Posts Tagged ‘writing’

one-year anniversary – why i quit my job

07/15/2012

On June 28, 2011, I walked into my boss’s office, filled with anxiety, the majority of my hairs standing on end. I said, “I think it would be in my best interests, and yours, if I put in my two weeks.”

One year later I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Hoboken, NJ, staring across the Hudson at the glow that is Manhattan.

I do not regret my decision for an instant.

But, if I could do it again, there are definitely things I would do differently.

reading between the lines

For those of you unfamiliar with that situation, here is my [poorly written] post from a year ago explaining it.

The past year, however, is slightly more complex than sitting in coffee shops in and around New York City. More than anything, this has been a year of self-discovery. It has been the kind of year I wish upon all my friends, and my enemies, though it’s not as glorious as I’ve likely made it sound.

This post is here to set the record straight.

By impulsively quitting my job, I was able to take a step back from my life and examine it as an objective observer. I allowed myself to ask the important questions, free of the cloud of responsibility and pressure.

  • What makes me happy?
  • What can I not live my life without?
  • What do I envision as my typical happy week?
  • How can I live my happy week 52 times a year?
  • Why do I associate hypocrisy with screw-top wine bottles?

Above all, I have finally been able to come to terms with my flaws (most of them). This may sound trite, but it is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I was able to embrace them, thereby becoming consciously aware of their presence, thereby minimizing their negative effects on my life. Here are my top flaws I identified:

  • I over-promise and under-deliver
  • I lack discipline
  • I am inconsistent (case and point, this blog)
  • I am easily distracted, primarily on the interwebz
  • I am selfish

On the flip side of this, I have also been able to identify what I believe to be my strong points:

  • I am authentic – I say what I mean and I mean what I say
  • I am driven to produce the best work possible
  • I am always learning
  • Yeah, short list…

All in all, quitting my job was one of the best things I have ever done with my life. But there are some distinct shades of gray to that deed as well.

For those of you looking to quit your job, for those of you looking to start doing work you love, for those of you unsure as to where you want your path to take you, let the juvenile lessons learned by yours truly help you get started on the right foot.

Because I certainly didn’t.

shattering the illusionsi quit my job

The easiest part of quitting our jobs to pursue our passions is the actual quitting. While nerve-wracking at the time, it is overshadowed by an exhilaration that cannot be replicated. For me, this made it an easy choice. But once I came down off that high, I knew it was time to get to work.

The hardest part, by far, has been the financial strain from not having that nice regular paycheck. I went from a bi-weekly paycheck with a coveted comma to a bi-weekly paycheck that rarely rose above $400.

In light of this, my #1 piece of advice is this:

1. Have some money put away before you quit your job

I altered my lifestyle but, granted, it didn’t keep me from experiencing life. I was still able to go skydiving for the first time, whitewater raft the fifth most dangerous rafting river in the world, and have my first Central American adventure in Nicaragua. But once those adventures were over, the reality of my financial situation set in and I’ve been severely restricted in what I have been able to do since then.

If you have no problem living the lifestyle of the starving artist – constantly – then this does not apply to you. To everyone else, I recommend having a little cushion before you go Bohemian.

My second lesson is this:

2. Know what you want

This sounds simple, but it’s harder than we realize. When I quit my job I knew I wanted to be a novelist. That was good direction, but the more I learned the more I realized the difficulties involved with going the straight novel route. A novel is not written in a month, unless you’re Stephen King. That first novel, especially – Carrie was denied a number of times before he got it published. So I needed other income streams in the meantime, and I needed to improve my writing tenfold before I put anything as substantial as a novel on the market that wouldn’t get torn apart and push a potential audience away.

So I made it my primary goal – and it still is to this day – to always improve my writing. To always experiment with different styles, with different voices, with different structures. That being said, my third lesson is this:

3. Never be stagnant

In December and January I experienced a period of overwhelming stagnation, resulting in my first – and hopefully last – anxiety attack. I was barely writing and had let life get in the way of my creative endeavors. In order to achieve any kind of growth as human beings, we must always be learning, always seeking knowledge. If we feel stagnant in our job, it’s likely because we feel we aren’t learning anything new, that we aren’t growing.

