Commas are a Fireable Offense

I graduated with a professional writing degree in 2006, and while I’ve had odd jobs here and there involving writing, editing and proofreading, I couldn’t land a steady writing job because of lack of professional experience. I finally found an opportunity and was hired as a blogging content associate for an adult novelties website. I put in my notice at my full time position, where I had just been promoted, for this part time position.

I was excited and proud of myself. Very proud. I’m never proud of myself. I’m an insecure, self conscious person who will always find fault with everything I do, but to get this job? I was so proud and happy. It finally happened! I knew I could do this job. In the beginning I actually considered declining the position because I know I can write better than what I’d seen on their website. I knew I would have to dumb down my writing and learn their writing style. It may have taken me years to find my own writing style but I was confident that I could set it aside to write the way they wanted me to. And this was a writing opportunity.

From the beginning, they told me they liked my writing. I started on November 10th, and was told that there was no formal training. They never trained for the position before as it was new, and all they wanted me to do was my best.

As I was filling out my paperwork I asked about time off for Christmas so I could visit my family in another state and meet my nephew. I told them if I couldn’t have the time, I would understand. But I have a cruise in February, and that I would at least need those dates. My first manager (let’s call her J) told me it should be fine. My second manager (we’ll call her A) told me they have black out dates from Black Friday to Valentines day. J again told me that hardly anyone took off the time, and that the dates I needed they weren’t especially busy on anyway.

Then I was called in to see the co owner of the company, who was very harsh and criticizing, and told me if they knew I needed these dates, they would have gone in another direction. I was begrudgingly given the dates, but it was made very clear they would not tolerate me asking for time off again well.

That didn’t make me feel good. Hello bad first impression! But they never told me about black out dates when I was interviewing and I had asked questions that should have led them to tell me about these dates. I could have told them about the dates I needed off, but I decided it was in my best interest not to.

I pushed past this little speed bump and got to work on my first assignment. A had told me to send her anything after I had finished it, and that she would look it over and let me know if anything needed changing.

Every day that week I was told I was doing a good job. At one point, A told me I was writing exactly the way they wanted me to. One of the biggest problems in the beginning was that they wanted me to show personality. Their idea of showing personality was using several exclamation points!

I was talking to some of the girls, getting to know everyone, and things seemed really great. I wasn’t worried. I was invited to a night out on the 20th and strove to become a part of the team.

November 17th I had a meeting with the other blogger and A. They were going to put up several websites and write four articles per site and needed content. I spoke up in the meeting and gave some ideas. I was then given one of the articles to write. It needed to be different from everything else I was writing but they would not give me any examples.

It was time to fly blind and do my best! And I did. It wasn’t good enough because I needed to dumb down my writing a lot. I had to write for, as they put it, ‘Very stupid people who don’t know anything’.

I was taught how to write fake five star reviews, and given the task of writing reviews for one of their products. These were quickly approved by A who also changed the dates (some back to 2013) and put up on the website. I felt a little weird about it, but it was my job, so to have a little extra fun with it I put in the first names of some of my friends as the reviewers.

On November 19th A called me in to her office and told me the writing wasn’t bad, it just needed to be extended and specifics needed to be given for really, really stupid people. Otherwise, she told me, I was doing great. She was proud of my work and I had come much further than most do in a week and a half.

A little discouraged, but over all feeling good about the positive feedback I received, I fixed it up.

On the morning on November 20th I was called into A’s office, where she took all my writing and gave it to me, marked with notes. This one was too ‘salesy’, that one needed to be rewritten. These were all writings I had been told were perfect or great, and had already formatted into their system to get ready to publish on the blog.

She also had a problem with my commas. I use a lot, I know I do. It’s something I’ve worked on for a while to try to cut down on. All writers have that thing they over do. She told me that when she gets my writing, it needs to be perfect. She shouldn’t have to fix anything at all, which was news to me. I was under the impression, because she had told me in the beginning, that it was okay to show her my work and that she would let me know what needed fixing. Being brand new, I expected more training, or to sit down with someone, but I didn’t get that.

Then she really hit home with, “You need to go home this weekend and think if this is the kind of job you can do. Talk to your boyfriend and see what he thinks. We’ll talk about it again on Monday. But really think hard about if this is a job you can do.”

