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Sincere Advice from a Girl Whose Life is a Mess #11 | 1 question | Kolleen Carney | weekly column

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March 30, 2017

Dearest Friends,

Well, if you hadn’t noticed, I took an extended hiatus for a myriad of reasons, two of the most pressing being my mental health, which seems to be on a slow decline as I cut my psych meds in half to make them last while I wait for my new insurance to kick in, and a week- long and life- saving visit from my lovely friend Joey, which was a slice of home, a bright spot I sorely needed. Don’t worry about me—my insurance situation will fix itself eventually, and I have a good support system. I miss my son desperately, which is hard, but I will see him in May for Mother’s Day and it will be good. I am hoping it will be good.

Another hindrance: I grew out my nails, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to type with them. But they look so good! What am I going to do? I can’t become a professional HAND model. I am way too old now. How does one keep their hands youthful looking? Do I have to get a Pinterest or something for scrubs and lotions?

Anyway, on with the show:

Q: I am a nurse who isn’t nursing at the moment and I’m contemplating what the fuck else I can do with a Bachelor’s. Major career change. Like maybe doing something where I can be a little more selfish and take actual pleasure from what I’m doing. One of the things I’m contemplating is finishing a master’s degree of some kind, getting into teaching and writing.

I love writing. I’m pretty good at it for someone who couldn’t pass middle and high school English with higher than a B/C. I’m much better now, and my essays have always been excellent when I have a good editor, but I suck at the technical shit (as much as I try to pose as a grammar Nazi). I used to write decent poetry, too. I love writing. I miss writing. I really miss essays and papers and writing prompts and assignments and finding that perfect phrasing and punchy closing line.

Seeing as I almost let my last job kill me, I would like to try literally anything else.

How does one enter your world of scholarly writers without the BFA/MFA? How do I know if I’m worth submitting, other than high praise on things I wrote for school or poems I wrote 20 years ago? Where do I start? Letters to the editor? Classes? A book of writing prompts? Would a newspaper/magazine laugh in my face if I was like hey, I want to write for you and I’m pretty good? I’d like to write about what I know, science/medicine/health care, but I don’t really want to have to get a new degree right this very second. What’s a good first step for someone who wants to enter the paid writer world? Am I being absolutely ridiculous thinking I could make even just a little bit of a pleasant life as a writer? 

A: Am I being absolutely ridiculous thinking I could make even just a little bit of a pleasant life as a writer?

Yes, and no.

I have been a writer my whole life. It is the only thing I am truly good at, beyond filling in my eyebrows. I remember asking my undergrad mentor, the amazing J.D. Scrimgeour, if I needed an MFA to become a real writer, and I will never forget his response: You don’t even have to have a Bachelor’s. You don’t even have to graduate high school.

I earned my MFA in 2013 and since I have carved out a niche for myself; this column, freelance editing, a fair amount of publications, etc. etc. etc., but your question is how you can make money as a writer, and I hate to admit this, but I just don’t know.

I wanted to teach, but I know I don’t have the emotional fortitude to deal with being an adjunct, which is what everything is like now. And the political climate? No way. Most literary journals nowadays don’t pay; there’s just no money to be had. It’s a sad state of affairs, but most literary outlets are a labor of love.

HOWEVER, if you want to write and you aren’t sure where to start, allow me to help you!

As I said, you don’t need a formal education to write. You just need to get into a writing community. Follow journals on social media, read print journals whenever you can. Find the ones you like the most and become a huge fan (some of my favorites are, of course, Zoetic Press and Drunk Monkeys, but also Rust + Moth, Glass, Hermeneutic Chaos, and Luna Luna). Like their stuff on social media; support them as much as you can. But most importantly, read them.

Write as much as you can, and read as much as you can. Seriously, you can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader, and you can’t be a writer if you’re not writing. Befriend writers. Join writing challenges (Apiary Lit has a 30/30 for April (National Poetry Month) that is free to join). Submit stuff and see what happens. Embrace feedback when you get it. Ask a writing friend to give you feedback. Don’t get defensive when they do. You can’t grow without feedback or revision. Take a class if you can, even an online class. Don’t stop writing.

As for prompts, I can recommend two books I love: Fruit Flesh by Gayle Brandeis, and Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio. They are easily two of my favorite craft books. You can also seek out prompts online, but these books are just fantastic to own.

Being a writer is a drag sometimes. It’s a grind, just like anything else. But it is spiritually rewarding, and so I say, if you are between jobs and want to explore this new interest, do it.

kolleen carney

About the Columnist

Kolleen Carney is a Boston- born, Burbank- based poet with a B.A. from Salem State University in Salem, MA, and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has served on the editorial team for Soundings East, Lunch Ticket, Paper Nautilus, and Zoetic Press. Her poetry and other writings have appeared or will be appearing in Currents, Vision/ Verse, Lunch Ticket,, Golden Walkman, The Watershed Review, Incredible Sestinas, Uno Kudo Vol. 4, A Quiet Courage, Yellow Chair Review, Drunk Monkeys, Odyssey, and Five 2 One. She is obsessed with California, Pez dispensers, and macarons. Her website is