Shopping the Writer Classifieds

I like the romance of the classifieds.

(Of course nowadays, printing anything in the newspaper has a certain romance to it, doesn’t it?)

I remember when I was seven or eight years old, my parents decided we would get a dog. Every weekend, we sat together over the Sunday paper, shopping the classifieds ads. Running our fingers down the page, our fingertips darkened with newsprint, we searched the long columns of listings, looking for the right ad that would bring us the kind of dog we wanted. I had no idea what AKC meant back then, but I knew it was a keyword to look for, like word searches we did in school, and upon finding it, my brother and I would look up and announce triumphantly that we had found one.

The act of searching the classifieds has become a film trope. At a moment when a character is changing his or her life, there’s usually a scene where they search the classifieds section, circling prospective jobs or purchases in thick marker, turning to those noisy, thin newspaper pages to find the answer for their lives. I often think of Bridget Jones’s Diary, when she has decided to leave the publishing firm where she works with Daniel Cleaver in pursuit of her own goals, dreams, and self-worth. She circles ads, goes to interviews, hilarity ensues. She is changing her life, and to do so, she is shopping the classifieds section of the newspaper.

The practice seems a bit dated when we see it now – those ads are usually online. Free services like Craigslist substitute for the old days of newsprint. Surely, there’s an app for finding the answer to how you can or should change your life.

Nonetheless, I have an appreciation for the classifieds. For the first time as an adult, since graduating from college and leaving home, I am without full-time employment. My fiancee would stop me and say that’s not true – I’m writing. That’s my job. And she’s right. I am extremely fortunate that I get to sit at my desk each day and write; many writers don’t get that opportunity, and lest anyone think I take that for granted, let me assure you, I am thankful for the time and opportunity to write my book. But make no mistake:  the blessing of time and opportunity does not necessitate that writing becomes easier, nor does it mean that not having a job-job will cease to freak me out.

Even though I’m working at it, scribbling notes and fleshing out scenes in the hopes that, eventually, the structure of my novel will reveal itself and it’ll develop into a narrative someone other than I can follow, there is a creeping feeling of panic that sets in:  no clocking in, no paycheck, no work clothes. I sit in my pajamas, I write, I keep house, I wait for us to move, for my manuscript to grow, for the next chapter, literally and figuratively, to begin. I’m the only one who notices if I’m late or unproductive. And because we’re in a holding pattern with only three months until we leave Virginia, I don’t really have the ability to search for employment. Not yet.

But you know what I do have:  writer classifieds.

Every month or so, I get a magazine in the mail – I subscribe to both Poets & Writers and the Writer’s Chronicle. Both have a section in the back with contests, deadlines, opportunities, grants, calls for manuscripts, awards, etc. A classifieds section, if you will.

My writer classifieds
My writer classifieds

After Christmas, in my own Bridget Jones moment of harnessing my life and chasing after the things I want, I sat down and circled everything that I wanted and was eligible for. I refer to it as the business side of writing:  the part that involves postage and cover letters and putting myself out there. The part where I try to make the work I do here, at home, in my pajamas, pay off in some way.

It’s scary, just like looking for a new job is scary. But in a sense, this is my new job. I’ve set up my desk, I’m making my schedule, I’m disciplining myself not to plan wedding things and look at fourteen pages of bird cake toppers on Etsy instead of writing. I’m circling opportunities, looking for the business side of this art of mine. I’m working on treating it like a job. Because it is. It has to be.

36 thoughts on “Shopping the Writer Classifieds

  1. Great points all the way around – one of my favorite things used to be reading the classifieds in our local paper – when we still had a local paper – who got married, who died, who was selling their house or getting rid of their dog. The business side of writing totally freaks me out – but you’re right – resistance is futile – it needs to be a business.

  2. I am in awe of the discipline you have with your writing. It certainly is a job, and good for you for recognizing that and embracing it. Good luck as you continue to work on your manuscript. I can’t wait to read the final, published version.

  3. Honestly, Dana, you are a writing inspiration for me. You don’t know the ways that you’ve encouraged me to take my writing more seriously and posts like this keep that encouragement coming. I know you’ll do great as a full time writer or as anything else you find to do in CA. Enjoy this time and good luck!

    1. Aw, thank you, Rachel! I don’t think I’m all of that, but thanks for those kind words. I’m so encouraged and inspired by my fellow writers, so I’m happy I can pay it back a little bit.

  4. That seems like the grown up way to approach working from home. I too would be so tempted to just click on over to all things not-writing-related for just a moment and find myself on page 40 of Pinterest 3 hours later.

  5. I think about the classifieds every now and then. We used to look at them for everything. Dogs we loved. Cars we drove. Pianos that became a part of our life. Makes me sad that most of it is online now. Don’t know why?

  6. Another film trope is the stand alone answering machine (as opposed to voice mail) that plays messages through a loud speaker. The machines often have call screening and in both cases they forward the plot by making sure that the wrong person overhears the message or the call coming in. Among my friends and acquaintances, I know one person that still has one of those devices but it seems like everyone has them in movies and television.

  7. i completely have a film montage sequence in my head of you: teapot whistles, you rustle your hair earnestly, you sit down with the classifieds and pen, determined to circle your next writing job. working from hard always seems so nice, but it does have its special little pitfalls (like laundry and Etsy wedding planning) that used to get me back when i was going to college. On big writing/paper days, it was Have Laptop, Will Travel (to Coffeeshop, where i would lock myself to a table until i finished a designated amount of work.) the best of luck finding something (and staying away from the Etsy!)

  8. I used to love the classifieds and it was always the first section of the paper I looked at.

    I’ve always heard that to be successful as a writer, one must treat it like it’s a job. That advice really makes sense to me.

  9. So loved this line: “the blessing of time and opportunity does not necessitate that writing becomes easier.” I never feel like writing is easy, and when I do have time and opportunity (which is rare), and even when it feels like it’s kind of easy, because I know that it will be short-lived, and then it will become hard again, whether I have time or not. Thanks for writing this post, and capturing what so many of us aspiring writers are feeling, for sure. Best of luck w/ your move and your novel.

  10. Oh, the classifieds… I used to read them in the Sunday paper just to see the odd junk people were selling. But now I;m totally interested in writer classifieds — it has never occurred to me to look for such things, but I’m kind of new to deciding I’m a writer (my first anniversary of calling myself a writer is in March).

  11. I still love reading the classifieds, even though they’ve been officially replaced by the internet. People are always looking for or selling such interesting things – Craigslist can be immensely entertaining! I’m very interested in checking out those writer’s publications you mentioned… I’m not quite “a writer” yet, but I certainly hope to get there someday.

    1. From what I can tell, it’s just showing up, sitting in the chair, and doing it. I’d say you’re well on your way! Thanks for the kind comment! I too like Craigslist for its entertainment value.

  12. I 18 different kinds of love this post. You are so right about how scary it is not to have a full time job and to allow yourself to taking writing seriously. In my head I see you in your house applying yourself to your writing life ’80’s movie montage style. Hang in there! I’m rooting for you!

  13. Great observations here. So little is actually in print nowadays, as you note. I was saddened that newsweek is no more in print. Such a sign of our times. It’s very cool how you add such beauty to the classified sections here.

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