If we want this to change, we have two options: 1.) We can wait for an opportunity to come along and seize it, or 2.) We can create the opportunity ourselves. Robert Greene’s The 50th Law has a very motivating chapter on how to do the latter of these two. He titles it “Turn Shit Into Sugar.”

final reflection

Ultimately, as I said earlier, I would not change what I did one year ago for anything.

  • I experienced more rapid personal growth than I had in the past eight years
  • I am a better writer than I was 365 days ago, although there is still quite a ways to go
  • I have become more aware of those important questions
  • I am happier
  • And, of course, as my best friend so poignantly told me, for the first time in seven years I finally lived up to the title of this blog

Now if that isn’t worth impulsively quitting one’s job and living in poverty for the next year, I don’t know what is.

kid, you’ll move mountains

05/02/2012

oh the places you'll goDreams are a precarious thing. Prone to change, prone to falter, they can just as easily consume you as they can evade your grasp.

I’ve learned much about the pursuit of dreams these past 10 months – fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not sure which. As a friend of mine would say, “It’s not all kittens and butterflies.”

The intricacies of writing appear boundless, and my dreams seem to ride their own see-saw. One day inspired and the words flow effortlessly. The next day discouraged on a whim. When 1 hour = approx. 300 words, and the average short story ranges between 2,000 – 4,000 words . . . well, you get the picture. And that doesn’t even touch upon the rewrite, which takes longer.

This is not a craft for the weak-willed. Although I’m not sure any craft is, if one seeks to master it. Kittens and butterflies, certainly not.

But we’re just getting started. And in the words of Eli Young, keep on dreamin, even if it breaks your heart.

The submissions begin this week.

The need for motivation, self-discipline and perseverance – that lingers.

motivational mondays – word choice

12/05/2011

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a good question for a child. We all have wants, we all have desires, and as children there is a myriad of desirable professions and occupations that run through our heads. Personally, I wanted to be a police officer, an architect, a history teacher, and play second base for the Cleveland Indians.

As a child, what was your answer to this question? Did you want to be the first astronaut to Mars? A special education teacher? An Olympic swimmer? Once you’ve remembered what your answer to that question was, answer this one:

“What will you be when you grow up?”

Does the answer change? If so, why? If your answer doesn’t change, stop reading this post.

the power of word choice

Back in June, I quit my 9-5 white-collar job to pursue a career as a full-time writer. Five months later, I’m writing literally thousands of words each day with the intent of publishing soon and it’s more thrilling than I ever believed possible. Back in May . . . hell, since the seventh grade, I would tell people “I want to be a writer.”

That word choice is no longer acceptable. Six months since May, I now tell people “I will be a writer.”

A powerful difference there.

The profundity of a single simple word should not go unnoticed or under-appreciated. Think of the best speeches you’ve ever heard. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. The simplicity of Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech.  One meant for 21-year-old college grads, the loftier one for a discordant nation. Both knew their audience. Both chose their words based on that audience. Both are brilliant.

lofty to mundane

Speeches are easy to refer to in regard to word choice, but what about our daily interactions? Conversations we have every single day that we brush off as inconsequential.

They’re not.

Think about something as simple as a coworker asking you how your weekend was. Do you just say, “Good, how was yours?” Think about the difference when compared to this: “It was actually a really fun weekend!” Nothing groundbreaking, but a marked improvement. The latter depicts sincerity, like you’ve lent thought to the response and aren’t a blasted robot. That something this weekend was different. People recognize sincerity in conversation. They appreciate it. And they want to know more.

Straight up, when I worked in an office my response to that weekly question was nearly always “Good, how was yours?” I wanted to be noncommittal. I’m not very comfortable talking about myself to coworkers unless I’m good friends with them. But when looking back on it, think of how much I missed out on, how many positive relationships didn’t burgeon because of my lackluster? Even if it’s someone you don’t necessarily care to buddy up with, you never know how you can help each other out or what you may have in common. The least likely people, I’ve found, can push your life in a whole new direction you never thought possible.

honne vs. tatemae

Recognizing your choice of words is a mindset, an adjustment of your mental attitude. To elucidate, let’s refer to the Japanese.

A central theme to Japanese culture is the concept of honne vs. tatemae. Honne represents our deepest desires, those things we keep hidden except from our closest family and friends, and maybe even from them. Tatemae literally translates to facade, and refers to how you act in public in accordance with society.

This cuts to the core of how people change. Japanese culture leans toward the belief that to change, to truly change, you must first alter your actions (tatemae) and then your honne will change as a result (your inner feelings, desires, motivations, etc.). Western culture tends to believe exactly the opposite, with degrees of variation based on personal beliefs.

But this concept of word choice I’m discussing caters directly to the Japanese version of social constructs. In July, instead of saying “if I get published” I started saying “when I get published.” Instead of saying “I hope I can get a couple chapters done this weekend” I say “I’m gonna get shit DONE this weekend!” It’s vocal, it’s seen and it’s heard, and it’s motivating. And the best part? Now I do it.

moving forward

One of the rules of writing and speaking is this: to depict absolute truth, render it in the shortest possible sentence.

Use this mentality to improve yourself, either as a professional, within relationships, or simply as a human being. It’s time for us to think critically about how we present ourselves through our careful choice of words. It’s a conscious effort and it’s not easy – I can tell you that from personal and observed experiences – but it is very worth it. Simply the sense of confidence it lends is astounding, both with just evaluating the words you use to describe yourself or your actions and the motivating factor of saying something akin to: “I will be a writer.”

And better yet: “I am a writer.”

downwind of a traffic light

10/27/2011

A lumbering man. Middle-aged. He plods down the street at an easy but determined pace. Unassuming, with a slight belly that bespoke too much beer and not enough cardio.

It’s not 8 o’clock yet, but it’s that time of year when the sun sets sooner than what you’d like, and you know that in a little while you’ll be driving home from work in the dark. He’s bundled up against the chill in a vain attempt to fight off the cold, when he suddenly stops. He looks up. And he doesn’t move.

A minute passes.

His head moves to face a new direction, and I can only assume his eyes follow. Stars. Clouds. An eternal blackness, sans the glow of the traffic light serving generously as his backdrop.

His mind is not here. I don’t want to know where it is. This moment is his, and my disturbance would be akin to taking a paddle to the back of a meditating monk’s head – he might have achieved a form of nirvana, or a semblance of inner peace that many of us can only hope to attain, save for my interference.

I sit in my parked car, fully intending to drive somewhere but, not wanting to disturb his reverie, I sit and I watch, hearing but not listening to the sibilance coming from the radio. The engine hums.

I feel somewhat like an intruder, but the phrase “ignorance is bliss” comes to mind and so I stay.

Another minute passes.

The traffic light changes. Aside from adjusting his feet farther apart to maintain a degree of comfort, he stays motionless. White tennis shoes. Worn bluejeans. A fall jacket and a Cleveland Browns snow cap. His breath mists.

He comes back to the moment, looks around briefly as if he had forgotten where he was, and continues on down the street. Then he stops again. His eyes go skyward again. He stands motionless. Again.

I’m not sure why it occurs to me at that moment, but I know that for some reason the still frame of a middle-aged, pot-bellied man standing on a suburban sidewalk gazing at the sky, backlit by a traffic light I hate to get caught at, will forever stick in my mind.

He lumbers on.

motivational mondays – creation

08/08/2011

creation kanjiAnybody can destroy. The most spiritually bereft can step on an ant hill, can take a sledgehammer to something beautiful, can kill another human being. Real worth is demonstrated by those who create.

Now that’s not to say that destruction isn’t, at times, favorable. In fact it can sometimes be necessary in order to create. But if all you do is destroy, whether it be physical, spiritual or moral, then you may need to more deeply examine yourself and your values.

create a character

The possibilities are boundless when it comes to creativity. One of the most beneficial things I’ve found in my life is to periodically create a fictional character. Now I’m sure some of you are thinking that it only works for me because I’m a [wannabe] writer. I have to create characters. That line of thinking would be false. I create characters out of context all the time to help me get through trying – or just plain interesting – situations. Sounds odd, but stick with me.

Take some aspect of either someone you know or just your imagination and run with it. Create this character’s physical appearance, moral stance, spiritual leaning and level of intellectual prowess.

  • Is he attractive or the most hideous person you’ve ever seen?
  • Is he moral, immoral or amoral?
  • Does she practice Islam, Judaism or Christianity? Maybe she’s atheist because she was raped when she was little and, based on that, she can’t rationalize that a benevolent God figure would exist who let that happen
  • Would he feel remorse or pride if he killed someone in self defense?
  • Is she a book-worm or an athlete? Maybe a balance of both? Maybe she got injured running in the Olympics and has to realign her goals?
  • Is he a veritable Don Quixote? Or maybe a Tyler Durden?

Let your imagination run wild with this! Take at least 15-30 minutes to create this person and simply enjoy the creative process.

the fatal flaw

Then, with all good characters, give them a flaw. No good character exists who does not have flaws. It’s human to have flaws, and we all want people we can relate to. People with whom we can share anxieties and fear. With whom we can talk to privately and feel a deeper connection. Nobody likes a flawless person because he doesn’t exist.

Now the key to creating this flaw, as it relates to this post and your character creation, is to give this character a flaw to which you can relate. A flaw that you and your character can both overcome. Perhaps there’s a girl behind the coffee shop counter you like but have been unable to approach. Maybe you have a boyfriend to whom you want to commit but find you can’t. What if a close relative or friend is on their deathbed and you can’t find the right words to say?

apply the character to your situation

What would your character do in your situation? What do you think is the most appropriate action? Are you one to take that action or is your character better suited? If the character is better suited, ask yourself why that is? Determining this will allow you to modify your own action and put it more in line with what you think should happen.

By creating an ideal, it gives us something to live up to. People do this all the time with religious and historical figures. What would Jesus do? Malcolm X wouldn’t stand for injustice so why should I? And so on and so forth.

Creation is a beautiful thing. It can be done to further a cause, to fulfill a dream, or simply for the thrill of creating something original. So use your Monday to create something. Anything. I recommend a character, but then again I’m biased.

What will you create before death comes calling?

there is no try

08/05/2011

A wise little green man once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”Yoda

I find this to be more true the further I go and the deeper I delve into my writing.

I am committed. There is no turning back now.

A couple people told me a month ago that if I don’t find a certain degree of success within the year that I should re-evaluate my decision and consider going back into public relations, into the good ol’ 9-5. The more and more I think about it, I realize that my return to that field, and to that lifestyle, is next to impossible now.

For that would mean that I had given up on my dreams.

And that I will not do.

when i write

07/22/2011

When readers read my novels, I want them to feel inspired, fascinated and breathless at the end. That’s because, to me, novels are a wealth of extraordinary experiences and vibrant characters that help instill a vibrancy into my own life.

Some of the best scenes in novels happen in very ordinary places. The family room. The den. The cubicle. A church. Now these seemingly “ordinary” places become settings, become staging grounds for something bigger. For some emotional development in a character. For some reversal of perspective. For a cold-blooded murder. For a boy to fall in love with a girl. For ANYTHING!

Novels help me recognize eccentricities in others and, instead of becoming annoyed by them, I become fascinated by them:

  • Why won’t that girl leave her emotionally abusive boyfriend?
  • What back-story provoked a mild-mannered man’s violent outburst at a restaurant?
  • What keeps that man from standing up for himself?
  • Why does that person hang on to an obviously deteriorating friendship?
  • Where does someone find religion?
  • Why does someone fall away from religion?

People who otherwise would have annoyed me or been judged by me have now become intriguing pieces to the larger puzzle of life. They fit in somewhere, I just have to figure out the arrangement. DISCLAIMER: Just to be fair, this doesn’t mean that some people don’t annoy me. If the eccentricity – feigned or real – is REALLY annoying, then I just run with annoyed.

inspired, fascinated and breathless

Take Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and its ability to inspire all of these feelings.

Madame Defarge’s unrelenting zeal for revenge that leads her to attempt the killing of innocents, but not before uttering her most famous line: “Tell wind and fire where to stop, but don’t tell me!” Even though she’s one of the bad guys, that is an inspiring line. Helps to instill a little respect into an otherwise deplorable character.

But the real breathless moment Dickens saves for the grand finale. SPOILER ALERT! Sydney Carton saving Charles Darnay’s life through the sacrifice of his own, elevating him to a  moral level that surpasses any other character in the book. And this act from an alcoholic who has wasted most of his life in the bottle, pining for the love of a woman who does not feel the same way. And then his execution at the end and the kiss he shares with a complete stranger moments before his death…

Beautiful. To inspire such emotion from your readers. To fascinate them with the humanity of your characters. To leave them breathless with a bittersweet and yet plausible ending.

If I can replicate even a fraction of what Dickens created with that final scene, I’ll consider my novel a success, whether or not it sells.

