By Pam Houghton
I considered studying journalism in college before declaring social work as my major. Dismayed by the entry-level salaries, however, I switched again to one of the programs in MSU’s College of Business. But by the time I graduated, the degree failed to tap into something I hadn’t yet identified.
Fast-forward a decade or so; there I was, married, with two kids, working in a software manufacturing facility, focusing on concepts I hadn’t known existed – process engineering, internal customer satisfaction, quality control, and most important of all, getting along with colleagues.
Though I appreciated the work experience, there was something that gnawed inside, something left undone. What was this “thing?” I had stories circling around my brain – but they needed an outlet. So I started writing. Funny little stories about my kids. My mother’s hair. Skinny, vanilla lattes from Starbucks.
I bought the classic books on writing – Bird by Bird, Writing Down the Bones, On Writing – all still classic. And I enrolled in a critique group at the library. Even though these were the height of our child-rearing years, I kept writing – sometimes on my lunch hour. (Cue the drama-filled music.)
If I’d heard this call earlier in life, I’d blown past it out of sheer practicality. Turned out there was no time like the present. So I sent an essay to two to our local parenting magazine, another to a local lifestyle rag, and yet another to a community newspaper. To my surprise, they were accepted for publication, even if only at the rate of one or two a year – three, if the sun and the moon and stars aligned.
Over the years, the organization where I worked shrunk like a wool sweater in the dryer. Then along came the Great Recession of 2008-9 and swish, there went our jobs. With more time ahead, I was ready to finally express this thing inside – full-time. Some days, I indulged in trips to Target and Kroger rather than flights of fancy on the keyboard. And when the kids came home from school, I prioritized their time over mine.
Still, I kept writing in drips and drabs, scoring some actual writing gigs – a bi-weekly column for Patch, assignments for a struggling magazine, blogging for a freelance writing website – while getting the occasional essay published here and there.
Eventually, I transitioned to feature story writing, interviewing subjects, researching material and composing stories for several publications around town. Today, I have a large portfolio of published work (and a gig at Lawrence Tech that provides a steady paycheck). That might sound like a reason to cue the victory music, but believe me I agonized over every word. And when editors ignored email queries or submissions, I felt like the outcast in a middle school cafeteria.
I’m more polished and experienced now, so when I have assignments, it’s easier to produce. But when the freelance work is slow, I flounder. Should I write a book? Blog more? Reach out to national magazines?
It seems that “thing,” that creative muse, whatever you want to call it, continues to gnaw. You can’t predict what shape it will take or how it will make it out into the world, if it even does. But one thing I’ve learned for sure – you can’t leave it trapped inside either.
Pam Houghton is available for freelance projects. For more info, contact Pam through her website, pamhoughton.com, or email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to Lawrence Technological University for sponsoring AWC-Detroit.