Tag Archives: Career

Job Hunting

As you may know, I’m currently a student in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing grad program. I’m graduating with my MA in about six weeks. At which time, you will all call me Master.

Because I’ll have my Master’s Degree? Get it?

*coughs*

Anyway. While I’ve been attending Rowan, I’ve also been employed by the Rowan University Writing Center. My duties there have included tutoring students on their writing, running small group workshops for Composition I classes, running fiction workshops including out #NaNoWriMo Write Ins, and assisting with various presentations and seminars.

I enjoy this job. A lot. I can say, hands down, that it’s the single best job I’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, the position is classified as a “student job,” which means that when I graduate in May, I’ll also be leaving my tutoring job.

So, I’m looking for a new job right now. Ideally, something involving writing, such as copywriting, working for a college writing department, publication layout and design at a magazine or journal, or anything in the publishing field.

If you happen to know of any openings in the South Jersey/Philadelphia/Wilmington area, I’d appreciate any leads. I’m attaching my resume here, in case anyone is interested.

Jason Cantrell Resume

Also, if you want to support my publishing career, you can check out my novel, Manifestation. It’s an urban fantasy adventure about a teenage girl caught in the rebirth of magical powers. I think you’ll love it. And if you do, it’ll help me make sure my rent gets paid.

In the meantime, between job hunting, I’ll be continuing work on Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation. I just finished Draft Two and I’m getting critiques and feedback right now. Expect to see more on the upcoming release later this year.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

The Pizza Hut Diaries

            I never made the choice to become a manager at Pizza Hut. That choice was made for me by a police officer at the intersection of RT 47 and Donald Barger Blvd in Glassboro, NJ, during the autumn of 1999.

            I started working at Pizza Hut a year before. I hadn’t wanted to get a restaurant job at all, after the bad experiences I’d had in the past. I had just recently quit a job at KFC, after a long, greasy summer that left me tired every day. I was sick of coming home smelling like food and covered in flour. When I got my first car, a bright green ’94 Geo Tracker, I decided I could expand my job options beyond the local restaurants in walking distance of home. I started driving around searching for quiet, clean retail establishments where I could fill out job applications. Since I had just started school at Rowan University, I expanded my search to the Glassboro area, hoping to find a job within a reasonable driving distance of school.

            I wouldn’t have walked into the Pizza Hut on RT 47 if not for the sign hanging out front: “Now Hiring Delivery Drivers – $10-$18/hour.” Having just come from a minimum wage job making $5.50 an hour, this was a huge opportunity. I decided to give the pizza place a shot. After all, I figured, I wouldn’t get all that greasy or smelly just delivering the pizzas, as long as I wasn’t stuck cooking them.

            Delivering pizza was the easiest, most profitable job I ever had. On an eight hour shift, I probably spent less than an hour actually in the store. The majority of my time was spent on the road. I got to drive around town with the windows down, the radio playing, the sunroof on my Geo flipped open, and my sunglasses on. I could stop at a fast food place or a Wawa if I didn’t have time between deliveries to eat at my store. I could hang out on campus when I delivered pizzas to all of the college kids. I got invited into frat parties when I delivered to them, and as the Pizza Man, I was always escorted to the head of the keg line. I accepted liquor and beer as tips, even though I was only 19. I rationalized my drinking and driving by telling myself that just having one or two wouldn’t hurt me. Luckily, I wasn’t drinking the first time a cop pulled me over during a delivery.

            The first time I ever got pulled over, in spring of ’99, I was speeding through Pitman, trying to get back and forth on deliveries as fast as possible. The faster I got back from a delivery, the more orders I could take and the more tips I would earn. Going 43 in a 25 didn’t seem like a big deal. I hadn’t realized at the time how much of my tips would be wasted when I had to pay a ticket. Luckily, the cop who pulled me over that first time took sympathy on me, and gave me a “failure to observe sign” ticket instead of a speeding ticket. The fine wasn’t too high (though it cost me that whole day’s tips), and there were no points involved.

            I told myself I would start driving slower. That I wouldn’t go more than five miles an hour over the speed limit. This decision lasted about a week, then I was back to cruising along with the top down, not a care in the world.

            I racked up the tips all year long, loving my job. I finished my first year of college, and kept on delivering pizza full time during the summer break. Some of the other delivery drivers left when the summer started, and only a few came back when the fall semester started. Summer was mostly dead, since the majority of our business came from the nearby college. When students can pay for pizza on their meal plan, the local dorms become a hot spot for deliveries. During the school year, I’d be taking six orders at a time to each dorm building. During summer, however, deliveries were few and far between. I spent a lot more time in the store, and started learning how to cook pizzas and take phone orders, just for something to do in between deliveries. By the time autumn rolled around again, I had been working at Pizza Hut for a year, and I had learned how to perform most of the tasks in the store. I could cook, do prep work, take care of customers, and even direct the other drivers on where they were going on deliveries.

            I was always eager to get back on the road, though. I’d pop into the kitchen for ten minutes, help the cooks get caught up, then be off as soon as a pizza came out of the oven. I never got another traffic ticket on the clock at Pizza Hut, but I also didn’t learn my lesson. I kept an eye out for the cops, slowed down on the streets I knew they frequently patrolled, and learned the timing of the local traffic lights so I always knew how much time I had to make a yellow light. I managed to avoid any trouble while I was on deliveries. As it turned out, however, the life-changing ticket came when I was off the clock.

            That autumn, I took an art class at Rowan. It was a required gen ed, a class I had no interest in whatsoever. It was also the only class I was taking that didn’t require a $60 text book. Instead, the art teacher gave us a list of supplies we’d need for our projects: paint and brushes, spray paint, poster board, and a pack of 3’x5’ index cards. I was trying to save money, and didn’t want to buy these supplies in the Rowan bookstore. I decided to shop around and look for a discount. When I thought about where I could buy the poster board and index cards, I remembered an office supply store one block away from my Pizza Hut.

            I headed straight from class to that store, heading through an intersection I’d driven through a thousand times on deliveries. As I was approaching the light, I noticed a cop in the nearby parking lot. Wary of getting another ticket, I tapped my brakes and wondered, How fast am I going? This decision turned out to be a crucial mistake, since a moment later, the traffic light turned yellow.

            I floored it on reflex, trying to make the light. I’d done this hundreds of times at this exact same light, and if I hadn’t hit the brakes just a moment before, I would have cleared the light fine. When the cop pulled up behind me in the office store parking lot, I told him, “I thought I’d make the light.”

            “You didn’t quite make it,” he told me as he wrote the ticket. “That’s why I was sitting there today. We’re cracking down on people running that light.”

            I got lucky again and was given a lesser citation, one that didn’t put any points on my license. I didn’t think it was that bad. I paid my fine and move on with my life. It took another three months after the ticket before the real consequences reached me.

