Meet Claire Gibson: transitioned teacher, twentysomething, and burgeoning writer.
Last spring I did a radio series about people forced to change their livelihoods because of an economy or industry in transition. This year, it happened to Claire Gibson, a smart young woman I met a few months ago. She was a “downsized” teacher, hoping to become a professional writer. So she called everyone she could think of who might know a thing or two about such a topic and picked their brains.
I told her what little I knew.
Occasionally, people ask me to do this: tell my story, suggest ways to begin a writerly life. Usually, I begin by advising folks to find excuses to get words on paper, whether that means giving yourself a deadline to finish a story, or starting a blog that you make yourself post to three times a week. I also recommend adding in a few external motivations and deadlines, such as writing for a monthly neighborhood newsletter, entering a writing contest, or submitting to a free online publication. I offer tips on how to pitch to magazine editors, what a pitch looks like, and what editors might be likely to say “yes” to new writers. And I talk about how punishingly difficult it can be to punch out a living as a freelance writer, even for veteran journalists who write for “dream” publications.
Above all, I stress that clearly, I do not have all this figured out. All I have is the quiet knowledge that some of my words are out there in the ether, and that over time, they’ve gotten a little bit better. I remember what it felt like to launch the first rickety sentences; and I try to collect that feeling and share it, to reassure.
At this point, people usually listen and nod and look excited. But very often, they don’t follow through. Claire Gibson did. Within a couple of months, she had published articles in The Tennessean, secured a regular, part-time paid writing gig with a school-publication project, and written her first feature for HER Nashville. Without pausing for breath, she dove headfirst into hustle, and that’s how I knew she would make it.
A few weeks later, she wrote a post for her blog about her decision to make writing her life’s work. I asked her to tell the story of that decision for The Greenery, too. You’ll find her reply below. Here’s to you, Claire! Welcome to the wonderful, terrible world of words.
When I was in seventh grade, I wrote my first story on college-lined notebook paper. I don’t remember what it was about, but I remember it had about three chapters and was written entirely in pencil. I didn’t post the story online. I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t Facebook it. I just passed it to a friend, who passed it to another friend, who passed it back to me.
Nine years later, I found my way back to middle school, this time in the inner city. (Did you do the math? You’re about 13 in seventh grade, plus nine… so yes, I was 22 when I became a seventh grade Teach for America teacher.)
On stage, in charge for three years, I was restless. Constant responsibility and conformity was taking a toll on my health, my marriage, and my life. You see, I didn’t study education in college. I didn’t take “Teacher Cadet” in high school (yes there is such a thing). I didn’t even dream of being a teacher when I was a kid. But this is where my life took me, into the classroom.
I struggled (and sometimes succeeded) at forcing myself to love what I was doing. Yes, I loved the children. Yes, I loved teaching history–I’ve always loved telling good stories. I wanted to be grateful; I wanted to be content. But I wasn’t.
I began asking difficult questions of my friends, family, and facebook stalkers. When is it okay to quit your job, and when are we called to be content? Is there such a thing as a perfect job, or should we simply be passionate about relationships–not how we pay the bills? No one had the answers for me. I was literally BEGGING for someone to just give me permission to quit.
And in January, my principal did just that. “Finances, efficiencies, nothing about your teaching or professionalism,” she said. “Stop crying, you’re smart!” she said. There it was. Permission to leave, because there was no spot for me to come back to. And I was terrified.
When I tearfully told my friend Rob that I’d lost my job, he laughed out loud and said all matter-of-fact, “Great! You hated teaching!” I laughed and cried and agreed with him.
It was then and there that I got excited about exploring new paths. Should I work in J.Crew? I’m in there all the time anyway! (Turns out, I rarely fold my own laundry, and so folding clothes in a retail store probably wouldn’t be my bag.) Should I work in real estate? No, I don’t particularly love property. What about… writing?
Writing. I’d always loved it, I’d always feared it. Throughout middle school, high school, college, I’d turned to it with my free time, electives, quiet mornings, secret ambitions. But could it be a career?
My new friend Kim Green assured me that it could. When I met the petite blonde in a hipster scarf at Frothy Monkey one morning in February, and learned that like me, she just wanted to tell other people’s good stories…I knew this was it.
With years of experience and beaucoups of great advice, Kim taught me how to make a pitch, who to send it to, and the beauty of the twitter retweet (seriously, the stuff she retweets is gold).
So now, with my last school year finished, I’ve moved forward with abandon into this next chapter of my story. I have faith that it is God who is writing the adventure. And with His guidance, I hope to tell some stories of my own, pass them around, just like I did in middle school.
by Claire Gibson