When the clock struck midnight to ring in January 1, 2010, I was a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. in San Francisco, I was married, and the ink was barely dry on my first book deal for the Jacob Wonderbar series.
Little did I know that nearly everything in my life was about to change.
Within a year and a half I was divorced, I left the publishing industry to work in tech, and I uprooted myself to move across the country to New York City. I embarked on a career odyssey that took me from tech to a nonprofit and then, incredibly, to the world’s biggest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates.
Tomorrow, when the clock strikes midnight to ring in 2020 I’ll be doing it with friends in New York City, I’ve seen countries I never thought I’d visit, I’m happily self-partnered, I’m a freelance editor, and I have a new novel winding its way through the publishing process.
Amid all this change, amid all of this upheaval and turmoil, there’s only one thing in my life that hasn’t changed.
Changing 360 degrees
In some ways everything in my life has changed tremendously over the last decade. In other ways I’ve really only traveled in a complete circle and ended up right back where I started.
In 2010, I was all in on books. I worked 8am to 8pm as a literary agent on weekdays and wrote books on the weekends. I read over a hundred books a year on top of all of that. I lived, ate, drank, and slept books 24/7. (Even my ex-wife was a writer).
Now, on the verge of 2020, after trying so many different things, books exerted their inexorable gravitational pull on my life and I’m once again all in on writing and publishing. I’m working on revisions for my new YA novel, building a burgeoning book editing business, and cranking out guides to writing and publishing.
Did I really need to go on my work odyssey throughout the 2010s only to end up in pretty much the same place?
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had just stayed put in 2010 and not left agenting. What would my career have looked like if I had stayed in publishing?
What would my writing career have looked like if I’d continued to focus on this blog and community, instead of setting it aside occasionally for other pursuits?
Ironically enough, the first time I visualized my current life was in 2010 at the very start of the decade. I was on a vacation in Hawaii with my now ex-wife and I looked around and felt like a bolt of lightning had just hit me.
I thought to myself, “What if I just focused on helping authors with their manuscripts, wrote my own books, and worked remotely? I could just… live here for a month.”
It took me a whole decade to achieve that dream of freelance editing and traveling as much as possible. What if I’d leaped when I first had the idea? What might I have accomplished?
Regrets are pointless, lessons are valuable
As much as we might want to change the past, the truth is that the past makes us who we are. (Something I explored at length in Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp).
I know I needed to go on that career odyssey to see what was out there, to learn new skills, to make new friendships, and grow as a person.
As strange as it was that I somehow ended up working at a hedge fund, I learned a tremendous amount at Bridgewater and it was an education I apply every day. I don’t think I could have just stayed in publishing and ended up where I am now.
But I’ve definitely made some huge mistakes along the way. When I look back, the worst ones happened when I didn’t follow my own instincts, whether because I had talked myself out of what I was feeling or because I lacked the nerve to act on my gut.
So instead I took some scary leaps at the close of the 2010s, and am very happy where I landed. I have a new life I find exciting, my work with authors is meaningful, and I’m happy with the new novel I finally summoned the courage and willpower to write.
The comforting power of books
In a world where things constantly change and often disorient us, there’s something comforting about the way books are stuck in time, artifacts of a particular moment and place. They provide that soothing certainty that we can return to them and they’ll be there, unchanged, ready for us to revisit.
This especially applies to the books we write ourselves. It’s such a powerful and meaningful pursuit to write a book.
As painful as it can be sometimes to re-read things we’ve written, when I was in a bad place last year and feeling lost and disoriented, I cracked open Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow for the first time in years. Re-reading it and remembering my mindset when I wrote it helped remind me who I really am and what I can accomplish when my head is screwed on straight.
When I really need to remember who I am, I look at something from three decades ago, in 1990, when I was ten years old and wrote a letter to Roald Dahl. (He died a few months after I sent this).
“I am going to write some books when I get older.”
So much can change over the course of a decade or two. Thank goodness the books we read and write will still be there waiting for us when we need them.
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For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Thomas Cole – The Voyage of Life: Youth