            One day when it was getting close to Christmas, my Assistant Manager, Dave, pulled me aside with some bad news. “We ran your MVR,” he said. “You can’t deliver anymore.”

            I was confused, and protested. He explained. Pizza Hut has a rule. If a delivery driver has two “moving violations” within a year, they aren’t allowed to drive for the company any more. It doesn’t matter if the tickets had points, or what the specific violations were. Anything that happens while you’re driving your car counts. Unbeknownst to me, the management ran a check on every driver’s license, a Motor Vehicle Report, every six months. Mine came back flagged because of my violations.

            I entered a mild panic. I needed this job. Not because of my bills; I was only paying my car insurance and gas each month, and didn’t even have a cell phone yet. But I had gotten used to having spending money, and I have managed to save up $9000 over the course of the past year, money which I was setting aside for my future. The prospect of going back to a minimum wage job didn’t appeal to me. Not at all.

            I was considering what other pizza places in the area I could apply to, perhaps Domino’s or Papa John’s, when my general manager pulled me into the office. “We’d like you to stay,” he said. “I can use you as a cook, train you on the phones. We can work something out. Then in a few months, we run your MVR again, and if it comes up clean, you can go back to driving.”

            I considered the offer. I already knew cooking and order taking, though it would be a bit different doing these things full time. But I wavered; I liked my job, and I liked my coworkers, but I was only making $6 per hour if I lost my tips. When I hesitated, my boss offered me a raise, increasing my pay to $6.50. An 8% pay increase wouldn’t quite make up for the lost tips, but as raises went, it was a generous offer. I decided to stay, figuring if things didn’t work out I could still look for another delivery job someplace else.

            My schedule changed. I started working weekend mornings instead of nights, and I was trained in how to make pizza dough. I’d come in at 8 am to start mixing and rolling dough, and still be doing it until around 3:00 or 4:00 pm. My store was one of the busiest Pizza Huts there was, and we sold hundreds upon hundreds of pizzas each day. We even won two awards that year, for Highest Sales and Highest Sales Growth, beating out every other Pizza Hut in the east coast region.

            After finishing dough on the weekends, I was sent up front to help answer the phones, help customers, and cut pizzas as they came out of the oven. I also worked up front on weeknights, after I got done classes at Rowan. With how busy our store was, there would be at least half a dozen people behind the counter, just to take care of phones and carryout customers. Mostly, though, I stayed at the oven, cutting pizzas. This was a two-man job at our store. Our pizza oven had been replaced earlier that year, because the old oven had just been too small to keep up with the volume of orders we got from Rowan students. The new oven was a double-decker, triple-wide monster that fed pizzas through on a conveyor belt. At any given time on a busy Friday or Saturday night, there could easily be as many as 40 pizzas in the oven at a time, not to mention trays of breadsticks, wings, and garlic bread. If the person cutting pizzas didn’t keep up with the flow of cooked food coming out at the end of the conveyor belt, pans could get pushed off by the other pizzas coming up from behind. Slower cutters either had to pull pizzas out and set them to the side just to clear them out of the way, or else risk pans falling to the floor and splattering hot cheese and sauce everywhere.

            When I was cutting, I had a system to keep up with the flow. An assistant to my right would prep the box while I grabbed a pan with a pair of metal tongs. I had perfected the flick of the wrist it took to flip the pizza out of the pan and onto the cutting board in one smooth motion. I then hacked the pizza into six, eight, or twelve slices, depending on the size, using a blade the size of a Klingon Bat’leth. I then slid it into the box, and the assistant sent it off where it needed to go. He worried about whether the order was for dine-in, carryout, or delivery. All I did was cut.

            At any given moment, there could be anywhere from six to twelve pizzas nearing the edge of the conveyor belt. They would all have to be cut within thirty to forty-five seconds to prevent a backup. That left me, on average, about four seconds to cut each pizza. And I could do it; I was fast. I was like a ninja wielding the pizza cutter, focused on keeping up with the flow. I didn’t worry about customers, I just cut. I didn’t answer phones, I cut. I didn’t get to take a bathroom break, I just cut. This usually lasted from around 5:30 pm until at least 9:00 pm, when it would finally slow down.

            Over time, I started realizing that we needed to maintain a strict level of organization in the front counter area. Otherwise, we would never be able to keep up. There were half a dozen tasks that had to be done between 4:00 to 5:00, before the main dinner rush hit. The managers never had time to worry about these things; one would be swamped dealing with the delivery drivers, another would be helping the cooks, and another would be in the dining room, helping with customers. That left the counter crew alone, with no leadership. I had to step up. When I first arrived, I would set my coworkers on the various tasks that needed to be done: folding cardboard boxes for the pizza; stocking up on tin foil, wax paper, and those little plastic box supports; prepping sauce cups for breadstick boxes and ranch cups for wings; and making sure everything was clean and sanitary. My coworkers got so used to me asking them to help with such things that when I entered the store, they would ask me, “What needs to get done?”

            After awhile, they got so used to asking me what they needed to do that they came to me when problems arose. If there was a customer complaint, and no manager was around, I would have to deal with it. Often, this meant handing the pizza Bat’leth to my assistant, helping a customer, then rushing back to relieve the overwhelmed cutter as soon as I could. I started making command decisions that I had no authority to do, such as discounting a customer’s order when a mistake had been made. I had peeked at the manager’s computer password, and I used it myself when I needed to authorize a discount. By the time I started nearing my deadline, the date when my first ticket would no longer be on my MVR, I was essentially a manager in everything but name.

            Then one day, my boss asked me, “Did you ever think about becoming a manager?”

            I hesitated. The truth was, yes, I HAD thought about it. I thought that it would be a terrible idea. I thought that the managers were under far too much stress; over the past year, I had seen six assistant managers quit, two of whom had walked out in the middle of a shift. I also knew delivery drivers made more money than the managers. All I wanted to do was get back to being a driver, and back to making a fortune in tips.

            So when my manager asked me if I’d thought about becoming a manager, I said, “Well, I’ve thought about it . . .”

            A week later he pulled me aside and said, “Okay! I signed you up for the next management training seminar.”

            This would prove to be the beginning of the end.

* * *

            The training class was a two-day seminar that included all of the new manager trainees throughout the entire South Jersey region. After the initial training class, each trainee was sent for an eight week “hands-on” training period in a store in their home district. I was transferred to the training store in Berlin, working for Ted Hobbs, known throughout the local franchise as “Two-faced Ted.” During my first meeting with the other trainees at the regional training seminar, people had flinched when they heard I was being sent to the Berlin store.

            “Here are the words that come to mind when I hear the name ‘Ted Hobbs,’” one of the other trainees had told me. “Asshole. Scumbag. Two-faced. Pig.”

