The Road So Far: Why CSI?

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It wasn’t a hard decision to continue with school. I was still only working part time and with financial aid I’d get paid to go. I ended up deciding to go to The College of Staten Island. The commute sucked, almost two hours, but it seemed like the right fit. The courses required for a communications degree looked interesting and I could choose journalism as a concentration. It’s also one of the few schools that has an actual campus. A feature that helped me to be more involved in the college experience. It wasn’t exactly one big party but I did end up spending more time outside of class with other students. It made it more enjoyable and I also stumbled into some writing and editing work.

Chilling on campus between classes.

Chilling on campus between classes.

A friend from class, Jay, wrote for the site concertconfessions.com. While it wasn’t a paying gig, there was the possibility of obtaining press passes and it was another way to gain more experience. By that time I was writing album reviews for a new music website, misformusic.com. I had also started to experiment with live concert photography and created a website, lastremains.net, to post the photos and music related writing. Jay helped convince me to sign up, arraigning for me to tag along to a Gwar concert.

While I was pretty excited about the school’s publications, clubs and radio station, I never found the time to get involved with any. I did end up working on a magazine started by a group of students. After reading the first issue I volunteered to copy edit articles. After a few issues I wanted to be more involved and expand my role. I suggested a music section that I could manage. While they already had somebody else working on the idea they said we could do it together. I got to work setting up interview pieces and recruited some new writers. Unfortunately, magazine never published any more issues.

To get my degree I had to do another internship. This time around I ended up at a marketing communications company on Staten Island. They designed websites, business cards, and other printed marketing stuff. I have to admit I don’t feel like I learned as much as I did at my first internship. I did gain more experience copywriting and picked up some new design tricks. Though I’ve probably forgotten them since I haven’t had much practice since. But it was a very interesting experience and I gained some new insights into marketing writing. Plus it lead to some paying work after I finished the internship.

I enjoyed the most of my time at CSI. I found a lot of the course material very interesting, especially the communication theories and media culture studies. I also met some really great people, students and professors included. Unfortunately, the last couple semesters got pretty tough, I was even tempted to quit at some points. I wasn’t enjoying the classes anymore and was worried about failing. Fortunately, my worries were for nothing and I graduated in January of 2013.

The Road So Far: Keeping Busy

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Pretty soon after I started classes I ended up leaving my job at the bakery. There were a lot of changes in the business and I was forced to split my time between working in wholesale and retail at the Manhattan location. I was discouraged and unhappy with the situation. Deciding to move back into office work, I found a job in accounting for a restaurant chain and franchise company. I enjoyed the change and quickly took on more responsibility. The workload steadily increased and eventually it became too much to handle.

Next I found a job working two days a week for the nonprofit company Seedco. I started out doing data entry for one of their programs. Later I got the chance to help out with the program newsletter. I wrote and edited articles, then reformatted it from print to email.

While there I used the extra time to to do an internship. I found one assisting the editor of a website aimed at expecting and new parents. I wrote small pieces for the newsletter, proofread articles, assisted with the editorial calendar and did administrative work. The internship was unpaid but I was hired as a freelance writer for several articles published on the site. By then I had built up some momentum and was writing more regularly. I even tried sending out some work for contests and publication submissions.

I stayed at the internship from April until December of 2008. I felt I had gained enough experience there and couldn’t afford to work for free anymore. At that point I thought it would be a good idea to find ways to expand my experience and explore different areas and industries I was interested in. I joined the internet marketing team of band, volunteered for a film and arts festival, and attended a conference on working in the magazine industry. I also wrote published a story in a heavy metal themed horror anthology and began writing music reviews for a metal website.

When I got my degree that May, I started to even more actively search for a second or new full time job. I didn’t have much luck and even considered taking on another internship to beef up my resume. I eventually decided that I would continue with school, getting my Bachelors degree. If I went full time I would be eligible for full financial aid. Tuition would be paid with money left over for me to survive.

The Road So Far: Back Home

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In December of 2001 I was back home from school after a year and a half. I struggled to find a steady job full-time job for almost a year. I eventually stumbled upon a bakery that was hiring retail sales people. I spoke with the manager and gave him my resume. I called to follow up several times until he finally put me on the schedule. It started part-time and I grew to really enjoy working there. It was a relaxed workplace where I easily learned and quickly took on new tasks. It taught me a lot of patience and great people skills. Working at the bakery my goal was to pay off my debt and eventually return to school. However, as my role at the bakery continued to grow I became comfortable and in no hurry to return.

