April 5, 2017

Editor’s note: The author was laid off from his job as music editor of The Miami New Times in December 2016 after three years at the paper.

When it happens, don’t scream or curse. Don’t toss your chair through a window or shotput your iced coffee across the room or enact any of the other outrageous scenarios you rehearsed in your mind on the off-chance this day ever came.

You will think about this moment a lot in the next three months, and the memory will taste better if you do this: Unclench yourself and breathe. Look at your boss, in his eyes, and understand that this isn’t exactly fun for him either.

If you’re lucky you’ll have a week’s notice. In that time, make sure to pack up your pens and reporters’ notebooks because these people owe you that much (those people are probably watching you do it right now, too, but won’t say anything because writers tend to be empathetic and all for sticking it to the man under appropriate circumstances).

When you tell people — your coworkers and parents and random high school acquaintance you see at a bar who astutely notes, “Hey, you’re a writer now. Right?” — be direct.

Practice a couple times: “I got laid off.” But not so dramatic. “Hey, I got laid off. Happens, you know? Suppose it’s what I get for hitching my wagon to an alt-weekly.” (Pause for polite laughter.) When you start to feel yourself getting all Chicken Little, remember that this isn’t even a blip on the grand scale of human tragedy and, well, no one forced you to be an English major, dude.

On your way out (hopefully with pockets stuffed full of your office supplies) be kind. It is in your best interest to leave these doors open as they might come in handy later. Media is a small world. Try not to dwell too much on the fact that a bunch of experienced higher-ups sat around a table and, tasked with the job of finding the most disposable name on the masthead, chose yours.

Yeah, don’t do that.

Instead be happy; happy that you are free of deadlines and intraoffice drama; happy that you can use as many semicolons as you want without fear of copyediting; happy that you finally have some room to breathe, creatively speaking, and are now surely just weeks away from the truly great piece of writing that has been waiting — just waiting — until these pesky editors and their totalitarian standards get out of the way to burst from your chest like a slimy little Pulitzer-winning alien.

Plus, now you can finally travel.

In the first few weeks after spontaneous unemployment, you’ll need to adjust to a new sort of workday. It starts like this: you crack open your laptop with a very small and irrational part of your brain expecting to see an email that will set things right again.

Subject: Wow, can I hire you?
From: David Remnick

Ryan, I was doing my nightly web-surfing when, to my utter horror, a bird came soaring through an open window in my study, dive-bombing onto my keyboard, which — somehow — sent me to your 2013 article titled, “Five Animals That Look Like Rick Scott.” I read it and was blown away. Do you have time to speak today? Noon work?

This email never comes, but you do receive many tempting offers from the Indeed newsletter, which, despite being politely asked to find you media-relevant jobs, will suggest every three weeks or so that you might be interested in becoming a bartender at an Applebee’s in Tualatin, Oregon. Not that there’s anything wrong with becoming a bartender at an Applebee’s in Tualatin, Oregon, but, you know, maybe not just yet.

It’s only been a month, after all, and things aren’t looking bad. Your fledgling freelance career is off to a promising start. Sure, no one’s actually bought one of your pitches yet, but a couple of editors did acknowledge that you exist. At least you have more time to punch up that brilliant, and as of yet unknown, piece of literature bubbling inside of you.

Plus, now you can finally travel.

But before you book your ticket, maybe it’s best to knock out a few cover letters. You are a writer, so this should be easy. From the first paragraph, establish yourself as the real deal. None of this “greetings, sir or madam” human resources trash. Make it good and punchy. Make them laugh and cry and sigh deeply — all before you’ve even gotten to the part about your SEO experience and brief yet glorious appearance on longform.org.

Repeat this process 30 times over the next month. Don’t forget to take periodical breaks to pace around your living room, hate-watch “Today,” pet your dog, eat grapes, etc.

Be sure to show a visible degree of appreciation when friends ask you how the job search is coming. When you tell them, “Not too great,” be prepared for the inevitable rebuttal: “Well, at least you can finally travel now.” Say, “Maybe,” and nod. There’s no need to explain that vacations suddenly seem less appealing when there’s nothing to vacation from.

Know that, at some point, the very rational thought of making a career pivot to marketing or copywriting will wander into your mind like an old man in a sauna. Don’t panic. That’s natural. However, if at some point you find yourself seriously considering public relations, plunge your head into a bucket of ice water immediately.

After drying your hair remind yourself, out loud, that it has only been three months, after all.

Around this time, you might find yourself craving the very things you were happy to leave behind at your last job: An editor who listens to your idea, treating it as importantly as it feels in your head; some juicy office gossip; a copy editor to curb your semicolons.

This, too is natural. It can be helpful, if you are feeling a tad despondent, to step back and take stock of things. Google yourself. Reread the story that first made you feel like this career might just be for you. Go back and, if you dare, read the first story you ever got paid for. Look at those goofy adjectives. See how far you’ve come?

Wonder, for a terrifying moment, if this will be it. If all that is left of your writing career is in front of you on the first page of Google.

Breathe. Unclench yourself.

Take these feelings and digest them. Give yourself a day or two away from cover letters or cold pitches. Rejection is fatiguing. No need to be ashamed. It has been three months and 19 days after all.

When you’re ready to get back at it again, peel that laptop open with a renewed energy. Savor that familiar feeling of your pupils adjusting to the white glow of a blank Word doc. Turn off “Today.”

Start writing. About anything. About this, even. Because writing is what you love. Writing is what you’re good at. Epiphanies don’t pay bills, but isn’t it nice to know this?

Doesn’t it make you, for at least a little longer, want to keep trying?

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