Saturday, September 11, 2010
When Life Hands You an English Degree
I've worked many long hours, weekends and double-shifts since I was 15, living quite frugally and putting aside as much money as possible into very conservative accounts. Over the past dozen years, my goal has been to retire at 55.
What may interest most of you reading this is that I have made a living writing and editing since 1988 when I was hired to write catalog copy for a distributor of educational materials (which, I'm sure, helped hone my query-writing skills).
Before that, I was a vet tech for 7 years. For a good part of that time I worked days at a small animal clinic and was on call nights for an emergency hospital. I worked 7 days a week doing everything from cleaning cages to performing minor surgery (cat neuters, declaws, ear crops, dentistry, etc.), although laboratory work was my specialty.
Did I mention I was also going to college during this time? That bachelors degree was a long time coming. Not only because I couldn't squeeze in more than a couple of classes a semester, but mainly because I couldn't settle on what career I wanted and so took many more classes than necessary. I wound up majoring in English and minoring in biology, history and Greek. I went on to get a masters in English with a concentration in medieval studies. I crammed my masters into 2 years, working the graveyard shift at an airport in a tollbooth to pay my way.
I took that MA to Hollywood, got a job signing actors with a talent agency (well, working with them on their contracts) and reading scripts for the script agent, then quit when I found out that, while most of the agents were hard-working, reputable folk, the owner was a sleaze. That's when I started writing catalog copy.
When I moved back to Texas in 1989, I got a job with Radio Shack writing ad copy for software and computers. After I was laid off a few years later, I found work as a copywriter for a flooring retailer; as an instructional designer and software manual writer for a financial services provider; as a marketing manager for a technology provider; and as a freelance writer for Motorola, Verizon, and a handful of Internet startups. Then, 11 years ago, I contracted with a large IT services company to write and edit marketing collateral for 6 months. That freelance job turned permanent and eventually morphed into writing and editing proposal content, which is where I'm at today.
Putting pen to paper this week, I realized that it is indeed -- just -- possible for me to retire early. Not at 55 like I had originally targeted, but sooner. Perhaps as early as the end of this year.
Yesterday, I paid off my mortgage. 25 years early. The house, the barns and the 27 acres are mine. I'm now debt free and, barring anything truly catastrophic -- or social security or medicare not being around in 13 years -- I should be able to maintain myself and my beasties until I'm 80 if I retire now. Longer, if I'm inclined to pick up the odd freelance opportunity or if I can sell a book or two.
So you see, an English degree and a career in writing -- even without risky investments -- can earn you enough to live and retire on in the US. That is, if you budget wisely, are willing to live modestly, and don't have money-sucking children draining your account with their pitiful cries of: "Feed me," "Clothe me," and "But all my friends have one!"
Of course -- just as in getting published -- talent, luck and a good economy go a long way toward making a general writing career worth pursuing. And really, you can't underestimate the part luck plays in either pursuit.
Is it scary? Yes. Very. But it's also exciting. I've embraced the option and have taken the first step toward making it a reality. Now all that's left is the follow-through.
Oh, and you coworkers who know my secret identity: Please don't let the boss know just yet, OK? :o)