From Accountant to Novelist

April 19, 2009

I promised you a follow-up about why I decided to change focus from FLCW to fiction. It’s been building for a while, but there was one incident at the end of February that got me thinking.

A friend gave me a heads-up about an entrepreneur’s cocktail hour downtown. We got to the bar, tried the saurkraut’n’sausage balls (almost as good as they sound) and started talking to people. No, that’s a lie. I am not a natural saleswoman. Talking to new people is fairly scary, and it takes me about an hour to psych myself up for something like a networking event. I can do it, but it’s draining. That night I had not done it. I was feeling “out of it” and told myself that 90% of life is just showing up. That worked as far as it went; I did exchange business cards with someone who was looking for a web content writer. But I knew that I would have to ramp up my game if I really wanted to make events like that one work for my little business-to-be. Meanwhile, my friend spotted a real, live FLCW.

I watched her from my barstool. She was working the crowd,  smiling—but not too much, and exuding confidence in a way I could identify with. Some psyching up had taken place earlier that evening, I was sure of it. She was wearing what I would wear if I wanted to both stand out and look professional at a semi-casual event, and she looked a bit like me. Even her hair was of similar length, color, and style… and she was a FLCW. Clearly, I needed to learn more.

When I finally cornered her an hour later, I learned that she graduated about two years ahead of me, and that she had a polished (and strangely familiar) set of answers to my basic questions. I asked how she got started. She had read the same freelance business book I had read, and was following the plan its author laid out. The familiarity clicked: she had used one of his lines in her spiel. It occurred to me that I would probably have to do the same, and practice a spiel of my own. It had already occurred to me that I was looking at my future self.

The conversation was less bubbly from that point on. I had identified myself as competition, and a newcomer who was not in a position to toss overflow projects her way. I was thinking, I can do that. I can work this crowd, I can land those gigs, I can fake it and make it, and she was watching me think it. Sadly, she was all out of business cards. Too bad, maybe we’d meet up at a future event.

I can’t fault her. She’s working hard for something she wants, and the market gods are not smiling these days. If I had taken her path, I would be her, committed to the effort and proud of my success.

But I don’t want that job.

Another friend in another bar heard the news: I’m giving up on the freelance career. His comment: “It’s a lot of work.” Meaning: Running a business is tough; I understand you punking out.

My response was, “It’s all work.” Meaning: Thanks, dude; I’ll remind you of that when I’m on the fifth novel draft.

What I want is to live up to this idea I had when I was seven: that I can be a writer. Maybe even a novelist. It’s one idea that hasn’t gone away or gotten old.

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