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I’m Going To Be Seven Things When I Grow Up

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Who Says You Have To Pick A Career And Stick With It? Writer, Jenny Block, grew up in Bel Air, Maryland. It was a very small town; and I mean small: a one gas station kind of town.  After graduating high school, she moved to Virginia and lived there for 18 years to attend an institute of higher learning and go on to teaching.  After receiving her undergraduate degree in English, the university’s career counselor told her she should teach or go to law school.

Jenny went to law school for a year and half and hated it.  She decided to pursue a totally different type of career and began appearing in commercials, was an extra in movies, and even went on a children’s theatre tour.  After awhile of this entrepreneurial activity, she called her alma mater and asked to come back.  She was awarded a scholarship to earn her masters, and began teaching the first day of her fellowship.

Around this time, Jenny started on the path to her writing career by doing academic writing and workbooks for writing, including grammar and usage exercises.  While this type of writing didn’t exactly pique her desire for entrepreneurial activity and passion in life, it was enough to get her started.  She later went to a retreat for artists and writers that she had heard about through some painter friends who told her she could go because she was technically a writer.

“I didn’t want to say, ‘My name is Jenny and I write boring exercises’ so I said, ‘I write about my family.’  They said, ‘Wow!  You’re a memoirist.”

After the retreat, she started getting her work published in magazines but knew she would never spend enough time writing if she didn’t quit teaching.  Her opportunity came when her husband was offered a position in Dallas.  So, she quit after 10 years of teaching and pursued her dream of being a freelance writer.

Her work included speaking at conferences, and submitting articles for publication. Then it all fell into place one day when she was approached by FoxNews to write for their “Fox on Sex” column after her book, Open: Love, Sex, And Life In An Open Marriage, was published in 2008 by Seal Press, who had actually come to her asking if she would be interested in writing a book.

“In Texas, I just said, ‘My name is Jenny Block and I’m a writer’ and I kept saying it until it was true.  Every time I try to get only one job or do one thing, I get bored.  My dad says that, deep down, I like things complicated.”

Jenny continues to write for a variety of other sites , and her writing has been featured in other books such as One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love, and It’s A Girl: Women Writers On Raising Daughters and Letters To My Teacher.

Jenny is the proud parent of a daughter that will turn 12 this month.  I had to ask how her writing affects her daughter given her subject matter.  She says her daughter says she’s embarrassed about Jenny’s writing because of the genre of most of the articles but still gets excited every time something is published.  Her daughter won’t likely continue in her mother’s footsteps because she apparently hates to read.

“I don’t know how that could happen, my dad says it’s punishment because I was a rotten kid.  I don’t let her read my column but she takes it in stride.  She gets it and I appreciate that.  She knows there’s nothing wrong with that world, she’s just not there yet.”

Being an entrepreneur is difficult because people are doing a lot of in-house stuff these days because of the economy and not hiring a lot of freelancers.  It can almost be like starting over again. She says that the environment for freelancers is changing with the rules of the Internet, length of articles, and photography.

One of the biggest risks of breaking free to be an entrepreneur is the lack of guaranteed funds.  Jenny says that you don’t make a lot of money teaching but you do make money.  It’s hard to give up consistency for constantly saying “Pick Me!  Pick Me!”  Work can go from weekly to steady full-time to the next week there being no work at all.  In this ever changing business, there are different rules every day and you have to be prepared to be unemployed if the market goes down.

“The worst part is the inconsistency, you get hits through the roof on your weekly column and an email the same week saying your column is going to bi-monthly.  I say writing’s a tough market but I think it’s tough all around.”

If you were to call Jenny for advice on breaking into the freelance writing world, you’d probably get a great conversation before you remembered what you were calling for.  Her first advice she would give you is ‘don’t gamble anything you’re not prepared to lose’.  She says it’s not going to be like signing up for a regular job and advises a lot of patience.  Jenny warns that you aren’t going to instantly get out there and all of the sudden have people wanting you.  You have to have patience and persistence.  A lot of knocking on the door.  Always a ‘Hey, I’m still here’.

Jenny says that, if you’re willing to start by writing little blurbs, you’re more likely to get people to come back to you.  Flakes don’t get consistently hired.  Jenny likens the freelance world to Hollywood.  There are more people than there are roles but the rewards are great… if you can make it.

“I’m the least-successful successful person I know.  You have to be prepared for the fact that those two things don’t always equal each other.  You have to get your ego in check.  I used to get my feelings hurt.  People are vicious.  People are going to be waiting to say nasty stuff.”

Jenny also warns that being a freelancer or an entrepreneur can be emotionally difficult but reminds us that, if people are mad at you, it means they’re reading you and, if they ignore you, then what’s the point of doing what you do?  Jenny quotes David Sedaris who said that the Internet is so easy and so anonymous.  He misses the days when hecklers had to look up the editor and look up his address.  Jenny wants to invite all of those people to a big conference hall and have their mom sitting next to them when they say nasty things.

Jenny doesn’t only write about sex and relationships. In the end, she writes on lifestyle topics.  She says it’s all about people and their relationship with the universe: food, sex, whatever, it’s all about people.  Jenny says that it’s her philosophy to say yes to any writing job because sticking to one genre can really hold a person back. When they’re trying to break into a new field, you need all the experience you can get.

“I think part of being good at this is never feeling satisfied ‘cause the minute you do, you’ll fall off the rock.”

She came to that epiphany while literally rock climbing.  She says that even when you’re at the top, you still have to get back down safely and, if you get lazy, you’ll fall off.  If you really want to be successful, there has to be some sense of never being done.  She wonders sometimes: Does Steven King think he’s done?

I had to ask Jenny about use of commas due to recent conversations here at the office.  The industry seems to be changing and pushing people toward removing commas when listing items, as in a, b, and c.  I asked her how she felt about the ubiquitous comma after b, before and.

“Have to!  You have to follow grammatical rules or everything will fall apart.  It’s not that difficult.  It’s a comma; it’s like turning on your turn signal.  My evil plan is to make a billion dollars and move to an island for people who appreciate good grammar and usage,” she jokes.


April 04. 2011 by Staff Writer Lacy Sereduk. All rights reserved 2011

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