Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Next Fedora: On Writing As A Second Career

The sun is sinking low over another workday in Rotunda Town, the air so humid you’d be thankful for Marlowe’s infamous Santa Ana wind, when it hits you. You’re staring down the barrel of a half-century’s tenure on the planet. With no backup. No ammunition and no prospects standing between you and the end of the fun house. Life has boiled down to a scratched DVD of The Office skipping on permanent rerun interspersed with the occasional eight AM city road rage.

Take heart.

Millions of your compadres are discovering another lease on life. They even have a nifty buzzword for it these days: “Encore Career.” While you may be feeling that your first career is hardly deserving of an encore, don’t let that distract you. Get on with plans for whatever you’re supposed to be getting on to.

And for many of us, what better endeavor might that be than getting in touch with our own latent literary talents? After all, what poor part-time scribbler with years full of journals, stories, or just ideas, hasn’t dreamed about making the leap to the promised land of commercial publication, there to discover fame and riches not to mention critical adulation? The very notion conjures up visions of peace, contentment, and relaxation, interrupted only on occasion by inspiring bits of work far removed from the nine-to-five variety.

Get a grip.

Writing for publication is a job. It can be an exciting and rewarding job, full of variety and even the occasional inspiration, but unless the would-be career changer is willing to fall in love with the work of writing itself the most likely prognosis is for great disappointment if not downright disillusionment.

If you’re serious about pursuing a second career in writing, you’ll need to make an honest assessment of your abilities and prospects and detailed plans for enhancing both. You’ll need to spend some serious time researching your options. Do you go for a job in journalism, for example, or do you freelance? Will you write articles, essays, or short stories? Non-fiction or fiction? Books or shorter works? What about poetry? Can you afford to live with an inconsistent source of income? The answers to each of these questions will determine, in great part, how your writing career develops.

My advice? Figure out where your passion lies. Weighed down with years of training, maybe even prestigious degrees in your first career, you may be tempted to want to piggy back on your previous years of experience. Indeed, in some cases this might be a wise choice. But a better question might be: What do you love to read for pleasure? If you choose to right in the same field or genre(s) you read in your spare time then your chances of developing a fulfilling career will be much higher.

I was lucky—my own mid-life dream of being a writer bloomed about ten years early, but even then it took me a while to find my particular voice, a discovery I finally made by asking myself the above question and realizing how much I enjoyed reading crime fiction and especially private eye novels.

The classic Bogey-style fedora has long been recognized as a symbol of the PI genre. But I also remember my father, an engineer industrialist sportin
g one back in the nineteen sixties. The fedora didn’t signify anything so romantic as the mythical midnight detective for me then. I associated the hat with my father going off to work each morning, day after day after day. Writing is like that: A blast, for sure, but for most of us, also a lot of plain hard work.

What will be your next fedora?

You say you want to write. The shingle is hung and the office door lies open. I’ll leave a light on for you.

(The next novel in the Shamus award-winning Frank Pavlieck series, Kitty Hitter, will be released in August.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice! And I love the fedora.