Two years (and a few months) resolution

The past couple days I have been going through a bunch of New Yorker and Narrative magazine stories I had bookmarked to read and never did. I consider this part of my job as a writer, but there are a probably a lot of people out there who are like, “Reading? That’s your job? HAH!”

But Alex pointed out today that I don’t work part-time; I work two jobs. There’s the one that I do for 30 hours a week, answering phones at a graphic design firm — the one that (mostly) pays the bills and provides health insurance. And then there’s the one that I do for at least that many hours if not more, the one with no boss but myself, no deadlines, no schedule or plan or client or anything. That’s the hard one, the one I really care about, the one that I think most people don’t get. (Unless of course they are working that job too…)

No need to pull out the world’s smallest violin for me; I know that I have it good and that I’m not special. I don’t really “get” anyone else’s job either, except my parents’. I’ve dated Andy for 4 years and I’m sure that what I know about his job is a tiny fraction of what he actually does. It’s the whole you gotta walk a mile in the other person’s shoes thing. Except, people respect Andy (as a purchasing manager) without really understanding his job. I don’t think the same is always true for me as a writer.

But that doesn’t really bother me. It just is what it is. No, what bothers me is that I’m starting to feel disappointed in myself. Two years (and a few months) after graduating college, I don’t feel like I have very much to show for my efforts. Yes, I made some big decisions — namely, I committed career suicide and quit my job as an account manager, and I switched from literary fiction to young adult — but what concrete things do I actually have to show for it? What can I point to when people ask what I’m doing, what I’ve done?

Last week my alma mater hosted an info session in downtown Cincinnati for high school students who were interested in applying/attending. I’ve volunteered at that session the past couple of years, helping people register and answering their questions both before and after the presentation. This year I decided not to go. There were a number of factors that led to that decision, but I admit, one of them was that I did not like the idea of having to answer the inevitable questions, “What did you study? What do you do? Have you been published?”

I know that my current struggles are normal, that I’m not behind schedule for this career. (In fact, given my age, it could easily be argued that I am ahead.) But I also know that those parents are considering paying a LOT of money for that education, and those kids are thinking not just about classes and dorms but about internships and job offers, and they all want to see results. They want to know that their time and money will be well-spent. And right now I just don’t think I would make a convincing case to them.

But this is not a pity fest. I knew (mostly) what this would be like when I decided I was really going for it. In fact, I have it easier than a lot of other aspiring writers, not to mention most people around the world.

So instead of feeling sorry for myself, I made a decision. I will be at that info session next year. And when they ask the inevitable questions, this is what I will answer:

What did you study? Creative writing.

What do you do? I write novels.

Have you been published? Yes.*

*If not “Yes,” then I’d at least like to be able to say something like, “Sort of. I have an agent, and we’re currently sifting through offers from multiple publishing houses on my first manuscript. It should be on bookshelves by 2011. Be sure to pick up a few copies!”

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20 Comments

  1. You have an AGENT???? And you’re sifting through OFFERS from PUBLISHING HOUSES? I fail to see how you could construe yourself as “behind,” “unsuccessful,” or “disappointing” under any standards. Do you realize HOW FEW authors EVER get to this point? EVER EVER EVER? If I were in your shoes, I’d be running up and down the streets, screaming, “Holy shit! Look what I’ve done!” Do you realize that if you were to talk to 1000 prospective students at this upcoming session, maybe ONE of them will achieve all that you have? MAYBE ONE. MAYBE.
    .-= • Recent post by Sonja: World’s cutest correspondence =-.

  2. Er… No, sorry, that’s what I plan to be able to say in a year’s time. I definitely do not have an agent right now. :'(

  3. Edited to clarify! Sorry for the confusion, Sonja!!

  4. Trisha

    Kristan,
    I’d like to point out, you are the luckiest woman in the world. You are in a loving, committed relationship; you get the privilege of working working part time (yes, 30 hours per week is not full time), while living in a lovely home with all the luxuries many people can only dream of having. More importantly, you are lucky enough to be pursuing your dream of being a published author with an agent and multiple offers on the table to sift through. Many people would kill to be able to walk a mile in your shoes. Life could be much worse, like half of the American’s struggling in this economy.
    Let me know when you are eating mac and cheese for the third night in a row because payday isn’t until Friday; and your not sure which you’re going to pay, the light bill or the phone. Then, I’ll break out the world’s smallest violin. Until then, shut up and write.

