Nikki Grey: Beating The Odds To Become A Writer

Nikki Grey is a full-time freelance writer. She is a regular contributor for New Hair Trends, American Survival Guide and other Engaged Media magazines. Her articles have appeared in xoJane.com, The Daily Caller, Washington Examiner and the Santa Barbara News-Press, where she was a features reporter covering style, food, health and wellness and more for nearly two years. Nikki has acquired literary representation for her fiction and hopes to use her writing to inspire young readers.

The Achievers Story

Blake: Tell us who you are, where you’re from and something that people would find interesting about you?

Nikki: My name is Nikki Grey and I’m from a bunch of different places in rural Nevada. I’m a writer – people find that interesting! I write stories for magazines, business copy and yet-to-be-published fiction for young adults.

Blake: Give us a brief overview about the goal you achieved and why it was so important?

Nikki: When I was 12 years old, I entered the Nevada foster care system and spent the next six years living in different foster homes. When I was 17 years old, I moved in with one of my teachers, who later adopted me as a young adult. I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011.

Statistically, only about two percent of foster children earn a four-year college degree. Many end up getting in trouble with the law or experience homelessness and other negative outcomes, including committing suicide. So to have graduated from college and then to be living my dream as a writer is a big deal for me.

Blake: Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end; where we’ve been, where we’re going, and everything in between. Give us an example of what your life was like before achieving this goal?

Nikki: I started my career as an intern at a newspaper before I was hired as a staff writer for the paper in 2012. I was in the writing field, but eventually I wanted to focus more on my fiction. After I left my newspaper job, I worked in public relations and customer service-type jobs for a little over a year, before I started freelance writing for magazines (and continued to work on my fiction).

It was difficult juggling a full-time day job with my writing. I felt like I could never relax because that was precious time I could have spent writing. So I’m really excited that I’ve been able to get enough work to freelance write full-time, which I started doing in January of this year. It’s been amazing having more time to write what I want to write and I also love being able to sleep in and work from home, in my pajamas if I want to!

Blake: Help us understand what caused you to move in a different direction?

Nikki: I think people often need to take risks to achieve success. Sometimes, what you have to do to get where you want to be involves following clear steps, but often it doesn’t. I realized if I wanted to be a professional writer, I had to work after hours; I had to put in time, even when I wasn’t getting paid for it. I had to see the bigger picture and that my dream wouldn’t just land in my lap. I had to go get it and once I realized that and set up some future work to make the transition easier, it made sense for me to quit my day job and devote my time to writing exclusively.

Blake: Give us an example of what your life is like today, since achieving the goal?

Nikki: I feel a sense of accomplishment. Although lots of people helped me, and I do mean LOTS, I also worked really hard and achieved a greater level of success than I thought was possible. In high school, I learned most foster kids didn’t go to college; in college, I learned most journalists didn’t get jobs as reporters — especially not in the dying newspaper industry. I also learned that it is incredibly difficult and unlikely to make a living writing and to get the kind of exposure I’ve already received this new in my career.

Despite the odds against me achieving my goals, I let myself dream and I accomplished what I was told wasn’t possible. I feel good about that.

I also am happy to do what I love and have the freedom to set my own schedule and travel when I want to; this is new for me and I love it so far!

Overcoming The Obstacles

Blake: If there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that obstacles like fear, time and money among other things can prevent us from or motivate us towards achieving goals. What are the top 3 obstacles you faced, why were they obstacles to begin with, and how were they conquered?

Nikki:

#1 – Not having connections in writing/publishing

This was a problem because it’s not just what you know, but “who you know” that matters.

I dealt with this by putting myself out there. At first, I was afraid to tell people I wanted to be a writer because I thought they would laugh at me and think I would fail, especially since it’s such a difficult career to break into. I slowly started telling people about myself and what I wanted to write and that led to me applying for internships that I might not have had the courage to otherwise. Each time I told someone about my dream, I started to believe it could happen; it made me feel more obligated to at least give it a shot because I didn’t want people to think I had failed.

When I landed internships, I worked hard and made connections and even after I left, I tried to stay in touch with people via email and social media. I met more people and eventually landed more internships and mentors that lead to getting writing jobs and opportunities.

#2 – It’s difficult to get published until you’ve been published.

This was a problem for obvious reasons.

I started in college by working as a web editor for my school’s magazine and writing for it, too. That helped me get the internships that led to more bylines and then the newspaper job that really boosted my resume. Even after all that, when I left the reporting job I found it difficult to freelance. I pitched a personal essay to online outlets for months without finding a home for it, for example. And then I took a day job not related to writing and continued working on my fiction.