Confused and feeling like I had been beaten over the head with a brick, I went over everything and fixed what needed fixing. I rewrote what she wanted rewritten which in some cases was only a sentence in an entire article. In others, it was a paragraph. But it wasn’t a lot, over all. In the grand scheme of things, it was a sentence here, a paragraph there, but never something that needed to be completely redone.

I fixed things she didn’t even tell me to fix. I rewrote paragraphs, I cut down on my commas. I changed any words that said ‘can’ to ‘will’ or another word that would make me sound more certain in my writing. I went to her with my changes on the 21st and sat down to tell her I could do the job. That I was very surprised with what she said since up to that point she told me I was doing good. I was blindsided, but capable.

She told me to keep thinking about if it was a job I could do through the weekend and that we would talk about it again Monday. She was happy I thought about what we talked about, but I needed to think about it more. By now I knew something weird was going on. I felt like I was screwed no matter what I did. The entire time I worked there it felt surreal to begin with. Now all of a sudden I was doing very bad, and I didn’t understand what, or why, or how. I was given a ton of positive feedback. I was told some of the writing was perfect! Then given that same writing to change one sentence and told it wasn’t good enough less than a week later.

I showed some friends my writing and gave them the blog to look at the writing that was already on there. I didn’t understand the ‘salesy’ comment. I had friends tell me that what I wrote read along the lines of what was in other published blogs. One said they would like to see more commas and less exclamation points. But these were things I was told explicitly to fix, so I simply made sure the flow was okay.

On Monday the 24th I tried to talk to A. She told me she would talk to me after lunch, but was in meetings most of the day and unaccessible. She ignored me for the most part.

Tuesday the 25th I walked in and was met by both of my managers, who pulled me into an office. I knew what was going to happen. They both looked terrified and extremely uncomfortable.

J told me I was really sweet and nice but it wasn’t going to work out and gave me a bunch of paperwork to fill out.

I sat in shocked silence while they watched me fill out paperwork. When I was done I handed it back over, and J asked me if I had any questions.

My question was, “Why?”

J remarked, “That’s a really good question.” Then looked over to A.

A said something along the lines of, “We can’t use your writing and you use too many commas.”

I didn’t even know what to say. A walked out of the office and J asked me to grab a time sheet to fill out and bring back to her. When I did it was just me and her and she shut the door and blathered on. “I know you had asked why. Well, you just use too many commas. And A had given you things to correct and when you handed them back there were no changes at all.”

That made me a little furious, because I worked very hard on making changes and completely rewrote enough that it was clear to me what I handed in wasn’t even read. They had made a decision on the Thursday I was called in. They had feigned giving me a chance.

After what she said, I couldn’t even say anything. I do not do well with conformation. When I’m put on the spot, I go blank. I already knew there was nothing I could do. So I handed over the paper, grabbed my purse and jacket and left. I was so numb I completely forgot to grab all of my things.

My boyfriend was the first to get a text from me. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I was embarrassed. All this time I spent trying to get a writing job, and it’s gone in two weeks. I tried to work out what went wrong. What I had done wrong. What happened? Then I opened up to close friends. I spoke to my parents who own a business, to try to get some perspective. And the more people I talked to, the more I realized I was pushed out.

One theory is they were not happy I asked for time off, and decided to get rid of me because of it. But they couldn’t fire me for that, so they had to come up with a reason.

Another theory is that they expected something out of me but never told me what it was they expected. Since I am not a mind reader and had no formal training and no one to actually guide me, I faltered and didn’t even know it.

I know it’s not my fault I lost this job. I did everything I possibly could and tried my hardest to please people who wouldn’t tell me how to please them. I now see the company for what it is: sketchy.

Above all, I remind myself over and over that I am a good writer. If there is one thing I’ve always been confident about myself in, it is that I can write. They can’t take that from me. They did a horrible thing to me, and threw me through emotional hell so I wouldn’t catch on in time.

So there’s the story of what happened to me at TooTimid / Atlantic Innovations / Three or more other names they go by. I believe they hired my replacement before they fired me, but I’ve recently found them advertising for the job again. This definitely helps me feel better, and more like they just don’t tell their employees what they want out of them.