I discovered my writing voice in 7th grade. I was fortunate to have an attentive teacher in parochial school who encouraged me to flex my creativity. Her name was Miss Kalwei. She was middle-aged and had a Canadian accent. I’m pretty sure she was a former nun. Her teaching style was more like a coach – encouraging, directing and allowing personal style. I don’t remember any red pen marks – just blue-ink encouragement and advice in the margins.
Fast forward to college, where I thought I would major in English and become a teacher. I discovered another amazing professor who turned the light bulb on to Journalism, so I did what most college kids do and switched my major.
In the 80’s, Journalism was demanding, which I relished. We didn’t have the Internet to check or lift material from.
I landed my first internship at The Burbank Leader, which back then, was a standalone independent newspaper. My first laptop was a Tandy computer and I would send my articles through a modem on a long gray telephone cord. I would still write stories and save them on a floppy disc, which would often melt on my dashboard in the Southern California sun. My college stint at The Daily Titan offered a window into the real workplace culture of a newsroom. Back then, most of the editors were male and the Sports department was entirely so.
In hindsight, I wish my college experience offered a “real world” finance class on salaries and what to expect, etc. I know my own children have had these topics in high school which give them such a sophisticated perspective to career direction. For me, I was a creative gal who liked to write. I didn’t fully appreciate that newspaper writers made minimum wage back then – or less. Armed with a college degree and unwilling to “take the vow of poverty” as my mom likes to say, I headed to Corporate America instead. While maintaining residence at multiple cubicle farms, I was able to sustain my lifestyle in San Diego and provide for my growing family. I was extremely fortunate to land an editor job with San Diego Parent magazine in 2001. It was part of a national chain of parenting publications, but closed in 2003 when I was pregnant with my fourth child.
I wouldn’t say I have an empty nest yet, but my career conscience is calling me back to writing. It’s what I truly love to do. That and helping others. Blending these skills led me to a certificate program at UCSD Extension in Fundraising and Development. I am half-way through the program now and happy to report that I now work full-time as a grant writer. Freelance writing still appeals to me and I have seen such a dramatic change in the landscape of how to approach (pitch, pitch, pitch) editors and establish new relationships with long-form publications. Human interest stories are by far my favorite genre, but I have covered everything from airplane crashes to cranky planning board meetings. I still employ my J-school training skills with intent listening, those nagging follow-up questions and my trusted reporter notebook.