Sometimes, my mind starts to hum. This hum, before it’s loud enough for me to hear it, starts as a tangle of thoughts, experience, knowledge, and passion, and then hum-hum-hum: it becomes an idea. Not just any idea, either: a persistent idea, an exciting idea, an idea that makes me want to make changes in my life. I got the hum in my freshman year of college when, after failing to view cadavers in my human anatomy class (which was required for my pre speech-language pathology major), I changed my major to English with an emphasis in literature.
This decision, which my boyfriend and family supported and encouraged, was one of my best. It led me to what I’m doing now, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I am a writer, but when people have asked me what I want to do with my Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults once I earn it, I have hesitated and said, “Teach, you know, so I can support myself in writing.”
I never thought much past that. I hoped I’d find a teaching job somewhere, somehow, with my M.F.A. I have no teaching experience and no talent for teaching, like my husband and parents do. Yet I thought I’d do it so I could help support my family and have lots of time to write (a joke, I’ve now learned!), which would always remain my focus.
But last week, I found out that some of my tidy plans to teach had no basis in reality, and I forced this question on myself: do you really, truly want to teach?
My answer was scary. My answer was no.
What else, I thought, could I do with a M.F.A.? How would I help support my family without having to work minimum wage jobs? I’ve worked at enough of those. Burger King, McDonald’s, La Quinta Inn & Suites. I refused to consider those options. But what could I do, if my writing took a long time to give me any income, as it most probably would?
There are more answers to this question than one might think, and one of those answers popped out at me, mostly because it was a subject that had pricked my interest before but had never hummed loudly enough before for me to hear it: copy editing. Editing. Proofreading.
I’ve always loved discovering errors in all types of copy and correcting them in my head. I admit that I judge people, as hard as I try not to, based on their basic grammar usage. So I researched more about what editors and copy editors do, joined the American Copy Editors Society, and signed up for the Poynter ACES certificate in editing.
I finished today, so I am now certified in editing. Certificates like these are not necessary in order to become an editor or copy editor, of course, and there are many different online and in-person certifications available. But if one has no formal training, this certificate provides loads of valuable information on editing copy for newspapers, blogs, academic theses, manuscripts, and more. I ordered the Chicago stylebook and the AP stylebook and started to study their basic guidelines. And then, because I plan to do freelance work at least until I finish my M.F.A., I ordered a book on starting a home freelancing business.
The more deeply I delve into this new career, the more I love it. I’m becoming an even better writer because of it, and as a writer, I have empathy for the writers I will edit. I know how it feels to be on the edited side.
The hum has faded, but its echo drives me, just as the hum for changing my major still drives me today. This choice to do something that I enjoy and am skilled at makes me feel empowered in a humble way. I have a bachelor’s degree in English. I have an eagle eye. I am developing my writing and critiquing skills at Vermont College of Fine Arts. All of that has led to the hum, to this.
I think God uses the hum to nudge me in the right direction, and I know it’ll come bug me again, probably about something entirely different—maybe about a new story idea, maybe about something I can’t begin to comprehend.
And I’ll welcome it when it comes.
P.S. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite poems:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So far in life, the hum has kept me from sighing. It’s led me to roads I hadn’t traveled before. The difference, for me, will be a good one.