Although I prefer that it sell.

Post inspired by James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure

why i quit my job

07/03/2011

I have fantasized about writing this post for three years. Now it’s time.

I quit my job. I am no longer a public relations professional. I do not live the 9-5 lifestyle.

My new job is my passion. My new profession is my will to be great. My new lifestyle is one of my own choosing.

Why? Why have I sacrificed a comfortable 9-5 job at an amazing company with a steady paycheck, a nice health/dental/vision package and an IRA? Why have I cut my income by nearly two-thirds? Why have I taken such a life risk?

my [loss of] independence day

To gain a better understanding of why I quit my job, we need to take a look at the roots.

I paid for my entire freshman year of college. No help from my parents. No loans. Straight cash out of my pocket earned by umpiring little league baseball games and working 20- to 50-hour weeks at Red Robin. My funds ran out when freshman year ended. Thus, in spirit, so did my independence.

I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t pay for my next three years, but had effectively deluded myself into thinking I would not have to rely on my parents. I had moved out. I was on my own. Mom and Dad were two people I no longer had to rely on for a cash flow. I could finally stand without holding onto something.

But my envisioned independence was not meant to be – the Rents began paying for my college education. I still paid for a portion of my tuition by working over breaks, but it wasn’t the same. I was no longer financially independent. This fact meant quite a bit to me. One summer night just before sophomore year began, I got a little too liberal with my wine and broke down sobbing about how I wanted to drop out of college and move to California. And god knows I probably would have done it if my parents hadn’t stopped me.

Thus, I began to get angry. Over the next three years my optimism transformed into cynicism. I hated the institution. What kind of bullshit is paying thousands upon thousands of dollars to get a piece of paper that said, “I am now qualified to be paid more than the high-school-educated person.” I hated the cliche that was the man. I hated authority unless I saw it in action, unless I personally saw the cogs turning.

It was at this time in my life that I started my first blog, dubbing myself a “freebird.” I determined that I would one day live without shackles. My life would be my own and nobody would tell me where to be or when to be there. I didn’t need a lot of money. I just needed freedom. In hindsight, this was when I really started to become who I am today.

fast forward

That was 2005. It’s now 2011. Six years……

I chose a field of study, pursued it rigorously, and found moderate success. And with that moderate success, I found an equatable level of interest in my field. That’s not to say there weren’t things I got excited about – I bought into it as much as I possibly could. I really did. I convinced myself, to a certain degree, that I could simply get by working the 9-5 until “the ideal” came traipsing along – get a book published, gain a foothold in freelancing, get the perfect job where I can be happy – anything.

I’ve been very fortunate with the jobs I landed in my field: I got to work for a science center that introduced me to so many new and exciting concepts and theories to which I would have otherwise never been exposed; and I got to work at an incredibly dynamic agency that is actively breaking the traditional mold of what an agency looks like. It was through working at these amazing places and yet still feeling unfulfilled that I realized it wasn’t about the work environment – it was about me. My dreams. My needs. My vision.

Because when you’re pursuing a career for which you lack passion, when you wake up every day and long to sit at your desk at home and write instead of driving 30 minutes into the city, when you cringe at the prospect of checking your email…well, that’s when you’ve reached the tipping point. That’s when you’ve boiled all the water in your pot and it starts burning, losing its integrity and diminishing the possibility for any future use.

I lost some of my integrity during my pursuit of a career instead of a lifestyle. I degraded myself, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I have grown soft and inattentive. Complacent. Unappreciative of the wonders that surround me and, more importantly, of the incredible things I can do with my life.

I refuse to allow that depreciation to continue.

take a stand

My life has now taken a new direction. This is my stand. This is my pronouncement.

I will no longer excel at mediocrity. I will no longer subdue my passion for pragmatism. I will no longer be ruled by the fear of being solely responsible for my success or failure. I will defy convention and do what I’ve wanted to do since the seventh grade.

I pursue my true goals now with a sense of desperate urgency – I will write. Novels. Freelancing. Blog posts. Anything and everything for which I am passionate. The real work of my life now begins in earnest.

Am I scared for what  may come with such an unpredictable future? I’m freaking terrified. But the scales have finally tipped. My exhilaration outweighs my fear. My power now lies in my independence, and in the knowledge that I know nothing and, understanding that, can achieve everything.

And so it begins.