The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Monday, February 06, 2006

My story - the early years

I want to start by talking about how I ended up pursuing a career in freelance writing.

After high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was one of those highly stressed, straight-A students and was burned out on education. So I took a temporary data entry job at an insurance company while I figured out what to do with my life.

Suddenly, ten years had passed. Whoa! This was never supposed to be my career, so how did that happen? I decided to go to college to get my degree in chemical engineering.

Biggest mistake of my life.

I’m not down on education (hey, kids, stay in school) but for me, pretty much everything bad that happened for the next decade or so could be traced back to my decision to go back to school. I got my degree and couldn’t get a job. There were lots of entry-level engineering jobs, but lots of people applying for them. I was overqualified to do anything else, and was getting desperate. Finally, with no money left in the bank, and only enough credit left for one more rent payment and two weeks of groceries, I managed to get a job working for my cousin at a national laboratory.

This wasn’t really a reprieve. The job was awful. It was groundwater research, and I was interested in neither groundwater nor research. It was a government job, and coming from a business background it was terribly frustrating to see how impossible it was to get anything done. It took months to accomplish things that would be done in days in private industry. Every day was miserable, far worse than the job I had left to go to college. On top of that, I was actually taking home less money than before I got my degree.

However, I got two important things out of my time there. I did a lot of technical writing, from field reports to 800+ page software quality assurance documents. And I learned a programming language called LabVIEW.

After four dismal years, I finally left. I was still overqualified for other work, but now I was also unqualified for engineering work. Nothing kills an engineering career like research experience. I was out of work for over a year, buoyed up only by the thought that unemployment and imminent starvation was still better than that job. Then one day, I answered a one-sentence blind ad in the newspaper looking for a LabVIEW programmer, and my life changed.


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