A Writer's Growing Pains
Picture this: You reach a stage in your career when you think you have things under control. You know what you’re doing; you got this, ain’t no thang.
Then, the universe pulls the rug out from under your feet and you realize you know nothin’, Jon Snow.
This happened to me last week, in a series of small events that left me reeling and wondering if I should throw in the towel on this writing thing.
First, the Medium Partner Program (MPP) estimates were a day late. Typically, MPP writers learn on Wednesday how much money their articles earned the week prior; it’s like a payday where you find out how much your salary is, but only after it’s appeared in your check. A twisted, backwards system, maybe, but hey — begging writers can’t be choosers.
Last Wednesday came and went with no updates. By Thursday afternoon, social media was rife with nervous posts from MPP participants who realized maybe we shouldn’t rely so much on a site where there’s no contract, no agreement, nothing in place to ensure that writers get paid for their work.
Later that day, Medium posted the payments with a short apology and things went back to status quo. But the entire episode was, for me, a wake-up call. I might not make enough on this site to rely on it for my well-being, but I make enough that it would sting to lose the income.
The experience pushed me to think harder about what I want out of writing, where I want to be in a year or two or five, and how I can use this site, along with others, to reach those goals.
The Lesson: Medium is a wonderful place to hone my skills, read excellent pieces, and join a community of other readers and scribes. But, last week’s glitch in the system reminded me that I can’t depend on it to earn a living. If I’m going to get where I want to be in my career, I need to diversify, publish in a wide variety of outlets, and have Medium as one of many baskets I put my eggs into.
Then, just a day after the MPP fiasco, an editor I trusted and respected pulled off his mask and showed me the ugly troll underneath. I’ve already written about the experience so I won’t delve into the sordid details here, but the whole ordeal made me realize how gullible I’d been.
I’d allowed this person to charm me, just as I’d done when I was dating in my twenties and fell for the cute guy with the likable personality who turned out to be a self-centered control freak. I thought those days were behind me — that I’d grown enough to see that kind of B.S. from miles away — but I dove willingly into this editor’s treasure chest of collected writers and let him use me for his own gain.
The Lesson: There are truly incredible people in the writing world, and I’ve even made new friends as a result of this fiasco. But I need to pay attention to the warning signs. My gut told me all along that there was something off about this person, and I ignored it. That won’t happen again. Lesson learned.
Finally, on Sunday, an essay I wrote appeared in The Boston Globe. I submitted the piece back in November and the Globe accepted it a few days later, but didn’t publish it until March 24th. It took four months to see the piece in print, and when the day finally rolled around, I was overjoyed but also…kind of sad.
It sounds ridiculous, but there’s a realization that hits when you finally reach a major milestone in your career: Nothing really changes. I got some very nice congratulatory messages from fellow writers, friends, and family. I got a few more followers on social media sites. But, that’s it.
I still had to take my kid to hockey practice. I still had to say goodbye to my husband, who flew out of town for a conference. I still had to make dinner and do the laundry. I still had to scoop shit out of the cats’ litter boxes and pop a pill for a migraine. After all the excitement, I was still just me.
The Lesson: Getting published in the Globe was an enormous honor. To know I have that byline is a huge ego boost; it says my writing was good enough to make it into a major publication. I’m hopeful it means other well-known outlets will accept my work down the line.
But it shouldn’t be a measure of my self-worth. It’s not a gauge of who I am as a mother, a wife, a friend, or a daughter. I’ve wrapped so much of my ego up in my writing, when all it is, really, is a job. It’s work. It’s work I (usually) love. But it’s still work.
So, it’s been a week of growing pains, of hard lessons, of learning. I still think I need to process what it all means, but it feels like it was all meant to be. These are lessons I needed to go through to have a better understand of what I really want out of this career. As Ani DiFranco has sung: