It's around this time of year that northern hemisphere students are soon to be having a freak out about college acceptance or lack-of, isn't it.
Well this is a topic I'm pretty passionate about, and I knew so when a couple of years ago I was a Student Ambassador for my university at education expos. I'd tell students that there were multiple ways to get where they wanted to go in the future. If they didn't get the score they needed to get into the course they wanted immediately, it was going to be okay. There are other ways.
In Australia, there is SO much emphasis put on getting the right ATAR score (is that what it's still called?) to get into the university course of your dreams. So those kids that want to be vets, and doctors, and lawyers, there is so much competition to get into these courses that only the cream of the crop succeed. So when you're in high school, it feels like if you didn't spend your whole year 12 with your head in books in order to get the top of the top marks possible, you weren't going to be a vet, a doctor, or lawyer.
But what if you have a bad year? What if your parents get divorced, or a loved one dies, or you move to a new school, or you break a bone, or develop a mental illness, or break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or pick up an after school job or after school activity you're really passionate about? What if you have to babysit your siblings all the time, or frankly get burnt out on the whole stress and pressure of trying so hard?
What if you're just not that great at school, and at the end of the year, your grades and ATAR score reflect that and you don't get into the university course of your dreams? Does that mean the world shouldn't get to benefit from your passion to save lives or develop cures?
NO. IT DOESN'T.
There are so many different routes to get wherever you want to go, you guys. Going from high school to university to the job is merely one of them. In my experience, it's actually a lot easier to get into a course as a mature age student with some life experience than it is as a high schooler when all you have is an ATAR score. So don't stress so much about it, okay?
CASE IN POINT.
I have THREE friends who always wanted to be vets, but not one of them got in to veterinary courses straight out of high school. Two of them started science degrees and the other started a nursing degree instead.
After finishing their science degrees, both Josh and Fiona got into vet degrees, Josh got a job at a clinic and now he OWNS it. And he hired Fiona! Bec was a nurse for a while but has now gone back to uni to follow her dreams and is currently studying again to be a vet.
Me, I developed an illness in year 12. I pretty much went blind for several months and was on a lot of drugs and eye drops to counteract it. I couldn't read or see screens or even people's faces so I couldn't study. It was infuriating and super stressful.
I DID get into the course of my dreams, though (I didn't need as high a score as some people) but it wasn't what I thought it was going to be. I got into a Bachelor of Creative Arts at LaTrobe University in Melbourne. Great course, I'm sure, but I yearned for something practical in which I would learn how to write scripts and what they looked like, learn how to write a novel, but my course was all theory, which I didn't realise at the time that a lot of university courses are.
So I dropped out after the first semester, worked a shitty job for the next semester and started a better course for me, a Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Publishing) at Box Hill TAFE that DID teach me how to write scripts and novels and set me on my path.
And what you want when you're in high school can change drastically as you grow up, learn more about the world you actually live in outside the high school bubble.
I never knew being a freelance writer or editor was a thing back in high school, but here I am doing it and really enjoy writing about a variety of different topics that interest me, and editing other people's novels and worlds. I didn't know I'd enjoy designing book covers and typesetting, but they're some of my favourite jobs that I receive.
Who knew I had those skills?
I always wanted to be a full-time author when I was younger, but when I did that, I realised I also needed something else. I don't enjoy writing novels full-time. The reality isn't as good as the dream had been. And that's totally okay.
I think I'm getting off track. I just want high schoolers to know there are other ways to reach your dreams even if you're not great at school. You can still get there, or develop new, bigger, even better dreams. I have new dreams all the time, other things I also want to do. And I'm going to.
So try and enjoy this big, full-on final year at school, okay? It's going to be hard, but it should also be fun.
It was incredibly timely that I found this video today, from super-successful author John Green about how he kind of sucked at high school.
And look at him now.
I have this weird habit of doing a heap of blog posts within a couple of days of each other and then disappearing off the face of the Earth for a while, don't I.
Sorry about that.
Lots of things have been going on with me, one of which I've been wanting to tell you about for months but decided not to until it was all finalised, just in case it fell through.
Which it did, so I'm glad I didn't tell you at the time.
The Publishing Deal
A couple of months ago I was approached by a US-based small press who wanted to publish The Kiss Off series and potentially make a web series and then, in a couple of years, pitch it to Hollywood as a TV show. OMG, am I right?
After lots of back and forthing on the contract and making sure I was clear on what everything meant, I decided to pass on the deal and keep publishing my own way. I was bummed I came to that decision, but that specific deal wasn't the right one for me.
I held off on doing revisions and editing of Over It (The Kiss Off 2) because I thought I was taking the deal and the small press would be providing me with an editor.
It's been to some amazing beta readers who gave me excited and incredibly helpful feedback, but it hasn't been revised and edited yet.
It was extremely timely that Stephanie Perkins came out recently about how her new book has been pushed back a year due to her struggles with depression, as it's something I've been wanting to discuss here but haven't been brave enough to do so until now.
I, too, have depression and honestly, it's been hitting me harder and harder every time I fall down. Writing comedy (or at all) is pretty damn impossible when the world feels dark and hopeless. So I haven't been. I know Over It is supposed to be out in July, but I don't think I'm going to make it.