Not expecting the bakery to be long-term I occasionally looked for work and made attempts at improving my skill sets and experience. I searched for internships that didn’t require school credit and found a work at home program promoting bands. I was sent a package of promotional posters, cd’s, stickers, etc. that I was to post and give out around the city, then take pictures and send them back to the company. I wasn’t motivated enough to do the work on my own, especially since I had no interest in the band I was assigned and quit very early. Since I was interested in writing for the web I tried learning HTML with a self learning kit. I learned basic coding easily but I didn’t really have a way to put it to use. I wrote stories and poetry occasional. I also tried to improve my writing with free online classes and joined the website DarkPoetry.com. The site is a community for writers to post work, receive commentary and support. I also submitted for publication once in a blue moon. But due to a lack of discipline my I wasn’t very consistent and easily let other things in life take priority over writing.

After several years at the bakery I moved into a full-time position handling wholesale business. But I was getting restless and there wasn’t much more room for growth. I still wanted to work in a field related to writing but lacked the experience or degree to gain a position. When I did start applying to jobs, the only offer I received was in accounting for the food service industry. I don’t mind accounting work, it’s easy and I’m good at it. But it still wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. With my failed efforts on my own to gain the experience, knowledge and skills I would need to move to something else I realized it was time to go back to school. I turned down the offer to stay at the bakery after negotiating a raise and a flexible schedule, both of which I would need to return to school.

The Road So Far: Wasted Years

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When I was younger I didn’t really plan ahead long term. I did well in school each year to move up to the next grade and eventually go to college, get a degree and a good job. What college that should be and what job it might lead me to wasn’t something I thought too hard about. I imagined and day dreamed about different careers but it seemed so far off that I’d have plenty of time to plan for the future. I was also over confident that everything would just fall into place as they had in the past. I didn’t really put much effort into applying for college. I waited until the last minute to take the SAT’s, didn’t research many schools and didn’t visit any.

I stumbled upon DePaul University as part of a scholarship program I applied for. I wanted to go because of their communications and journalism program. I didn’t get the scholarship and ended up at SUNY Brockport. I was also accepted to Nazareth College but financial aid only covered half the tuition and boarding. I didn’t see anyway I could afford it and didn’t think it really mattered where I went anyway. I went mostly because I felt obligated. I didn’t think I’d learn anything useful, it was just a hurdle to getting a better job later on. My main motivation was to get away from home. I was very independent, wanted to get away and experience different places. I didn’t even look at any schools in New York City. I’m not sure if I would have gone to school right away if I stayed home. I was tired of learning in the classroom and more excited about hands on experience.

I admit part of me was trying to run away from a life that I was unhappy with. I thought maybe leaving home would change how I felt. It didn’t work, my heart wasn’t into school and it possibly made things worse. I ended my first year on academic probation because of my low grade point average. Having little else to do in the small college town I let myself get wrapped up in partying and enjoying the freedom of being away from home. I focused on enjoying the present instead planning for the future. When I returned to school in the fall things didn’t get much better. By October I realized I was wasting my time upstate and it would be my last semester there. I came home depressed and discouraged.  I owed the school my full tuition for the last semester because I never finished the financial aid paperwork and had bills I neglected to pay. Before I could think about planning for the future I had to get a job, any job in order pay my debt. I planned on going back to school after I payed off the debt and had a better idea of what I wanted to do. I still occasionally wrote but didn’t invest any real time, money or energy into writing. Instead I pushed it aside for later when the time was right.

So I’ve made a lot of mistakes, we all do, right? I would have made just as many no matter what I decided. So I would probably do it all the same if I had a chance to do it over. I may not have learned anything in classes but the experiences were well worth the time upstate. My writing career may have been stalled because of the lack of planning. Then again I’m not sure if I would have a writing career if things played out differently. I needed to make those mistakes and take some detours to realized what it is that I actually want. The only thing I regret is not making writing a priority in my life. I let it become something to do when I had the time, instead I should have been making the time. I got caught up living life and trivial little things seemed very important. I wasted many years because I forgot what was really important to me.

The Road So Far

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The Road Ahead

Photo by MysticMoon14 via Flickr

They say you can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you came from, or something like that. Not a fan of cliches but it fits the theme of this series of posts. As I feel the progress in my writing career has stalled out, taking a look at how far I’ve come might help. I feel no closer to my goals than I did when I first began to envision a future as a writer. Reflecting on how I got to this point and the work that I’ve put in may just reveal how far I’ve actually come. Hopefully, it will also encourage me to keep putting in the work.

I’ve always been fascinated with writing, asking my parents what every sign we drove past said. I learned to read early, about three years old. Once able to I proudly read every sign out loud to anybody that would listen, or not in most cases. One of the fondest memories of my childhood were weekly trips to the library with my mother. I’d go through books, reading the first page to decide on my book for the week. One of my favorite show’s as a kid was Reading Rainbow. I loved books, reading and writing. Once in school, I loved English class and it just encouraged my voracious reading appetite as I grew.

