Susan here, with our Ask-A-Wench question for May, in which we ponder what might have been:
Teacher, archaeologist, journalist, other dreams–we Wenches might all be in different places in life now if we hadn’t pursued the writing urge. Read on for our thoughts on what we had planned to do once upon a time, and how our paths changed. And then let us know what you might be doing today if you had taken a different path in life!
As a kid in elementary school, pecking away at my father’s typewriter on Nancy Drew style mysteries, I figured my chances of earning a living at writing were nil. I was pretty practical even then, and I didn’t want to end up as an old maid in an attic full of cats. Obviously, I read too much as well. <G>
So as a teen, I decided I’d be a journalist. I read newspapers front to back, could see the power of the pen, and knew I could write. Unfortunately, when I reached university and had to interview subjects for the school newspaper, my epic shyness insured that I fail big time. I gave up that dream and went to work full time in a Sears accounting department. I’d been working with finance since I was sixteen and realized it mostly allowed me to work without people. Voila—a new career!
I returned to school, got my accounting degree, passed the CPA test, and sold my first book the week I started my accounting career. It took years before my writing income exceeded my salary. . . Had my employer actually paid me a living wage, I might not be a writer today.
Oh c’mon, who am I fooling? I might have had to write at midnight, but I would never have quit writing.
I didn’t become a writer/author until fairly late in life and never imagined I would – before that I worked as a secretary. I can’t say that was my dream job, even though I sort of enjoyed it. I’m organised, fast at typing and actually love filing and answering the phone, so from that point of view it was probably a good fit for me. I also speak four languages, so I was able to use those in my job from time to time, especially when I worked in the office of a hotel. However, it wasn’t at all what I wanted to do.
My dream job would have been archaeologist. Ever since I first heard about Tutanhkamun, that sounded like the most thrilling work ever. To be allowed to search for clues from the past, scrape away soil to reveal things that have been hidden for millennia, and possibly come across treasure – that would be fabulous! Unfortunately, I was a very lazy teenager and, at that time, I didn’t want it enough to work hard at studying. Instead I took the easy way out and coasted along on the subjects that came easily to me – languages – while ignoring everything else. When it was time for university, that’s what I ended up studying, even though I didn’t actually want to work either as a teacher or translator. So I emerged with a degree I had absolutely no use for and no marketable skills when it came to finding a job. Being practical, my parents sent me off to a secretarial school for a year and there we are … Still, the fast typing is probably the one skill I’ve had most use for in my life and now I get to write about archaeology and history instead of grubbing around in the dirt for it, so everything worked out OK in the end!
I actually did have a career before I started writing, and then slowly but surely pivoted to "the pen" as my full-time job.
What would I do if I wasn't a writer? Interesting question! I have two college degrees, one in British literature and one in Industrial Design. The lit degree was because I liked to read and had to pick a major. Industrial Design was a result of dating a guy in that program and thinking that design looked pretty interesting. (It did not escape my notice that it would provide specific, marketable skills.)
So I earned a BID and worked as a designer, mostly graphic design, in California and England and Maryland, and eventually became a full time freelance designer: income variable, but a lot more elbow room.
When personal computers started creeping into the world, I bought one from general curiosity and also to do small copy writing jobs for design clients who didn't want to write for themselves. The world changed when the Mayhem Consultant showed me how to use the word processing program, I decided to see if I could write a story, and the rest is history.
I started writing at the point in time when the design field was transitioning from traditional drafting board and paste-up work to using computers for most creative work. This was a major shift, and because I was starting to write, I never learned how to design on a computer. If I'd continued to work as a designer, I would have had to learn computer design skills and surely would have bought a Mac rather than staying with a PC.
Oddly, I'd always had the sense that I wouldn't be doing design by age 50–and I wasn't. Not that I knew what else I'd be doing! I never imagined that I'd be a career novelist–it seemed an impossible dream. (Though the possibility had occasionally floated through my mind, it was very much an impossible dream.)
