Monday, June 27, 2011

Jessica Barksdale Inclan: Adapating to the Job

To be honest--and I'm not actually sure I want to be too honest, as it still seems scary to contemplate--the past say three years of my writing life have been a bit troubling.

The problem with writing as a career is that there are no sick days, pensions, vacation plans, benefits, or colleagues in the next cubicle to bitch and moan with when the boss sends an evil email about production. In fact, unless you find your own colleagues--workshops, writing groups, online list serves, etc--you can be alone in a room a lot, staring out at the blankness of your own imagination. Or, when your imagination has been on overdrive, there's no one to turn to and brag.

"Look!" you say, pointing at your screen. "Three thousand words."

The empty room reverberates with more silence.

Thus you find writers on Facebook reporting their word counts, hoping for someone to respond or comment or "like." Yes, our comments say to the writer. Well done you.

The good news for me is that I'm also an English professor, and I teach with a number of writer/teachers, and I have folks in the next office. Of course, mostly we are complaining about students, but I can run ideas past them--and my writing group is made up of these writer/teachers. I belong to groups online and on land, and I do find ways to bond with other writers. But the bottom line is that here I am, writing in my room alone. I can bug my husband and read some of this blog aloud to him, but, really, he needs to do his online banking.

Starting about three years ago, trauma ensued in my writing life with not only my agent firing me via email but my editor succumbing to a terrible illness. Imagine the stunned horror and grief at both of these occurrences, and then imagine the silence of my career as I had no "boss" any more, of any kind.

Agent hunt, agent found, new novel now on the edge of going out into the world for potential new "bosses" to buy. It seems so simple as I write it here, but from about the fall of 2009 to now, my job as a writer has been fraught. If it were a job in a company, imagine I was working without pay or temping or interning. Not only that, but the boss at this temping job communicates little or not at all, I don't know what dress to wear, and there is no lunch hour.

Late last year as I waited for my agent to chime in on my manuscript, I did some very deep soul searching about my writing career. I remembered what I first started writing--poems and short stories. I enrolled in a couple of online writing classes, and I started to go back to my roots, the type of writing I used to do in the wee hours when my little children were asleep.

I wrote poems--my writing group and I created a poetry boot camp: a poem a day--and I wrote stories. I dug in my files for stories I wrote years ago. I revised them. I worked on them some more. I submitted my work to my classmates and teacher and let them dig in. My readers read them. And then I revised and revised.

I started to send my stories and poems out to small literary journals, the kind I used to get published in before Her Daughter's Eyes came out. These journals pay in absolutely nothing, and these days as so many are online, there's not even a hard copy to put in the shelf. But it felt good to see myself there.

Yesterday, I found out that the collection I put together is a semi-finalist in a contest that includes cash and publication, the hard copy kind, the kind you can actually put on the shelf. But before you think happy thoughts for me, I'm sure this manuscript won't be accepted or win. It's not quite ready yet, and I've worked on the stories in the three months since sending it to this competition. But what validation! How good this feels. It's like working on a plan and having the boss say, "Not bad. Fix this, and maybe it's a go."

Here's a couple of links to places where my stories and poems have been published online in recent months. This work is very different than my novels, especially the romances, but I think of it this way: in a job, I'd be a journeyman. I could work in a few departments. Maybe, I'd have job security.

Heart of July

Scroll down for this one

Tuna for the Apocalypse


Jessica Barksdale Inclan or Jessica Inclan or Jessica Barksdale (jack of all trades)


marybelle said...

I will seriously stick to being a reader thank you. I could not live with the angst. I wish you every success.


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Jo's Daughter said...

I too like to write poems, such a great way to express yourself.