The Slush Pile

I don’t know how anyone else viewed the prospect of querying. I was nervous, but I didn’t dread it. Honestly, I was eager to start. I think part of it was that I had never done it before, so I wasn’t jaded. And part of it (a big part) was that I was riding the high of having been accepted into Pitch Wars the first time I applied (seriously, I’m still surprised and grateful for it). I didn’t get any requests during the Pitch Wars agent showcase, but I kept revising and eventually I was happy. I received positive responses from beta readers. There was nothing left to do but start querying. Even then, submitting my work to agents—submitting my work to judgment—was terrifying.

I’ve heard a lot complaints and discussion about the phrase “not right for me”, that nebulous phrase agents seem to use when a project is good, but not perfect. Or not perfect for them. Or they don’t know how to sell it. Or, or, or. It’s kind of become a catch-all phrase, but one that, when querying, you’ll probably hear a lot.

I heard it a lot. And I think what softened the blow of hearing that phrase about my own work, again and again, is that I’d thought it before.

When I started querying around this time last year, I worked in television development. Part of my job was to read scripts and judge whether or not they were right for our production company. Ninety percent of them were submitted through agents or managers, so they had been vetted before they reached me. And of the dozens I read I only loved two.

At my going away lunch my boss told me that she read the things I liked carefully because I was so… judicious with my praise. And it wasn’t that everything crossing my desk was bad, it was the opposite of that. I read scripts that were carefully crafted, by veterans in the industry, etc. But. But. But they weren’t right for our company’s vision. Or the humor was too mean. Or we couldn’t think of a suitable home. Maybe something about it wasn’t quite right but we didn’t know how to fix it. Sometimes it was too similar to something we were already developing. A lot of times it was a matter of personal taste. And, occasionally, a project that crossed my desk was just not good enough.

Once, my boss asked me to draft a rejection email for a submission. The dreaded “Thank you, but” email. Honestly? I opened the folder of query rejections and read through a bunch of the polite, but generic replies I’d gotten from agents because they weren’t mean, they were just honest. Thank you for thinking of me. You’re a strong writer. You have a good idea here. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how good your submission is, it’s just not right.

Over the course of the eleven months I’ve been querying, I’ve amassed a lot of rejections. A few came with a nice note, or helpful feedback, but for the most part, it was the generic “I read every submission carefully, but…” And 99% of the time, a rejection is just another email. It’s another red box in my submission spreadsheet, and doesn’t bother me. Much. It’s just a fact of life.

Working in television development was my dream job. I miss it every day. And I will forever be grateful for the way it prepared me to deal with rejection of my own. You’ll hear over and over again that publishing is a subjective business and having worked on the other side of it (albeit in television), I understand that first hand. It helped to make the rejections sting less.

The End of an Era

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When I was younger I worried I’d never work in the television industry because I couldn’t live in LA. I had no reason to believe this other than the fact that I’m pale and it’s sunny all the time in SoCal. So I quietly folded that dream into a paper football and flicked it into the far recesses of my brain. I focused on my other dream—becoming a political speechwriter. I went to college in D.C. and I loved it and then… I took screenwriting classes.

I told myself it was just for fun. And those classes were fun. They absolutely helped me become a better writer even though the scripts I wrote for class were terrible. I learned how to critique and how to share my work and to be humble. Then I graduated with my degree in political communication and started working at a law firm and that was that.

For the most part, I hated working in the law firm. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have. The hours were great, the job wasn’t demanding, and I had great benefits. But I was 23 and it was my first full time job and I knew that I wasn’t going to stay. I signed on to work for two years, knowing that after that time I would go to grad school, and that’s what I did.

I used the two years I worked there to save money, and write, and decide what I wanted to study. It felt like all of my friends got their Master’s in Public Health and I’d seriously considered getting a M.A. in Library Sciences but… it wasn’t exciting. I didn’t think my passion for books would be enough to get me through the curriculum. But I thought of something that would.

Sometimes I wonder if getting an M.A. in Television-Radio-Film was a terrible, self-indulgent idea, but I know it wasn’t. It did what a lot of artistic post-grad programs do, they give you time to create. The short films I made were Not Good, but I learned so, so much. The program gave me time to brainstorm, and take honest criticism, and write creatively with deadlines. And it gave me the push I needed to finally move to LA.

For two years there have been a few drafts in my folder with titles like “Moving to LA” and “Finding a Job” which, while not creative, I thought would be helpful. A series of posts about the weird, unexpected parts of moving out West, like how a lot of apartments don’t come with fridges and the beach is gray and overcast every June. But I never did and now it feels too late.

When I got to LA I knew how incredibly difficult it would be to set up in a new city. Or, I thought I did. I had done it for college and again for grad school, but I was wrong and that’s hard to admit for someone who loves to be right. It wasn’t any one thing that made the transition hard, it was a series. Individually, I conquered them. Collectively, however, they got to me. It was hard to find a job, to mesh with my roommates, to commute 45min each way while working 11 hours a day. It was discouraging to go weeks, or months, between jobs or to have a job that demoralized and tired me out. It was trying when, one by one, my few friends in the city moved away. It was difficult to come to terms with my mental illness and then to do something about it.

But I did all of those things! I got the job, and then the next one. I moved to a new, better apartment in a more central location with a roommate I liked and got along with. I went to therapy and tried my hardest to take care of myself. Through all of this I was writing. Or trying to write. And that whole ‘tortured artist’ thing is crap. I have never hurt more than when I tried to force myself to work long days and then go home and write, to hit deadlines, to do work that I was proud of. The more time went on, the more drained I became.

