Success!

I’ve been hired by a book store!
I mean, it’s still retail, but…IT’S A BOOK STORE. I’m too excited! After months of searching I finally found a new job, and it actually relates to my degree. I’ll get to work with people who are as nerdy about reading (and maybe writing) as I am.

I haven’t actually quit my current job either; I’ve just cut down my hours to one day a week for a few reasons, but mostly because I don’t want to leave my friend. The best part of my current job has been becoming best friends with another literary nerd, and as excited as I am about this book store, the worst part about leaving (which will eventually happen) is leaving her. It’s not uncommon to walk through the aisles of the hair and beauty department and hear us discussing literary theory, analyzing difficult texts, or having heart to hearts while stocking shelves to awkwardly avoid eye contact with each other. I wouldn’t have lasted four years working there if it weren’t for her.

Now, I just need to make an elaborate plan to kidnap her and get her hired at the same book store so we can both quit for good!

The Write kind of Ignorance

Gather ’round, ladies and gentlemen for a story of pettiness, a quest, and books.

Once upon a time, in a year not so long ago, a magical book list was circling the internet. This list claimed that “The BBC predicts that you’ve only read 6 of these books.” Perhaps upon hearing the title, you will remember its first appearance as well, dear reader, and perhaps it has impacted your life as it has the protagonist of our story.

At the time this list came out, a teenage girl who would later be the host of a hilarious and informative blog called Writing Pun, found this list and brought it to the attention of a gentleman which she wished to be betrothed to (aka wanted in his pants or something along those lines).

With hopes and dreams of a deep discussion of book lists and literature that would conclude with confessions of love, she told him, with awe and shock, that she had indeed only read a few books over the predicted six, despite her voracious reading habits. Before he could confess his love to her or tell her how many he had read (whatever he was going to say, she will never know), alas, they were interrupted!

The intruder, the villain, was another teenage girl who was slim, beautiful, and worst of all, nice. The intruder exclaimed, “Oh, are you talking about that book list? I think I’ve read thirty or so.”

Our protagonist balked. Thirty? She’d barely read ten! Embarrassed and thwarted by this foe, she smiled a smile that hid the turmoil within her, while saying, “Wow! That’s so impressive!” but thinking, That’s it! I must destroy her by reading more books!

Thus, began a quest that carried on for years and continues even to this very day.

Without further ado, here is the magical list which haunted the dreams of our protagonist ever since that day (if you’d like to use and interactive version that adds everything up for you, click here because math is hard) :

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 RebeccaDaphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell 

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy.

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen 

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth.

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold 

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt.

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare 

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Total: 37

The villain from out story is now happily married (not to the gentleman, I might add), and eventually, the gentleman turned out to be not so gentlemanly and has been out of the protagonist’s life for quite a few years, yet she continues to read from this list! What is this witchcraft? If not pettiness, why does she continue to read these challenging texts? Is it out of a love for reading or…perhaps it is true, the list truly is magical!

Okay, okay, goofiness aside, this list is actually the bees knees, and despite the reason I actually started working on it, it’s shaped my taste in literature, and I’m endlessly grateful to that girl who had read more than me for getting me to tackle it the way I did.

Initially, I picked books from it without knowing anything about them, simply so I could scratch them off the list as quickly as possible. This was the best thing I could have done. I’ve now read books I wouldn’t have touched if I’d known the first thing about them, and have absolutely fallen in love with them. That’s why after all of these years, I’ve continued to try and maintain this ignorance, picking away at the list, and choosing the books I’ve heard very little about. It makes it more fun when you have absolutely no idea where something is going, especially if it’s something you’d never read normally. You never know what treasures you’re stepping over when don’t jump blindly into a book every now and then.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the books on there I’ve really hated (cough Wuthering Heights, The Kite Runner, Heart of Darkness cough), but through this list I’ve also discovered my favourite book of all time, Gone with the Wind, and a handful of other favourites (Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, The Bell Jar, Lolita, The Great Gatsby etc.). Almost all of them, I either knew nothing or only had a vague idea of what they were about when I started them. I didn’t even read the backs and especially not the introductions (there’s spoilers everywhere in those damn things). Sometimes I even picked which book to read next based on how much the title annoyed me. Because of that, I’ve read books I never thought I would read in my lifetime, and I’s so grateful for that. Bonus: Even though I didn’t love every “blind book,” at least I’ve read them, enabling me to be a know-it-all snob about classic literature which is its own kind of awesome. I’m joking. Kind of.

I know the list isn’t perfect either. Why is the Complete Works of Shakespeare and Hamlet on there when Hamlet is clearly included in the Complete Works? How were these books selected? Why aren’t Peter Pan or Tom Sawyer or any of the other handfuls of wonderful books in the world included in it? I don’t know, but what I do know is that this list really has been “magical” for me.

