On what I learned during Acts 2 through 5

If you’ve been following along at all, you’ll have noticed that a few years ago, I stopped doing as much freelance writing (Act 1) and started focusing on other aspects of my career (Acts 2 through 5). You’ll also have noticed that earlier this year I went back to focusing on freelance writing (Act 6. Or possibly Act 1 redux).

I wanted to talk a little about this. I have a lot of friends who are mid-career and feel stuck. They talk about reinvention but don’t really know what that means or how to do it. I suppose it means something different to everyone and how it can be done also differs. But for me, the process went something like this:

“I have done pretty much what I wanted to do in my writing career and now I would like to do something different. And possibly make more money.”

I’m not particularly a money-motivated person but when it’s your job to keep the lights on and the wolves at bay, it does factor in to decision-making.

So I explored other jobs that had always interested me. I tried out being a literary agent, something I had always thought I would be good at. I enjoyed it, had some small success, but found that it was not what I was looking for. It was all the worst aspects of freelancing, with author management thrown in. There was also not enough money in it.

What was interesting about this job was that I had never believed that I could be hired by a literary agency without moving to New York. And yet when I decided that I wanted to try it out — and by that I mean I seriously pursued the idea — an opportunity opened up. It’s amazing to me how often our beliefs (“people who live in small midwestern towns can’t be literary agents”) are untrue and yet we never test them.

Moral of the story: Don’t believe everything you believe.

Next, I took a developmental editing job to pay the bills. I decided that I didn’t care if my day job was something I loved. It just needed to be flexible, so that I could be with my daughter when she needed me (most of you know Jess spends a lot of time in the hospital), it needed to be something I could do from home, and it needed to pay well. I divorced the work from the idea that I needed to get all kinds of personal fulfillment from it. I met a number of financial goals doing this (paid off those pesky student loans!). I learned a lot that I use in mentoring and coaching writers.

The developmental editing job led to a chance for me to explore something else I had always wanted to do – acquisitions editing. (See above about beliefs — when I was younger, it never occurred to me that someone would hire me to do acquisitions editing outside of NYC). I did that job for a while, again learned a lot, but found it was not that different from agenting, and made another change — back to freelance writing.

I’m glad I had the chance to try out jobs I had always wanted to try out. And I don’t feel bad that it turns out that they were not for me. I gave them my best effort, and I learned something. Most of all, having a chance to do things I’d always wanted to do gave me insight into the fact that I wasn’t missing out on anything.

Yes, acquisitions editing has its moments of bliss. So did unloading trucks for a living. There wasn’t some amazing, magical job that would make me happy all the time. Actually doing the jobs I’d thought I’d love showed me that they were … just jobs. That’s what jobs are.

Sometimes it’s good to find out that the grass only looks greener. Returning to my work as a freelance writer has been more fulfilling and rewarding because I am doing it more contentedly now.

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