Social Work Chooses You

Social Workers don’t choose their profession; the profession chooses them.

The above quote is a tidbit I took away from a conference I attended years ago. Conferences are a funny beast. In the midst of all the pertinent information to be learned there tends to be that odd little tidbit that sticks with an audience member.

Considering I never set out to be a social worker this struck a cord with me. I fell into the field. Which isn’t that notable on it’s own, considering many people fall into careers they might not have otherwise chosen. What is notable is that social work isn’t an easy nine to five desk job. It’s demanding. Not to pat myself on the back but I had clients that loved me and I helped people. I take that as proof I was doing something right.

Social work isn’t a fun job. It’s stressful and demanding with little rewards. The rewards we get are a smile. An occasional pat on the back. Oh, and more work.

Make no mistake about it; a social worker is not in their job for the money, because there is not much to be had. The only raises I ever saw were because of it being voted in by the government. And that was only once in ten years. Cost of living increase? How about ten more clients instead.

Yet Social Work is a funny little beast. It seeks out those with a big heart, with a desire to help. It lassos us and ropes us in. Soon we’re stuck in dilemmas of having vacation time to use but not being able to afford time away from the caseload.

I’m reminded of something my grandmother once told me, when she found out I was going into social work: “Wouldn’t you rather do something that pays money?”

The answer: not really. While money is helpful and certainly a motivator for leaving the field, it’s not the only answer. One has to be true to their heart. I always wanted a job I enjoyed. Underneath all the stress, all the pressure, all the poverty, I met a lot of wonderful people. More importantly I helped them. I made their lives better.

Social work chose me. It made me a better person. And maybe, just maybe, a small part of me wouldn’t mind going back.

Update on the 50,000 word Challenge

I have been participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, a challenge to get writers writing. My goal is to write 50,000 words. My current word count for camp is 42,000 words in 21 days. Not too shabby, I should finish the goal in the next few days. I’m also close to finishing the novel, which I was hoping would be a bit longer, but that’s a problem for another day.

Bottom line: this is the first time I have written with a time limit. In the past I have been writing when it feels good and letting my creativity flow. Now I’m writing almost daily and have been keeping myself grounded. It’s hard but a lot of fun. To the point where I think “I could do this full time as a career.” But that’s jumping ahead quite a few steps, because most authors don’t make a living off their writing. Still, it would be a lot of fun to wake up in the morning, make some coffee, settle in behind my laptop, and write. In my pajamas. Though eventually I would need to brave the sunlight and find a way to work in things like human interactions. And showering.

Perhaps that’s why it’s best if writers don’t always get the chance to make a living off of writing alone?

My work in process involves a social worker that finds herself in an unethical situation. This is my first contemporary romance. Yes, that means sex scenes. I had written a while back about them. It’s safe to say I’m no longer a sex scene virgin. My cherry has been popped! I’ve even incorporated food… More on that later.

I’m getting to know my characters and they are a lot of fun. This past week I found myself staring at THE WALL, a.k.a. Writer’s Block. The wall was tall and large and pushed me off if I tried to climb. I managed to write beyond the wall, I back tracked and added more before the wall. But the wall still stood, tall and proud. Laughing at me. I took to adding graffiti to the wall. There was little brick left by the time I finally tore it down.

Even with running into the daunting wall I’m having fun. Most days I’m pretty sure I’m writing crap. But I’m writing. And there are parts that I love and make me do a happy dance. Other parts that I know will come under rapid fire in the editing process. After over a decade of working with the same set of characters for Project Torture it’s fun to be making new friends.

My goal is to have this novel in completed first draft form by the end of July. The only question is what range the final word count will be. I want it to be a full-length novel; the novel wants to be a novella. I’m not sure who will win. Regardless, when this is done I will have one completed novel, one in editing, and one in first draft. As well as a handful of ideas simmering in various stages. Crap or not I feel like a writer. Because I am.

Why I chose Social Work

For the past ten years I was a social worker. I didn’t seek out to become one, the field found me. In an ironic twist of fate I laughed at one of my early college professors who suggested social work would be a good match for me. I later e-mailed him to tell him he was right on the money.

So how did I become a social worker? First and foremost I had an innate desire to help others. Always have; always will. Which makes me a shoe-in for human services. I graduated from college with a degree in Deaf Studies. Like many college graduates I thought, “Now what?”

I applied for different jobs in the Deaf World. I ended up in a Human Services agency, as an Independent Living Specialist. My entire caseload consisted of individuals with a hearing loss and I helped them with whatever they needed help with. From reading mail to going to court we did whatever the clients needed. Everyday brought a new challenge. It was overwhelming at times, especially being a young twenty-two-year-old, to be helping someone with a problem I might never have come across.

In social work I learned that one didn’t need to know all the answers. Instead we needed to know where to get the answers. Faced with a brand new problem? No big deal, find the source, do the research, continue to help. I worked mostly with low-income adults, some foreign, all interesting.

My easier clients were the elders I worked with. Most of them were adjusting to life with a hearing loss. I’ve worn hearing aids since I was six-years-old, this was an area I was well versed with! There was a lot of joy in helping others adjust. I grew up feeling alone with my hearing loss, feeling uncomfortable with my hearing loss. To have it grow into such a positive part of my identity, a way I could help, was very empowering.