I can’t really say that I’ve always wanted to be a writer, because even as a child it was more of a daydream. I don’t remember ever thinking of it as a real possibility. I didn’t put much thought into what would be required to achieve the status of published writer. I didn’t even realize how many different ways you could make a living writing. The idea of being a famous writer was simply a fantasy. The kind of thing little kids think up and you continue to fantasize about as you get older. It felt similar to the dream of being a famous singer. Something to this day I still dream about as an alternative life that might be cool, though I doubt I’ll be starting a singing career anytime soon. I discovered in middle school I have terrible stage fright and am not that good of a singer.

But writing was something I could do and it didn’t matter if I was good. I still have stories I wrote in elementary school and notebooks of horrid heart wrenching poetry. I wasn’t very sure about letting others read the things I wrote. I wrote mainly because I enjoyed it. It felt therapeutic, a way to get out all the emotions from childish drama. It was something I thought of as a hobby, to pursue while I worked away at a job I tolerated. Even in adolescence, I was much too practical to think that I could make a living off writing. I got over the fear of showing my work to others, and submitted work for publication. I thought it was always worth a shot and might be cool if I did get some work published. But it still never really occurred to me to make it a career.

I never really pursued it out of fear. There was the fear of rejection and failure. I was also afraid to venture into the world of publishing, it seemed so foreign and unknown to me. I had no idea where to start even if I wanted to pursue it. My biggest fear however was of losing my love for writing. I thought that if I turned the thing I loved so much into my job, I might not love it so much anymore. I liked writing because it was for me. I didn’t have to do it. There were no deadlines, no directives, no guidelines, and it wasn’t an obligation. My biggest fear was that once it became an obligation, something I had to do to survive, I would ruin the one thing that I loved doing.

Until a couple of years ago, I still never thought of pursuing writing as a full-time career. Even now I question myself and am unsure of my future plans. I’ve overcome most of my fears, but I still worry about losing my passion for writing. I have multiple back up plans and am not ready to fully commit to writing full-time. I have realized though that if I don’t at least try I’ll never know.

 

Poetry Writing Excercise

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On my usual pursuit of free events I found another one from my new favorite, Gotham Writers Workshops. As part of their fall open house, last night I attended a one hour poetry class. Part of the class called for a writing exercise, to write about the world around an object, person, etc., basically describing it without actually naming it. Here’s what I came up with:

Day in Day out ripping away at my scalp
Hiding in the darkness to calm the migraines
Frustration building as nothing gets better
Yet here I come back for comfort and security
Day in Day out knowing you’re not going anywhere

So what do you think? I’m impressed with myself especially since I haven’t done much poetry writing in a long time. It actually came to me pretty quickly and easily. Well okay I did go back and edit some. (I had extra time) Even so the more important thing is I got writing and it was actually a really fun class. Carter, our instructor, was probably the only teacher that made poetry actually sound as fun as it should be. He was also funny and entertaining enough to make me think twice about signing up for the course. Then I remembered I don’t have money.  Well there’s always another time, I hope.

Gotham Writers Workshop’s At-a-Glance Free Class

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As somebody who always wanted a career in writing and publishing, I thought many times of trying out the Gotham Writers Workshop classes. However, after looking at some of the prices and not knowing what to expect I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it.  Recently, after following their Facebook page I saw an offer for the At-A-Glance free class. Of course, I’m up for almost anything as long as it is free and it was completely worth it.

They had instructors in three different genres discuss major elements and then we worked on a short exercise. We went over fiction writing, focusing on character development. The class answered questions about the character’s occupation, dream job, relationship status, age, and even what she looked like. The exercise got us writing about a conflict like what the worst thing she ever did. We also went over non-fiction and how you could still use your imagination with character descriptions, structure, and even speculating about particular elements of the story. Our exercise prompted us to speculate on a true story.

I think the most fun and enlightening was the lesson in screen writing. The instructor spoke about the tone of a movie. The tone can be another way to describe the perspective of the story. Through changing the perspective the tone will change. This then leads to distinguishing the genre. The exercise we had was to take a log line (short description of plot) of a movie and write it from a different perspective changing the genre. This is a good exercise to help define the genre and lead your writing if you are struggling. Because I enjoyed this so much I’ll share with you what I wrote. I picked the movie, American Psycho.

