Number One Piece of Career Advice? Make Sure You’re Not Writing the Wrong Story

Very often when a group of writer friends and I get together – either in real life or in the virtual realm, we will share our works-in-progress. Premises, hooks, plot holes and characters are brought to life by their various creators. Most of us will give advice and feedback only when solicited. A few loyal friends will give advice even when it’s not. And occasionally, one writer will make a confession.

I hate this process. It’s grueling. I’m miserable.

One time, when I heard this familiar lament at a writers’ conference, made by a writer who was frustrated and even thinking about giving up entirely, a fellow writer piped up: Are you sure you’re just not writing the wrong story?

I left my 13-year corporate law gig – including a decade at Skadden Arps - in 2009. I was completely burned out, and at the time, I thought that I hated practicing law. I was disappointed that the one thing I had wanted to be all my life – a lawyer – was not for me at all. I feared that I had taken the wrong path entirely.  As I transitioned to a professional writer – and eventually a novelist – I wondered if the years spent studying and practicing law had derailed me somehow. If they were – as many labeled them when they heard about my career switch – a waste of time?

But that advice I heard at a writers’ conference has stayed with me and informed much of what I’ve learned in the eight years since leaving the active practice of law.

Sometimes you’re just writing the wrong the story.

Thirteen years of practicing law taught me much about practicing law. It also taught me a fair amount about negotiating, isolating crucial issues in a decision-making scenario, and how to deal with difficult people. Funny enough, it also taught me how to write complicated plots and how to make unbelievable facts seem more – believable. Since leaving my Times Square office in 2009 for what was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical (I often joke – I’m still on it!), I’ve walked in circles and sideways, up and down the same hills, off cliffs and back again exploring what it really means to write a new story. I’ve kept my eyes and mind open to new opportunities. As a result, I’ve used my law degree in ways I could never have imagined: in the executive role of an award-winning start-up company, negotiating several book deals, reviewing co-sponsorship opportunities for a writers’ collaborative, and more.

It turns out I didn’t hate being a lawyer at all. Turns out I love the law and the versatility of my law degree and legal training.

I was just writing the wrong story.

And now I’m writing a whole new chapter.

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