            I was worried, but decided to give Ted a chance. After all, it would only be for eight weeks, and only four days a week at that. On Friday nights I would be training in the Washington Township store, which was the store I’d be transferred to permanently at the end of my training. Working there one day a week was meant to help me get to know the new crew and how their store ran.

            The training in Berlin turned out to be worse than I’d thought. Ted Hobbs was a liar, a cheat, and a passive aggressive asshole. Most of my “training” days were spent making pizzas, mixing dough, and sweeping cigarette butts out of the parking lot; things I’d done as a regular employee, and things which didn’t teach me anything about how to run a store. I quickly realized that Ted was using me as “free labor”; my pay during the training period came from a district-wide training budget, not from Ted’s labor costs for his store. By scheduling me to work as a cook during his shifts, he could save labor costs by cutting hours from his regular employees. And since there were two other trainees there at the same time I was, he was saving himself about 90 hours a week in labor costs.

            At the end of the eight weeks of training—eight weeks I couldn’t wait to be done with—I had to sit down with the District Manager for a final interview. The District Manager, Rick, ran eight different stores in our area. He said that the final interview was his way of making sure he could be confident that I was ready to be a manager in one of his stores.

            We met in the newly built, but not yet open for business Pizza Hut in Deptford. I had to take a written test first, answering questions about what I had learned during my training. It was mostly made of multiple choice questions about how to handle certain customer service issues, how to react in an emergency, how to handle disgruntled employees, and how to reconcile problems in the daily cash count.

            After the written test, Rick asked me some questions to see if I was ready. Many of the answers I was able to quote almost word for word, having memorized them from my training manuals. I have a memory that lets me recall such things verbatim even years later. When Rick asked me what “L.A.S.T.” meant when helping a dissatisfied customer, I quoted, “Listen to the customer, Ask for more information, Satisfy their concerns, and Thank them for bringing the problem to my attention.” When he asked me what “C.H.A.M.P.S.” stands for, I quoted, “Cleanliness, Hospitality, Accuracy, Maintenance, Product Quality, and Speed.” When he asked me what toppings go on a Supreme Pizza, I rattled off the list, “Pepperoni, beef, pork, green peppers, red onions, and mushrooms.” I kept quoting everything with such accuracy that by the end of the interview, he had called me a Walking Procedures Manual. He also said that I was the strongest trainee to come through the new training program since they had implemented it a few years before.

            I remember thinking to myself, Yeah, because I taught myself. The rest of the trainees had to deal with this douchebag training manager. I couldn’t wait to be away from Ted Hobbs and his two-faced manipulations and illegal activities.

            As the interview came to an end, Rick said, “I think you’re ready. I’ll be glad to have you in one of my stores. But now I’ve got a favor to ask you.”

            I tensed up. Nothing about this experience so far had gone well. First I had been strong-armed into becoming a manager, then I’d found out Rick had low-balled me on my pay (I was only being paid $8 per hour when other starting managers earned $8.50), and then I’d been stuck for eight weeks of “training” with Ted Hobbs, who had disappeared for four weeks of it to go on paternity leave. I just wanted to go back to being a driver.

            “I know you’ve been working Fridays in the Washington Township store,” he said. “And I know you’ve gotten to know everyone there, and you were expecting to be working there when your training was done.” What I really wanted, but didn’t mention, was to be sent back to my home store in Glassboro. Rick didn’t like a manager to work in the same store they’d come from, since all of the other employees there were used to seeing you as their equal, rather than their boss. “But I’ve got a problem. We just lost a manager in the Clementon store, and that’s a much busier store. I really need someone there. Do you think you could go there instead?”

            I only hesitated for a moment. After all, by then I was used to being sent where the company wanted me without really having much say in it. “Sure,” I said. “If that’s what you need.” I hadn’t wanted to be a manager to begin with. They weren’t likely to send me back to Glassboro any time soon. What difference did it make which store they sent me to?

            I was completely unprepared for what was ahead.

            In fall of 2000, I was transferred to the Pizza Hut in Clementon, New Jersey. It was a sorely understaffed establishment. When I first arrived, there were already too few drivers, servers, and cooks, and only one dishwasher. They were also short on managers, which is why I was sent there. What made it even worse, however, was that the General Manager was leaving on sick leave only a week after I arrived. He had been in a bar fight some time before, and had to have surgery performed on his wrist (as I understood it, he had broken his wrist on some other guy’s face). For six weeks, my new store would be running without a leader.

            For the first couple of weeks, the only managers were myself and the Senior Assistant Manager, Carol. We were both working double shifts to cover the entire week, in a store that should have had at least four managers on staff. Two weeks into my time there, another manager joined our team, but like me, she was fresh out of training. Unlike me, she hadn’t managed to complete the training herself; Ted Hobbs has only taught her about 1/3 of what she needed to know, and she showed up on her first day with her training manuals in hand, expecting to finish them later and learn the rest on the job. Since the store was so short-handed, I ended up being the one teaching her most of what she had missed in training.

            People in the Clementon store often quit after they’d only been working there for a week, and I often yearned to be one of those people. There weren’t many left who had been there for any memorable length of time, though there were some that would always remain memorable. Arthur was one of them.

            Arthur was our dishwasher; the only dishwasher we had, even though the store was busy enough that there should have been at least three or four to cover days, nights, and weekends. Arthur had been the dishwasher there since before I came to work in Clementon, and as far as I know, he continued working there long after I was gone.

            Arthur was mentally handicapped. This made it very difficult to talk to him. He was, in many ways, like a child, even though he was a grown man in his sixties. You could hand him a stack of dishes and he would hold it, very carefully, with both wrinkled hands. He would carry the dishes in front of him as he took slow steps to the dishwasher, then set them down on the counter and lift each one, one at a time, to examine it. His mouth often moved and made a sound not quite like speaking, but more like the spark of communication you see in a child before they learn words. He could understand you well enough to follow directions, but working with him always took great care. He would never quite look at you; he always stood hunched over, his graying head bowed and tilted away from you as if he were trying not to be seen. I never knew quite how to talk to him. He was good at his job, though, and that was what counted.

            Working in this store was stressful for all of us, but it was hardest on Arthur. He sometimes had panic attacks. They usually came when the dishes piled up too high and he became overwhelmed. Sometimes the stacks of dishes were piled so high in the dish room that they formed a wall, blocking off all sight. I think Arthur felt trapped by that wall. He would pace back and forth, moaning and hitting himself in the head. We would have to clear the dishes out and give him time to relax so that he wouldn’t feel so trapped.

            The problems were worse on the night shift. The busy dinner rush meant a lot of dishes, usually more than Arthur could keep up with. He was good at handling the dishes without breaking them, but he needed to take his time, and couldn’t be rushed. Night shifts at a busy pizza place are always rushed. It certainly isn’t the place to take your time.