Thirty-four doesn’t seem like that much, considering that I’ve been chipping away at this list since high school, but a lot of these books are hard, and it’s not like I’m not reading books outside of the list either. I figure that I read approximately three to four from this list every year, and that’s totally okay. I’m not reading them anymore to be better than someone else, I’m just reading them because, well, I love to read. These books are worth the challenge, and I feel very well-read after only thirty-four.

The most recent one I read was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. It was a challenge, but I adored it (plus I got to watch Gemma Bovary on Netflix after and now have a crush on Gemma Arterton).

The moral of the story: be petty whenever you can. Kidding. The moral of the story is that reading outside of your comfort zone can lead to new favourites you never thought you’d find. Now, what are you waiting for? Pick a book from the list at random and read it! In the words of Shia Labeouf, DO IT.

The Write jobs that don’t exist right now

So it turns out that despite my optimism in my post about careers for English graduates, I have not been able to find a career that utilizes my skills yet. In fact, I haven’t been able to find any work at all.

The initial factor which I blamed for my lack of success was inexperience. In my first article, I mentioned volunteering writing to get the experience necessary to get hired. However, even to volunteer to be a proposal writer, years of experience are required, and (I know this is my own damn fault) I have a really hard time justifying working for free, especially if I’m not sure if it will actually get me anything. All of the writing jobs available in my area right now require 5+ years of experience. Does that mean I’m just going to be trapped in retail for the next five years while volunteering to write one article a week ? I don’t think so.

The inexperience factor has been joined by two other factors which I didn’t recognize before: the economy and my location. I live in Alberta, the Texas of Canada, and when oil went, so did the rest of the jobs. There are no entry level jobs for technical writers or copywriters. Literally. There is nothing out there that doesn’t require at least five years of experience, but even if there was, living all the way out in Bumbleton, which is outside of the city (because God knows there’s no jobs in Bumbleton), is also a huge obsticle to leap over. The city is so big that if I needed to get all the way across it, it would take me two hours, so even if I somehow got a job on the far side, I could be driving for a total of four hours every day. Although it wouldn’t be ideal, I would take what I could get; however, on the few interviews that I’ve had, employers seemed to recognize that the distance wouldn’t be ideal for them either (What if my car broke down? What if I slept in? What if they needed me to quickly come in and fix something? etc.).

These are only the three factors I’ve identified which are inhibiting my success at finding a career; it’s very likely that there are even more. Thus, after a few months of desperate searching, I decided that instead of a career, I would try to find another retail job as my current job wouldn’t give me more that two shifts a week.

After all of my failure at finding a career, the real self-esteem shredding kick in the balls is that I haven’t been able to get another retail job either. “You have almost a decade of retail experience; why can’t you find work in retail?” Great question, alter ego!

It’s because I have a degree.

How frustrating is that? I mean, I get it. No one wants to hire someone with a degree for a job that usually doesn’t even require a high school diploma because they’re probably not going to stick around very long. They’re right, but it doesn’t make it sting any less. Lying on my resume and saying I didn’t actually have a degree repulsed me because 1. telling lies to get things isn’t cool and 2. do I really want to work in a place where I have to lie about the last four years working my ass off? That should be an asset, not a deterrence. At first I said no to hiding my degree, but as the months went by without any prospects, I began to consider it. However, by the time I was desperate enough to do it, my current job seemed to realize that I wasn’t going to bugger off anytime soon, so now they give me three shifts a week. It’s better than nothing.

The last straw in my job search was getting “hired” by a clothing store, Sirens when I still had my degree on my resume. The manager stood me up for the interview, but when we finally met and he gave me a hiring package, I was so excited. It was a pay cut from my current job, but I just wanted something new! They said that they’d call me with information about my first shift later in the week, and I waited diligently for a week with my phone attached to my hand. They never called. I began calling them numerous times to try and get a hold of the manager, who was always busy or away, and I was told that I’d get a call back, which I never did. Eventually, I gave up.

It was at this point that I made a revelation: if I couldn’t even get a job in retail, I needed to go back to school.

I’m now set to start in a medical office administration program in the fall.

Don’t get me wrong, I love school and I’m excited to go back, but this whole experience has been a disillusioned nightmare.

There’s one last thing which I need to ask myself after all of this failure, do I regret being an English major? No. Never. I wouldn’t trade those four years of my BA for anything. Studying literature is what I am meant to do; I know this. It may have landed me in a rough spot right now, but it’s built the foundation for when I go back to get my masters or a law degree, and enabled me to get TESL certified (which I’ll eventually do) and teach abroad. It will get me a career; it’s just going to take some time.

In hindsight, the only thing I would have changed is doing this certificate program before I did my degree. I would have escaped from retail years ago, and I would have never felt this indescribable low of being educated, but “unemployable.”

