Recently, I participated in the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce job shadow event as one of the mentors to a high school student interested in a writing career.
Whenever I hear of students wanting a career in journalism or creative writing, I usually quip something to the effect of “So, they want a lifetime of poverty?” as there simply isn’t the money that used to be found in the distribution of intellectual property. And to be fair, although a bit jaded (and perhaps snarky) it’s entirely useful information for someone considering a career in the written word. I always tell people, take the job because you love it, not because you think it will make you rich. I’ve heard similar strains of advice from teachers mentoring starry-eyed, idealistic whippersnappers with the hopes of becoming teachers someday. The same holds for writing careers.
I’ve had the extraordinary good fortune to find two separate careers in the writing field and experiencing my career through the eyes of someone just starting out on their journey was an unexpected thrill.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect and being a busy person, the thought of spending half the morning with a teenager, (that I didn’t give birth to), trailing my every move, seemed a little tedious. I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to say to the student or that I wouldn’t have a very exciting morning to share with them. Let’s face it, a writer’s career is spent most times sitting on their behind, doing Google searches and burying themselves in a Word document — not very exhilarating (for either party). So when I picked up my student (plus my editor’s student) I treated it as just another assignment (i.e. get in, get it done, move on.)
My editor had a great idea of doing a Q&A in the break room with the two students together to break the ice and to give the students a head start in their questioning.
Confession time: what started out as an ordinary assignment turned into a great experience for both my editor Marg Jackson and myself.
Sharing my experiences with the student reminded me of my beginnings as a journalist that started with my paternal grandmother.
At one time I was as clueless and eager to learn as the student I was mentoring. Suddenly, by relating my various experiences I saw my career through new eyes. It felt good to relate to another person who shared my passion for words. And when we started talking about writing fiction, I was thrilled to overload her with facts about a career that is often shrouded in mystery.
It’s so easy to become jaded as you go through life, no matter your career choice. The job shadow experience helped remind me of the joy that comes with doing a job you love. As adults we get wrapped up in the minutia of the daily grind, forgetting that at one time, we were starry-eyed kids, waiting to grab a future that appealed to us.
So for that, I’m thankful, and I’m ready for next year’s students. Hopefully, there is a writer or two who wants to know the who, what, when, where and why of what I do for a living — because I can’t wait to share my knowledge.
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.