I've come a long way from sitting behind a desk in a newsroom in New York utterly bewildered as to how I was going to write my first assignment for my new job as reporter with the Irish Voice.
I remember the assignment like it was yesterday. The Saturday before my job officially began I was asked to attend a fundraiser happening in downtown Manhattan, a fundraiser to try and save an old Irish church build by famine immigrants, St. Brigid's. I interviewed some of the people involved - well, I asked them a few senseless questions -- wrote down my answers on my freshly purchased spiral reporter's note book (I had to look and feel the part) and reported for duty the following Monday at the Irish Voice offices.
This was September 2005. Could it be that long?
I had my first meeting with Irish Voice publisher Niall O'Dowd and my editor Debbie McGoldrick. They made me feel extremely welcome and put me at ease immediately.
They said take it step by step. "Write this one piece, we will edit it and you can go from there."
So down I sat in the middle of a busy newsroom with a small desk, a computer, my newbie reporter's notebook and I began.
I laugh now when I think back to that day. I never had any professional training as a journalist so I had a lot to learn, and still do if I'm being honest.
Niall told me to write what I see, report the facts and Debbie advised me to do some background research on the St. Brigid's situation. I followed my orders and for the following 10 hours I sat in front of a computer trailing through pages of information, googling how to write a news article, pulling bits and pieces together and referring to a thesaurus for better English words.
When home time crept up I said goodbye to the regular staff and stayed on to try and finish. I couldn't. I went home that evening to my then boyfriend and now husband, John, and cried.
"I'm not cut out for this," I squealed. "I don't know how to write."
"It's only your first day. It's like the first on any job, it's going to get better," shared John in an attempt to comfort me.
It didn't make me feel any better. I couldn't sleep that night and questioned if I was crazy giving up my good earning waitressing job at Eileen's Country Kitchen for something I wouldn't be very good at (although I was far from a good waitress either).
I was up at the crack of dawn the next morning trying to see if I could get a head start before I went into the office. Deadline day was and still is Tuesday in the Irish Voice offices, so I knew time was holding me hostage.
Trying to look cool and confident (but panicking inside), I arrived into my new job. Everyone was doing their own thing. I took my seat, pulled out the barely used reporter's notebook and started again.
And John was right. It was easier the second day. I began to enjoy the pressure of the clock and have since learned I work best under pressure.
It may have taken me right up until the deadline clock struck (and Debbie checking in with me every now and then to see how I was getting on) for my submission but I did it. I sent it for editing and there it was on a Wednesday morning, my name in print in the Irish Voice. A paper I bought religiously since moving to New York two years previous.
I'd be lying if I didn't say I got a buzz from it. I was floating high and I couldn't wait to walk around Woodlawn to see if anyone had read my well-researched piece.
A few had and it felt good to be acknowledged for it. Who am I kidding? It felt great!
Well, they kept me on after the piece on St. Brigid's, and as the weeks progressed I was given more assignments. And before I left the Irish Voice for Ireland last year I was submitting anything from three to seven stories a week -- each of them in under an hour or less.
It's like any job . You get used to it, you learn how to do it and you get on with it. You have to. I fell madly in love with the job and to this day I still love writing and reporting.
I had a few hairy moments naturally, a few fantastic moments and a few very memorable ones.
The hard articles to write were usually when there was a sick child involved. I often met with the family or the children themselves, interviewed them and subsequently told their story. Some kids made it, others died after.
I also remember covering a murder-suicide story in New Jersey about nine months into the job. It was one of the toughest assignments I ever had. An Irish father (married to an American woman) strangled his two children and hung himself in his home in a quiet town.
I was sent to the scene to interview neighbors and friends - a very hard thing to do, to be so intrusive at such a horrible time. Days later I attended the funeral of the two children and it was the most difficult and emotive piece I've ever written to this day (aside from some personal articles I suppose).
My story was picked up by Irish papers and ran on the front of the Irish Independent and The Sunday Business Post that week.