Quick back story here. If you remember that I left the law once before, and find my recent announcement of becoming a newly minted full-time author confusing, that’s because I did and it is. About three years ago I left the law but it was partly/mostly because I had baby twins. I really hadn’t thought it all through, I just figured, “hey, this hobby/side-business is actually making real money. My life is insane right now and it would be great to have more flexibility and time with the kids. Maybe I should just do the writing thing part time for a bit and see what happens.” After about a year and half I decided to go back to the law. You can read about THAT decision in a blog post coming soon. Fast forward ANOTHER year and half and I’m now going back to writing, this time full time with the twins in preschool. Here are the reasons why:
1. I missed writing!
Before kids, I had time to do the lawyering and writing. After kids, well, there’s just not enough time in the day to have it all. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who only need two hours of sleep. Such people do actually exist, by the way. I googled it and 3-4% of the population have a gene that allows them to function normally long term on less than five hours a night. I’ve tried being one of those people but genetics are against me. 9 or 10 hours is more my style. So yeah, parenting twins, lawyering, and writing simply don’t fit into a single day. We like to actually get outside and away from our computers and stuff too.
My prior legal jobs had been judicial clerkships – I worked for an appellate judge and then a federal judge. These jobs are great with regular hours and significantly less stress than having caseloads and clients. When I returned, I was actually practicing law, which is really a different job than clerking. Even without taking the sheer number of hours into account, the amount of stress and brain power required to practice law isn’t conducive to creative effort, at least not for me.
All that said, practicing law didn’t leave me with the time or the energy to write, and I missed it. A lot. I know this is totally cheesy but it actually felt a little like a piece of me was unfulfilled. I kept thinking the desire to write would dwindle away as I got more engrossed in my legal career. The opposite happened. It got stronger, and it wouldn’t shut up. To the point where I found myself writing myself emails at work with stories. Totally unprofessional, but there you go. I knew it was time to make time for writing.
2. Confrontation is not my thing.
I'm far from a lawyer hater or law-career hater. I think it's an incredible profession with a ton of really smart, ethical, interesting people. Yes, not everyone is all that great just like anywhere, and yes, certain legal jobs and things about working as a lawyer are far from ideal, but that's like any other career path as well. I love helping people, solving problems, putting together the pieces of a puzzle and creating a story, working with colleagues and clients to devise strategies and searching through evidence and law for the best points to argue a position. The thing that was hard for me that I wasn’t sure I would ever get past was the fundamentally adversarial nature of the law.
As I said, my first two jobs as a lawyer were called judicial clerkships - basically I worked for two different judges in "behind the scenes" roles where I got to see both sides of a case and make decisions about it. Much like with my internships during law school, I was primarily watching other people fight and deciding who was winning or losing and why and then explaining my decision in writing. The clerkships are meant as additional grooming opportunities for aspiring trial attorneys, and since I liked those jobs, I assumed I would love actually being a trial attorney.
I had no idea how much I disliked confrontation and conflict until I was actually practicing law and in the thick of it. Now, I'm not a wallflower incapable of stating my mind or standing up for my clients when necessary, not at all. In school growing up I was probably that kid who had too many opinions and was overly eager to participate and discuss everything. No, the problem is that fighting with people makes me feel awful. I have a visceral reaction whenever I have to make a confrontational phone call or write a particularly argumentative and assertive letter. As I gained more experience, I thought that this would get better, that I could develop my own style and be a "nice litigator." As long as I was professional and diplomatic, people would act the same way back to me, right? Uh, no. Plus, clients assume you are weak if you are too nice.
It's hard to really thrive in a career where the underlying nature of what you do makes you highly uncomfortable (I had in there "makes you want to throw up" but thought it was a little too dramatic, despite its accuracy). Sure, there are areas of law that are less adversarial, and I dabbled in those areas to see if I might enjoy going in that direction. Unfortunately, I'm a creative people-person and litigation - for non-lawyers, that's the part of law where people are fighting - continued to be by far the most interesting and appealing to me. So I kept trying to toughen up and let the meanies roll off of me. The litigators I admire can laugh about an overly aggressive attorney. Apparently, I'm far too sensitive because the bullies kind of make me want to cry, embarrassing as that is to admit. As an extrovert, I don't know that writing books will provide me with enough meaningful people interaction in the long run - say 10, 20, or 30 years from now - but I know for sure that there won't be conflict involved, or at least, not outside of my fictional worlds.
