Career wanted: Apply within
May 6, 2013 7:36 AM   Subscribe

After the standard three-month probationary period, I realized that the first job in my new state wasn't right for me, so I resigned. Help me plot my next career move?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer/editor/publisher but my parents didn't have the money—and I didn't have the gumption to apply for financial aid or scholarships—to send me to the schools where I could get a really good journalism degree. I got my BA in English, though, and in order to pay off some credit card debt, I worked at a travel agency call center.

After two years of not being paid to be a writer but doing some volunteer writing and editing for a monthly webzine, I decided to quit my job to try being a freelance writer. Four months after that, I got a job at a niche magazine and moved across the country to do that job, only to be terminated a year after that.

Bills called again, and for the next three years after that, I kicked ass at a data entry job while volunteering at the local-area geek convention as a senior staff member and publishing an annual print 'zine. Then some personal issues hit and I decided to change careers again to be an admin/executive assistant.

In the five years since I switched, I've held five jobs ranging in duration from three years to three months. I know there's a problem here in my being able to keep and hold a job (and I strongly suspect it's me), but how do I find this out for sure? I'm in my mid-thirties and I don't have the luxury of spending more time to "find myself."

More questions:
  • My husband thinks seeing a therapist again would help. Are there any psychologists in the greater Twin Cities area that not only deal with cognitive behavior stuff but career advice and coaching as well?
  • I did a search for career aptitude tests online but what's the meatspace equivalent of those? Is that the sort of thing you can do at an unemployment office or staffing agency?
  • One of the reasons I suspect I've not been able to be very happy since I switched to the admin/executive assistant track is that ever since I was terminated from the editing job, I've been trying to get back into it and feeling discouraged. I made it a priority to take "any" job in order to pay off my debts, and it's worked to the point of where I only have one credit card bill in my name, and I'm within a year or so of paying that one off completely; at the same time, I've barely written anything since then, even on the website I created/started myself. But the writing/editing industry isn't as robust out here in Minneapolis as it was in New York City, where I used to live. Am I completely foolish for even wanting to still write and edit?
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
posted by TrishaLynn to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Am I completely foolish for even wanting to still write and edit?

You may just be looking in the wrong places. Journalism and publishing aren't the only jobs in which people write and edit. For example, I work in nonprofit development, which involves writing and editing grant proposals and reports. Your admin experience would be a great way to get a foot in the door.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:40 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, while there are many lakes in Minnesota, I don't think I'd be able to join the Coast Guard and rescue people for a living.
posted by TrishaLynn at 7:47 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Along with what showbiz_liz says, you may want to search for copywriter jobs, if you're ok writing ad content (online ads, catalogs, web descriptions) rather than novels. Depending on how geeky you are, technical writer jobs may also work for you.

Therapists absolutely can help with job-related stuff, but not all of them are good at it.

I'm not sure why you're looking for in-person aptitude tests exactly, rather than online, but if you're open to more online resources, O*Net can be helpful.
posted by jaguar at 7:48 AM on May 6, 2013

Speaking from experience, it's really difficult to get out of whatever mindset you're in that forces you to define yourself by your career. I'm saying this less globally and more specifically to you, because I've been there. You get in this feedback loop that involves multiple versions of the following at any given time:

--I'm not a data entry/administrative person; this is just temporary because I'm really a writer
be real here, I've written way less than I should have, and I'm so far behind all of the other writers out there. I don't have the kind of portfolio that people want to see.

--I have these awesome and unique skills/talents, so I should be in a position that recognizes and respects this
dammit, I'm TOO special of a snowflake, and therefore I don't deserve a better job because I can't get my shit together to find the right one.

--Okay! I'm in a good position now! I may be struggling a bit, but that's because I came through a rather haphazard path, and I need time and effort to figure things out
silly girl, if you wanted to be a writer, you'd be a writer, right? What's your problem?

If your brain is anything like mine, it sucks big donkey balls and needs a swift kick.

That is my very loving way of telling you that yes, therapy would probably help. Maybe CBT, so you could disrupt some of the thinking that gets you in fight-or-flight mode.

But -- again, speaking from experience -- I think you could benefit from some professional accountability. And that's probably hard to think about when you're in a new area of the country and don't have a work structure right now, but I think you can still do it. Sometimes (okay, all the time) I use KathrynT as my personal drill sergeant -- she might be wrangling a small child or whatever, but if I am completely off my game and relying solely on my irresponsible lizard brain, I can say, "Kaaaaathryn, I don't wanna do stuff" and she'll say, "Look, make a list and then tell me what the easiest thing is." And I do the same for her. It's stupid but it works.

Look around for professional freelancing groups. Check out the university to see if they have any career workshops, likely through adult and continuing education. Call your alma mater to see what they offer for alums. Network with friends on similar schedules, even if they're far away or have nothing to do with your career(s) of choice; chances are that they'll be able to be honest with you AND provide you with the kinds of ideas you couldn't think about in your own bubble.

Meanwhile, give yourself a gold star for whatever the hell accomplishments you want to recognize, whether it's paying off a bill or getting a fabulous new job or just making your bed in the morning when you don't normally do so. You deserve to be proud of yourself for something, even if you're agonizing over whether you've made good or bad or no decisions. Use that as a springboard to "better."

I've mentioned before that I've thought a lot about the concept of "better" over the last several months, and come to the conclusion that it's as good motivation as any. Because you CAN be better. Small or large, personal or public: it's pretty easy to say, "Hey, I want to do something better than I did it today."