            We eventually moved Arthur to the day shift. Lunchtime was always slower, and he was better able to keep up with the work load. Of course, this left us without a single dishwasher on the busy nights, since any time we hired one they quit before long. Dishes would often pile up from 5:00, when we started the dinner rush, until midnight, when we closed. There just wouldn’t be time to send anyone back there before closing time, unless deliveries slowed down enough that we could send a driver back.

            It was for the best, though. Arthur was happier once he was freed from the stresses of the night shift, and it was easier for the rest of us not having to handle his attacks. Despite all of his problems, however, Arthur may have been the best employee we had. He stuck it out, through all the hard times. Unlike the other employees, he never called up and quit on us. Unlike me, he never walked out in the middle of a shift.

            I almost quit on the day Rick told me they were rearranging the districts. The company had promoted a new District manager, he said, and they were forming a new district for him to run. Each of the seven surrounding districts in the area was losing one store, dropping them all down from eight stores to seven, and those stores were being made into the new district. The store Rick was losing was the Berlin store. The one I had trained in. The one Ted Hobbs worked for.

            Our GM was scheduled to come back from his sick leave that week. When I asked where he would be going, Rick told me he was being transferred to the Washington Township store; the same store I was originally going to transfer to. Ted Hobbs was being pulled out of the Berlin store and sent to Clementon. After asking around and talking to some of the other managers in the district, I found out why: Ted Hobbs and Rick were best friends, and that was the only reason (so it was said) that Ted still had a job. Rather than leaving him to work under, and perhaps get fired by, another District Manager, he was being transferred to stay in Rick’s district.

            One of our servers came up to me the day the transfer was announced. “Am I going to have to quit?” she asked. “I’ve been here for seven years.” She had heard the same stories about Ted Hobbs that I had, and wanted to know if they were as bad as she’d heard. After working with Ted for eight weeks (well, four, since he was on paternity leave for half of my training period), I knew all of the bad stories about him were true. I didn’t have any assurances to give her.

            More people quit. We had to hire more replacements, and half of our crew was inexperienced and incompetent. I called my old GM from my home store in Glassboro, asking him what I should do. He told me to stick it out. “I’ve been trying to get Rick to send you back here,” he told me on the phone. “I keep telling him how hard it’s been to run this store without you here, how I need you back.” I told him I’d try to wait it out.

            On October 31st, 2000, I quit my job.

            I didn’t go Trick-or-Treating that day, not because I was too old for it (you’re never too old for Halloween), but because I was working the worst day of my career as a manager at Pizza Hut. I was stuck in a store with not enough help and too many customers. I only had one server waiting tables (the other three that were supposed to be there had called out). I only had one cook making pizzas, and it was her first week in the store. I only had one delivery driver (one had called out, a second just didn’t show up, and a third called me to say he was quitting because “he wasn’t making enough money”). I tried to call the Ted, who was coming in later to do inventory, to come in early to help. He refused and said “You’ll be fine.” That left just me, an exhausted, undertrained, underpaid manager, with three employees that ranged from incompetent to just not giving a crap.

            I unplugged the phone when the orders were rolling in faster than we could keep up with. Since the phones were down, an angry customer decided to come down to the store and scream at me in person, while I was holding a heavy stack of filthy dishes (we didn’t have a dishwasher either). I stood there, clutching a stack of plates and greasy pizza pans, and decided it wasn’t worth it anymore, doing this job for not much above minimum wage.

            I locked the doors, preventing any new customers from coming in and allowing those who left to exit through the main doors that could be set to only open from the inside, locking automatically behind each customer after they left. I gathered my three coworkers around me and told them, “I’m quitting. I’m locking everything up, counting the cash in the register so I don’t get in trouble for missing money, locking it all in the safe, and then I’m leaving.”

            The cook panicked, uncertain how to react when her boss said he was quitting on her third day. The driver just laughed (he was probably stoned). The server gave me a high five and said, “All right! I’m quitting too!”

            When the cook asked what she was supposed to do, I told her, “Ted will be here in a couple of hours to do inventory. Just find something to clean until then. You won’t get in trouble.” Ever since he’d become our new general manager, Ted had been manipulating the inventory counts to cover up losses and hide the fact that the store was losing hundreds of dollars a week in wasted cheese (most of which got spilled on the floor while the cooks were too busy to be careful).

            The server went back to waiting on the few remaining customers until they all exited the store. The driver went in the back to do dishes. The cook fumbled about, unsure of herself. I counted the cash, made sure to account for every penny, and locked it in the safe. I left a nice, nasty note for Two-faced Ted in the manager’s log book (the one that remains a part of permanent store records), letting him know just what I thought about him and his horrible managerial skills. He was also covering up cash losses from the register and manipulating labor costs to hide violations.

            I was about to leave when my server came rushing back and said, “Two parties of eight just walked in! What do we do?”

            Two parties. Eight people each. Both walked in the door at the same time. While the front doors remained locked from the inside, one of the earlier customers had unlocked the side door and exited that way. The side door didn’t lock behind someone when they left.

            I paused for a moment, considering it. I had already recorded my exodus on the managerial log. I was committed. So I shrugged and said, “I’ll go talk to them.”

            I walked up to the first party, clasped my hands before me in a very professional stance, and said, “I’m very sorry, but we won’t be able to serve you tonight. I’m quitting, and my server is quitting. So we won’t be able to help you.”

            A confused woman, presumably mother of the teens she had brought in, stared at me in shock and asked, “What? What are we supposed to do?”

            I shrugged and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Maybe if you call another Pizza Hut in the area and explain to them what happened, they’ll offer you a discount or some free food as an apology. Or my cook will still be here, maybe she can make you something. But I’m quitting, so I can’t help you. Have a nice day.”

            I then walked around to the other side of the dining room and gave the same speech to the second party.

            My server and I left, shook hands, and never looked back. The last thing I saw that night was the cook, on her third day, frantically trying to deal with sixteen confused and angry customers who wanted to know why the manager had just walked out.

            I saw Two-faced Ted just one more time, when I dropped off my uniform and picked up my last paycheck. He didn’t say a single word to me when we exchanged clothing and check, but I’ll never forget the look on his face.

Writing Isn’t A Hobby

I was talking to some friends on Twitter today about a common issue shared by many serious writers, whether they’re just starting out or they’ve already begun making money off their writing. People who aren’t writers don’t seem to understand what writing is to those of us who devote serious time to it. Writing isn’t a hobby. It isn’t something to be done on your “spare time.” It isn’t something that can be rushed. And for a lot of writers, it isn’t something that can be done when you’re not in the write right state of mind.