“A young successful Wall Street Broker struggles to fit in with his overly-materialistic social circle. Infidelity, drug-use and petty jealousy leads to a mental breakdown.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m was really glad that they were able to work in exercises to get us writing. They also had food and drinks for after that class and we got the chance to socialize with the other attendees and the instructors. I’m very glad I got to find out about their classes. In fact I found out that in addition to their courses that last several weeks they also have single day workshops called write-ins. The write-ins seem like a great way to get writing more often and a great way to meet other writers.

Lifes little lesson for Monday

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Yesterday, I was really in a funky mood. I woke up later than I wanted to, so I stayed in bed being lazy. Just felt like lying around. It didn’t help that I hadn’t really gotten anything done in a couple days. I basically wasted my time, by hanging out, and my money . Not that I didn’t enjoy it or feel like I needed it but I just couldn’t get myself back into a working state of mind. So after I finally got up, sitting in front of my computer I just couldn’t think of one thing I wanted to do. Then I get a text to go hang out with a friend. I did want to go hang out because it’s not like I was being productive. But then I thought about the money issue and if I did go anywhere then I would be upset the next day because again I had gotten nothing done and I would be completely broke.

So as I sat there contemplating what to do I went through my choices.

1. I could get right back into the bed and wait for the day to be over and just start all over tomorrow hoping it would be a better day.

2. I could go hang out and spend the last of my money. I could also hope that hanging out would put me in a better mood and that at least I would have had some fun before I tried starting over again tomorrow.

Or I could do the smartest thing. Just try to work through it and force myself to do something, anything. I thought for a minute and pulled out the easiest thing I could possible do. Take out a journal and just write about how I felt. I just sat and wrote out the whole ordeal, it came out real easily once I began. About half way through it I was already feeling better. I’m not sure how long I wrote but it was about two pages. I stopped to eat and do a couple of other things in between but kept going back. (I tend to always multi-task once I get motivated) But by the time I wrote the last paragraph I felt totally better. I did still get back into bed but with different intentions.

I was just going to do a little mini restart of the day. Instead of getting in the bed and staying there until the next morning I was going to take a little mini nap and get up later to get some stuff done at night. I did get in bed but never up taking the nap. Eventually, I got some work done later in the night after watching a little television.

Whether or not I did get anything done though was besides the point. Writing my way out of my funky mood made me remember why I began writing in the first place. The writing experience has always been very cathartic for me. It was the easiest and most natural outlet for me to channel my energy into. Over the years I’ve lost my enthusiasm for writing. Well actually the better way to put it is I lost the momentum I once used to have. At some points life’s distractions took over. At other times it just started to feel too much like an obligation. With attempting to turn my passion and something that I did purely for fun into a legitimate career I had to write things I didn’t always enjoy, so it became forced. But while I was writing the journal entry it just all flowed out of me, it wasn’t forced and the more I wrote the better I felt. I just realized this is a sign that I’ve got to work out a new routine. I have to do more of that natural, fun writing so I don’t get that burn out from just churning out work.

I have to find a balance so that I don’t forget again that I actually do enjoy writing.

Hello 2011

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So as I’ve said before I don’t do new year’s resolutions, but I do like to at least make a nice list of goals I would like to accomplish for the year. Unfortunately, last year I started one but never finished and to make it even better I can’t even find it. This year I am not only going to make sure I get the list done. I’m posting online for to ensure a certain level of accountability and I will know exactly where to find it at the end of the year.

Goals for 2011

  • Write everyday.
  • Get my website up and running.
  • Attend networking events.
  • Organize my picture files.
  • Edit poetry collection.
  • Experiment with photo-editing everyday.
  • Read at least 5 books on writing.
  • Post something new online once a week.
  • Update the website once a week.

Can’t wait to see at the end of the year how many of these I was able to stick to or accomplish.

Short Update

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I know this blog has been pretty stagnant lately. It’s just not as easy as some people make it seem. With no editor I don’t have anybody assigning me stories. I also don’t have anybody to answer to if I don’t meet a deadline. I have several drafts waiting for me to go back and edit to publishing quality. I am an extreme perfectionist and would rather put nothing up than something sub par. I have seen blogs with simple misspellings and grammatical errors, it makes me sick. And the most important problem I find is that I just don’t have the time with school, work or looking for work, other writing projects and trying to live life.

However, the motivation behind starting the blog was to keep me writing on a fairly regular basis. I do get to do this with all the other work so I don’t feel that bad. As a matter of a fact I just got a new writing gig. As of today, my birthday, I will be writing album reviews for the website M is For Music. My first review was for the new band Baptized in Blood and you can read it here. I do hope to add more post to Last Words and I am considering creating a whole website. But for now I’m just happy that I’m still writing and enjoying it. (usually)