When I was still too young to work a paying job, I volunteered as an assistant leader at a Girl Scout summer camp. My first paying job was also a summer job, as a nanny.
As a nanny, I worked for a young mother who had five children under the age of 7. To say she was overwhelmed was an understatement, but I didn’t work as a nanny. She played with the kids or took the babies in for checkups while I did dishes, changed beds, ran the vacuum and even cleaned out the frig. I was the maid. My first lesson?
Not all jobs are as advertised. Whether the deception is accidental (she really thought I would take care of the kids) or intentional (she hated housework as much as I do), sometimes you’ll take a writing job only to find that it isn’t the job the publisher described. I once wrote leveled reading material for an educational publisher. My editor was so green he had no experience in publishing or education. I had to teach him what his boss meant when she said “controlled vocabulary” and do the writing too. Fortunately I had learned another applicable lesson as not-really-a-nanny…
Even if you dislike the job, an end date can make it tolerable. Washing dishes that had been sitting on the kitchen counter since the last time I was at work was not my idea of a desirable job, but I needed the cash for college. Between when I took the job and when university started, I had 7 weeks. That end date helped me endure.
The project deadline for that educational publisher worked in much the same way. They did ask me to sign another contract, but I begged off citing other commitments. I only wish that my research before taking the job had turned up red flags so I could apply a lesson I learned working Girl Scout camp, and that would be…
Know the risks before you engage. One afternoon, we were making s-mores when one of the girls said, “Oh, no. It’s falling.” I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and stuck out my hand. Have you ever caught a marshmallow fresh out of the fire? You cannot drop it. It sticks. No matter how hard you flail. Let’s just say that I’m a lot more cautious now. I look for warning signs before I submit to an editor, apply for a writing job or pitch an agent. After all, I don’t want to get burned.
I may never again be a nanny or a scout leader, illustrate cultural resource management reports or collect oral histories, but it is amazing how many of my job related lessons apply to my writing life.
To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.
Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.