Those of you who are writers probably already know what I’m talking about. We tend to encounter issues with friends, family, and others in our lives who don’t really understand what professional writing is. One of my Twitter friends said this lack of understanding probably stems from the fact that almost everyone grows up learning how to read and write, and oftentimes think they could write a book themselves if they ever felt like it. They don’t understand the difference between someone who hasn’t written anything since college essays versus someone who sits down every day like you’re clocking into a job and works hard at planning, outlining, writing, revising, editing, revising, revising, and revising a novel for two years straight before it’s finished.

Writing is hard. It takes a lot of practice. There will be times when you’re beating your head against the wall trying to come up with the solution to an issue in a chapter you’re working on, only to end up cutting that chapter entirely later on. There will be times when it wakes you up in the middle of the night with the insistent demand that you write now. Many writers I know complain about the constant distractions from their children, siblings, and others who just won’t give them some peace and quiet so they can work. And many of them probably have friends who ask, like one friend of mine did, “Why does it take so long?” and “Why do you need so many drafts?”

When my friend asked me how long it would be until Manifestation was finished, I explained it to him like this: I’m currently on an editing stage where I’m removing language that filters the scene through a character’s senses, and also removing superfluous adverbs, because both of these things weaken the text. Many writers agree with the “kill all the adverbs method of writing, but in case you’re not, here’s an example from Manifestation:

Before editing:

Another scream sounded from nearby, and someone in the crowd shouted, “Oh God!” Gabby saw someone nearby collapse to the ground, beside a man who was clutching his head in pain. The doctor turned to help, running over to the woman on the ground. As the others in the immediate vicinity cleared away, Gabby saw blood covering the woman and spreading across the ground. She looked up at the man standing over her, and saw more blood on his hands. He looked right at her, his face twisted in pain, his eyes lost. He looked down at his feet and the woman lying there, his face blank with shock. He seemed to only belatedly notice the blood on his hands. He stared at them, his hands shaking.

After editing:

Another scream sounded from nearby. Someone in the crowd shouted, “Oh God!” A woman collapsed to the ground, covered in blood. A man stood next to her, clutching his head in pain. The doctor ran over to the woman and knelt next to her, checking her vitals. The rest of the crowd cleared away, giving him room. Gabby stood back, watching the doctor work. Blood spread across the ground around the woman’s body. The man standing nearby lowered his hands. They were covered in blood.

He looked at Gabby. His face twisted in pain and his eyes lost focus. His hair stood out in bloody clumps where he’d been clutching his head. He looked down at the woman lying in a pool of her own blood. His face went pale and he wore a blank expression as he tried to absorb what had happened. He stared at his blood-soaked hands, shaking.

I’m not sure I’m entirely satisfied with that passage yet, but some of the key differences are how I removed the lines “Gabby saw…” and just described what was happening. I also removed the horrible phrase “He only belatedly,” a double-adverb sin that should never have been in the passage at all. “He stared at his blood-soaked hands, shaking.” is a much better line than “He seemed to only belatedly notice the blood on his hands. He stared at them, his hands shaking.”

Going through and making changes like these through a 100,000 word manuscript takes time. As an example of how long it takes, I recently removed 164 adverbial usages of the word “just.” I apparently have this bad habit of saying someone “just” did something. “She just nodded.” “She just didn’t know what to say.” “She just turned and left the room.” These word choices weaken the prose, and each of those sentences are just stronger without the superfluous “just.” But taking out 164 “justs,” if each one takes thirty seconds to find, read, and remove, adds up to almost an hour and a half of editing. And the “justs” are just one of about forty commonly-overused words I’m editing and removing right now. That’s a couple of weeks worth of work right there, just to polish the prose itself. That’s aside from any other work spent rearranging chapters, cutting scenes, and working on plot and characterization.

Writing is hard.

And there are entirely different issues while writing the first draft. A lot of people need to be in the right frame of mind in order to write. Some writers I know like to write with music on. Others need a quiet room. Many of us stare at a blank screen, trying to find inspiration. Though I like to follow Stephen King’s advice in his book, On Writing. He says that your Muse won’t show up when you want him to. He’ll get there when he’s damn good and ready. So the only way to proceed is to sit down and work hard, every day. That way, when your Muse is ready to show up, he’ll find you there, hard at work, waiting for his inspiration.

(Of course, my Muse is a woman with long dark hair, captivating eyes, and a toga. But to each their own.)

So next time someone tells you to write in your spare time, ask them what they do for a living and then ask them if they could just squeeze that into their “spare time.” If they don’t want their career treated like a hobby, they shouldn’t act that way about yours.

Progress on Book Four, and Upcoming Plans

I’m nearly at the end of the spring school semester at Rowan University, so it seems like a good time to make some updates on my writing projects and where they’re going.

First, I’ve got about one week left now before all my classes are complete and I’m off for a month. I’ve got a few final assignments left this week, mostly involving revisions. Two of the pieces being revised are Arcana Revived short stories that I wrote for my fiction workshop class. The stories, currently working under the titles Questioning Angels and Next Spring are both centered around Callia Gainsborough, one of the major supporting characters of the series. When Manifestation comes out later this year, you’ll get the chance to learn more about Callia. She has a major role in the series, but she doesn’t usually get to be in the spotlight on her own, which is why I wanted to write a couple of stories about just her. They provide some interesting character development, giving the chance to see more about who Callia is outside of her relationship with Gabby Palladino.

After the semester is over, the next main project will be finishing up preparations on Manifestation. The manuscript is currently with my editor, and after the edits are complete, I’ll be going over everything to determine if any further revisions are needed. After that the only remaining steps are formatting (to get the manuscript ready for physical printing and ebook conversion) and cover art (which will be the last step after the formatting is complete since the exact physical size of the book needs to be determined). I’ll have a more exact date figured out soon, but for now I’m aiming for “before September” with a failsafe of “before the end of the year” to have the book out and ready to go.

Next, there is the writing of the next book in the series. Manifestation is written, revised, and being polished. The second and third books in the series, Contamination and Collapse are complete first drafts. I won’t be revising those until after I’m done getting Manifestation ready. So while those two are awaiting revisions, I’m working on writing the fourth book in the series, which is being written under the working-title Mutation.

Over the summer, I’ll be in a graduate-level course called “Writing the Novel.” While I don’t yet know the exact course requirements (such as how many pages or chapters of writing will be required as assignments), based on the way past classes go, I expect to be doing a decent amount of creative writing during the course. If possible, some of that writing will be chapters for Mutation, and I’ll also be doing plenty more writing for Mutation on the side of any writing I do for the class. Since the class lasts just over a month (from May 27th to August 1st) I’m planning on treating it as an unofficial NaNoWriMo so that I can finish the book. I’m currently sitting at almost 45,000 words, and the other books in the series all hit right around 120,000 words. If my past NaNoWriMo experiences are any indication, I should be able to finish the remaining 75,000 words before August.