  5. Er, I said I didn’t need the world’s smallest violin. I know I’m lucky. (And I have eaten mac & cheese three times in a row…)

    Methinks this post didn’t come out right.

    Anyway, shutting up and writing. :)

  6. Trisha

    :)

  7. Trisha

    Big sister love. :)

  8. Alex

    I understood what you meant! But, um, considering I was the one who had the conversation with you in the first place, I guess it doesn’t count for quite so much…

  9. LOL yeah, but thanks.

  10. Trisha

    Well, my post gave Derek a chuckle.

  11. Haha, I bet he was like, “Oh, Mom. Nothing you haven’t said to me before.” :P

  12. You are ahead of schedule for your career.
    .-= • Recent post by Pseudo: Angels =-.

  13. Julia

    Funny, I feel the same way and I’ve been a lawyer for twenty something years and own many expensive things, including a house. I wonder which accomplishments really end up counting.

  14. Julia-
    I think you’re right on the money there, no pun intended. It’s not about the expensive stuff, but about the personal goals you set.

    Although knowing you, I can’t imagine that you haven’t met many of your personal goals!

  15. Emily

    KRISTAN!

    If I were still upstairs at Coho, I would immediately march downstairs to you and tell you that you are crazy! I understand that you are not having a pity party for yourself and that you were sharing your thoughts on your progress in your career. “I committed career suicide and quit my job as an account manager, and I switched from literary fiction to young adult” – um, you went to school to be a writer, not an account manager. You clearly have goals for yourself. And from what I have seen and watched you have accomplished so much already. You just might not be able to see that right now. Give it a few years. Trust me!

    From what I have seen in my very scattered career is that you can’t plan anything out. Promise me that you will go to that info night next year and share your experiences. I wish someone had told me what life after college would ACTUALLY be like instead of painting a pretty picture. If I believed what Notre Dame told me I would have rebuilt a neighborhood in New Orleans, lived on peanuts to teach an underprivileged Catholic school, and be VP of Marketing of some Fortune 500 company by age 30. Clearly, that is not going to happen.

    Kristan, the best part about being a smart, confident, well adjusted person with values, is that you can reinvent yourself, whenever, wherever you want. If we all accomplished things at the same time following the same path, where would be the excitement in that. You learn and grown from challenges. Nothing is worth having if you don’t have to work for it.

    “They want to know that their time and money will be well-spent. And right now I just don’t think I would make a convincing case to them.” – You couldn’t do what you are doing right now without the education you received.

    By the way, I would consider you a published author . . . you are on freaking Amazon!

    • Thanks, Emily. I wish you were still upstairs. :)

      Seriously, I appreciate your thoughts, and it really helps to hear them. I’ve already reread them three times, hehe.

  16. It is hard for a lot of people to understand. Yes, you have all these things others would love to have. You’ve acknowledged that you are very fortunate and you aren’t trying to garner any pity. But all of that isn’t enough for you.

    The hard thing about being a writer (or doing something similar for a living) is that there is no clear cut path to the recognition you want. It’s not like you study something and you get a job and work hard and get promoted/start your own company. No, you have to appeal to an agent in one way or another, and then appeal to the masses. And only then will you have something concrete to show for your efforts. I’m sure that less than 1% of those who try hard at that actually succeed at it.

    Anyway, I hope next year you’ll be able to go to that info session for CMU regardless of whether or not you’ve been published. If I were a parent and I saw someone like you at the info session, I’d get the impression that people at CMU would be good influences on my child. I think parents know that stuff like writing is a fickle field; they can’t honestly expect every 20-something out of college (no matter what college) to become a published author, can they?

  17. “I hope next year you’ll be able to go to that info session for CMU regardless of whether or not you’ve been published. If I were a parent and I saw someone like you at the info session, I’d get the impression that people at CMU would be good influences on my child.”

    Thanks.

    And I think you and Emily are right, I should go next year no matter what. (It was only one of the reasons I didn’t go this year, in my defense.)

    But thanks for understanding. :)

  18. Yeah I know it’s only one of the reasons you didn’t go :P

    Also, like Emily said, you ARE on amazon, so you can also mention that when they ask what you’ve been up to (if you haven’t been formally published by then). At least that way they can see that you’ve been writing a lot, and you aren’t just slacking off at home or anything (and maybe you’ll get some more kindle sales!)

  19. Yeah… I mean, Amazon is definitely cool, don’t get me wrong, but since anyone with a computer can do it, it doesn’t feel like as much of an accomplishment to me.

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