How I Grew As A Writer
By: Anna Los
I grew up in the middle of a cornfield in Illinois, spending most of my time outside playing. I loved reading books and watching movies. I remember thinking about all the jobs of characters like lawyer Elle Woods and teacher Sharon Norbury. I thought about careers the way Barbie does, trying each one on for a little while but always moving to the next.
The opportunity to grow up in a rural area comes with many benefits, but for me, it also came with a downside. Sure, I had watched movies about successful CEOs, wedding planners, architects, and journalists, but coming from an area where the major business field was agriculture, I ended up having little knowledge about careers or how to get into my desired career field. Instead, I was more familiar with the careers of teachers, policemen, farmers, and nurses. All these fields are quite noble in themselves, but when I tried them on, no job fit quite right.
I entered college as a business major, but after one business management class, I knew that wasn’t right so I dropped my major and started searching for a career again. I knew I liked English so I settled upon an English major and doubled it up with Education for job security. Luckily, as I took more classes, I figured out that teaching did suit me, but something still felt off.
I didn’t truly figure out what I wanted to be until my junior year, when my college started offering a writing minor. I had just enough room to squeeze it in. As I progressed in my minor, I realized I still needed to learn more about writing careers. My new minor exposed me to a bunch of new jobs I had never heard of before. Admittedly, I felt a little bitter that my new learning suddenly exposed me to all these cool jobs so late in my education. If only I knew about these possibilities all along!
I learned a long time ago that pouting wouldn’t get me far, so instead, I used every opportunity to learn more about my interests. A journalism professor assigned the class to write a feature on a topic of our own choosing so I picked to explore women’s voices in media. The women I interviewed for that assignment changed my life. They filled me with encouragement and passion, and their kindness pushed me to grow. These were women I didn’t (and still don’t) want to let down because they wanted to help educate me in the field I was interested in, an education I had missed out on for years.
For this assignment, one of the women I interviewed was writer and blogger, Marissa A. Ross. I remember leaving class early to call her. I felt so nervous. I had first discovered her writing years previously and had followed her work avidly since. I respected her work so much. Immediately, I found my fears were unfounded, and she was extremely nice and even complimented me on my rough interviewing skills.
She told me how she moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career, but found herself unsatisfied with the roles she auditioned for and switched to writing. At the time, she just quit her job working as Mindy Kaling’s assistant to pursue writing a book based off her successful wine blog. She loved her boss, but knew it wasn’t what she set out to do, and yet, she still admitted there was something scary about leaving job security. Ultimately, she made the career move when she realized that doing so would allow her to pursue work that made her happy.
Marissa wasn’t just nice enough to fill me in on her story, but she also asked me about mine. I told her about my still-new blooming interest in writing, how I felt overwhelmed and lost, and how I felt like I had no time left to figure out my career. It was at this point when Marissa offered some golden advice.
"It's really important for writers to figure out who you are, to find your voice, and give yourself time to find out who you're supposed to be," Marissa said. "It takes a long time to figure that out and embody it." I think I almost cried in relief when I heard this. It was like a wave of affirmation rolling over me, and I suddenly felt a little more at peace.
I thought, "Okay, so it's normal that I'm struggling. It's okay that it's taking some time for me to figure things out."
Since that assignment, I have pursued writing of all kinds. I published a few essays in small collegiate literary magazines. I won awards in my college’s writing contests. I started to build my writing and felt more confident in it, but I struggled to find my way into the bigger world of writing.
I was frustrated. I couldn’t figure out how to go about getting my work published on bigger platforms. I didn’t know to break into media sites or magazines. I submitted and submitted and submitted, and I was rejected just as many times. I remember kind of pausing my writing. I decided that I would unabashedly pursue it if the opportunity presented itself, but otherwise, I was busy with my senior year of college. I was finishing my last semester, playing collegiate softball, and wanting to graduate. But just like people say you fall in love when you’re least expecting it, I got my break in writing when I was least expecting it.
The spring of my senior year, I published a few smaller pieces in Thought Catalog. It wasn’t great writing with playful word choice or strong imagery, but it was accepted and published. Then, the real break came. A feminist site, Femsplain, accepted my pitch on an essay about softball. It was real writing. It was strong and had powerful word choice. I finally published something real. In the following months, I published a few more pieces on Femsplain. Then, I published a couple more pieces on Hello Giggles and Literally Darling. With the confidence of publishing a few of my pieces, I started thinking about where I wanted my writing to go.
Before long, I felt a strong pull toward screenwriting, but graduation was approaching and my college didn’t offer any classes on it anyway. That summer after I graduated, I researched screenwriting online. I started engaging in online creative communities. With what I knew, I started drafting books and some TV scripts. I realized I knew very little about structure and format. I would look up examples online and feel way off base. I got scared away, and I struggled to continue my writing efforts as I started my first real job as a high school English teacher.
As my first full year of teaching is approaching an end, I realized that I was allowing fear to hold me back from pursuing screenwriting. I thought about that interview I had with Marissa A. Ross so long ago, and I remembered her courage to leave the safety of her job and believe fully in her writing, And I finally sucked it up. I don’t need a college degree to pursue writing (though it’s nice if you can). So many of my favorite writers have self-learned, and so many of my future favorite writers, directors, and producers are self-learning right now because of the lack of available affordable resources. I realized that I needed to keep moving forward in my writing, no matter how little forward it is, and so I purchased a couple books on screenwriting.
I also realized that I was letting so many aspects of my life pull me away from my writing. I’m a busy person and I have a lot going on, but I need to make time for my writing. So I decided I’d start pitching media sites and publications again. And I’m proud to say that I have. Just yesterday, I received another rejection letter. And I’m writing this. These are small steps in the right direction. I’m not about to quit my day job, though maybe someday I will, but I have decided that my writing can’t just be a side project. It is my main interest, and I need to pursue it as such.
Marissa published her book Wine. All The Time. Someday, I’ll sell my script too.
Anna is a teacher, editor, and writer. She is absolutely passionate about empowering people by helping them to develop their voices and share their stories. Anna’s writing is published on many sites such as Femsplain, Obvi We’re the Ladies, Literally Darling, and HelloGiggles. She loves sports, especially softball, and her dream is to one day work with Mindy Kaling. Anna is The Light Leaks’ volunteer editor (so we may be biased, but she’s awesome).