I think I’m getting good at something

So here’s a confession: I’ve never felt like I was good at my job. I never advanced past concessions at the movie theater. I found working a drive-thru at Diary Queen overwhelming, and the swirls on my cones always fell apart. As a copy editor, I made too many mistakes. As a page designer, I felt like a failure. But lately I’m starting to feel confident in my skills — at least some of them — and that’s a feeling I’ve waited 26 years for. Continue reading →

What I learned from my first year in the workforce

A note my boss left on the templates for one of my first solo nights on the desk. At least he was clear.

I hate when people refer to postgrad life as “the real world,” like there was something less real about my college life.  So I chose to call it my first year in the workforce, but that’s not entirely accurate, either. I’ve been working since I was 16. But last week marked one year at The Eagle, so here’s what I learned in my first year of working a full-time job for which a college degree is a requirement.

I borrowed too much money for college.
How did I spend so much money on my education? Even with grants, scholarships, a brief stint with work-study, and several jobs, I managed to rack up a nauseating amount of debt. I guess my freshman year at an out-of-state school with no scholarships probably didn’t help. A few months after graduation, I received grace-period notices for a student loan I didn’t even remember I had. Seriously, that much debt.
My monthly payments to various lenders, worked down to the lowest possible payments, add up to more than $500 a month. That’s $6,000 a year. What could I do with an extra $6,000 in my pocket? I could build up a solid emergency fund within a few months and then start saving up for the wedding. Or I could buy a car. Or replace my six-year-old Macbook. I could get a dog. I could donate more to charity. I could send my family gifts instead of empty birthday cards. Instead, I live paycheck-to-paycheck and try really hard not to overdraw my checking account.
If your parents paid for your college education, give them a big hug next time you see them. If you’re still in school, think about ways to cut back on how much you’re borrowing to pay for it. And if you’re making huge payments every month and wondering if it was worth it, you’re not alone.

Continue reading →

How to survive a copy editor’s schedule

If you’re like every single person on my timeline/news feed, you probably wrote a Facebook status or a tweet a few weeks ago about the stupidity of New Year’s resolutions (bold stance, by the way). But secretly, you still want to get organized in 2012 and finally stop wasting so much time. Or am I just projecting here?

Time management for copy editors and other second-shifters can be tricky. Going to work in the late afternoon is disruptive. Nine-to-fivers have evenings free to run errands and socialize. Overnighters have the morning after their shifts. But when your day starts at 3 p.m., your free time is split. It sucks. Here’s how I make it work.

Do what you can after work
I’m starting with the easiest tip because, well, I want you to keep reading. In most decent-sized cities, you can find 24-hour grocery stores, Walmarts, and gas stations. So think about what tasks on your to-do list can be accomplished in the middle of the night, and do them after work. Don’t waste daylight hours on nighttime tasks.

Be honest with yourself
Are you really going to clean your house when you get off work at 1 a.m.? Even if you belong to a 24-hour gym, what are the odds you’ll work out instead of going home to mess around on the Internet and watch SportsCenter? Some people can read, write, and pay bills late at night, but I’m pretty much useless as soon as I get home. Timing matters. Don’t let yourself put off tasks until after work unless you know you’ll be up for it.

Make early appointments
If you want to get things done, you’ll have to get up earlier. I’ve promised myself a million times I’d get up at 10 to go to the post office, only to stay in bed until 1:30 because I just felt like watching one more episode of “Frasier” on Netflix. People with normal schedules get up at uncivilized hours all the time, no matter how warm and comfy their beds are, because they have to be somewhere. Then they go do other stuff after work because they’re already up. So copy their style.
You can resist the temptation to sleep in by scheduling things like doctor’s appointments, fitness classes, or lunch with friends before work. If you have to be up and dressed for an 11 a.m. appointment, you’ll be up and dressed when you’re done at noon. And that leaves you with three more hours to do what you need to do.

Accept the idea that you might go to work tired
When I first started copy editing full-time, I was reluctant to wake up early because I thought any less than eight hours of sleep would render me incompetent at work. That’s ridiculous. People who go to work at 8 or 9 in the morning are probably tired three days a week, but they show up anyway. If they can do it, you can do it.  You’re a copy editor, not an air-traffic controller. You can do your job on six or seven hours of sleep if you have to.
Of course, starting your day earlier doesn’t mean you won’t get enough sleep. If you can fall asleep by 3 a.m., you can sleep eight hours and still be up by 11 a.m. A lot of copy editors are in the habit of staying up until 4 or 5, and you might be tired at your early appointments until you adjust. But you won’t die or get fired, and you probably won’t even make a huge mistake. So don’t let a fear of being tired (which, really, is a pretty lame fear) be an excuse to sleep away your free time.

Do you have time-management tips for copy editors? Leave a comment a shoot me an email.

Lessons learned in Texas

I went back to Lawrence in May to walk down the hill for graduation — another thing that kept me too busy to blog.

In February, I landed a job as the sports copy editor at The Bryan-College Station Eagle and moved down to Texas. In the chaos of moving, learning the new job and adjusting to life in a new place, updates to my website came to a screeching halt. Here’s what I learned while I was too busy to blog.

Aggies are weird, but I love them.
College Station is a lot like Lawrence: similar size, similar demographics, similar abundance of bars. But some days, Aggieland feels like a different world. Texas A&M is defined by all of its unique traditions, and Aggies take them very seriously. My favorite thing about Aggies is their intense devotion to their school; I love that they have such a strong identity. But I often feel like an outsider and A&M grads have said some really offensive things to me about Kansas on more than one occasion — as if their school is the only school worth going to. Learning to interact with Aggies is an ongoing process, but they’re a fun bunch.

My first home in Texas. The pink brick is surprisingly common around here.

The generation gap in newsrooms is not what I thought.
Everyone at The Eagle is competent with computers and the Web. The differences between me and the older employees are more subtle: I struggle with landline phones because I only used them regularly for about five years of my life before I started using only cell phones. Yet my boss other employees who are older than me seemed surprised when I had so little trouble sending stories to the Web and dealing with our content management system. It’s far and away the easiest part of my job. What was most surprising, though, is that the gap appears with only a small difference in age — sometimes just five or 10 years. Don’t get me wrong: All of my coworkers know what they’re doing when it comes to content management, search-engine optimization, and social media. But they all had to learn it sometime after they learned how to write, edit and design, while I’ve never known any other way.

You never get used to the heat.
I had to switch to my summer wardrobe in March. The temperature hit 90 degrees in April, and we’ve already had a few 100-degree days. It’s not much hotter than Kansas, but it stays hot for most of the year. I’ve accepted the heat. I drink plenty of water and put a sun shade in my car’s windshield and wear dresses to work instead of pants. But I’ll never get used to it.

You have to evolve.
The site was a project for Doug Ward’s advanced copy editing class at KU. Its primary purpose has always been to show potential employers my clips and demonstrate some basic understanding of Web publishing and content management systems. Now that I have a job, I’m working on re-purposing the site so I can continue writing. Look for changes later this month.