No Longer at This Number

I used to work in medical publishing. If I say so myself, I was pretty good at it. I made decent money, and got a merit-based promotion and raise every year without fail for 10 years. Even the year I got laid off because the company I was working for at the time was tanking, I found another job at a higher salary right away.

But I was never happy. I got an English degree because I loved fiction, and then got a job editing science. There is plenty of fiction in medical publishing, of course, like the clever ways they use to downplay treatment side-effects and overstate efficacy, but while I was editing fiction in science, what I really wanted was to be writing science fiction. I think that more than anything drove me to keep writing, even when I felt I had no free time and didn’t think anything would ever come of it professionally and the writing was hard.

But my hard work and perseverance paid off. When I sold The Painted Man and its sequels, I decided to try writing full time, despite a nagging sense of dread that I would fail and have to go back to a  job and industry where I was miserable and unfulfilled. I kept all my business contacts, just in case. Vendors I worked with. People who owed me favors. Head hunters.

It’s been two years now, and I still feel sometimes that there is a Sword of Damocles hanging over me. That this new career doing something I love is too good to be true, more than I deserve, and that it will end in failure and abject humiliation as some future book of mine is universally panned and I’ll have to go back to the cubicle farm to make sure Cassie can afford college.

When I first graduated college in 1995, I had NO IDEA what to do with my life. I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t kidding myself into thinking I was qualified for that, and I’d never had a “real” job. Just retail and my time with Parks & Recreation. While I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I got a job managing a now-defunct comic book store in the Westchester Mall called, get this, COMIC ATTITUDES.

It wasn’t as fun a job as it sounds. Yeah, I got to be around comics all day and read books for free, but the owner was a very driven businessman, and wanted his staff to be actively selling at all times. This was a problem, because most comic readers (and his employees) were all introverts. The customers didn’t like to be harassed about how they should buy into the latest BS Marvel or DC crossover event, and the sales staff (me included) hated and felt phony doing it.

As a result, I never really got along with the owner, but there is one thing he said to me that I will always remember and be thankful for. We were unloading boxes and talking about how the comics industry was tanking and how it was affecting the business (the guy owned 4 CA stores at the time). He lamented the loss of the good old days from a few years before, when comics were booming. I asked him if he regretted opening the 4th store. He looked at me and said, “Peat, I’ve had a lot of failures in my life, and if I can offer you one piece of advice from my experience, it’s this: Look ahead. Looking back and second-guessing your decisions doesn’t change them. You need to keep your eyes on tomorrow.”

It was REALLY good advice.

I may never shake that sense of dread that I’ll one day lose this new career, but there is one thing I know now. I am never going back to medical publishing. That chapter of my life is over, and I am looking ahead. If I change careers again, it will be something different, even if it means my resume doesn’t apply and I need to start at the bottom of the totem pole.

So with that in mind, I just deleted a decade’s worth of business contacts from my Outlook address book. I’m working without a net from now on.

I feel lighter already.

Posted on September 16, 2009 at 6:24 pm by PeatB
Filed under Life, Musings, Writing

8 responses to “No Longer at This Number”

  1. There’s one other thing that should lighten the load: You will *always* have a net.

    Because you will always have us.

    Your friends will never let you fall, Peat. Not while we have the strength to hold you up.

    Posted by Myke, on September 16th, 2009 at 8:54 pm
  2. Pete-solid advice especially for a guy who has thrown his pack on his shoulder and walked this road with you [so to speak]. I share your sense of dread as an editor-for-hire and also sometimes need to hear that looking back ain’t worth a damn. There is only looking ahead.

    Posted by Jayf, on September 16th, 2009 at 10:40 pm
  3. Now, won’t Bruna and Leesha going to be upset to find out that the person bringing their cures to a worldwide audience doesn’t want to be doing medical publishing any more? Don’t go asking Leesha for help the next time you’re grazed by a woodie.

    Posted by Joshua Bilmes, on September 17th, 2009 at 12:31 am
  4. Peat, what does happen if you don’t have faith in yourself?
    What if everyone does only look back?
    Nothing would happen. The world would stop to evolve.
    Maybe the human´s would still life in caves and hunt with speers some animals.
    But we don’t.
    And that is because there were and are people who does fail sometimes, but they aren’t griving over it forever. They accept their failure and try to improve it, so it won’t happen again.
    So I’f one of your books isn’t as good as you wished I’d be, it doesn’t matter as long as you keep on trying to get better.
    It’s the same with everyone. Each one of us is afraid of sth.

    So just keep on writing….even when your books keeps on getting worser (even though I doubt it.)

    So….I guess I wrote again to much.
    Oh, and thank you for explaining what a Coast-guard is…I slowly remember a former teacher talking about it [ he kept talking, I kept sleeping….what a wonderful english lesson)
    And don’t say my english is good, I know afterall the truth, so don’t try to flatter me, I’lll be buying your books anyway =)

    Posted by Eve, on September 17th, 2009 at 10:23 am
  5. Did you delete the backups too?

    (Because you ARE keeping regular backups, aren’t you?)

    Posted by Giacomo, on September 17th, 2009 at 1:17 pm
  6. Hey great post and WAY TO GO on cutting the safety net of your former life. You really struck a chord with me as I am in a very similar mindset/situation (well, minus the stupendously successful novel, that is).

    I’d love to write full time but have been financially successful at my day job to the point where my family can’t afford for me to do something else. Darn kids *still* insist on eating three times a day and sleeping indoors.

    My plan is to just keep writing in the time that I have and hopefully one day something I’ve done will hit and gain enough momentum to spin me out of the corporate grist mill.

    You’ve already done that, and sounds like if you’re going on 2 years, you’ve hit a home run. Keep up the good work, and I’m really looking forward to your next book.


    Posted by Michael Natale, on September 17th, 2009 at 3:42 pm
  7. Did you delete the backups too?

    (Because you ARE keeping regular backups, aren’t you?)

    Posted by EM, on October 5th, 2009 at 5:56 pm
  8. I AM keeping backups. And backups of the backups. And for my writing I also have a backup of the backup of the backup on a flash drive on my keychain.

    No worries. Even if the house burns down, Arlen and the gang are safe.

    Posted by Peat, on October 6th, 2009 at 10:27 am