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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The fork in the road

It's been a while since I've posted with any regularity here at Creative Ink. Humble apologies to any regular readers I might have. My creative and productive energies have been diverted elsewhere for the past few months into some very important and meaningful personal projects that required my full attention.

As a result, I've had little brain activity leftover to share meaningful thoughts here. I'll try to do better as life starts to settle into the normal workday/school day routine. Part of what I've done this summer is explore where I want to take my career moving forward. I have possible paths, but certainly nothing definitive. I am at the proverbial fork in the road.

I've spent four and a half years working full-time as an independent journalist from home. It's been great in so many ways. Here are some professional highlights:

• Started Creative Ink in March 2004 and through that writing began reconnecting with the dreams of my younger self.
• Traveled to New York City for the first time twice in 2004 and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Big Apple on my own.
• Got my passport and my first passport stamps when I traveled to Seoul, South Korea in 2004. I was one of the only female speakers at East Asia Journalists Forum, which obligated me to perform many toasts during our meals.
• Had my first PD feature published in May 2004; lead to weekly book reviews in PD for 18 months before burnout set in and freelance budgets were slashed.
• Traveled to New York City and Las Vegas in 2005, both times with awesome traveling companion Jill Zimon. 
• While in Las Vegas in 2005, had exclusive interview with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller upon her release from prison.
• Discovered the beauty and soulfulness of Thomas Merton; wrote article in 2005 on his influence on modern-day Catholics that started a three-year working relationship with Catholic Universe Bulletin. Oh, and that story also won first place in religion coverage in 2006 Ohio SPJ Awards.
• Traveled to Chicago in August 2006, but I'm disappointed to say that I saw little of the city other than the conference hotel and the Billy Goat Tavern. I hope to return soon.
• Had first article published in Continental Magazine in October 2006.
• Applied for and was accepted as a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors in February 2007
• Traveled to Anniston, Alabama, in April 2007 where I met Gay Talese and Rick Bragg among a host of other wonderful southern storytellers who continue to inspire me.
• Risked much professionally, personally and financially by calling out national SPJ leadership on a bad decision that ultimately was reversed in August 2007. Still a painful memory, but something I would do again in a heartbeat because it was the right thing to do.
• Started my third year of writing about small schools transformation at Cleveland Heights High School in August 2007 and discovered a passion for urban education that may dictate my future professional plans.
• Began consulting editor relationship with Catalyst Ohio magazine in November 2007 that continues to this day.
• Applied for Peter Jennings Fellowship for Journalism and the Constitution, was accepted and traveled to Philadelphia, Penn., in March 2008. Among my colleagues there was Atlantic national correspondent and author Mark Bowden, who has been very kind and generous in providing direction and assistance when asked.
• Had my first feature published in the Christian Science Monitor in April 2008, with subsequent stories in May and July.
• Was shocked, confused and then honored to be named Cleveland SPJ Distinguished Service Award winner in May 2008.
• Won first place in feature writing for article about group of St. Ignatius High School pallbearers from the Catholic Press Association in June 2008.

Over the summer I reached a few conclusions that will alter my writing future. First, is the financial reality that with my oldest son heading to college in three years, I need a more stable and consistent form of income. Second, is that I'm exhausted—I mean could sleep for a week straight exhausted—by the nonstop hustle of getting work and trying to get paid in something resembling a timely manner. Third, is that I realize my writing has reached a point of stagnation. Stagnation is akin to death for a writer. I need new creative challenges to push me forward. Fourth is that I'm tired of working in isolation. I'd like to be a part of a more collaborative working environment that allows me to brainstorm, share and learn from others.

So where do I see myself in the next few months? I honestly don't know. I'd like to continue being a journalist, though frankly the opportunities to do so and remain in Cleveland are extraordinarily limited. I check the job boards daily and there's little in Ohio, let alone in Cleveland. I've reached out to some colleagues, but the news is always dire about cutbacks rather than hiring. I'm not about to close off any path. I do have some potential opportunities in the works that could fall into any of the following categories:

1) Find a great job at an existing media outlet that allows me to explore narrative and new media journalism either as a writer and/or editor.

2) Get some funding and start my own new media venture that allows me to lead a team of professional, citizen and student journalists toward development and launch of a dynamic multimedia site.

3) Go to graduate school to study history and begin work on becoming a history professor.

4) Find another avenue for using my writing and editing skills outside of journalism. 

5) What every writer aspires to do: write a book. 

My path is not clear, but I hope it will be illuminated soon.  


Jill said...

Can you write a post like this for me- it will be really short!? :)

I know you will land and continue to excel on each and every step of the way to...whereever you decide to go.

Wendy A. Hoke said...

Nonsense! This from the woman who was just interviewed in BBC AGAIN last night!

Thank you for the kind thoughts. All will be well eventually.

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Wendy,

This popped up in my email this morning from Tom Peters:

"Irrelevance comes from always doing the things you know how to do in the way you've always done them."

Breaking out is tough.

Breaking out while writing in Cleveland is damn near impossible.

If you're ready to take your writing to the next level, it may be time to get out of town.



Wendy A. Hoke said...

You're right, Jeff. And if I didn't have teenagers and a husband with a career here in Cleveland, I would seriously contemplate leaving.

But that's just not feasible right now.

Thanks for your support.

Michelle O'Neil said...

Wow. Your goals put my "sit on my ass" post yesterday to shame!

(BTW...sitting on one's ass is highly underrated. I actually tried it today).