Archive for February, 2018

A Small Taste of Life as an Author

My elementary school had a “publishing center” where teachers would take stories that we had written and put a glossy cardboard cover on them so they looked like real books. Ever since I held that first “book” that I wrote, I wondered what it would be like to be a real published author. That was a possibility for a profession. Every year, the school also brought in a children’s book author to speak to the whole school, something I always looked forward to.


When I was really young, I loved holding the finished book, but hated the writing itself because as a blind person, I had to use a manual braille typewriter where it was very difficult to correct mistakes. If I wanted my work to look nice, I would have to start the page over if I made a mistake. But as I got older and technology for the blind improved, I started to love writing, and took creative writing courses all through school. But in college, I decided being a professional author wasn’t the career for me as one of my professors who was working on publishing a book at the time told us about the business side of publishing. For a book to be taken seriously by a publisher, an author has to work through an agent, and authors often have to sacrifice some of their creative freedom to make the book “marketable.” I remember my professor being furious when she came to class one day because they insisted on using a different title for her book that would be easily searchable using computer algorithms, but she hated it. So I decided right then and there that I just wanted to write for my own personal enjoyment and not get involved in all that business stuff. But I also still had a little bit of a longing to have at least one published book.


Then one day, I was shopping for something on Amazon when I noticed that Amazon was affiliated with a self-publishing company called CreateSpace. I investigated and found that you could pay for services like editing and cover design, but you could also do everything yourself and get published for free.


I had been thinking for awhile that it would be neat to take some blog posts I wrote about my training with Gilbert, edit them and expand on some of them, and compile them into a keepsake book that I could share with friends and family. So in the summer of 2014, which I thought might be my last summer of complete freedom before having a job the rest of my life, I embarked on this project. It was an all-consuming project, one of those projects where you barely want to leave your room for meals. But I loved it, not only because it was fun to re-live my dog training experience and polish up my blog posts, but also because it distracted me from the frustration I had been feeling up until that point at still being in school and not finding a job, and thus a purpose for my life.


I spent about a month putting this book together, and then on a Saturday at the end of June, I downloaded a free template and uploaded my book to CreateSpace. The only thing my mom had to help me with was picking out a free cover design because this was the only thing that wasn’t accessible for me. Then my parents agreed to pay for a proof of my book, which is basically just a copy of the book to look at and make sure I was happy with the way it looked before I published it. The proof only cost $2.15. Just holding the proof was exciting. It didn’t sink in until then that I was going to be the author of a real paper-back book that friends and family could buy on Amazon.


On the proof however, my mom noticed something I had not noticed on the computer. When I uploaded the book, it came in at a perfect, even 100 pages, but it turned out that the computer would make a new page if there was not enough room for a paragraph to fit on the page, leading to a lot of wasted space. In frustration, I went back to the drawing board, but when I figured out how to fix the problem, I found renewed determination not to let this little formatting issue discourage me. Going through the manuscript and correcting every page was another tedious project in which I barely left my room long enough for meals, but 2 days later, I was finished. But after correcting this formatting, the book was a lot shorter. So I found some additional blog posts to polish up and add to the manuscript, and I also wrote a closing chapter from scratch about service dog etiquette. Ultimately, I thought this formatting issue turned out to be a blessing in disguise because these additional blog posts and the closing chapter were not just filler after all. I thought they really enhanced the book, and I never would have thought to include them if I hadn’t had this formatting issue.


I spent about two weeks on these corrections, and then on July 11, 2014, Paws That Changed My Life was officially published! I only charge $6 for it, but family and friends who loved reading it said I could have charged more. But I wanted it to be affordable, since my career goal after all was just to write for personal enjoyment. Around that time, Hillary Clinton had just released a book and she was charging $21 on Amazon, and I remember thinking “who would pay that much to read that book?” and I even like Hillary Clinton. I used a royalty calculator CreateSpace had and charged just enough that I would get the thrill of making a few dollars in royalties, while keeping the price reasonable.


The rest of that summer was a lot of fun as I did get a small taste of what it would be like to be an author, even though the book wasn’t published in the truest sense like my professor’s book was. I gave free copies of my book to Gilbert’s veterinarian, and his groomer, as well as one of my teachers whom I wrote about in the book. My mom bought books for all the relatives, and Grandma on my dad’s side was an amazing marketer, asking me to order copies for all of her senior friends at church and the barbershop. I even had a speaking engagement at the monthly senior get-together at church. In May of 2015, I ordered a bunch of books from CreateSpace at the author discount of $2.15 and sold them for $6 at Puppies on Parmenter, a fundraiser for Occupaws Guide Dog Association, the program that trained Gilbert, and gave them the proceeds.


I think if I had to write and sell books with the pressure of needing to make a living, and if I had to sacrifice my creative license for computer algorithms, I would no longer enjoy writing, but with this self-publishing experience, I got a small taste of what it would be like to write and market a book, and made my first grade dream come true.


An Update that is Years Overdue

I cannot believe I have not blogged since May 2013! So much has happened in the past 5 years that I guess writing just took a back seat. But due to changes in life circumstances, and a new perspective, I want to write again. I will go indepth on everything in the coming days, but for now, I will ease myself, and my readers back into things by just giving a quick overview of what I have been doing.