When I least expected it, a friend (who I used to work with and who now is an editor for a magazine) asked me if I was interested in writing a story for another magazine in the same company that employs her. Based on what she knew about me, she thought I’d be a good fit and recommended me to the editor assigning stories. That editor got in touch with me and I accepted the assignment. After that, other editors with different magazines within the same company approached me. They wanted me to write for them. I said “Yes” even when I thought I didn’t have time to, working full-time and writing and editing my fiction on the side. I MADE TIME.

Then more editors started coming to me. Other people outside of the company asked me to write for them. After getting all these extra publishing clips, I pitched my personal essay to one of the same outlets that ignored me before and the editor accepted it immediately!

#3 – Patience and perseverance

It’s difficult to not give up when things are moving so slowly. I’ve overcome this by believing in myself and also by seeking counsel from mentors who are experienced in publishing. They constantly tell me how slow things move in this business. This reassures me to not give up!

The Triumph

Blake: The next part of the interview is the Triumph. The triumph is all about taking the success of achievement to the next level of personal greatness. The idea of greatness can be different for everyone. For me, greatness is all about the pursuit rather than the destination. What does greatness mean to you and how has achieving this goal contributed to that idea?

Nikki: Greatness is taking what you are good at AND passionate about (not always the same thing) and finding a way to make it useful to other people. The more I publish, the more I learn what types of writing I can do that seem to have the most potential to help others.

Roadmap To Goal Achievement

What is the best advice you ever received that helped you clarify and/or achieve this goal?

Nikki: I don’t remember where I got this from initially, although I imagine it was someone from social services or a teacher (and I’ve had mentors, such as former foster kid-turned-entrepreneur Rhonda Sciortino, who I’ve since heard some version of this from as well), but this is it: YOU are in control of what you do, your actions, how you present yourself, how you think, act and treat people. You can make a better life for yourself, but it’s hard work. No one else is responsible for your happiness.

Blake: What are some of the resources or tools that helped you achieve this goal?

Nikki: Facebook helped me a lot. I have a mentor I have never met in real life but who has helped me a great deal. We met on Facebook. And she introduced me via email to a wonderful, wonderful writing mentor, who also has helped me tremendously. I stay connected to her online as well. I’ll also meet people in various situations and connect with them on Facebook either in addition to emailing them or instead of emailing them. Networking is important. I also recommend attending conferences and other events in your field.

Blake: What did you do to stay motivated throughout the process?

Nikki: When things were difficult, I thought about how far I’ve come and where I want to go professionally. If I was really lacking motivation or feeling down, I’d reach out to people who believe in me, like my husband and some of my close writer friends and mentors, and have them give me a pep talk.

Blake: Is there a book that helped you achieve this goal? If so, how?

Nikki: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell because it details how certain people have worked really hard to achieve success (putting their 10,000 hours in) but also how they recognized special opportunities and took advantage of them.

Blake: What Blogs and Podcasts do you recommend?

Nikki: I really like Rhonda Sciortino’s blogwhich focuses on faith and achieving success not in spite of what you’ve been through but because of it.

Blake: If you were advising someone on how to achieve the same goal or something similar, what specific steps would you have them follow?

Nikki: I would read books about what I want to do written by people who have achieved success doing it.

I would study the works of those I admire (in my case that would be books and magazines).

I would reach out to people who have achieved some success doing what I want to do (within my extended social network, if possible) and ask if they would sit with me for coffee (or on the phone) for an informational interview so I could learn about how they achieved what they have. I wouldn’t ask them to do anything for me, introduce me to anyone or anything like that. I would just ask for some time for me to ask questions and I would prepare intelligent questions to ask. (And then I would follow the advice, to the best of my ability.)

I would work for free until I got the experience and the connections that would help me make a career for myself, and even then I would continue to take assignments that didn’t pay as well if it meant I was learning something new, getting good exposure or making valuable connections.

I wouldn’t be cocky or entitled. I would recognize and accept I have a lot to learn.

For the person following this advice, if you have to do this while working other jobs, in your field or not, do it! It’s all part of the journey.

Blake: What’s the best way for people to connect with you?

Nikki: I like connecting with people on Twitter or they can visit my Website, or email me at nikki@nikki-grey.com.

Blake: Is there anything else you would like to share before we conclude?

Nikki: No matter how difficult things get, believe in yourself, have faith and don’t give up!