When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?
To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.
My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.
When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.
Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.
I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!”
And then to be able to change on a dime and write something for one executive (in their voice) closely followed by another piece for another executive, I truly felt like I could become a “literary chameleon”.
There were also those times when some products were hard to write, like a message to deliver disappointing news or a message to take something complex and making it sound simple without missing a critical detail. Those were the times that I tapped into what I felt were fine architectural or engineering skills that were needed to build the right message. The successful completion of those products was the reward in itself.
The work days that consisted of mostly writing or editing, I’d finish more energetic than when I started. It was very much the same feeling after completing a long composition or an essay in school. Writing is that one thing that energizes me, the more that I do it.
But more than that, I think my 33 years working in the corporate world was truly the best training for what I hope will become a second career in the creative writing field. Some of what I learned in corporate writing does indeed translate to creative writing:
– I realize that even the best ideas need time to refine and develop, and I have the patience to ride it out until the story is just right.
– Working on a piece that doesn’t come to fruition immediately doesn’t bother me. I know when to keep working and when to take a break.
– The best of ideas come to fruition (i.e., publication) when they are meant to be. No amount of pushing can accelerate them or make a square peg fit in a round hole. I am comfortable with writing a story and leaving it on my hard drive until the timing is right.
– I can write quickly and effectively under tight timelines, but my preference leans toward planning out my work and writing steadily in consistent iterations.
And then the things I learned on my own along the way include:
– I found out that a blank page doesn’t scare me. Writing is that one thing I can do that doesn’t fall into a trap of analysis paralysis (anymore).
– I don’t write with the intent to become rich and famous, I write out of a yearning to tell stories not told before or in a voice not heard before.
– I accept that not every story will appeal to everyone.
– I accept that I still have a lot to learn.
– Over the course of seven years and almost 400 blog posts (which would be equivalent to four or five novels), my interest in writing doesn’t seem to be wavering. If anything, it keeps getting stronger.
– As I witnessed with this blog, making a connection with a total stranger who says “hey, something like that happened to me as well. I know what you mean” is a delight for me.
– I have more than one story within me, so if not story A, or story B, maybe stories C, D or E will get out of the gate first. For that reason, I don’t really fear rejection letters. To me, they just mean “not this one”, “not for me, thanks” or “not now”.
– In reading autobiographies of authors and playwrights, I have come to accept that change is inevitable between the first submitted draft and the final product. If an editor suggests cutting or changing some parts that don’t advance the story (if I hadn’t realized it myself by then) I wouldn’t take it personally. Even in movies, some material ends up on the cutting room floor and that is just a fact of life.
– I don’t know how to shut off the “ideas generating” module in the back of my mind, and thankfully I took notes along the way which is why I have so many journals, sketch pads and index cards of ideas.
I don’t think it was an accident that many of my work assignments over my career required me to write as much as I did and have me working with some outstanding mentors and coaches, for whom I will always be so very grateful.
When you take all of those factors into consideration, those were the moments which contributed to my knowing for sure that writing was my passion and my calling.
In a nutshell, I think it would be fair to say that I didn’t choose to write. It chose me. That is what I know for sure!
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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,