Musings on the directions of mid-career writers

US author Chuck Wendig pointed out the other day that virtually all the ‘writing advice’ these days is about getting started.

Aha - now I can stop the Plorg Monsters from taking Earth's water!
Aha – a slide rule! Now I can stop the Plorg Monsters from taking Earth’s water!

There’s nothing much offered for what he calls ‘mid career’ writers, in particular about what direction they want their career to take. I have to agree with that. Although I don’t like the term, I’m probably a ‘mid-career’ writer myself – I’m established, I’m known to the industry, and I’ve got a solid publishing record behind me.

Little of it was planned. Yes, I wanted to write; yes, I was driving for publishing opportunities – ultimately, books. That was the plan, but I had no ambition in any specific field. And breaking in was a challenge. It demanded adaptation – false starts, ideas that didn’t work, and the rest, all of which made it stop-start at first. I wasn’t writing for status in any given field. I was writing because I wanted to write.

The way this panned out suggests to me that although we can have a general plan about where we want our writing to go and which areas we’d like to explore – turns of fortune will intrude. Sometimes we can find ourselves, as I did, in a very different place from where we had imagined. When my first main publishers began offering me military histories I jumped at the chance to write. The result?  A long list of them. One of our most senior military historians once listed me as one of the top four in New Zealand, beside himself; a field I had absolutely no ambition for status in, nor any prior intention to be associated with.

When it comes to a ‘mid career’ writer looking to new directions – sure, it’s important to have an idea of direction. But on my experience I am fairly sure that things won’t pan out by any particular plan. It’s a question of being adaptive, of being able to identify opportunities, of having options and backup plans, and of being able to run with those opportunities.

A few years back I decided I’d pretty much ‘done’ my history jag. It had been fun, but the malice shown me by strangers – all of them leading players in the history field – was getting to the point where it was damaging my income. And  I’d covered everything that really interested me. So  I actively turned down offers from publishers, including a new book series that would doubtless have done quite well. I wanted to step back and look again at what I was doing, where I wanted to go.

That’s under way now. Needless to say, I have no ambition of being identified with any particular field, or getting ‘status’. That isn’t what writing is about for me. More soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


4 thoughts on “Musings on the directions of mid-career writers

    1. Mine was vital for high school maths and physics, on the cusp of the calculator revolution. I also had a Casio fx series scientific calculator. The slide rule was auperior in many curious ways in practise, for me anway. I couldn’t mis-enter a number and it never ran out of batteries.

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