The Write Careers for English Majors (and most other “useless” degrees)

As the end of the semester swiftly approaches, I keep getting asked the dreaded question, “What are you going to do after graduation?”
I usually answer this question with one word:
Cry.
And everyone laughs including myself because we all know that the big joke is, well, my degree. Haw haw.
But the thing is, there are actually tons of job opportunities for English majors (that don’t include teaching, thank you very much) and even the other “useless” degrees out there that develop strong writing skills.
Seriously. I know you don’t believe me–I didn’t even believe it until a prof got after me for whining about being stuck in retail until I die. I always thought I’d at least need two more years of school to have any hope of getting out of asking people if they have membership cards to this store and if they’d like to sign up today, but that’s (hopefully) not the case.
Ever heard of copywriting? Technical writing? Seo content writing? Marketing/communications? Writing grant proposals? English graduates are PERFECT for these positions because we spent four years of our life learning how to communicate effectively through text. Trust me, I’ve done my research on these careers, their growth, and the qualifications required to actually get hired in one of them to the point of obsession. I practically live on indeed. Sunlight? What’s that?
This whole interweb thing has done all of us literary nerds a huge favor because these jobs–most of which have online components–are expanding every day.
So after all of my research, I feel it’s safe to say that the myth of useless English majors is in the process of being busted. There’s even technical and copywriting jobs in the closest city to Bumbleton!

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “If all these awesome jobs are out there, why don’t you have one?”
The problem I’m having is the same problem grads from practically every other degree program has: I can’t get a job because I don’t have experience; I can’t get experience because I can’t get a job.
Sadly, most jobs require two to three years of experience, but the good news is that I can get that experience by volunteering my writing skills to NGO’s. This is something I’ve just recently discovered, but it’s looking like I’ll get opportunities to try my hand at all of the careers I listed. Some sites to check out if you’re interested in doing the same are Volunteer Match and Get Involved. I don’t even have to leave my house to pad my resume, and in the mean time, I’ll be helping good causes.
I may not have the dream job yet, but I’m working on it, damn it. I do intend to eventually go back to school, hopefully for an MFA in creative writing because I’ll be a famous author by then (and let’s face it, I’m just a huge nerd that loves school), but until that happens, I will be on the hunt for one of the jobs listed above, and I will keep all of you lovely people informed of my success and lack there of along the way.

The Write way to get Published in Lit Mags

The unbelievable, unimaginable, and the utterly confounding has happened…I’ve been published by a literary magazine! I know. Is this real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality?

It’s a story called “Treasures” which has been published in the Spring 2015 edition of an online magazine called The Write Room (you can find my story here!). They didn’t contact me at all so it was a complete surprise when I was creeping around the interweb and stumbled across it. This is my first ever publication and I’m completely over the moon, over the stars, and well, right out of this galaxy.

What better way to celebrate than by writing a comprehensive guide to submitting stories to lit mags?

Step 1: Write a story

Seriously, do it. Like I said in my ‘About‘ section, if you write, you are a writer. So get writing, damn it.

Step 2: Edit

Read your story over at least three times with a red pen poised to edit out mistakes. It’s even better if you have a friend that’s willing to give you suggestions for how to improve your story. The worst critique anyone can ever give is, “It’s good.” I find that after I’ve written a story, I need to take a step back from it for a few days otherwise I’ll miss my mistakes.

Step 3: Find a magazine that suits your story

Your story is now polished and ready for publication, so now it’s time to find the proper home for it. Use lit mag databases on sites like pw.org and thereviewreview.net to scan through magazines. I prefer the Review Review because of you can search for genre, submission dates, payment etc. where pw is only sorted by genre. Once you find a few magazines that fit your standards, check them out and see if your story is a good fit for them. The best way to do this is by actually reading what they’ve previously published; most magazines have free back issues on their sites. This is time-consuming. Don’t expect to find the perfect few in a day.

Step 4: Submitting

Read the submission guidelines carefully. Make sure you meet all of the lit mag’s requirements before submitting. You don’t want to disqualify your work before they’ve even read it by not following their rules. You’ll often come across mags that have “simultaneous submissions accepted” in their guidelines. I had no idea what this meant for the longest time, but what it means is that you can submit the same story to more than one magazine at a time, and you should! The more mags you send your story to, the better chances of getting published you have.

Most mags use Submittable and sometimes charge a $3.00 fee to cover its cost. Be wary of anything that charges more than the submittable fee. Sometimes there’s a small reading fee, but it should never be more than $5 (unless it’s a contest; they tend to charge more, but I wouldn’t spend anymore than $20 on these). Think of these small fees as an investment in your future as a writer.

