It’s a strange thing to have a career one day and not the next. It’s especially strange when you’re your own boss. But these are strange times, so here we are.
I work primarily as a travel writer, and everything just… evaporated in March. Travel itself stopped (and even if it hadn’t, I had no interest in getting on an airplane anytime soon), but also the work stopped. Stories were put on hold, travel sections shut down or changed course, editors stopped assigning. Not only were writers unofficially out of a job, but all of the travel professionals we work with (like hoteliers and tourism boards) were, too. Everything ground to a halt overnight. We’ve all been paused, but the issue is that nobody knows when we can safely hit play again.
There aren’t many scenarios in life where someone says, “Hey, that career you’ve worked at your entire adult life? You might get it back in six months or so, or maybe next year, but go figure out what to do with yourself in the meantime. Good luck, don’t catch a deadly virus or get into crippling debt.” That alone would send most people into a panic spiral, but during a global pandemic when almost everything else is shut down and there’s a very real concern about our collective health and safety, it’s… a lot.
I am very lucky that I have a journalism degree. You don’t necessarily need a journalism degree to become a writer these days – people come from all kinds of backgrounds. But, I am more grateful for my journalism degree (and the almost militaristic journalism training we got in undergrad) than ever, because it’s allowed me to dig up all kinds of diverse skills that I haven’t used in years. I can jump between topics, get a crash course in anything while interviewing top people in that field, and do different styles of reporting. So far I’ve done some news features for the metro section, some banking stories, lots of environmental features, some career articles, and more. It’s still a challenge because media as an industry is suffering like everything else, but it’s been nice to have that opportunity and take on new challenges.
People like to rant about “the mainstream media” like it’s one entity, like we’re all in some union that goes to annual corporate retreats at a resort in Hawaii to see what facts we want to push this year. Media is incredibly nuanced. I once had an idea rejected by a small trade magazine not because it wasn’t good, but because I didn’t “have enough relevant experience.” That would’ve been very frustrating except that same day, one of my articles came out in The New York Times. I had to laugh because I don’t think this individualized insanity happens in other industries, but that’s what it is. There are different niches, different topics, different skillset requirements. There’s also just different media – radio, television, newspaper, magazine, websites, podcasts — and each one is specialized. Then there’s the difference between reporting and interviewing, newswriting, writing essays, first-person feature stories, investigative journalism, product reviews, specialties (science, gender, business, tech, medicine, profiles, etc.). This is an industry where you have to prove yourself each time to each specific editor, and then hope that editor doesn’t quit or get laid off. It’s tough. It’s exponentially tougher in a pandemic.
I’ve had to take some steps back and reverse course a few times because of all the dead ends that exist right now. I am a writer. I write. So, that’s (part of) what I’ve been doing. It’s an adventure of a different sort, if you want to get metaphorical.
I learned over the last few years that you can do everything right in life and have the best intentions, but you’ll never truly be prepared for the mutiny the universe will throw at you sometimes. Usually it’s on a smaller scale. All we can do is figure out a way forward for ourselves. So, since I have some extra time in my life and in the spirit of branching out, I’m completely restarting and expanding this blog. (And hi! Thanks for reading!)