete with all these other people who want to be published writers. And it wasn't until then that I realized, I AM a published writer. I've been published lots of times. Granted, my bylines are all in niche publications . . . but so what? And that's when that soft voice got a little louder, and kindly but firmly told me that it was about time I stopped thinking that this was something that I couldn't do, since I had already done it before.

I am still looking for full-time work (*cough* here's my LinkedIn profile) but I have rededicated myself to writing, both professionally and personally (*cough* here's my blog) (and here's another blog). I'm not afraid of exploring unconventional channels for possible writing gigs (*cough* I am available). What I'm starting to learn is that anything can make a good story. The most important thing that I've learned over the last couple months, however, is that any kind of positive action -- even doing something as seemingly silly as putting up an "About" page summarizing my work experience on my blog that only averages 40 hits a day -- tends to create forward momentum, and that is never a bad thing.

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