René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.


I Quit My Job to Work on My Novel

I turned in my resignation to pursue a dream. My dream is—and has been for years—to be able to make a living by writing novels, to sustain myself, financially, from doing something I enjoy. I never thought that it would be necessary to quit my job. I could surely cobble together enough writing time while working my 8-to-5, to get closer to my dream. It seemed doable. It seemed simple enough. But it hasn’t been.20170929_104626

Throughout my career, my dream has hung over me, shadowing my decisions. It led me into a career in ad writing, marketing and communications. Writing and editing have been the bedrock of most of my jobs. No coincidence there. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed it or found it dissatisfying. I’m certainly proud of what I do at work. It just hasn’t been enough. Now that my last week at work has come to a close, it’s all so clear. All of these years, I was trying to fill a void that no job could fulfill.

During my mass-transit commute, mornings, evenings, and weekends, I’ve spent time working on fiction or screenwriting. I’ve had quite a few start-stop projects. Too many to count. But there was a turning point, when I wrote and helped produce a 12-episode web series in 2008–all while continuing my regular job. It was a body of “published” work, and it had a small group of very loyal followers. The opportunity raised my confidence about my writing abilities beyond the corporate brochures and internal communications that I cranked out for corporate America. But nothing happened after that. I wasn’t expecting a writing team at HBO to stumble upon the web series and say, “Her! We want her. No, we need her!” Though, that sure would’ve been nice. So I kept writing.

I finished a novel manuscript a few years ago. I woke up 30 minutes before work every day for over a year to write it. The finished product was decent, but definitely not great. 1506797324537-314911186-e1506797447273.jpg
I knew it needed work before I could shop it around to literary agents. I sent it to a freelance editor who gave me great advice. Most of all, I was happy to learn how much she genuinely liked reading the story. I worked on the rewriting process. I surprised myself by doing a genre switch, converting it from a novel format to a romantic comedy screenplay. I got halfway through, and then I started working on a historical romance novel, my current work-in-progress.

Sometime during the three years between the rom-com rewrite and the beginning of the historical romance manuscript, I met a great guy and got married. With his support, it was easier to make the decision to quit my full-time job and work on my novel. It wasn’t easy putting in my notice at work. A mind-shift had to occur before handing in the resignation. I’d been doing the same thing for so long—focusing on my job and treating my writing as a hobby—that I had to reprogram my thinking.

I had to think back to how I felt years ago when I took the job. This is going to be my last job, I had told myself, because I want my writing to take off. I’m going to work on my hobby until it becomes my next “job.” I put in a lot of hours, a whole lot of time, but I never reached my main goal. I finally realized that it was time to take the full leap of faith—no more of this part-time, on-the-side, hobby stuff. I needed to go all-in. Because my dream deserves this chance. Because sometimes you have to quit something to raise your chance of success.

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9 Historical-Romance-Inspired Items (Not) to Wear to Your Next Staff Meeting

What would happen if you wore a regency-era accessory or piece of clothing in today’s workplace? It would make things more interesting, wouldn’t it? You would be the talk of your team, department, floor, or heck, maybe even the whole company. You could suddenly be catapulted from “Jill in Accounting” to “Jill in Accounting Who Wore the Cool Vintage Dress.” You’d have more swagger. The day-to-day stress would roll off your satin-puffed shoulders. Here are some regency-era, historical-romance inspired clothing items that you should wear or bring to work “ASAP.”


Any man who wears a tailcoat and accompanying waistcoat will look like a leader. It’s even better if you stick one hand inside the jacket, Napoleon-style. Very distinguished.

This small circular-shaped piece of glass can be held over the eye, and is ideal for peering at objects–or even people. If someone in the meeting says something that doesn’t make sense, the quizzing glass will aptly convey your need for clarity.

When a lady is bored, she should open a colorful fan, sigh heavily and cool herself. It will also be helpful during any heated discussions and moments of tension at a staff meeting.

  • A lady’s corset, a.k.a. stays

If you’re the type to feign sick, stays will help your strategy. The vice grip around your ribcage will hinder your breathing and possibly change your facial coloring. These symptoms will evoke sympathy from your colleagues and manager, who will quickly advise you to go home.

Wearing gloves will make it harder to type on a keyboard and to handle documents. They also come in handy for germaphobes.

This underskirt has the potential to balloon the lower-half of a lady’s dress to unseemly proportions. That garment, along with an authentic ballgown and the use of grand gestures, would show a commanding presence. A petticoat would also make it difficult to sit in a chair, at which time you could ask the building maintenance crew to bring in your chaise.

Though these are quite fashionable for women nowadays, riding boots on a man would be a standout. Colleagues will ask if you’ve taken up some sort of equestrian sport or bought a horse. You could answer yes to both, since either one would be impressive.

What other items should I add to this list?



