Status Check: On Writing
Since the fifth grade, I’ve wanted to be three things:
Teachers are actors. To teach you need preparation, charisma, a strong speaking voice and the ability to entertain. I can’t imagine that there’s a harsher audience than a room filled with 36 twelve-year-olds. If you put on an unsatisfactory performance, they’ll let you know.
I decided I could not be a vet in high school. One of our cats was hit by a car, and I rushed him in for help. The vet pulled at his legs and it made a grinding sound. I saw black spots and had to sit down. Medicine was not the road for me. Dog training is a better fit. I give lots of treats and praise. I don’t have to deal with life and death very often.
Writing is a compulsion. In the fifth grade, I wrote and bound my first mystery. I remember my teacher asking, when it was done, if I read a lot. I did, of course. Still do. Reading is easy. Writing, harder. Especially first drafts. They kill me. But, I can’t stop. When I don’t write for any length of time, I plan stories in my head. Characters talk. I hear opening lines. They don’t go away until I type them into a document.
These last few months writing has been a struggle. Partly because I’ve been busy. Search dog training in Texas, then in Indiana. A nasty stomach flu. Preparing Sherlock for his first obedience competition. These things are true, but also camouflage. The truth is my very first paid writing assignment was a failure, and I haven’t felt like writing much since.
Someone, I’ll refer to him as Donald for the purpose of this post, left me a complimentary comment and wanted to know if I did freelance work. No balloon needed, I could float up into the sky all by myself. No one has ever paid me to write. To be sure my style was what he wanted, I shared links to posts I’ve had published on the Ruffwear Dog Blog. The compliments kept coming. The excitement grew. What an opportunity. I was going to be a paid writer. WOW.
I sent in the first draft of my first post, a product review, to Donald. It came back to me with suggestions and random thoughts, as well as links to reviews he preferred. I rewrote it. It wasn’t right. I rewrote it again. There were, perhaps, five drafts over the course of four months.
It wasn’t ever quite right. He couldn’t communicate effectively. We didn’t work well together. It’s too hard over email. Those are all possible reasons. The truth is, I don’t know why he was unhappy with my writing. It bothered me.
In a last ditch effort, Donald sent me a stream of consciousness product review he’d written. It included numerous run on sentences, capitalized common nouns and changes in voice. He wrote it as an example. I was kind. I told him that I could not write in that style. I suggested that he write the product reviews himself, and I edit them. He agreed.
In the email, he also requested that I return the product sample he’d sent me. I did, but I made a mistake and sent it overnight. The shipping cost came to $35.82. If I’m being honest, there was a little bit of revenge in that shipping cost. He’d never paid me a thing. He could pay for overnight shipping. It wasn’t my money. At least, I didn’t think so at the time.
When I emailed him the cost, along with my PayPal address, he was livid. He could not believe I’d spent that much!!! He’d told me shipping would only be $7.00!!! (Which he did not.) How could the post office even allow me to send it overnight when the final destination was so close? I apologized, and told him I thought he’d wanted the product back quickly.
I knew I made a mistake. I felt like a fool. I should not have sent the product back until he paid me. Now that it was done, what could I do if he didn’t pay me back? What recourse did I have?
The answer, of course, was none.
That was back in December. Haven’t heard from Donald since.
I peeked at his blog last week, and he has product reviews up. He didn’t steal mine, he didn’t like them, but he wrote his own. He certainly did not pay me to edit them. It’s too bad that he did not, as there are multiple grammar errors. I know it’s petty for me to point that out, but not only did he never pay me for any of my writing, he never paid me back for shipping and worst of all he shot a hole in my confidence.
But here I am, three months later, feeling better about it. Forgiving, even. I learned from Donald, and I’ll be smarter the next time someone asks me to do freelance work.
I can’t seem to stop writing, no matter the setbacks. I think of Thomas Edison. He’s inspiring. I think of the silly quote from elementary school: Quitters never win, and winners never quit. However, there should be something in there about how it kicks you in the guts to fail.
So, here I am at 41, a teacher, a dog trainer and a writer. Not exactly as I predicted in the fifth grade, but close. I’ll keep writing. Can’t seem to stop.
And finally, to give credit where credit is due, I stole the title of this post from one of my very favorite writers, Stephen King. If you haven’t read On Writing, you should. It’s brilliant.