3. I like my freedom.
I always thought I liked the idea of structure, set working hours, routines. My husband called me out on this. I'm more of a free spirit than I realized. I like to do things on my terms. I'm self-motivated and know the work will get done and I don't need anyone strapping me to a desk for certain hours of the day in order to do it. Sometimes, I could probably benefit from that when the inspiration hasn't hit in a long time, but for the most part, having a flexible schedule brings out the best work and best attitude from me. Now, with the billable hour, practicing law actually provides more flexibility than most jobs. As long as you bill time, when you bill it isn't as important. Of course, you're expected to be available and accountable during regular working hours and have meetings and court appearances and things like that, but unlike say, jobs in the medical field with rigid hours, you can sneak out for a doctor's appointment or quick errand and just make up the time later. Still, once I'd tasted total autonomy during that initial break from the law, answering to no one except myself, I knew what I was missing. Especially as a mom, that autonomy is amazing. My kids get sick, and yes it turns my writing schedule upside down while I stay home with them, but there are no clients or colleagues affected, just me, and that makes it way easier.
4. My fans - people still wanted me to write!
The notion continues to shock me. Seriously. How are these thoughts and characters and stories in my head that come out through my fingertips actually becoming a product that people are begging me to give them? I wonder if it will always boggle my mind. I'm so in awe of the concept that I didn’t want to let my readers down by not writing another book. I still don’t. In Stephen King’s Memoir, On Writing, he talks about writing for the “ideal reader” which is supposed to be a single person. All writers have this person in mind when they write, he explains. For me, my ideal reader isn’t one person. It’s my entire fan base. I imagine this might cause some problems at some point, but in general I try to write what I think my fans will like – what will entertain, move, touch them, or make them laugh, smile or cry.
I was watching the 2016 winter Olympics when I realized, oh, this would be a great time to promote my ski racing series! I hadn’t been on social media for my author business stuff in forever. I was still trying to stay focused on my legal work, and somewhat in denial that the urge to keep writing stories wasn’t going away anytime soon. Anyway, I login and see some new messages, all asking me what I’m working on, begging me to write something again, some telling me why my characters or stories mattered to them. I’ve had people tell me that my books motivated them to keep running when they are about to quit, and went on to qualify for nationals, or that they never liked reading and once they discovered my books, they turned into a book nerd, reading all time, or decided they wanted to become a writer. These are the kinds of messages that make me want to write more. It’s so much more than positive affirmation – because book sales will give me that. It’s the personal connection, knowing that what sometimes seems like an exercise disconnected from the real world is actually making a difference on an individual level. Like I said, I’m an extrovert, and knowing that my words connect with people on more than just a superficial level, that is really special to me.
5. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Speaking of the importance of giving a shout out to a book that has moved you, Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, a memoir on writing and life, was one of those books that did that for me. I’d read it for the first time when I was in middle or high school I think, and I’d forgotten about it. A friend had given me a copy recently, and I started to re-read it. First, just reading it reminded me that I’d always been interested in being a career author, a “real” fiction writer. People talk about following your passion, and I guess I’d always scoffed a little at that. Who can really make any money following their passion? And doesn’t it take all the fun out of it if you’re doing it for money? I thought I’d just stumbled into writing books, that it was all kind of a fluke and a weird phenomenon that it was making money. I needed to be reminded that I’d read Bird by Bird as a kid because even then, I dreamed of writing fiction that people actually read. Imagine that. I’d done it!
Now, Anne Lamott and I have pretty different backgrounds in some ways, but I totally identified with the underlying messages in that book. And also, it helped me see that writing stories matters. Messages from fans aside, writing is important. I can’t explain it like she can, so just read the book, but basically, it made me see that writing is a legitimate career choice, a legitimate thing to spend time doing and make sacrifices for, even if you can barely scrape by and it feels pointless, but especially if you actually earn a living at it. I hadn’t really believed that until I read her book. I guess I thought that compared to my “real” career choice of the law, writing stories that appeal on a commercial basis to large groups of readers, well, that’s not a real valuable thing to society, is it? Even asking that question now as I write it sounds crazy. All kinds of people have all kinds of weird random jobs that may not always seem valuable to society at every moment, maybe they never do! So why was it so hard for me to accept that writing books is valuable? I dunno, but reading Bird by Bird somehow made me see it. And once I did, the decision was no longer a hard one. It was staring me right in the face, saying DUH! Go write. Just. Go. Write! So, here I am, writing.