When I graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1991 with a masters degree in English, I began to look for work in my field of English/Communication/etc. Books – probably dozens of them – chronicle what a person can do with a degree in English. None of the jobs mentioned in these books talk about teaching much, probably because the pay is lousy and the opportunities few. I took the first job I was offered, working at a hospital in public relations. The pay was $9 an hour.
The job, itself, was great. I wrote articles, prepared news letters and designed a magazine. One of the best parts was getting to suit up and go into the operating rooms and observe, then write about procedures. I was in technical writing heaven. But my boss, who had been there forever, was a woman without much education. She was a veteran of the school of hard knocks, and was extremely protective of her turf. She was frustrated by my productivity and my lack of errors, so I began making some little errors that she could correct. If she didn’t catch them, I fixed them myself, before going to print. I had great success in getting our articles printed in the local newspapers, who insisted on putting my byline on them even though I told them not to. I remember several days I came to work and had to deal with my bosses’ anger over seeing my name in print, again. I took it for a year, and then I begged the local newspaper to take me on, and I left the hospital, took a cut in pay, and became a news reporter.
Three years later the Tulsa World asked me to write for them, so I did. It was freelance work, and I had to leave the newspaper to do it. But they paid me very well. I worked for them as a correspondent for about eight years before taking a job teaching at Missouri Southern State College, in Joplin. Again, I was asked if I wanted the job. But I missed working as a free lancer.
In truth, I have made more money as a writer, working freelance, then I have ever made as a full-time employee. And now I’m back at it. Only this time, instead of working as a reporter, I’m writing technical documents for clients and doing publicity. I wish I could make enough money at this to do it all the time, but unfortunately, I’ve lost my momentum. It seems I do better when I’m employed full time in a good job, and then the freelance opportunities roll in nicely.
I was ten years old when I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. My parents were skeptical. My father, particularly, told me that nobody really made a living writing, unless they were famous. I was discouraged by everyone from making that my profession. In 1960, the idea of being a writer was for people who lived in a city or who had connections, I suppose. I lived in McDonald County, Mo., and had no connections. But I could write, effortlessly, from an early age. One of my first inklings that I could write happened in fourth grade. We were assigned the job of writing a poem for Thanksgiving, and I worked on my poem for days. I’d never written one before, and I wanted to get it right. It went something like this:
We thank thee, Bees, for honey; We thank thee, fields, for rye; We thank thee, God, for raindrops that fall down from the sky, and give a drink of water to everything we spy.
There were about four verses, but I can’t recall them now. I remember I that I wrote the verses on an old theater program because we didn’t have a lot of paper and I was making corrections and changes as I went. Later I transferred them to fresh, lined paper, and turned it in. I was very proud of the poem, and was sure it would net me a good grade.
A week went by after I turned it in, and then we came back over a weekend and the papers were up on the bulletin board, along with artwork we had done. My paper wasn’t there. I was really worried, but sat in my seat and didn’t say anything. That morning, the teacher taught us a new word – plagiarism. She accused me of stealing my poem from a source, and gave me an F for the assignment, after humiliating me in front of the class. I was in shock. But I was also a little proud, despite the shame. She thought my poem was good enough to be a REAL poem! My mother ended up having a word with the teacher, I was exonerated, and in the end I became the local poet laureate, and regained my status. But the one thing I really wanted never occurred – My poem was never “published” on the bulletin board. It was my first rejection slip.
That same year, we were tested for IQ, and I and another student were singled out for having extremely high scores. It made me feel a little strange; the other student, a boy, had a higher score than I, but I was considered an anomaly and they didn’t know what to do with me. Instead of moving us up, they whispered about “what to do” with these two students who had such high scores. In the end, nothing was done. Today I can laugh about this, because I didn’t know at the time what my score was. Today I know my IQ is high, but not unusually so. I have a score of 130-140, which is higher than 99 percent of the rest. It doesn’t mean anything, really, except that I have academic talent. As my husband will point out, if you ask him, it has nothing to do with horse sense.