By Guest Blogger, Mary Hutchings Reed, Fiction Novelist
One day when I was approaching 40, my husband came home and announced he wanted to fly to Florida for the weekend to look at a sailboat. We already owned a 25 footer, which was fine for sailing in Lake Michigan and in nearby Wisconsin lakes. Bill, an internist, said he was looking at a boat that would be good for the ocean. I said Chicago wasn’t on the ocean. He acknowledged that fact, but added, “I’d hate to die without sailing across the ocean sometime.”
That simple statement changed my life. The moment he expressed this wish, the question naturally occurred to me: What was it I wanted to do before I died?
In the fall of 1992, I took an unprecedented three-month sabbatical from my law firm, Winston & Strawn, where I was a partner in the Intellectual Property Department, to sail with Bill in our new 32-foot boat from Norfolk, Virginia to St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., a sometimes harrowing offshore journey of 1600 miles. It took us 22 days and nights.
When I returned from that trip, practicing law full-tilt didn’t seem all that important anymore. I was good at it, and I enjoyed it, but what I wanted to do before I died was what I knew I’d always wanted to do, write novels. What I’d learned on the sailing adventure was that there was more to life than career, that life was short, that you get where you’re going a slow nautical mile at a time, and that it’s much more satisfying to be sailing downwind directly at your target than taking a hundred mile tack at a forty-five degree angle.
So, shortly after returning from St. Thomas (by plane), I resigned the partnership (at 43 years old) and arranged a part-time gig that gave me the time to pursue my passion. It was now or never.
Relieved of the full responsibilities of partnership, I could take writing workshops, read, take “writerly” walks, and, most importantly, write. I set myself the schedule of writing every morning from 8 to about 10, then going down to my law office (ten minutes away). I write fast—a couple pages in the allotted time, but I also learned to edit and rewrite constantly, whenever a few spare moments appeared during the day, and sometimes even on the treadmill. After workshopping and professional editing, I found an agent for Courting Kathleen Hannigan, who thought it well done but way too long, at 450 pages, for a first novel. She worked with me to pare it down to 325 double-spaced pages.
My agent died unexpectedly (at a young 70) within several weeks after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer; I put publication of CKH on hold while I wrote new novels, a few pages a day, cranking out first drafts in 6-12 months. People called me prolific, but basically, it’s a page a day and at the end of the year you’ve got 365 pages—40 too long!
I’ve written seven novels, a memoir, a bunch of short stories and essays and a full length musical. After many rave rejections by agents, my work is now with April Eberhardt of Kimberly Cameron & Associates. Most importantly, though, every day that I write I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve done what I was supposed to do on this earth for my own soul. We have no claim on tomorrow. Whether or not I make any top ten list or win any national acclaim, whether or not I’ll ever replace the lost income or loss in professional stature, I’ve done the thing I wanted to do “before I die.” Know what? I still want to keep doing it!
replace the lost income or loss in professional stature, I’ve done the thing I wanted to do “before I die.” Know what? I still want to keep doing it!
Read more at http://www.maryhutchingsreed.com