In January 2016, seven months after self-publishing my first novella, The Friday Night Date Dress, I arrived at the realization that I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up—a career writer.
I had dreams of earning my income from making up worlds in my mind and living in them for hours every day, taking research trips to dream locations as a tax write-off, sharing things with the world that would make it a better place, and getting paid to write for other people. (Though that last one seemed a little bit hard to imagine at the time, I decided I’d try).
Four books and fifty months later, I have either achieved all those goals (yes, people pay me to write now!) or am well on my way (the novels don’t yet pay for themselves, let alone trips to prime research locations, but we’re getting there).
However, I have also been blessed with a list of unexpected benefits, the ones no one would put on a list of “reasons to be a writer.” As I was pondering what to blog about this week (and how to work in the promised story about landing in the mud), I realized that I am just as grateful for these intangible perks as the ones that might eventually go on my Wikipedia page.
I just want to take a moment and record them for posterity.
Greater Boldness and Confidence
Five months after making that life-changing decision to pursue a career as a professional writer, I took a risk: I called a local magazine and asked for a job.
And was blown away when they gave it to me.
I had a trial by fire with my first several assignments, the first of which was to interview local first responders at an event honouring them and their service. I spoke to lots of people with uniforms and badges, learned their names, and put their phone numbers into my contacts.
A couple of weeks later, when I realized that I needed to research police procedures that I could not easily find answers for on the Internet for Finding Heaven, I took another risk and called the police chief—because I knew his name and knew he would remember me.
I didn’t know if he’d have time to help me, but I figured the worst that could happen is he’d say no.
As it turned out, he made time, pointing me toward the people I needed to interview (who also willingly donated their time to help) to learn what I needed to know.
At the time, I knew I would never have made that phone call to the police station if I hadn’t met the police chief two weeks before. And I never would have talked to all those people in uniforms at Tim Hortons that day if it hadn’t been my job to do so. Everyone I talked to was totally approachable and nice, but I wouldn’t have had the confidence to ask them for help if I hadn’t been put in a situation to find that out, thanks to my new writing job.
Now, I’ve talked to all kinds of people for my job as a journalist (and I even now own the title of “journalist,” which seemed way too pretentious and reaching for at least two years), including government representatives and officials, corporate CEOs, famous public personalities and celebrities, local heroes, and more. I am so grateful that I have been able to do this. But more than that, having done this, there are far fewer people who intimidate me now, and that number shrinks all the time.
And when I need to call someone and ask them a question for research now, I just do. (For example, I called a bird sanctuary this spring to find out the best way to biometrically tag dragons. That was a fun day for everyone involved. And yes, they helped me figure it out.)
As I just mentioned, I know way more people now than I did three years ago, thanks to my writing. But quite apart from people I’ve interviewed, I have met some truly amazing people in the writing community. I still shake my head in disbelief at times that I now call so many talented editors, agents, and authors my friends, peers, and even clients. I am astounded at the creativity, energy, and support I receive from both real-life and online friends in the writing community every day. I love the people. There aren’t many careers where you can say that.
Greater Self- and Other-Awareness
It’s often said that writing is therapeutic. In my opinion, when it comes to fiction, this is owing not only to exploring your own traumas through your work, but having to empathize with the perpetrators of those traumas to understand the motivations of your characters who commit them.
While writing, I have explored depths of my own soul that I may not have dared look at for years otherwise. I grieved my son while writing Finding Heaven, and uncovered some of my own wounds while learning about my character’s wounds.
This process of discovery is similar with every character I write. For instance, even though the heroine of The Undine’s Tear is not much like me, we both have control issues. That’s something I can draw on to write her.
With every character, I have to dive deep to figure out what makes them tick, both the good and the bad. This not only helps me understand what my own limits are, but gives me more grace when dealing with others. I’m less uptight now, and this has made me a happier person.
(I’m still uptight enough to recognize that I’ve got a long way to go, though. Thank goodness I intend to write many more books. I’ll have plenty of material to draw from, lol.)
Finding Surprise Bucket List Items
I get these from what I research. For instance, I now want to skydive, learn aikido, and travel to places in the world I’d never heard of before I became a writer.
Maybe I would have found these things anyway.
But probably not.
Landing in Unexpected Situations
And here’s where I finally get to the mud story.
As I mentioned in my first point, I will do things when I’m on a writing assignment that I would likely have avoided in my normal persona as plain ol’ me.
One of these situations happened not that long ago. This summer, I’ve been doing work for our local tourism association, Mighty Peace Tourism, as they prepare to relaunch their website. The work has involved writing itineraries and lists of fun things to do and see in the Peace Country.
Needless to say, it’s been a blast. (And yes, I’ve added a few more things to my “bucket list” because of learning more about the area in which I live.)
At the end of June, I was supposed to be revising an existing itinerary that involved travelling around to several lookout points around my hometown of Peace River. I had only ever been to one of them, and had never even heard of some of them.
I did the research online, but not all of them were easy to visualize from Google Maps. So, after going to my oldest son’s school awards ceremony one Friday afternoon, I decided to just drive the itinerary to check it out.
Just before I got to the last stop, the sky opened in a torrential downpour. I was wearing slippery, smooth-soled shoes.
The path leading to the lookout (Dr. Greene’s Cairn) was flat and had some gravel. But there had been two paths leading from the entrance, and the path by the cairn kept going down the hill and disappeared into the trees. I looked at it doubtfully. It looked steep, but I thought, “I need to know if this path eventually goes back around to the entrance so I can write about it.”
Are you seeing how the mud came in? I got about thirty feet before my butt met the hillside. I was already far enough down the hill that I knew there was no going back up, there was only onward. I ended up skidding down the hill like my shoes were water skis, protecting my camera by hugging it to my chest while I tried to maintain my balance with my other hand.
And yes, the path did end up curving back to the entrance. Thank goodness, or I’m not sure how I would have gotten back to my car!
Writing has made me bolder and braver and more curious. If I hadn’t been writing about the experience, I would have taken the safe route directly back to my car. Despite getting a little dirty, I’m so glad I didn’t take the “safe” route.
Here are the photographic rewards (and evidence!) of the adventure:
Wearing the Peace River Valley home
Did you know it’s hard to take a selfie of your butt?
Before I go, I wanted to post this here. I redesigned my promotional postcards for Finding Heaven last night, and am so thrilled with how these turned out.
I didn’t add “expanding skill sets” to the above list, but I am so thankful for the scrapbooking hobby I got into all those years ago that got me started on graphic design—I’m putting those skills to good use in marketing now! It’s fun, because I don’t do it often and it’s a nice creative break when I need something different to do.
I’m working on some other plans and fun things for my business that I hope to be able to share with you soon.
Oh! And I’ve started writing The Sphinx’s Heart. Woot!
Wherever you find yourself, I hope you are looking for the unexpected blessings from the path you have taken. Even if you end up in the mud, there’s usually something to be gained from it.
And if you have a story to share about an unexpected blessing, I’d love to hear it! Leave it in the comments below.