Then, of course, during the real NaNoWriMo this November, I’ll be starting on Book Five.

In the meantime, if you’re curious to see what Arcana Revived is all about, you should check out the first short story ebook I published, Radiance. Radiance is the origin story of a girl named Maria Vasquez, who becomes a major supporting character later in the series. The short story shows you how she gets started in a world where magic is returning for the first time, after centuries of people thinking such things are nothing more than myth and legend.

More updates will come when there’s more to tell, especially over the summer as work on the series continues.

How to Decide Which Story to Write First

If you’re like me, you’re usually juggling multiple projects at once. Often this leads to a question of which is the most important one to work on, and which can be put off. For the sake of this post I’ll set aside blog posts, school projects, paid assignments, and anything else with a deadline or schedule; those are things that “get done when and because they have to get done,” and therefore the decision is (theoretically) out of your hands).

Juggling multiple projects can come in a few different forms. Some people I know struggle between writing novels, television scripts, and plays. Others might have several novel ideas and aren’t sure which one to focus on. Or if you’re like me, you’ve got novels in revision, novels in writing, short stories, and poems. My personal “to do” list of writing currently includes the following:

  1. Finish revising Manifestation.
  2. Start Draft 2 of Contamination (and eventually also Draft 2 of Collapse).
  3. Continue writing Book 4 (untitled) of the Arcana Revived series.
  4. Continue revising Belladonna.
  5. Start revising any of the other 8 or 9 short stories I have in first draft form.
  6. Write new short stories.
  7. Revise poems for the second collection of The Poetry of Gabriella Palladino.
  8. Write new poems.
  9. Revise the musical novella Giapelli.

That’s a pretty hefty list. And that’s not counting blog posts, school projects, or anything that isn’t part of Arcana Revived.

So how to prioritize? Well, there’s probably tons of advice to be found. Googling “How to decide which writing project to work on” brought up 98,000,000 results for me. But rather than try to summarize any of that or rehash the advice of others, I’ll just go through my personal process.

First and foremost comes the question “What does my Muse want me to do?” Sometimes, she isn’t saying anything. Many Muses don’t follow YOUR schedule. They expect you to work until they’re ready to come along. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King said that he has to sit down and write every day, even if it means churning through without inspiration. Then, when his Muse is good and ready, he comes along and dabbles the inspiration. What this advice basically means is don’t wait for inspiration to come to you; work hard every day, and it’ll come when you least expect it (and hopefully it’ll come when you’re at the keyboard and not in the shower).

So if my Muse shows up and tells me to work on something, I listen, because who knows when she’ll be back? Sometimes that means I start writing a new short story despite having 9 other short stories that need revision still. It’s best to get down what I can while the inspiration is fresh, or else I risk losing it altogether.

But let’s say I’m not feeling any specific inspiration today. I therefore have a long list of things to do and I need to pick one. My decision making process basically goes like this:

  • Am I away from home? If so, I can’t revise because I don’t have Scrivener on the computers at school or on my phone. In this case, my solution is “Write a new (poem/short story/chapter of Book 4). When I write new, raw text I can do so on my phone’s Writer app, on my laptop, on a school computer, or whatever. Then I transfer the file back to my home computer afterwards. Polished, revised text, however, can’t just be worked on from any old device. I need my main computer (where I keep my primary files) for that. If I started using Cloud storage I might be able to work around this limitation, but even then, writing on my phone isn’t good for formatting and such. My phone’s app produces text files with no real formatting, so I need to copy those into a proper Word or Scrivener document to be cleaned up.
  • If I AM at home with access to Scrivener and my main WIP files, I prioritize revising over writing. After all, it doesn’t do me much good to finish writing Book 4 before Book 1 is released, now does it? The only reason I’ve made almost 20,000 words of progress on Book 4 so far is because I write on my phone (such as when it’s slow at work). I then come home, copy those words into my main document, and set the writing aside to focus on revisions for the rest of the night. This makes Manifestation the top priority.
  • If I’m home and plan to work on revisions, I might also ask myself “Do I need critiques/feedback before continuing this?” For example, I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I’m awaiting critiques on Manifestation. As a result, I’m working on revising Belladonna instead. Belladonna is a lesser priority, but I’ll work on that until I get the feedback I need. Likewise, later this week I’m probably going to ask for critiques on Belladonna. When I do so, I’ll probably work on a different short story or poem while awaiting those critiques. This can also be a good way to keep up with multiple projects at once: keep them on a rotation based on which you “can’t” work on right now and which you “can.”
  • Last, I’ll ask myself “Do I even know what to DO with this piece right now?” We’ve all been through this. You know you’re supposed to work on a certain project, but you stare at the screen, uncertain what to do with it. When I get like that, I switch to something else. While Belladonna is the primary short story I’m working on right now, if I were feeling blocked on it, I’d start working on Soldier of Light, Man of Faith, or Demons of the Mind instead, just to give myself something ELSE to do. That’s more productive than staring uselessly at the screen. And all of those stories are eventually going to join Radiance as individual ebooks, so they’re all important to work on.

So that’s basically it: Muse > Write New Stuff Away From Home > Revise At Home > Switch Gears When Blocked.

Anything I missed? What’s your process?

NaNoWriMo

It’s about that time that everyone is talking about #NaNoWriMo, so I figure I should talk about what I’m doing this year.

Last year, I used NaNoWriMo to write most of “Manifestation.” I had actually started the novel mid-September, and continued writing until December. But that’s because the total novel length was around 140,000 words for the first draft (I’ve since cut that down to closer to 120k). I wrote over 60,000 of that just in November, my single most productive month.

You might have noticed the little Word Counter widget on the sidebar there ——>
That’s the progress I’ve made so far on “Contamination,” the second book in my series. I’ve only been working on it sporadically, because I’m focusing most of my effort on “Manifestation.” There’s not much point writing the sequel before the first book is revised and published, after all. When I have worked on it, it’s mostly been because I was away from home. See, while I have a laptop, I don’t carry it to the store, the laundromat, or the mechanic most of the time. It’s not as light and portable as a tablet (one reason I want to switch to a tablet soon). I also never bring it to my (soon to be behind me) pizza delivery job. And since I don’t bring my laptop most of these places, I can’t work on revisions unless I’m at home or at school (the one place I always bring it).

I do, however, bring my smartphone everywhere (I’m writing this post on it right now). I have the ability to read Word documents on my phone, so I could open the novel here. However, the app I use to write with (simply called “Writer”) can only create plain text files. That’s fine for first draft writing, but no good for careful edits of a large document. It also lags if I use it for an especially large document, such as my novel. I can use a better app for read-only on my novel, but not for edits. So far, I haven’t found any free app that I’m satisfied with for edits, so the only thing I do on my phone is first draft writing.