My work with elders led me to my second job, working as a Case Manager for elder services. There I helped frail elders stay in their homes, by coordinating services to keep their daily needs met. This work was more streamlined, less dealing with everything under the sun. It was also more somber as I lost many of my clients through death. Again, being young this has given me a very different outlook on aging. One I am very proud to keep.

I contemplated applying for my social work license but never made it that far. Social work is job that is equal parts rewarding and demanding. I miss the reward. I don’t miss the demand.

But my involvement with social work is not done. Not yet. My newest character is a social worker. I’m having a lot of fun reminiscing over my former career. Channeling the good times, and the bad. Having those memories fuel the plot. At the same time it’s a challenge. There is a desire to portray things in the right light. Ultimately I hope other social workers will get a kick out of my portrayal.

Social work is something I never anticipated doing, but I will never forget it. It has been almost a year since I left and if I am told a story about an elder needing help I jump in with two feet, rattling off suggestions. It’s a part of who I am, and it’s not going away.

Traditional Book vs EBook

For a while I held out against going digital with my reading. I have always loved the feel and texture of a traditional book. Furthermore I spend a decent amount of time staring at electronics, I enjoy the ability to look at something not powered by electricity.

That changed a few months ago. I have an iPad at home and downloaded a Kindle app so that I could read some of my writer friend’s books. I then downloaded the Kindle app for my computer and my phone. Since my son has claimed the iPad for himself I find myself reading my eBooks mostly on my phone.

There are certainly benefits to having a virtual book. I can switch between formats and keep my space. Since I have the app on my phone I can read at any time, while in my car with a sleeping kid, while waiting for an appointment, or down time around the house. I don’t need to have my traditional paper book with me in order to read, just one of my devices that has the app.

I still prefer to hold a book in my hands. Technology is great but I find it awkward. I like being able to flip to the front of my book and see the cover. I like flipping to the back and reading the synopsis over. Once in a while I like torturing myself and flipping to the end of the book, then kicking myself for anything I may have read during that flip.

I can flip through an eBook, but it’s not the same. I can’t, at least on my readers, flip chunks of pages at a time. I also HATE not knowing what page number I am on. It drives me batty. The very first full eBook I read I was enjoying thoroughly. Then I got to the end and was completely surprised. It was a cliffhanger but I had NO idea the end was near. I sat dumbfounded for a while, confused, thinking I was missing pages somehow. Nope. Just a crafty writer and a loss of what I have come to expect from books.

All that being said I’ve recently become addicted to renting eBooks from my library. I’m telling myself that I should hop in my car and take a trip down to the library and borrow some nice paper books. I haven’t made it yet. I’ve put holds on a few books that interest me. Because of the e-loan wait lists I am at the mercy of when these books become available. So instead of getting through my stack of paper books at home to read I keep reading one eBook after another. It’s turning into an addiction. When I’m in-between novels I keep flipping to my app on my phone, itching to read something.

When I publish I will publish both electronically and traditional paper. I can’t wait to hold my book in my hands, all spiffy and professional looking. I expect I’ll sell more eBooks then traditional. EBooks are cheaper; it makes perfect sense. It’s part of the reason why I started looking into the eBooks for myself in the first place.

What do you prefer? Do you have different pros and cons for each? There certainly are merits to both. I did always like that my paper books don’t need to be charged.

Word Count

My original completed version of Project Torture was around 130,000 words. It spanned over 500 pages in my word document. This was a decade ago. I had trouble getting the file onto a hard disk to share with my mother because at over 800kb it was too big for the disk. I bought reams of paper; worrying about how many times I would have to print out the huge manuscript in the querying process. I never got very far in querying so I am happy to report I have ample paper stocked up ten years later.

I edited the hell out of Project Torture over the years. Made some tearful cuts. The further along time went the easier it was to hack up my work. I narrowed the story down to 126,000 words in the beginning of 2013. Then I became a true editor of my own work and hacked until the words bled off the page. Down the word count went. 116,000 was effortless to arrive at. Baffled me that I cut 10,000 words without altering much of the story. Got rid of those empty words that didn’t need to be in the manuscript.

I wasn’t done. I kept cutting. My final version is 105,000. I cringed, checking the word count frequently, watching my pages fall under 400. I had a lot to say, and I enjoy reading a thick book.

Now I’m reading that the average book is between 80,000 and 90,000 words. Under 70,000 is too small. Over 110,000 too big. Project Torture falls in the hefty but still manageable category. She is finally in the right range.

I think back to my few rejection letters. My word count alone probably awarded me a quick trip to the slush pile. That’s okay. Because they would have be right. At 120,000+ words Project Torture wasn’t ready. She wasn’t polished. She wasn’t shining. If she hadn’t been put in the slush pile immediately she would have ended up there later. Back then I was also too close to the work, the criticism too fresh, too raw.

I’m ready now. My advice to other aspiring writers. Write for yourself. Ignore the word count until you enter the editing stage. Then is the time to cut, or add, and make sure you fit in the right range. As I read from Writer’s Digest last week: it’s okay to break the rules. But you need to prove you know the rules first. You need to put your very best foot forward.

After ten years I believe I have made Project Torture the very best she can be. It’s time to put her forward and see what happens.