In Part One, I wrote about my early adventures as a writer, and promised to have Part Two up in a timely fashion. I got distracted by other things but I didn’t forget, so here’s the story of my relationship with the written word after my mid-20s or so. Since all of this takes place as an adult, I’ve decided to divide Part Two up by decades instead of life-stages.
In 1986 (also the same year I got married), I got my first job as a kind of/sort of writer, working for a nonprofit organization in New York City, writing technical entries for their manuals. At first I loved the job, as it involved a lot of research (mostly using microfiche) and actual writing, not merely editing someone else’s work (even though the writing was highly technical and had to be written in their own style). I became quite good at following the required style, and soon was training new employees and even asked to write and develop the new style manual. Not being much of a people person, I never felt that comfortable with training others, but was good enough at it to be promoted a year later to Assistant Editor.
That’s when everything began to fall apart. At the time, everything was becoming automated, and I wasn’t at all comfortable with the new method of “writing” the manuals, in which DOS fields had to be filled in and there was now very little writing involved. It seemed the “editorial” job had become nothing more than a glorified data entry job, with the automated system doing most of the work. My attitude went downhill and in 1990 I finally quit for a medical editor’s job at a large publishing company.
Other than my job, I did no other writing, because during this time I was busy as a newlywed and starting a home. At the time, it was fun and what I wanted to do. My husband hadn’t yet begun to show his true colors or started his emotional abuse of me, although the red flags were certainly there.
In late 1990, I started working as a medical editor at the publishing company mentioned above. I also was taking freelance proofreading jobs for the nonprofit company I had previously worked for (I’d remained on good terms with them). My new job proved to be disappointing at first–the “editorial” position I’d taken working for a medical journal that focused on skin disorders was nothing more than a secretarial/receptionist job. I spent most of my time answering phones and typing letters. Any “writing” consisted of writing up phone messages for my higher ups. I felt like I was too “good” for this position, and eventually transferred to another department in the same company that was looking for a production editor.
The production editor’s job was highly technical and involved fitting type into the journal pages in a way that looked good but allowed room for ads and pictures, which meant one of my tasks was to act as a liaison between the art department and the advertising department and I didn’t care for this part too much because it required social skills I didn’t really have. The job also involved a lot of proofreading and basic grammar editing. Since doctors wrote the articles that were submitted (this was for a journal that focused on sexual and reproductive disorders), there was little to no actual writing involved in this job, even though most of the submitting doctors were horrible writers. I couldn’t stand trying to decipher their atrocious writing (and spelling–these doctors would probably all fail a third grade spelling bee), but the job itself was interesting. The managing editor was insane and never satisfied. She loved to berate and call us all names. Imagine my surprise when she gave me a great performance review–she had never said anything nice to me before! She even talked about promoting me, which never really happened but I did get a few more actual writing assignments.
In 1991 I got my own column, which was about AIDS and HIV. Basically I had to research new information about HIV/AIDs and write up short summary articles detailing new findings, and then organize them on the dedicated page along with any ads and graphics. Later on I got a second column, about fertility and infertility. The funniest part of my job was editing a column in which doctors submitted humorous stories to the journal. I remember one in which a man who was a factory worker liked to, er, satisfy himself during his lunch break. While everyone went out to lunch and no one was around, he stayed behind and used the machinery to “take care of business.” One day his appendage got stuck in the machinery but he managed to pull himself free (with a lot of blood and pain) before his coworkers returned. Unfortunately, in order to free himself, he pulled it right off! Frantic, he used a staple gun to re-attach his mangled member, stuffed a lot of paper towels in his pants to control the bleeding, and resumed working as if nothing had happened. Not surprisingly, the man developed a terrible infection and a high fever. He finally had no choice but to tell his doctor what happened. I don’t remember whether the man’s private parts were saved or not, but it had to have been very traumatic. It’s a terrible story but funny too, because of the man’s stupidity. My job was to select the best stories and edit them so they were readable. You can imagine this part of the job could be interesting!