If this writing thing hadn't worked out, maybe I'd have become a real estate agent because I like houses, but I'm not terribly accurate on detail work, which is an essential requirement for realtors. So it's fortunate that the writing thing has worked out. <G>
When I was a child growing up in the UK in the 1970s, the glamorous career choice was to be an air hostess. However I preferred the idea of being an air traffic controller and for a few years in my teens, that was my ambition. Then I failed my Geography GCSE exam which was a pre-requisite for the job, and decided to study history instead!
I didn’t have much idea of what I wanted to do as a career when i left university with my history degree – even in 1985 the only career options suggested for girls at my college was to become a teacher or a librarian whilst the boys were asked if they wanted to join MI5! I sort of fell into a job in university administration and continued with that until I started writing full time. I didn’t love it in the way I love writing but I enjoyed some aspects of it.
It’s interesting to ponder whether I would have carried on as a university administrator if I hadn’t become a writer or whether I might have changed careers anyway as I grew more and more interested in history. Perhaps I might have worked in a museum or historic house, or perhaps I might have opened a bookshop which is still my not-so-secret dream!
Had I not become a professional writer (for which I'm hugely grateful) I would probably have continued working as a teacher. I loved teaching, loved working out how best to get concepts through to different students, and I also loved my evening classes where I taught adults how to read. That was very rewarding. I could probably keep doing that now, but mainstream teaching has changed now, and has less flexibility for teachers to adapt things to suit students better, and there's masses more administration, so I wouldn't want to go back to that. I still do a little bit of teaching here and there, when asked — mainly short courses and workshops on various aspects of fiction writing, which I love, but if I hadn't become a writer I wouldn't be doing that.
So now, I would probably be a potterer — no, that's not a typo, and I don't mean I'd be making pots. I'd be happily pottering around, floating from one project to another — making necklaces and earrings for a while, and then on to planting and weeding in my garden — I'm about to plant something called "perpetual spinach," as well as some bulbs that I'm planning to put in pots. I might move on to some sewing and make some cushions for my new house, and then maybe make something gorgeous in precious metal silver clay — there's no limit to what might take my fancy. I'd be going where the whim took me. Sounds gorgeous, doesn't it? But looking around at the dozens of boxes of books with nowhere to put them, for a short time, at least, I'm probably not going to be a potterer and only a part-time author: I'll mostly be an evil book-culler.
Several years ago, my father came across my second-grade report card, in which the teacher had written “Susie is a great little storyteller!” We had a good laugh (what did she mean??), but I did love writing and illustrating stories as a kid, and I kept on writing and drawing, loving it. As a little girl, what I really wanted to be was a doctor. My grandfather was a small-town doc with offices in his house, and we lived nearby, so I was there often, always curious, and he encouraged my interest. Eventually I realized there was a LOT of math and science involved, and since I was all about art and writing, the medical dream went out the window. I was also fascinated by ancient Egypt and any sort of history, and wanted to be an archaeologist (Wench Christina and I would have been great friends as kids!). I went to art school on a scholarship, planning to teach art–and then I took an art history course. And another. And another.
Art, writing, and history were a magic combination for me, and I went to graduate school to become an academic art historian, at first majoring in ancient art and archaeology. When my professor moved to Australia, I switched my major to medieval, and found another happy combo–art, writing, medieval studies, and soon lecturing in art history. Meanwhile, I married and had three little guys, so those were busy years! I still played with writing fiction just for a fun escape.
Art historians need a good eye, a ton of factual knowledge, strong writing skills, a knack for deep research, and the imagination to knit it all together. Unbeknownst to me, it was great training for a historical novelist. As I worked in art history, I imagined the lives of the people behind the art and historical records, and the urge to write fiction became more insistent. Drawing inspiration from my dissertation research, I started writing a novel. One thing led to another, and before long, I had a publishing contract and could be a work-at-home mom. I meant to return to academia when the littles were older, but the writing thing worked out pretty well (and even with grown-up kids, the motherhood career continues!).
Today, I'm incredibly grateful that my wandering paths converged to lead to such a surprising and fun destination!
How about you? Are you doing what you always wanted to do, or has your path in life changed to lead you where you are today?