Guest post by Zena Shapter
Picture this: I was twenty-four, it was my first day working for a top London law firm, and I already knew I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.
I blame Tenerife. Two years prior, my housemate and I had flown to the Canary Islands for a long weekend. It was a long way to go just for a weekend and it felt decadent. So decadent, I wanted more… But how would an editorial assistant for a small Birmingham publishing company afford such decadence on a regular basis?
My housemate and I had both read English at the University of Birmingham, England. But unlike me, she’d continued at University for a further two years to convert to law. She was going to earn big bucks in London! The low pay of the publishing world wasn’t for her! Lazing on a sun lounger in Tenerife, I picked up one of her legal books – it didn’t look too hard. And so, I decided… I’d convert too!
Had I wanted to be a writer from the day I was born? Yes.
Did my writing stand out above others’ at school? Naturally.
Would I often stay up late writing poetry, dreaming up stories, and reading ferociously? Of course.
But I wanted to travel. And, with the money I earnt as a solicitor, I’ve now travelled to almost fifty countries.
Was I happy as a lawyer though? Hell, no.
My sensitive soul found the constant confrontations and simmering aggression that edged every legal transaction exhausting. Diligent and meticulous, I made an excellent solicitor. But I was soon expressing discontent through my writing… on the tube, on the train, at weekends, at nights…
When my boyfriend’s English visa ran out, I was only too happy to give up my newfound career and move to his home in Australia (through a few countries on the way of course). Friends and family convinced me to try working as a solicitor in Sydney before giving it up altogether. But just over a year working as an attorney in the city was enough to make me realise there was no getting away from it – writing was the only thing that would ever make me happy.
I was twenty-eight, it was my first day working back in the publishing world, and I knew – instantly – that I’d found home. Starting with copywriting, technical writing and editing, I soon published a volume of legal commentary through CCH Australia (see, Mum & Dad, my legal training didn’t go to waste!), then I won some fiction competitions and had some short stories published.
Of course I had much less money. I couldn’t travel like I once did. I had no secretary anymore (poor me!). But at least I was playing with words everyday. Bliss!
Looking back, I sometimes feel as if I wasted six years of my life – why did I ever think I could be happy as a lawyer when words were always so precious to me? But I make those six years drive me now, through all the pain and rejection that comes with being a writer. Getting my debut novel published is my next hurdle but I won’t stop until it is. I can’t. I sold my soul to the devil once already. I know what hell’s like now and I won’t go back there.
Of course I have low days, when I wonder what on Earth I’m doing, ripping open my heart and pouring its contents into stories, merely hoping to be read. But then I remember those six years, take a deep breath, and carry on. After all, I finally have the writing life I always wanted.
What about you – what have you changed about your life or sacrificed to get the writing lifestyle you want? We all know there are no short cuts; that the road to a successful writing career can take you down many wrong paths. But if you want it hard enough, surely all that matters is that want.
Your want will get you there in the end, right? So keep at it! I believe you can…