Submit your work with a cover letter. Check out this amazing article from Writer’s Digest on how to write one (it’s super easy). Seriously, actually do this. I didn’t for a really long time and although the story is the editor’s main concern, it wasn’t until I actually started doing a proper cover letter that I got published. Coincidence? I think not.

Step 5: Wait!

Sometimes it takes lit mags a long time (months!) to get to your work and get back to you. I didn’t hear anything from the Write Room for seven months when my story’s submission status changed to accepted on Submittable. Even after that, they still didn’t contact me to let me know it was going to be in the Spring issue. I mean, if I didn’t have my Submittable notifications on, I wouldn’t have even known my story was getting published. The nice thing about finding mags on Review Review is that you can find mags that respond within less than three months if you’re particularly impatient.

Step 6: Expect rejection

I don’t put this step in to discourage you, but to be a realist. I have a whole file folder of generic rejection slips that are addressed to “contributor.” However, some mags are actually cool enough to send a personalized rejection explaining why your story wasn’t for them. These are something to treasure and learn from! Don’t get discouraged. It’s all part of the process and all the more reason to send out your story to as many magazines as possible.

Step 7: Keep submitting until you’re a famous author

This one’s pretty self-explanatory.

That’s it!

Now you know how to submit stories to lit mags, but why submit to lit mags at all? Good question, alter ego. I’ve been told this by numerous creative writing profs and Stephen King’s On Writing also reiterates this: each published story is a stepping stone to building a resume which publishing companies will take more seriously when the time comes to try to publish a novel. Also, it’s pretty fricking cool to be a published writer.

Oh and if you were wondering, my favourite lit mag is Lost in Thought. It’s lyrical, creepy, and dark…all the things I love in literature.

Working Toward the Write Place

Captain’s log, stardate 3/24/2015…

Okay, that’s enough nerding out.

The purpose of this post is to inform all you lovely people where I’m at in my writing career. As I said in the introduction, I am almost done my BA in English lit. I’ve participated in one creative non-fiction course, one script writing course, and two creative fiction courses. I’ll talk more about these workshops later. For now, it’s time for me to indulge in my narcissistic tendencies and talk about myself (yay!).

What I’ve Published so Far

Nothing. Well, okay, that’s not exactly true.

I’ve written a few articles for my school newspaper, the Reflector. Not exactly a huge accomplishment, but it was the first time I ever saw my writing in print and that was pretty darn cool. If you want to know how many butt plugs out of five I gave the 50 Shades of Grey movie, you can find my most recent Reflector article here.

I also wrote a 500 word essay for Maclean’s magazine this year and got paid 75 whole dollars for it! This was the first time I’ve ever been paid for my writing, and I have to say, it felt pretty spiffy. I haven’t counted it as a publishing credit yet because it hasn’t come out. It’s supposed to hit shelves at the end of this month or the beginning of the next in the University Insider report.  However, I can’t say that I got this gig through nothing but hard work and determination; in all honesty, it was simply luck. The boyfriend of a girl I befriended at school works for Maclean’s. He needed an article writer and I suppose that I was such a raving loony about writing that she thought of me when the job came up (thank you Rachel!). BAM…I was $75 richer and will one of these days officially be a published writer!

My third success (kind of) is a story called “Treasures” which according to Submittable, has been accepted by the Write Room (look another pun!), an online lit magazine. “Treasures” is a short fiction story about time travel and it was seven months before its status changed. When I got the email that my submission status changed to accepted I almost threw up I was so excited. However, that happened about a month ago and the magazine has made no contact with me. I’ve contacted them via facebook and submittable, but I have received nothing back. I’ve come to the point of accepting that perhaps the status change was an error, if anything just to avoid driving myself insane. I can’t avoid being hopeful that this is not the case, but only time will tell…In the meantime, I have continued to write and send out stories!

And that’s it! These are my few accolades, but I am proud of each one whether it came about by luck, or didn’t actually come about at all. The same goes for my file folder which is packed with rejection slips. It’s all one step closer to becoming a successful writer.

What I’m Working on Now

A novel which is currently 119 pages in 12 point font on my computer. That’s about 50,000 words! Thanks to Meg Cabot and this post, I finally know how the number of words on computer paper will translate into a published book. I know, I know, quality over quantity, but I can’t stop myself from swelling with joy every time I reach a new page. When I get to cutting things out during the editing process, it will be painful.

My manuscript is a ghost story which I refer to as Joe and she prefers female pronouns. I was struggling to pick which genre to place her in for a while; I wanted her to be an adult book, but my protagonist is in high school which gives it a YA feel. Thanks to a wonderful professor who has also offered to help me with editing over summer, I can now clasify her as Cusp literature (YA books that can also be enjoyed by adults).

I am almost done part one of three and I will finish writing her this year!

 

Where have you been published? What are you working on right now? Tell me in the comments!