Better is better, and that's an accomplishment. End of story.

no I'm not projecting my own life onto yours why do you ask
posted by Madamina at 7:58 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

We met, in passing, at your welcome meet-up. There are plenty of positions as a technical writer within the Twin Cities area. If you go to a site like,, and pop in technical writer things start cascading out. There is also plenty of agencies in the area to help writers/editors find temp gigs so those are of a consideration if you are looking for flexible time.

I am memailing you.
posted by jadepearl at 8:33 AM on May 6, 2013

You know Journalism is dying and so is editing to a certain extent. Not that these jobs paid very well to begin with.

So many of my friends who are writers are bloggers. They started out with something in their spare time and built it up into something.

That's how it is in the "new economy". It's possible that you were caught up in the whole, "I'm a good writer and if I want to write for a living, it has to be journalism," mentality. That may have been true a couple of decades ago, but print media is waning.

So many people are happy to provide content for free that being able to pay the bills with writing may be something you have to re-think.

So, what kinds of jobs let you write, edit, copywrite, etc? Are they available where you are? If not, what IS available where you are?

Is it so terrible that you write for pleasure in your spare time, and do something else for money? So many of us do!

I long ago resigned the thought that just because I write well, that the world owed me a career as a writer. What I discovered is that I have a ton of skills and interests and that I enjoy using them just as much as I enjoy writing. (And offering advice.)

The first thing you need to do is get over the idea that having a "regular job" is a stop-gap until you find your Job Charming. Instead, assess your skills and experience, figure out what's interesting and then find the best paying job you can that will capitalize on what you have.

Working for money is a perfectly cromulent way to work. Work for money, write for fun.

You need to make peace with the fact that not everyone can be a Cowboy-Firefighter-Animal Doctor. The world needs people who are good at Excel. Thank heavens!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:38 AM on May 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

I agree with you, Ruthless Bunny, about working for money. One of my good friends up in the Cities is actually my favorite example of that: she has an English degree and loves to knit and go to indie-rock shows and volunteer at a local radio station, but that won't pay the bills. So she started working for a financial company, doing something or other business analyst-y, and danged if she doesn't have her Series 7 now. Now she can go to DISTANT indie-rock shows, and knit FANCY things.

There's also a lot of freedom in being able to leave work at the office, or crunching numbers that more or less do what they are supposed to do and you don't have to deal with 58 cranky people to get to that point. Maybe only 12.

However, I've found it very difficult to keep up writing/personal projects without a more formalized structure. I know I have the time and am more than capable, but...

So, again, building in accountability is still important and difficult outside of what the rest of the world would call Work.

(P.S. Job Charming, YES.)
posted by Madamina at 8:51 AM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Here's the thing about being a writer: You need to write all the time, even if it's just for you. Every writer I know has gotten their jobs to a large degree based on the fact that they write all the time, even stuff that has nothing to do with their writing job, but it's all that material and experience that makes an employer want to hire you.

If you are not writing much at all, do you really want to be a writer?

In your place, I'd put all of my spare energy right now into writing. Make that website/blog of yours something special. Post something at least 3 times a week, and make sure it's good. Take an hour every day to work on it. Then, 6 months from now, you'll have a good start with something that could be very impressive to help you get a job somewhere. It's also possible that the blog will be successful enough to start generating an income.

Once you have something impressive, that's when you should start putting more effort into finding a writing job. Not to say you shouldn't be looking now, but that shouldn't be taking energy away from getting back into writing mode. Once you feel ready, or once your credit cards are paid off and you are feeling a little more financially secure (and likely less stressed), than you can focus on the job hunt.

With all art, you need to do it constantly, not only to hone your skills, but also to show the world that you're doing it. I'm not a writer, but as a musician, if I look at the website of another musician and it hasn't been updated with new stuff in the last year, I wonder what they're doing. On the other hand, those people who have new music on their site every few weeks, even if it isn't particularly fantastic, always come across as "real" musicians. They obviously are writing and playing all the time, and I'm much more inclined to contact one of them for a project than someone who's website isn't current.
posted by markblasco at 8:52 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you want to freelance, I'd suggest finding stuff to write about, and pitching all the local papers and websites even the ones that don't pay ( I don't believe in working for free once you're established , but you need clips.) You don't need a J-school degree to be a journalist--you need to be curious about the world around you and know what questions to ask and how to write up what you find out in an engaging way.
I think you should relaunch your blog(s), because then you have a showcase for your previous work, and a home where people can find you. Start meeting editors, writers, etc.. Mpls isn't New York, but as the movie says, for many people it's the MinneApple , and thus, the Big City for miles around. Colleges, the U, arts organizations, corporations abound, along with a literate populace, means that people will want to hire someone who communicates well.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:07 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi TrishaLynn, we met at your meetup. I will have a look around my contacts to see if I know anyone who works in writing or editing that I can connect you with. In the meantime, if you decide to look for a unrelated 9-5 job that just pays the bills, I work for a big company here in Minneapolis which is definitely hiring and I might be able to help out.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:31 AM on May 6, 2013

Thanks so much for all the advice so far. My husband and I worked on tailoring my resume to be more of a functional one, and I'm following-up with some of the people in this thread who were kind enough to MeMail me information and help. If anyone's still reading, keep it coming!
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:37 AM on May 7, 2013

Hey TrishaLynn!
I haven't done much professional writing myself, but I recently found lists of places that will pay for your writing ( Those will probably not lead to a career right away per se, but it might help you build up your experience and get you to think of yourself as a writer maybe?
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 9:23 AM on May 10, 2013

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