That means that if I’m at the laundromat, or standing in a long line at the store, or waiting at work for a pizza to be ready, I can use my phone, but only to write new content. Pretty much every word of the 36k I’ve written on “Contamination” was written in this way.

So that’s been my method for the past year or so: edit “Manifestation” when I’m working at home, write “Contamination” when I’m out.

I still want to focus most of my efforts on “Manifestation,” but NaNoWriMo isn’t about revision. It’s about pumping out raw words and getting the novel done. So, I want to use it to get “Contamination” done. Or at least, get that 36k up to 86k. Then, when I finish with “Manifestation” (which at this point, may not be until early next year), I’ll have the sequel ready (or mostly ready) for its own edits.

The majority of “Contamination” will likely still be written on my phone. NaNoWriMo just means I’ll be setting goals and trying to crank out more words per day on it. I haven’t been focused on “Contamination,” so I don’t work on it every day (or even every week). That’s going to change during November. I can churn out a huge number of words when motivated, easily averaging over 3000 per day when working steadily on a project. I MAY be able to hit the 140k first draft estimated length for the novel before November 30th. I’m going to hold that as my goal. That means a double-length NaNo, hitting 100k in the month. I can totally do that.

So if you’re also doing NaNoWriMo, maybe we can be NaNo buddies?

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 11: Updating the Resume

So, if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’m quitting my job. Obviously, one of the most important steps to finding a new job is creating an effective resume.

Writing a resume is like any other kind of writing. There’s going to be a rough first draft. You’ll need feedback and critiques from others. There will be multiple revisions. Eventually you wind up with a finished product you’re willing to send out.

I went through the early drafting stages of my resume back in spring, in Professor Laura Mangini’s Professions in Writing Arts class (the website used by the class is publicly accessible, so if you want to read some tips and resources for resumes and query letters, go check it out). This was a wonderful class, and one of the reasons I’m proud of Rowan University. The class was entirely designed to help students make resumes, cover letters, and networking connections to help their future careers. Part of my grade for the class was making a resume! I essentially got an easy A in this class just for getting the help I needed improving my resume. Pretty sweet deal, eh?

Since that class, I’ve had a few improvements that required updates to my resume. Here’s the current version:

Resume 4.0

FYI, if anyone reading this knows of a job in the South Jersey/Delaware/Philadelphia area, you’re more than welcome to pass this along (or email me at cantrellwriter@gmail.com with details). I’ll also gladly do the same for you.

Now, there’s some things I’d like to discuss about what went into that resume, and also what did NOT go into it. For starters, it doesn’t list every job I’ve ever had. If you’re a college student or recent college graduate like me, you’ve probably worked a variety of low-skill jobs like being a cashier, working in a restaurant, cooking, cleaning, or performing manual labor. I’ve worked such jobs for most of my life. Now, I will definitely say I learned a lot in some of those jobs. I know a lot about labor laws, health codes, food safety, customer service, managing inventory, and resolving on-the-job conflicts. I’ve got about four years of management experience, which includes a lot of valuable skills. Yet you’ll notice those skills and jobs are missing from my resume. Why? Because they’re mostly irrelevant to getting a writing job.

I don’t really need a future employer at a magazine, newspaper, or publisher to know that I know the safe food storage temperatures for refrigerated or hot foods (under 40 degrees for cold foods or over 140 degrees for hot foods). I really don’t need them to know that I am skilled at creating food prep lists or managing inventory to make sure the food ordered gets used before it’s expiration date. None of these skills are going to make them want to hire me as a writer.

What I want them to know is how I did publication layout at SLACK Incorporated. How I photoshopped X-rays and photos of medical procedures to be formatted properly for a magazine page. How I helped select works to be published for Glassworks Magazine and sat on the editorial review board. How I used all of the writing and editing skills that I’ll be using when they hire me. Because they will hire me, as soon as I show them how skilled I am.

Of course, this resume needs some polishing still. That’s why this week I’ve contacted some of my professors at Rowan to get their professional help and advice. That’s also why I’m posting it here; if anyone has advice for me, I’ll be happy to hear it. Likewise, if anyone else needs help with their resume, I hope that the information I’m sharing here (and on the sites I’ve linked to) will be useful to someone.

Of course, getting the resume ready is only the first step. I’ve still got to figure out places to send it to. I’ll write another blog post in the future detailing the process and letting you know what types of places I’ve applied to. With any luck, anyone reading this blog will be able to follow along as I explore opportunities, get interviews, and eventually quit my job and start a real career.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 7: Advertising

Part of becoming a professional writer is learning about marketing. It’s the side of self-publishing that most writers probably know little about. We write, we revise, we focus on stories and characters and plot twists and drama. Then it comes time to actually sell the book, and most people are probably like, “Well… now what?”

A lot of people throw the ebook on amazon.com and call it a day. They’re lucky if they ever sell a single copy in that case. I know of certain ebooks posted by an author I know that have sat on Amazon for the past three months without a single sale. Others go on Twitter and send out endless tweets with links, saying, “Buy my ebook! It’s just 99 cents!” While this can be effective to a certain point, it has two major limitations. One, it only shares the link with your limited number of followers, and two, if you do it too much you annoy people and they unfollow you for spamming.

So in order to promote my work (my short story now, my novel in the near future), I feel that I need to find other ways to spread awareness of my “products” (since that’s what my books are: products being sold by an independent businessman). One obviously is through advertising, something I’m learning about little by little.

The first advertising service I’ve started using is Project Wonderful. I don’t know if they are better or worse than any other advertisers, since I haven’t had the chance to try another yet. The reason I chose them is because one of my favorite webcomics, The Order of the Stick , uses Project Wonderful ads on the site’s forums. I then noticed that others I regularly read, like Questionable Content, use the same service. I started wondering how much ads on such a site would cost, and clicked the link to investigate.

Project Wonderful allows you to ‘bid’ on ads. If I visit a site and the current advertiser is paying $5 per day, I can bid $5.10 or higher in order to steal the ad space for myself. I can also set a cap so that my bid will auto-adjust. For example, if I set a cap of $7 and someone else is bidding $5, I’ll only be charged $5.10. If someone comes along and bids $6, my bid auto-adjusts to $6.10. My bid will keep going up unless it caps out at $7. But my bid will also drop lower if no one else is bidding at these prices.

Since you can set limits, Project Wonderful seems like a good choice for someone with a tight budget. But there’s another feature that drew me to the site: they allow FREE ads.

The free ads only stay up for two days, and you can only have a max of 200 ads at a time. So in order to keep my ads for “Radiance” up there, I have to renew the ads every couple of days. This is a bit tedious, but hey, it’s free. Not only that, but it’s working.