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12 Things to Know About Diana Gabaldon

No one can combine science, suspense, sass and romance like Diana Gabaldon does in her bestselling novels. When I saw her at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, she repeated a rhyme that she recited as a professor, one she used to get the attention of the sleepy football players taking her science class. Let’s just say that the rhyme had to do with contraception practices from centuries ago: a man would “use a sock to wrap around his…” Well, I’ll let you fill in the rest yourself. And before you get on me about being PG-13, I’ll remind you that Diana said it, not me. *smile*


Here are some other things that I learned about Diana Gabaldon.

  • About her background: She is a scientist, by education and by trade. She has three science degrees, including one in zoology. Makes sense when one thinks of the technical care that she gives to the medical and botanical topics in her Outlander series.
  • About writing before she was a novelist: She wrote Walt Disney comic books “on the side” for about 18 months.
  • About the concept of not having enough time to write: She wrote a book while raising three children under the age of six. “If you have 10 minutes a day and do that (write) every day, by the end of a year, you’ll have a book.”
  • About her writing process: “I don’t write in a straight line. I write while things are happening.” She jots down scenes that come to her mind as they unfold, even if they’re “out of order.”
  • About writing historical fiction: She researches and writes concurrently. And if she reads an interesting historical fact, she’ll make a side note of it and see about weaving it into her manuscript later.
  • About the hit show Outlander: “They listen to about 90% of what I say.” She is a consultant for the series, which she recognizes is a rare situation for an author. She also noted her appreciation for the fact that they take heed of her opinions. When they don’t take her advice, it’s usually because of logistical reasons.
  • About the character Jamie: She was watching an episode of the TV show Dr. Who one day when “a nice-looking Scotsman” from 1745 “showed up in a kilt.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how James Fraser came to be. 20161024_124000
  • About why she finds a man in a kilt so appealing: “It’s the idea that you could be up against the wall in a minute.” Well, well, well—no additional commentary needed.
  • About writers block: “Keep putting words on paper.” Work on something else, other than your main work-in-progress. Eventually, “you’ll get unstuck.” She claims to have worked on 3, 4, 5, 6 projects at a time.
  • About killing off a character: “I don’t plan to kill people; they die.” She specifically mentioned one of her Outlander-series characters who she wouldn’t have imagined dying, until she heard his neck snap. Ouch!
  • About the 9th book: She hinted that it takes place in North Carolina, and it involves beekeeping. Is her character Claire the beekeeper? It’s anyone’s guess, because she gave no more hints than that.
  • About her husband: She met him in the French Horn section of the Arizona Marching Band. They’ve been married 45 years. I personally don’t see how that’s possible, unless she married him in kindergarten.

Do you have any other fun things to share about Diana Gabaldon?

Also while at the National Book Festival, I learned 10 things about David McCullough.


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10 Things to Know About David McCullough

David McCullough is downright huggable. He’s whip-sharp with a clever wit and a memory longer than Michael Phelps’ wingspan. And he’s an incredible writer, storyteller and historian. But it’s all of that plus his affable personality and charm that make him downright huggable. There’s something about him that makes you wish he were your grandfather or uncle. If he were your next-door neighbor, you’d shovel his driveway or save his newspapers from a heavy rain. I imagine toddlers gravitating toward his knee and mouthing, “Up, up.” There’s just something about him.

20170902_102112I attended the National Book Festival on September 2 in Washington, DC, where he talked about his books and writing process. Here are 10 things to know about David McCullough.

  • About writing: “I’m not a writer, I’m a rewriter.” He mentioned how important it is to write and cut back, write and rewrite.
  • About how many pages he writes per day: “It used to be four pages per day. Now, it’s two pages per day.”dung-anh-64706
  • About how he writes: “I am proud to say that I work on a manual typewriter.” It’s by Royal, and he paid 75 bucks for it at a second-hand store. He’s written everything on it over the last 50 years. And get this: it’s never broken.
  • About women at work: “Some of the best people I worked with were women.” He briefly spoke about the challenges women face–like working harder for less pay than men.
  • About writing The Johnstown Flood: “I wrote it at night and on the weekends while working full-time.” He left his job to write The Great Bridge, the Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • About writing The Great Bridge: “I wanted a symbol of affirmation.” After the big success of his book Johnstown Flood, he had been approached to write about other American disasters. He turned those opportunities down, as not to be coined a bearer of bad news.
  • If he could invite a non-living president to dinner, it would be: “John Adams.”
  • About perseverance: “My favorite people are the ones who don’t give up.” He cited Harry Truman and George Washington among that group.
  • Did you know? He has 55 honorary degrees.
  • In case you were wondering, his next book is due to be published in 2019.

Any other great tidbits about the incredible David McCullough that you’d like to share?

You can read more about McCullough and other speakers from the festival at The Washington Post. Their article just won’t include words like “huggable.”

Photo by Henri Meilhac on Unsplash