I have a confession to make: I’m in a bit of a midcareer crisis. Or maybe crisis is a bit strong—examination, assessment, reevaluation. It is…unsettling.
When I imagined being a writer before I ever took up the mantle, the vision was painted in watercolor softness, me and a cottage and the genteel pursuit of my stories. I imagined writing novels into ancient age, puttering in my garden, writing letters to my readers. I think it came out of some novel I read as a young teen, because the specifics are nothing like my own world of the mountain west—instead, that cottage is by the sea, maybe in England. Which I wouldn’t mind, but it’s a long way from my reality of a small city tossed at the skirts of the Front Range.
The reality of my writing life has taken a different turn than what I imagined, and therein lies some of the re-evaluation. Instead of writing a steady, reliable number of novels in a particular genre or format, I’ve written everything, starting with news, features, and a popular column in my student newspaper, then the local daily. I studied journalism because my father insisted it would be good training for a fiction career, but while I was in the midst of it, I fell a lot in love with non-fiction, the power of the word to expose wrongs, change things, inform and shape. It turned out I was pretty good at it. I won some awards and an audience. I imagined that I’d be a foreign correspondent and write about the world.
Instead, I started writing novels. It wasn’t quite a straight leap, but the details don’t matter. I wanted to write novels and found a way to write them. For nearly a decade, I wrote contemporary and historical romance novels and earned a nice living. Not huge, but decent. I was pretty good at it—found an audience and some acclaim. But I started to get restless and wanted to write about the other loves in a woman’s life—work, mainly, it turned out. I wrote ten novels about that, and I’m still writing them, but that restlessness set in again about three years ago. I’d written a lot about women at midlife finding themselves. What else might I want to write about?
My travels had given me some intriguing ideas about the 18th century, and I thought going to do some kind of hip historical romance. I’d always loved it. Instead, I was ambushed by a particular character who said, “Get up and let me tell you this story.” I wrote a series of new adult novels centered around a single couple and self-published it. Turned out it was pretty good. I found an audience and made some money.
All through these longer works, I’ve had a love of essays. I’ve written hundreds of them, here and elsewhere, about writing and life and the ordinary. I write articles. I like non-fiction quite a lot and have been building my resume in that arena with more focus lately. I’ve spent the fall and winter mainly immersed in a historical serial called Whitehall, which will start releasing in mid-May.
But it’s nearly finished. The novels that have been waiting for me are both solid, but they’re very different and I need to choose one. I’m writing a bunch of essays. A shiny new idea has seized me and I’m passionate about the research, but it would be me turning in a new direction. Again.
Which is what is leading to the crisis. A friend is having a rather dramatic health problem, my partner is changing careers, and I am suddenly questioning everything about my own life and career. For a few days, I gave in to a sort of existential panic—now what? Has it all been for naught? [Read more…]