Giving notice that I was leaving my current job was one of the hardest, scariest things I’ve ever done. It hurt because, for the first time, I’m leaving a job I truly love. I wish 16-year-old-Molly could see me now. In therapy. On antidepressants. With a strong group of friends that I love with my whole heart and finally feel loved and understood and free to be Most Moll. Working in the TV industry.

The same day I gave my notice I was on a conference call with one of my favorite writer / television creators of all time. I wrote a little note to myself that says, “You’re quitting your favorite job today. That’s hard. It’s probably going to suck. But remember the love you got today. Remember that you got to be on a conference call with [redacted]. He was cool and had great opinions and was supportive of his writers. It put a giant  smile on your face. Treasure that.”

So after two years in LA I’m packing up and moving back east. Not to my parents house, or my hometown, but hopefully somewhere that finally feels like home. Somewhere that it rains, and is near friends, and gives me time to write. I’m taking my antidepressants with me.

I don’t hate my job…

but I don’t love it. This week marks the 3-month anniversary of me being hired, and the end of my probationary period. The end of the probationary period really just means that I can start accruing paid time off at an entry-level rate. And so, with these 90 days of experience behind me, I’ve been thinking a lot about this job and what I want for my future.

It’s weird to think that this is the point I’ve been working towards all my life. Entering the work-force – the one comprised of adults, those working full-time that have to commute and dress in business casual clothes instead of a uniform, those that aren’t simply filling the seasonal employment void – was the first thing I wasn’t prepared for, even though life up to this point was on on-ramp for success. Merging proved to be the difficulty, as it always has been for me. Am I going fast enough? Too fast? What if I cut someone off? What if I fuck up and wreck? I worried about everything that could go wrong, had contingency plans for contingency plans, but I never really stopped to think about what life would be like when everything went right.

Getting a college education was the first step. Years of indoctrination in public schools had prepared me for the classes; I knew I could handle the homework. Making new friends terrified me, but living with people I had already vetted via Facebook helped. I could handle living in a new city because I was ready to leave my hometown. The thought of only seeing my parents on a sporadic basis was difficult, but it’s not like we couldn’t call each other, and email, and videochat. And when it came time to graduate, well, I’d seen friends do it; I braced myself for how difficult it could be to find a roommate, to find an apartment, to be able to afford an apartment, to find jobs to apply for whose descriptions didn’t sound completely awful and like something I might like to spend my life doing. Everybody told me about the importance of internships and a good resume, GPA and references.

But no one really told me about the shift from the academic life to the ‘real world’. Graduating and getting a job didn’t suddenly change my perspective on life, the universe, and everything. My life isn’t that different – I have the same friends, I drink the same alcohol, I go to the same places, I can only make the same dozen basic dishes.

I always knew that waking up five days a week at 7am was going to be a bit of a problem. I’ll own that I still hit snooze four times before rolling out of bed 10 minutes before I need to leave for work. (I shower, pick out my outfit, and pack my lunch the night before.) I still struggle to go to bed before midnight. But I make it work.

The thing I wasn’t prepared for wasn’t finding the balance of business and casual to get ‘business casual’. It wasn’t the commute, or using a Windows computer, or drinking coffee regularly.

The thing I wasn’t prepared for is how mundane my day can be. The rote tasks, the vaguely uncomfortable swivel chair, the lack of natural light – I never knew how much I liked natural light until I was put in a walled-off office space, with my dual-monitors and fluorescent lights as my only sources of illumination.

In preparation for my 90-day evaluation, my coworker mentioned that my boss is considering the possibility that I’ll keep this job and work through library school and work here indefinitely. But I don’t think that’s what I want. This was a position with which I was familiar from my work-study experience and knew I could do well. I expressed interest in the field, knowing full well that in a year or two I’d want to leave to pursue a Master’s degree, potentially in the Library and Info realm. But it was never definite. And the more time I spend here, the more I’m sure that, even if I do end up with an MLIS, I don’t want to work in law again. I’ve seen the reference requests and they don’t pique my interest. To me, they aren’t something I think I would find fulfilling.

 

The other day I was told that my paid time off (PTO) accrual between now and the end of the year would be 6.5 days. The PTO at my office covers vacation, sick, and personal days. And it wasn’t until I realized I’d only have 6.5 days available for my use that I realized how badly I want to go home and visit. I didn’t realize how badly I wanted to go home until I figured out that I don’t know when the next time I’ll be able to is. I realized that I have to sacrifice going home for Christmas because, what with the way the calendar worked out this year, Christmas is the only day I get off. Most likely, I will go for longer than a year without seeing most of my extended family.

I realize that I kind of want to quit. Even though I’ve only surrendered a few times in my life I start thinking ‘is this even worth it?’. And I know it is. I know this job I don’t like is paying for that apartment I really do. This job is the thing that’s keeping me surrounded by friends instead of living at home with my parents (where, let’s be honest, I’d be way more miserable than I am now). And really, and I know this – not even deep down, but superficially! – my job isn’t bad. I like it.

I know that this job is a stop-gap. It’s giving me the time to decide what I want to pursue for my Master’s degree and will give me a bit of a financial cushion when I do take that plunge. It’s giving me time to write, paying me a better salary than I expected, getting me out of the apartment five days a week. So I need to suck it up. And I will. It’s just taking some adjustments.