Friday, September 4, 2009

A Year in Review

Now, most of these reflection-type posts happen around New Year's Day, but Wednesday was my 24th birthday, and I always associate September with the beginning of the new year anyway, so I'm gonna take this opportunity to look back on 23 and see what kind of year it was for my career, my writing, and my academic life in general.


This time last year I was just beginning my second semester in the University of Southern California's Master of Professional Writing Program. After a bust of a first semester, I was determined to get the most out of my money. My goals were fairly straightforward, but very important if I ever hoped to realistically consider a career in writing:

1) Continue to perfect my craft.
2) Develop more disciplined writing habits.
3) Meet more people who were interested/working in the industries I was hoping to break into (comic books and poetry, mostly, but writing is writing).

Last Fall I was retaking an intro class that I was forced to drop the previous semester for work reasons, as well as a Children's Literature class. At the time, I felt that the Children's Lit class was helping me make headway on goals 1 & 2, but when I look back on that semester, the idea of writing children's books was more of a sidetrack that took me away from the writing I should have been doing. I didn't take it very seriously, and never followed through on any of the projects that I hoped to send out to publishers. If I look at my "craft" as comic book and/or poetry writing, then I wasn't doing much to perfect my craft, and I don't consider finishing homework assignments to necessarily be developing more disciplined writing habits. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot, but what I learned wasn't immediately applicable to my career goals. The intro class that I was retaking, however, turned out to be much more exciting than I could have hoped. Having gone through much of the class the previous semester, I was initially dreading the course, but I hadn't considered the fact that the Fall semester meant new students, most of whom were in very similar places with their own writing as I was with mine. I was able to meet a ton of new writers, many of whom I expect to view as my peers and competition in the writing world for many years to come.

So 2008 ended in a strange place. I was working in the film industry for a company that I'd then been with for over a year, but which didn't have any direct relationship to my writing goals. I finished the semester with group of new contemporaries, but without any real progress made towards my writing itself. When the time came to make a New Year's resolution, goals 1 & 2 were way up there.

Enter The Daily Genoshan.

Over the Christmas break, I had read the Gabriel García Márquez masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude, but knew few others that ever had. Having loved the book more than almost every other book I'd read up until that point, I needed an outlet for my overflowing praise. None of the literary forums I had found felt like the place to just be really excited about a book, so I decided to come up with a place of my own. I started The Daily Genoshan hoping that every week I would have a new book to review, honing my writing skills while simultaneously developing good habits. It didn't take right away, though. The first few months were inconsistent at best. Weeks would go by without a review. What had been set up as an outlet for my reactions to books I'd read was slowly turning into another idea on the "someday" pile.

Around April that began to change, though. I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with my day job, and knew that, if I were to leave for any reason, I wouldn't want to jump into something else that wasn't writing. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn't being a writer. So I started writing more proactively, instead of the reactive way that I'd been doing it for years. I started up another website, fivebyfivehundred, which I began writing for every Tuesday. I began taking TDG more seriously, making sure that I had something to review every Friday. I was also taking classes that helped me with all three of my goals. Things started really picking up.

And then I lost my job. At the end of May, I stopped working for the company that I had been with for almost two years. Instead of freaking out and rushing around to try to find a new job that I didn't want, though, I took a breath. I examined my finances, the money I had been saving while I was working, my expenses, what things I could do without, and I dove into the world of writing as a career. I began writing articles and reviews for local newspapers while I looked for other writing jobs or assignments. I started disciplining myself to the point where I now keep strict office hours for my writing, to make sure that I keep up my level of productivity. When the decision came up, I opted not to continue my cable service so that I wouldn't have the unnecessary daytime distraction. Most importantly, I kept writing.

Now, I don't make any pretenses about the fact that, were I not still a student, this would absolutely not be possible. But I am a student, and, for now, it is possible. When I graduate in May and have to begin paying back my loans every month, it's going to be a lot different. Luckily I have an amazing support system and have people around me who are proud of my accomplishments and don't discourage me from following this dream. As long as I can pay my own rent and don't have to move back in with my mom, my family understands that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. My friends, most of whom are lucky enough to be on their own way to careers they can be proud of, have been incredibly enthusiastic about my writing, which is always helpful. I'm also lucky enough to have an amazing girlfriend who helps keep me motivated and isn't afraid to let me know if I'm being less than responsible with my time or money.

As far as my goals? This summer I had a poem published in a magazine called Phantom Lips, which isn't the largest publication in the world, but it's something. I've also been recently named Poetry Editor of the Southern California Review, which isn't too shabby. I'm still writing articles and reviews for local newspapers (one of which can be found here), but am now working on my thesis and several other projects as well. One of my new goals is to be published more in the coming year. Another is to clean up and finish some of the projects that I would like to be shopping around and showing to people. Monday it will be 8 months since my first Daily Genoshan post, and I'm glad that I've stuck with it. By my 25th birthday, I'd like to be able to look back like this again and say that I've continued to meet my goals, so I can continue to set new ones. Hopefully all of you will still be reading my humble little book review blog.

Keep reading, Genoshans,

Brian McGackin

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