As many of you probably know, I work for myself as a freelance editor and book cover designer and as much as I enjoy the work and know I'm good at what I do, times have been tight, as I mostly work for independent authors, I don't charge a proper wage because it's a huge chunk of change for one person to bear. Worry over how to support myself has been a constant rainy cloud hanging over my head. I had to move two hours away from my social sphere and though I've had a support network, I've felt quite isolated here. I have to say no a lot to spending time with friends and helping them celebrate milestones because of a stupid thing called money, and living too far away.
I applied for a grant which I truly thought I was a perfect candidate for, through which I was going to jet over to America and attend Book Expo America, have a stall at American Library Association conference and attend Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators conference, LA, visit friends around the country and organise some group book signings with awesome writer friends everywhere I went. I am craving an adventure and this was going to be it, fo sho.
I didn't get it.
But Things Are Looking Up...
I just got a new job as a Digital Editor at an international publisher with a great team and a great work culture and I'm going to be earning a normal person's salary which has taken a load off my mind and is already helping me feel hopeful and, frankly, like a human being again instead of a black cloud.
Not only that, but it's back in Melbourne where my social life is and I should be moving back and in with some friends within a couple of weeks. I'm really looking forward to starting my new job, though I also have three editing jobs booked for the same time period so moving house teamed with working full time and finishing up two Billington Media jobs and one for Month9Books means I don't know if I'll be sleeping, let alone revising Over It.
Other Good News
I attended my graduation ceremony two weeks ago, I'm officially a graduate! I wore the gown! I walked across the stage! I have the certificate! And the head of my course told me she nominated me for Student of the Year as well which is an unexpected honour (I didn't get it, but I didn't expect to).
Book Cover Design
I've been practicing my book cover design of late and having a good time doing it. I guess it's another form of creative outlet for me while I'm not writing. I made some pre-made book covers that people can buy from Billington Media (like me on Facebook to see them as I make them) for use on their own book and I think they're turning out really well. Not bad for self-taught, right?
I was interviewed on the radio station 3mFM three weeks ago about my books which was exciting, though so embarrassing to hear myself on the radio! The best bit of the day was when they took me through how radio works. If I was going to stick around the area I was totally going to volunteer at the radio station and be a DJ! Not of a talk show or anything, but still. Maybe I can find somewhere to do that in Melbourne. When my time's freed up again.
I've run a couple of self-publishing workshops recently and they went really, really well. I enjoyed doing them and the participants told me they were really informative.
Coal Creek Literary Festival
I've been invited to speak at the Coal Creek Literary Festival in October!
On a final note, leaving you with something awesome, I recently discovered The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on Youtube and promptly spent a whole weekend watching all 110 (3-7 minute) episodes.
Say goodbye to your week right now.
I turned 29 yesterday.
And as it's that much closer to the big 3-0 it has made me reflective on how I have changed as a person, which has made me think about what I like to write about: the trials and tribulations and pretty horribleness of being a teenager.
Teenage years are hard, you guys. I'm sure this isn't news to you; some of you are probably nodding along with me, going 'oh yeah, girl speaks truth, ya'll' (I don't know why I imagine you're a southern belle, but I do, so just go with) to your memories as well, and others of you are living those tough teenage years right now.
Well I want to tell you, it gets better. You grow up, not just in age but in your self-belief and confidence, as well. You start to become you.
I used to have a bit of social phobia and be so scared of public speaking. Wow, was that terrifying, and it made me not do things. Not go to parties, not introduce myself to people and definitely not stand up in front of a crowd and have my opinions heard, let alone present a speech! But over time, I guess I've slowly built up my confidence. Introduced myself to one person, and then a group. I've taken charge of situations and shared my experiences to help others.
Heck, I moved to England for a semester at University and if I was going to have any friends for those six months I had no choice but to take the bull by the horns and introduce myself (whattup Leeds Swing Soc!) as best I could.
Okay, my fears haven't gone away ENTIRELY, I can still draw blanks and be all paranoid when introducing myself to strangers, and talking on a STAGE in front of a CROWD is still pretty scary, but I know I CAN do these things now. I say yes to the opportunity even THOUGH I'm scared. When I was younger, I thought these fears that stopped me doing things were just a part of me. They would be with me forever.
But I want to tell you it's not the case, and it probably won't be for you either. You'll change. Grow. You'll become you, because you might not be YOU yet, not completely, and that's okay. I'm not completely ME, but I feel like I'm getting there. I know who I am.
It didn't happen suddenly, there wasn't this one moment and I didn't just snap out of my fears and am this big extrovert who does cartwheels and stand up comedy in front of auditoriums, but it's happening slowly, and only in reflection do I realise that things that used to scare me just don't anymore.
I'm running the first of three intensive workshops today on self publishing. People are paying for my expertise. I'm an EXPERT. For someone who compares herself to others and often feels like she falls short, this is a pretty big deal.
But you know what? I AM an expert. I know this stuff and I have valuable experiences of failures and successes to share.
And I don't feel as nervous as I thought I would at teaching a four hour class.
I don't actually feel that nervous at all.
I was surprised at that, which is what got me thinking on all this in the first place.
I'm proud of who I'm becoming as a person, and I hope you take the time to think about it and are proud of you, too.
I, Sarah Billington, am an Australian writer of romantic comedies, thrillers, zombies, a TV extra, travel blogger for Expedia and animal blogger for Zookie. I also edit other peoples work sometimes, be they authors or businesses, and design their page layout and book covers.