Your Biggest Challenge as a Writer - and What To Do About It, Part 2


I once worked as a management consultant in the heart of London. I had an office just off Berkeley Square in Mayfair, and would occasionally take clients for tea at the Ritz Hotel just down the road. I remember walking across Green Park one spring day - the trees were turning green, the deckchairs were out, and I was on my way to an interview with the BBC regarding a programme that I was involved with which wanted to introduce a post-communist Russia to principles of management from the West. My colleague, whom I was to pick up on the way, was a peer from the House of Lords.

It felt as though I had ‘made it’: my career had reached a high point. It was indeed the apex of something - but I remember a friend telling me some time afterward that he didn’t feel that I was cut out to be a management consultant - I didn’t have the passion or enthusiasm, the bright sparkle in the eye, that suggested to him that management consultancy was my life-long dream.

He was right.

A couple of years later, quite out of the blue, I was approached to teach English Literature at a private school in the countryside. Having had no experience of teaching, or even with children, I attended a formal interview with some trepidation, mixed with curiosity. When I didn’t hear back from the school for some weeks afterwards, I went back to consulting for the wealthy clients that I had built up - then, as the beginning of the English school year approached at the end of August, I thought I’d better check back with the school.

‘Oh yes,’ they told me, ‘you’ve got the job. Be here on Monday morning.’

Shocked - it was Friday- I made the needed adjustments to various appointments and made my way to the school just in time for the start of term.

Something peculiar then took place: though the routines and activities in which I was suddenly involved were quite foreign to me - calling registers, organising lesson content, the nitty-gritty of dealing with teenagers whose first choice would never have been to study literature, and so on - I knew that I had made a considerable advance towards something about which I did feel that passion and energy which I hadn’t felt for management consultancy. There was something going on here, I felt - something that I wanted to be more involved in.

Such was the fire that had been lit in me that I used to get up at 5:00 am, stumble in the dark (the freezing and slippery dark, in winter) down the steep Highgate Hill from my home to Archway Tube Station, catch the underground train to Victoria train station, then the 7:22 am train to my destination, stumbling up the road to grab a bite to eat from a café before catching the school bus. I would then teach for a full school day before making the entire journey in reverse, getting home exhausted at about 8:30 pm.

I only did this for two or three days a week, as I was still engaged by clients in the middle of London as a consultant - and it shattered me physically each week. But something was happening to me other than physical exhaustion - I was finding a purpose. That purpose grew strong enough over the next couple of years for me to make changes to my whole lifestyle, routine and habits. Within two years, I had worked my way into being a full-time teacher of English Literature to feisty groups of 11 to 18 year olds, and had gradually backed out of management consultancy almost entirely.

I’m not telling you this story to give you a glimpse into my life as much as to show you how to reorientate yourself to a different set of criteria.

If your biggest challenge as a writer is related to