In the summer of 2013, my DVR counselor (a state-funded service that helps people with disabilities find employment) put me in contact with a job developer. This job developer arranged a temporary work experience for me in which I assisted the braille department at Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement, a local agency based out of the Milwaukee Public Library which transcribes print materials into braille for school-age children, and adults in the community. The state paid me $10 an hour, and I worked there 3 days a week for about 3 months. The executive director who is also blind, had met me before at other events and liked me, and I liked her, which eased my nerves considerably the first day. Although I took the job seriously, doing my best to act and dress professionally, the boss felt more like a good friend than a boss in the traditional sense of the word.


My primary responsibility in this position was proofreading materials like restaurant menus and books after they were embossed into braille to ensure that everything was correct. I also spent a couple days answering the phone at the front desk, or separating the pages when they came off the embosser, as the embossers use tractor-feed paper that comes on a long roll of pages. I even got to gain journalism experience by helping the executive director interview people, and write articles for a monthly newsletter. I enjoyed this experience, and would have loved to launch my career there and work there for several years. I enjoyed the tasks assigned to me, and the casual work environment where we worked hard but also had time to socialize. But unfortunately, this agency did not have the funding to hire me, so while I was welcome to volunteer there any time, I would need to explore other options for my permanent career.


Shortly before my job at ABLE ended, I was speaking to an older blind woman who also volunteered there, and she was telling me that she took some Paralegal coursework at the local technical college years ago and although she decided not to pursue this as a career, she really enjoyed the classes. I had thought about law school, especially after my parents read some of my college writing and told me I would make an excellent lawyer. I even took the LSAT in December 2012, but didn’t know if I actually wanted to be a lawyer badly enough to embark on the daunting task of going to law school. My decision was finalized when I heard that law school graduates have difficulty finding jobs, so I could spend three years working my tail off in law school, but then find myself right back where I started.


But that very day when I got home from ABLE, I read about the paralegal program this blind friend told me about, and it occurred to me that this might be perfect for me. I could earn a certificate in just one year, for a fraction of the cost of law school, and since I already had a bachelor’s degree, I wouldn’t need to take some of the required courses. When I graduated, I would not be authorized to practice law, but I would be prepared to assist lawyers in a law firm. My parents thought this was an excellent plan too. So I applied and was accepted into the paralegal program, and started in January 2014.


I am ashamed to admit this, but while I knew this was a great plan, when school actually started, I didn’t have the most positive attitude about things. I think I was just antsy. I wanted a job, and by extension, some income, and I wanted it now! I thought that on that glorious day when Gilbert and I accepted our diplomas at Carroll University that I was done with the childish school nonsense of buying books and doing homework and all that. It didn’t help that we had a particularly brutal winter that first semester, and I dreaded the cold icy walks to and from the parking structure each day. But I persevered, and my attitude gradually improved as the weather got nicer, and I realized that some of the classes, especially two of them which were taught by a very karismatic professor and former lawyer, were extremely interesting.


I finished the program in December 2014, and then in January 2015, I worked again with the same job developer who helped me land my job at ABLE, to find a paralegal position. I met with the job developer weekly to practice things like resume writing and interview skills, and to compare notes. He called a few places to try and talk up my credentials and positive personality to potential employers, and would also tell them that the state could pay my wages for a trial period of three months. But he also asked me to apply for jobs on my own, and if I got invited for an interview, to let him know and he would accompany me.


So I applied to several jobs each week, mostly through Wisconsin TechConnect, a job board for people with degrees or certificates from technical colleges. In Mid-March, all of this persistence paid off when a Social Security disability firm invited me for an interview! The manager really liked me, and when the job developer sweetened the deal by explaining the trial period, I was hired on the spot. I couldn’t start right away because some state paperwork needed to be processed, and I needed to order some technology to help me with the job, but I officially started as a full-time case manager for this firm on April 6, 2015.


I will go more indepth talking about this job in future posts, but to make a long story short, I worked as a case manager from April 2015 to Christmas of 2016. But the task management software my coworkers used to manage their caseloads wasn’t fully accessible with my screen reader, and while I tried to improvise and keep things organized on my own, it was difficult to stay organized. So my boss asked how I would feel about no longer having a caseload, and my sole responsibility would be filing appeals over the phone with clients when they were denied. This has turned out to be a perfect fit for me, as the Social Security web site, and the Google spreadsheets used to schedule appeals are fully accessible. And since I noticed that I had a lot of idle time with this position if clients did not answer the phone, or case managers just did not have any appeals for me to do, I approached my boss one year ago today and asked if I could work part-time. I will elaborate more on this later too, but I just missed having time during the week to go to bible study at our church, handle doctor appointments or just rest. Around that time, I had also been in contact with the Occupaws guide dog trainer because Gilbert was really struggling with arthritis, and we discussed the possibility of retiring Gilbert and training with a new dog last summer. Ultumately, we decided to have Gilbert go to work with me one more year because he could still handle it most days, and my office environment would not provide enough physical activity for a young dog. But we may re-visit things this year as he is starting to have other health concerns as well. At any rate, I don’t think I would have had the time or energy for dog training if I worked full-time.


To my delight, the boss said yes when I asked to go part-time! So now I work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Business has increased a little bit this year so my schedule is always full now, but the longer I have been filing these appeals, I have found ways to be more efficient, so while I was only comfortable filing four appeals a day one year ago, I now schedule six appeals per day. Although life hasn’t turned out the way I imagined when I was younger—I dreamed of an exciting career in journalism and thought maybe by now, I would be a reporter in Washington D.C. covering all the drama there.—I feel a sense of peace and contentment. No one knows what the future holds, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I feel like this is where I am supposed to be.