Monday, December 17, 2012

It's All Just Too Much!

One issue I've been struggling with lately is the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Although I'm hoping to edit full time at some point, that point has not yet arrived, so I still work full time for a biotech company. In addition, I have ongoing editing projects and I'm enrolled in a four-class copyediting certification course through the University of California San Diego. This amounts to somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty hours of work per week. This is not something I'm used to.

I've been trying to remind myself that it won't always be like this, but it's tough. My business plan includes making a livable income from editing for at least six months before quitting biotech, so at the absolute best I'll still be doing this until the summer. Since I haven't yet even achieved a livable income, that's an unlikely scenario. It's exhausting thinking about spending this sort of energy indefinitely.

I've forgotten what it feels like to be bored. Every "free" moment I have is taken up by some sort of work. Even once I'm done with my 9-5, editing, classwork, blogging, and job hunting, there are still chores to be done and errands to be run. I spend lunch breaks at my desk preparing articles for magazine publication. I cram homework in between dinnertime and bedtime. Three free minutes? That's enough to send an email.

I know it will get better eventually and I try to remind myself that everyone goes through something like this when they're starting out. But every time I have to turn down an invitation to lunch or dinner, every time I realize I'm about to miss a deadline and end up rushing (and, of course, feeling I haven't done my best work), I cringe. I hope one day not to have to schedule every activity of my life to make sure it all gets done, but I don't have much hope that's going to happen anytime soon.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Feeling Lost

This past summer, I started my journey on a new career path. I have never felt so lost in my life.

The feeling I was most struck by was the sense that I knew nothing and had no direction. I felt inadequate, unprepared, and unskilled. I knew where I wanted to end up but I had absolutely no idea what was required to get there.

I wondered, then, why I hadn't felt that way when starting my career in biotech. Surely, as a professional in my thirties, I had at least some basic grasp of language and editing? Certainly much more than I had understood, as an 18-year-old undergrad, the finer points of biochemistry and genetics. So why hadn't I felt as lost and without direction in my teens as I did this summer?

The answer, once I found it, seemed simple: when I was eighteen, I expected to be lost and unskilled. I knew that I had no idea what I was doing, but I wasn't supposed to. Who, as a college freshman, is excepted to have all the skills and knowledge of a professional with ten years' industry experience? No one, of course.

The problem, then, wasn't that I was inept or unskilled, only inexperienced. Once I realized that, my panic about having no clue what to do next subsided.

I decided to join a local writers' group and begin a copyedting certification course online. The writers' group exposed me to other industry professionals and got my feet wet actually marking real copy. The online course taught me the basics of editing and gave me confidence that I could actually succeed because I now knew what I was doing.

In a few short months my outlook changed from sheer panic over having no idea what to do next to fierce determination to make things work and a plan to make that happen.

So if you're beginning a new career after years doing something else entirely and feel like you can't surmount any obstacles because you don't even recognize yet what your obstacles are, relax. You're not alone. Take a few deep breaths and remember that everyone has to start from scratch. Your journey has already begun.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Throughout high school and college, I knew where my career was headed. In my AP Biology class, we demonstrated genetic crossover using Pop-Beads and drew poster-sized Punnet squares. I was hooked on genetics, and I followed that interest all the way to a Bachelor of Science in Genetics from Texas A&M University.

Ten years in the biotech industry helped me grow, learn, and change. It also burned me out. The things I loved about science became hard to notice amidst the corporate drudgery I faced daily. Discovery was replaced by profit, innovation by efficiency, and creativity by mistake-proofing.

It was then that I began to consider doing something different with my life. I had always had a passion for language. I've been a long-standing member of such online communities as LiveJournal's grammar_nazis and wrongworddammit. I own a well-worn copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Lynne Truss makes me giggle, and Grammar Girl has me loudly agreeing with her blog.

I was at my job in biotech one day, cringing at a poorly-written poster advertising upcoming events in the next month, wishing I could take a red pen to it, when I realized, I could do this. It wasn't just that I was bothered by the Totally random Capitalization the poster author had used, or their repeated abuse of apostrophe's. It was that I knew it could be so much more polished and professional with a tiny bit of work.

When I considered things more deeply, I realized I had been editing for years. I had long provided feedback to my writer friends on short stories, blog entries, professional articles, and the like, pointing out issues like "your hook is strong, but you don't really support it in the body of the article" or "this description would be much more effective if it happened earlier, to give the reader a better idea about who this guy is". I had regularly been complimented on my ability to help an author tidy up or enhance their work, and often asked, "Have you considered being an editor?".

So when the time came to consider something besides what I'd always done, editing was the natural choice.

I made the decision in July to try something new. I'm still working 40+ hours a week in biotech, but I've started spending more and more time editing. I'm working to build my client base into something that can support full-time work. And someday, I'll leave the corporate environment behind and strike out on my own.