In December 1991, two months after my son was born, I returned from maternity leave to find out the journal was folding! It always had an identity problem and never could seem to be taken seriously as a medical journal but at the same time was too clinical to be a health magazine for laypeople. Everyone knew this was coming, it was just a matter of when. I lucked out in that I had my son before we were laid off and was able to take advantage of both the generous maternity leave and 6 month’s severance pay which allowed me to stay home with my son longer than I would have with just the maternity leave alone. A friend of mine worked in another department that published book reviews (actually, a well known publication) and it turned out they were accepting freelance book reviewers. I got the job which paid very little (about $30 a review) but allowed me to stay connected to the writing/publishing world and was something to put on my resume. The job entailed reading a pre-publication copy of one new book per week and writing a review about it. My “specialty” was new pop psychology and self-help books, and general miscellanea. Most of these books weren’t that good, but having been a psychology major the genre I wrote about was right up my alley. I usually wrote a positive review even if I didn’t like the book, because I was afraid to do otherwise. Almost none of these books sold many copies and most have long been forgotten.
Here’s a sample of the sort of reviews I wrote. This one was for Robert Fulghum’s popular book “Oh Oh.”
The author of the bestselling All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten and It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It has put together another volume of bite-sized inspirational whimsies. Drawn from his experiences as a child, as a preacher, and from everyday life, Fulghum’s eye-opening (although never moralistic or preachy) anecdotes are written in a comfortable and unpretentious style, giving one the homey feeling of sitting on grandpa’s porch on a lazy Sunday afternoon sipping iced tea. Some of the essays are reminiscent of Garrison Keillor, flavored with a bit of Norman Vincent Peale. In any case, it is worth taking the time to appreciate simple pleasures and human kindness in today’s hectic and stress-filled world. Fulghum’s book is one way to get started. (Previewed in Prepub Alert, 5/1/91.)
The one time I decided to write a bad review was for a book I felt had no redeeming qualities and I simply couldn’t think of anything good to say about it. That book was “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” which went on to become a massive bestseller and still sells well today! The review was published as I wrote it, with only minor changes made. The author was furious! A public retraction had to be written and I was let go. I almost died when I saw it had become #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. If only my review of that book had been a good one! I’ve never been known for my great timing or choices.
Shortly after this, I moved to North Carolina with my family (my daughter was born in 1993, 7 months before we moved). The rest of the 1990s were spent raising my children, trying to handle my husband’s drinking and escalating abuse (sometimes by becoming emotionally abusive myself), and adjusting to the culture shock of a young woman raised in the New York metro area now living in the rural South. The only writing I did was shopping lists. I no longer had any connection to the New York publishing world but was too consumed by my new life to care.
2000s – 2010s.
In early 2000, I began to get my wordsmith feet wet again. I’d become involved in a history and politics forum (still active to this day but overrun by trolls since their only mod left in 2010) and was extremely active on it for about 3 years. People used to tell me I wrote extremely well and the owners of the forum, also authors of a book about cycles in history, used quotes by some of the more well-known forum participants. I was one of them.
In 2003, I wrote a novel. It was the first time I actually finished writing a novel. But it sucked because I deliberately wrote it in a style I thought was “cool” but wasn’t really my own. In fact, I didn’t really like reading other people’s books written in that style. The novel also had no plot to speak of (thinking of good plots and endings has always been something that eludes me, which is why I do better with non-fiction and short stories). The two main characters were both unlikeable and immature (the man was boring and one-dimensional and the woman was probably Borderline-Histrionic), and there were too many badly written and unbelievable sex scenes in leiu of any real character development. I’d include a passage here to illustrate how bad it was (not a sex scene though), but that would mean I’d have to start digging out my overstuffed closet to find it and I’m definitely not in the mood for that right now, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
At the time I didn’t think the novel was that bad, so I let my mother read it. Big mistake. She basically told me it sucked and that I “shouldn’t think of myself as Prima Ballerina without having ever learned to dance.” Ouch! Typical of my mom, undermining what little confidence I had, but in a way she was right. Every publisher I sent the novel to rejected it. After about ten tries, I packed all 300+ pages into a cardboard box and only looked at it again recently. It sucks as bad now as it did in 2003. How did I ever think this self-indulgent POS written at the height of my distastrous marriage when I was also quite mentally ill was any good? But at least it was something.
I continued to post on various forums in a variety of subjects and became addicted to the Internet. Up until this time I continued to be a voracious reader, but the Internet was perfect for someone as asocial and reclusive as myself and satisfied both my need to write and my social needs. I read fewer books but more badly written garbage online. Other than forum posts though, I wrote nothing until I began to blog in September 2014, a little over a year ago.
The rest of the story is told throughout this blog, so I’ll end this post here.