According to the ad reports Project Wonderful generates for me, my ads for “Radiance” have been viewed about 53,000 times since I started posting them a week ago. Those views have generated 36 clicks. I can’t be sure how many of those 36 made a purchase, since my Amazon sales tracking doesn’t tell me whether a customer came from one of these ads or from Twitter. Those 36 clicks might seem like a very small percentage, but from what I’ve learned in my research into marketing, this is to be expected. I need to spread the “reach” of my ads in order to first bring up awareness that my product even exists. Then a smaller portion of the potential customers that are aware of my product will consider buying it, and a smaller portion of those will decide to actually make a purchase.

I’ve got a lot more research left to do before I have a firm understanding of advertising and marketing principles. I may take a class as one of my electives at Rowan University (since I’m currently in their Master’s of Writing graduate program). But for now, I know I’ve got a way to reach thousands of potential customers through no-cost advertising. More people have seen “Radiance” through these ads than have seen it through Twitter, and using this service helps me avoid being one of those annoying people who spams their Twitter feed with links all day long (though I’ll still drop a link here and there, of course).

Do you have any advertising advice to share? I’d certainly be interested in learning anything I can.

Oh, and lest I forget to mention it, this blog is technically an advertising platform as well. Half the reason I maintain the blog is to raise awareness of my writing work. So of course, I’m going to encourage people to check out my short story ebook from time to time. And if you have a book of your own and want to swap links, I’d be happy to post a link from here for your book (and if you’re a good friend, I’ll be quite glad to let you post a guest blog post here to spread awareness of your book).

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 4: Time Management

One of the first lessons I learned when I began doing freelance writing is to keep careful track of my time. The first few jobs I took on, I didn’t really anticipate how long they would take me. I was used to only three previous types of writing: personal fiction writing, blog writing, and school essays and assignments. These types of writing are very different from a “time management” perspective.

With my personal fiction writing, I never really need to pay attention to how long a project takes. I know from doing word sprints on Twitter that I can write anywhere from 1000-2000 words per hour when I’m focused (and I tend to write a lot more when I’m really inspired and in the zone). I don’t really “track” that kind of writing, though. When I wrote “Manifestation,” I didn’t really have a specific word count in mind. It ended up over 140,000 words, and it took me about three months to write, but that was in between work, school, and other parts of life getting in the way. I don’t really know exactly how many hours I put into it (though somewhere around 140 hours on the first draft sounds about right).

Blog writing also isn’t something I really track too much. An average blog post might take me between 30-60 minutes, depending on the length. But since I write blog posts on my own time, and I don’t get paid for them, they aren’t worth tracking too specifically.

School papers are probably the only type of writing I was used to writing on a deadline. Like many students, I often wrote a paper the night before, and often this led to being up until all hours of the night because I hadn’t managed my time very well. Looking back, I think it would have been valuable for me to learn more back then about how long a piece of writing takes. In general, though, I estimate a rate of 500 words per hour on academic assignments, since they take more research and that slows down the writing speed.

Now that I’m taking on freelance writing assignments, the length of time a project takes is very important. If I take on a job for a certain fixed price, I need to be able to accurately estimate how many hours the project will take to complete. If I accept a job at a price of, say, $100, but the project takes me 20 hours to complete, I’m earning less than minimum wage. As a college educated writer, I know I should be making a lot more than that.

In order to help with future estimations, I’ve started tracking the specific lengths of time I take on each job. I downloaded a free time clock application to my computer, and I clock myself in and out when I’m working on a job. The hours spent are tracked for my own purposes only; most of the jobs I take on are for a fixed price that won’t change regardless of how much or how little time I spend on the project. Keeping track of my hours helps me better understand how long each project takes, and helps me know the hourly rate my pay equates to.

Since I’m trying to build up enough of a writing career to quit my pizza delivery job and write full time, it’s important for me to know how much time each project takes compared to the pay rate. I can’t support myself writing full time if a full 40 hour work week doesn’t provide enough pay to cover my living expenses. A job that takes 40 hours to complete but pays less than a weekly paycheck at a restaurant isn’t worth it. That’s why time management has become so important to me; I need to be able to judge how long each project will take me in order to decide which projects to take, and which to pass on.

I’ve only been freelancing for a few months now, but this has been an important lesson for me. If you’re also a freelance writer, or thinking of becoming one, the best advice I can offer is to always consider the value of your time. Otherwise, you’ll end up working 60 hours a week or more just to get by, and that’s no way to make a living.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 3: Obstacles

Today’s post is inspired by an obstacle that I’m dealing with at the moment. Specifically, my internet is down.

Your first question is probably, “How are you posting something online without internet access?” Which, actually, is the point of this post.

Obstacles are always going to pop up throughout your life. Errands will need to be run, bills will need to be paid, accidents will happen, and the services you rely on every day will occasionally fail.

When that happens, you have a choice. You can decide to let the obstacle get in the way, or you can find a way around it. I’m writing this post in an app on my cell phone called “Writer,” and I’m going to post it using my WordPress mobile app. It’s a bit more difficult to do it this way; typing on my phone is slower, and it’s harder to access WordPress’s formatting options when using the mobile app. However, I made a commitment to myself that I would set a posting schedule and stick to it, so here I am.

Being without internet access is causing me a lot of other issues, too. I’m finding ways to get around them. Yesterday, I went down to school to use Rowan’s computer labs to write a paid blog post for the Rowan University Admissions Blog. I didn’t ‘have’ to; I’m not on a fixed posting schedule at Rowan, so I could have skipped a day. However, I’m trying to make a living off my writing, and the lost hours would have led to a lower paycheck. So to make sure I got the work done, I found someplace to get online and do it.

There are lots of other ways to make sure obstacles don’t get in the way of your writing. For my revisions, I keep “Manifestation” on a flash drive I can take with me anywhere. This means I can revise on my laptop, or at a school computer when I’m on campus. Cloud programs like Dropbox can also be useful for making sure you have access to your important work, wherever you are. By using such tools, you’ll never have to use “I wasn’t at home” or “My computer was down” as an excuse not to work.

Heck, even “I was busy running errands” isn’t a great excuse. I’m writing this at Walmart right now while I do my grocery shopping. I write at the laundromat. I write when I’m in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I write at my restaurant job when I’m waiting for an order to be ready. I never go anywhere without my phone, and so I’m never unable to write.

Think of all the times and places you see people texting. That could be you, writing.

My internet should be fixed tomorrow morning. I COULD have just put all this off until then. But when something is important, I think I should find a way to bypass the obstacles and make sure nothing gets in my way. Especially considering I am working freelance, which is the equivalent of running my own business. I’m not going to be successful if I don’t learn to get past whatever problems get in my way.

Thankfully my obstacles so far have been small. I’m not sure how I’d adapt to something bigger and more tragic. But if I find myself facing a larger obstacle, I’m not going to give up. I’m going to step back, regroup, and come up with a new plan fitting to my particular idiom.