Rachel Carrington is a freelance writer and fiction author. She also teaches fiction writing classes for Women on Writing. Find her on the web at rachelcarrington.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram at rcarrington2004.
I’ve considered myself a writer for over thirty years. I’d write a book here and there, submit it to various agents and publishers, and wait for a response before I’d invest more energy in another book. A dozen or more rejections would have to occur before I’d flex my creative muscle again and begin another story. Looking back now, I see that I wasn’t a writer as much as a dabbler. I didn’t even tell people that I was a writer. If asked, my response was always “I’m a paralegal.” I wanted to write, but I didn’t have that consuming need to write. And I was comfortable with what I now realize was nothing more than a hobby.
My first book, a romance novel, was published in 2002. I patted myself on the back and took some time off to celebrate my victory, and I didn’t miss writing. Because I was officially an author, and I could be proud of myself for achieving my dream. But I hadn’t really. My dream had to consist of more than a few paltry royalty checks and a book that barely hung onto the bottom rung of the sales ratings, or it was nothing more than a bland wish. But I was published, and that had to be enough. After all, it was the Holy Grail for many struggling writers. So, with that feather in my cap, I could legitimately say I was a writer, a creator of fictional worlds and characters I’d brought to life from my imagination. That had to mean more than money. At least, that’s what I told myself.
I still had a full-time job that paid the bills, so I wasn’t too concerned with income. I might not be the next breakout star in the literary world, but I had reached a level of comfort in my writing. By the time 2004 rolled around, I’d even gotten another book published and an article or two. After another glass of champagne to celebrate, I went back to my career where I had a cushy office, solid income, and even cushier benefits. I was needed there, and I could see myself working until retirement. There were certainly worse jobs to have, and I could write on the weekends if I wasn’t too tired. So my plan was in place.
But one car accident later forced me to reduce my hours at work. Then my body revolted, and the good health I’d enjoyed faded away. I ended up in the hospital where I had several major surgeries practically back to back. I soon learned I wasn’t as indispensable at work as I thought I was. Because my boss, who needed a full-time paralegal, hired another one while I was still in the hospital. The day I walked into my office and came face to face with my replacement is still etched in my mind. The sun blistered my face as I carried my box of belongings to my car and left the parking lot for the last time.
With my world crashing around me, I went home and cried. I wallowed in bed. Ate more ice cream than I should have and tried to lose myself in television. But nothing tamed the anger inside. So that night I began writing. About getting fired. About my fear of getting evicted from my apartment. About my health issues. My fury over my body betraying me. How I juggled bills. All of it was fodder for essays which enabled me to spill out my despair over the next few weeks.
When the electricity bill came due, and I had to borrow money from friends, I decided I should try submitting what I’d written. Because writing was all I could do at the moment to earn income. So I submitted my first essay, and it was accepted by a small literary ezine. The pay was minuscule, but I still remember how excited I was. More so than even when I’d gotten my first book published. Here I was writing words that had meant something to me. Experiences that had changed me and the world around me.
When the well of bitterness ran dry and the checks began arriving in my mailbox, I discovered that fear had given way to confidence. I was paying my rent, keeping the lights on, and as much as I hated to admit it, I think I owed it to the attorney who no longer wanted me as his paralegal. He forced me out of my comfort zone. If he hadn’t terminated my employment, I don’t know that I would have discovered why I wanted to write. Or that I could shape emotions into words.
Soon, those emotions found their way back into my fiction writing, and I saw a difference in the creation of new books. And I couldn’t wait to see where my imagination would take me. I no longer wrote because I thought I was a writer; I wrote because the need was too strong not to. A craving I’d never felt before drove me to my computer each evening.
It’s been fifteen years since I was fired. I’ve written hundreds of articles and dozens of books since then. But essays are still a large part of my writing process. They help me express my emotions without losing my temper or collapsing in a puddle of tears. And they brought me fully into this crazy, wonderful world of writing where words mean more to me than sitting in a courtroom or drafting legal documents.
Looking back, I don’t wish I’d kept my job or my comfortable way of life. The removal of my safety net ignited a spark within me that, in turn, fanned the flames of creativity. My office isn’t as plush as the one I had, and the income isn’t guaranteed or necessarily steady, but this is the career I was meant to have. I became the person I was meant to be. Now when someone asks me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer because that’s what I am.