Friday, June 19, 2015

Two Years On...

It's been just over two years since I made the decision to retire from police work, and write full time. After twenty years (and a day!) on the job, I hung up the gun and badge for the keyboard.

So how's it been?

In a word, great.

But then again...not so great.

What's that mean? Well, the reality is that I still haven't fully embraced being nothing except a writer. Even as I retired, I started taking on different projects in writing, editing, and teaching. It only took about six months to get to the point where I'd overloaded myself. I was teaching classes at the community college and at the university. I mentored in and then began teaching Leadership in Police Organizations (LPO) for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. I jumped into collaborations. I took on an editing role in an onerous project. I taught a series of six-week writing seminars.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some things, like appearances, beta reads, judging a writing contest, and a couple of conferences. The point is, I wasn't writing full time. I'd traded my police career for about three smaller careers, only one of which was my own writing.

The editing job didn't work out. The material simply never got to me as a first draft, and the writer needed more help than I could provide (time-wise) to get that first draft written. So about six months after the deadline for the first draft, I exercised my out clause. Thus began the process of paring down my commitments. 

I had the pleasure of teaching a series of six-week writing seminars to a small class of writers. The first seminar focused on writing a novel, the second on revision, and the third on publishing. The writers who attended were awesome, and being surrounded by their creativity while we worked together on the craft was a blast. I'll be shocked if their novels don't start popping up on Amazon before too long.

The work I did (and do) teaching criminal justice was (and is) very rewarding, and the students are quite varied. I've had students getting their degree to pursue CJ jobs to adults continuing their education to better themselves and progress in their careers. Both are exciting people to be around. Teaching LPO all over the country has kept me close to the kinds of people I admire -- cops who are the ones who run toward danger while others are running away -- and allowed me to help in a small way to shape the role of police leadership in this nation. Extraordinarily gratifying work, and often very moving.

All that teaching comes at an emotional price, though. Anyone who has taught will tell you that. Teaching takes it out of you, if you're doing it right. If you're putting in the amount of energy and passion that your students deserve, it is physically and mentally exhausting.

That took a toll on my writing, both in terms of volume and intensity. I got a lot less written than I'd expected or hoped. In fact, if it hadn't been for collaborations, I would really have sputtered in that department. As it turned out, since retiring I've published four books, two of which were collaborations. Another collaboration is scheduled for a September release.

Like I said, those three other writers kept me strumming.

Something else was going on, though, especially over the last year. When I did have time to write on my solo work, I wasn't feeling the drive. The thrill of the keyboard wasn't there as often. I started one novel, then set it aside. I started a different one, set it aside. A third, same thing. A romance collaboration I was working on foundered as well, and at least part of the reason was that my motivation, my desire, had ebbed.

Now, that's a scary thought. I mean, think about it. Your dream is to be a writer. From the age of ten, that's how you self identify. You retire early to pursue your dream. You write. You publish. And then, one just aren't feeling it any more. It's just not there. And so you gotta ask, who are you, if not a writer?

I also wondered if maybe I was afraid. I've come across more than a few people in this world who say their dream is to be a writer. But they never really do anything to make that dream a reality. I think some of those people just don't have the freedom to try due to life's responsibilities. For others, it really isn't their greatest dream, so they don't pursue it. But some people don't go after their dream because if they try and fail, it can't be a dream anymore. If you never try, you get to keep the dream alive. I know it sounds silly, but people do this all the time. I had to wonder if I was falling prey to this mind trap.

I thought a lot about this question, believe me. 

And I slowly came to realize that the reason I was feeling that spark and fire for my writing was because I'd filled my [new] work life with too many other things, things that required a great deal of emotional energy (learning curriculum, teaching). There simply wasn't any energy left when I turned to writing. And because of that, the writing started to feel like a task some of the time, instead of a joy.

"Some" of the time. If it weren't for my collaborators, it might have been "all" of the time. 

So what to do?

Well, I had to restore some balance. And that meant making some choices. "They weren't terribly hard choices. I knew that being a writer was who I was. So when I terminated the editing contract, thus began my mission in 2015, which I have dubbed "The Year of Saying No."

Of course, I still had to do all the stuff I'd already said yes to. And I really didn't want to stop doing everything I was doing. Teaching LPO is especially rewarding. So I kept the LPO work, because it's just too important to let go. And I kept the university classes, but those are hybrid courses that mostly involve online work, so there's flexibility. 

However, I quit saying yes to new things, and when the opportunity arose, I walked away from other things. For instance, I was teaching at the community college, covering classes for a friend for a couple of years. When he said he'd be able to take the classes back early if I wanted, I definitely wanted. Great teaching experience, but it was a win/win to hand it back to him.

Early on, I decided I'm not going to any conferences this year (though I'd love to hit LCC next year).

I also declined to judge this year's contest.

And so on.

I kept saying yes to great writing ventures, though. Right now, I have several collaborations in the works. Those projects definitely bring energy to the table, and it's great to work with other writers.

But [almost] everything else was No.

Slowly, as I shed different commitments (and finished various tasks), something happened. I started to get excited about story ideas again. I started feeling some eagerness to dive into this story or that character. Energy was back in my keyboard, not just for collaborative work, but for my solo efforts as well. Now my hesitations I'm encountering aren't about whether I have the energy to work on something but on the artistic merit or the elements of the craft that I need to improve on. 

In other words, not whether to play the game, but how to play it. 

That's a glorious feeling.

I learned something else along the way. Or rather, had it restored to me. I'm talking about perspective. There I was, fortunate enough to have multiple opportunities to pursue, and the chance to make a difference in people's lives by teaching, and I was allowing myself to be stressed over them rather than fully embracing the experience. 

And there I was, with an opportunity to be a [mostly] full time writer, something most every other writer in the country would kill for, and I wasn't taking complete advantage of it. I was letting a golden opportunity slip by, day by day. We only have so many days in this world. And while I wasn't wasting mine, I wasn't using them all to their potential. I was fortunate, and was not appreciating that good fortune.

I've come to realize all of that, and to fully appreciate my luck, and my opportunity to live the life I've always wanted to live. I've regained that perspective. Now, I'm sure most people would say I'd have to be thick to have lost it in the first place and I won't argue with you on that count. But when you're caught up in the midst of it all (no matter what "it" is), it is easy to lose sight of the big picture, and I'd venture a guess that was what happened in my case.

It's not a bad thing, really. Rather, it's a good reminder of what is truly important in this world to me. It had the ancillary effect of making me more cognizant of those closest relationships in my life, and always striving to improve those. Because who you are is important, but so are the relationships with those you're with. No matter how strong they are, you can always work on them. One thing I've noticed as I've grown don't make a ton of new friends. It isn't like elementary school anymore. And family may be family, but family are people, so you still gotta nurture those vines.

So, let's come full circle. This writing journey began two years ago. It's been a great ride so far, even if it has had some fits and starts along the way. As I move forward, it is with re-dedicated energy and a sense of balance. I've put out four new books since retiring, and a fifth is on the way in September. I see greater output on the horizon, so it should be a fun journey. I hope you'll come along. 

After all, if you've come this far, why not come a little further?