Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 17, 2017

Taking the Next Step

Amy Impellizzeri

Before I was a novelist, I was a corporate litigator for 13+ years.

When I left corporate law in 2009, I didn’t leave to write novels. I left for what was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical intended to treat a bad case of professional burnout. With three small children under the age of five, and a demanding position at one of the top law firms in the country, I was anxious to shift gears for a year.

I wasn’t exactly sure how the year would end up but I had scheduled the next few steps.

On the day I commenced my sabbatical, some colleagues said they’d see me when I returned. Others said they knew I’d never be back again. I didn’t believe either side. I felt certain the path couldn’t be tooled out that close to the beginning.

By the end of the sabbatical year, I’d decided not to return to the practice of law. I’d taken a full-time position at a wonderful start-up that didn’t exist when I first left the law. And while writing non-fiction, I’d been inspired to start a fiction manuscript. which – four years later – became my debut novel.

I couldn’t have predicted any of these endings when I started out. And yet, none of them could have developed had I not taken the first steps. Followed by the next steps.

I’m currently working on my fourth novel, and while its premise and early chapters are promising, I found myself recently frustrated that I’m not quite sure how it ends yet.

My prior three novel ideas came to me as endings that I loved and needed to work toward. But this one has come to me differently. It’s come as a beginning that is still developing into its own story.

I almost gave up on it, convinced that was no way to write a story after all, until I remembered that moment walking out of my Times Square law office over eight year ago, and four books ago now. A moment that was only a beginning without a clear ending yet.

And so I wondered. What lessons could I take from that moment that might apply to my newest work in progress?  Turns out there were many. Here are three.

  • Manage fear with productive goals and it won’t paralyze you.

Of course I was fearful that day I left my corporate law career in 2009. But I didn’t let it paralyze me. I managed the fear with productivity, lining up pro bono and advocacy work ahead of time so that I wouldn’t have the time to wallow in fear. Similarly, to manage the fear that’s developed surrounding my newest work in progress, I’ve developed clear weekly word count goals and chapter outlines for the next few chapters/ideas to keep my fear at bay. When you’re forcing yourself to write 5,000 words each week, fear doesn’t have a chance to paralyze you.

  • Take a break.

When I left the law over 8 years ago, I lined up plenty of work to fill in the gaps. But, I also lined up plenty of leisure activities. I took up combat. I started a book club and returned to my love of reading. I started traveling more with my family. And I found that all of these activities fed my productivity rather than detracted from it. It’s turned out that these are the same activities that feed and inspire my writing. I’ve had some of my best “aha” story ideas in combat class! Similarly, travel, reading, and discussing books with friends (albeit, mostly online these days in favorite reading groups, like Bloom), inspire my own storytelling.

  • Keep taking the next step.

 I’ve realized that the most important thing I learned from starting my sabbatical over 8 years ago is that sometimes you don’t start with anything more than a beginning. And that’s ok. 

I wasn’t exactly sure what my post-law life would look like beyond the first few good decisions I made for the year ahead. And it turned out the ending I could never have written at the beginning arrived in its own due time. And it was indeed a happy one.

As when I left the law, I’ll keep writing my new story, one chapter at a time. I won’t try to force the ending. I’ll be patient. I’ll see how it develops after the next few chapters.

I don’t need to know the end.

I just need to keep taking the next steps.

Have any other steps for us?

What helped you take that next one?

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Released October 16!

Will, a recovering heroin addict-turned-counselor for whom truth is a championed element to recovery, has a dark secret -- shared with no one outside of his anonymous support meetings. Over twenty years ago, after an ultimatum from his pregnant ex-wife, Will was forced to assume a new identity and to fake his own death to get out from under his dealer and user-friends once and for all.

Now Will is counseling Thea, a young woman who has been diagnosed with a pathological addiction to creating fake social media identities, and who founded a start-up company ("Alibis") that created false internet identities for clients, many with suspect pasts. Thea's addiction has landed her in rehab as a condition of her parole -- after a plea bargain cut short a court case that would have put both Thea and Alibis on trial for a very high-profile crime.

As Will works with Thea, the truth is put into motion on a collision course. Both Will's, and his young client's, secrets start to unravel ... and reveal, at long last, the truth about Thea.

28 comments on “Taking the Next Step”

  1. Love this. We get so caught up in wanting to know how things will end when we could be focusing on that next step. I like the analogy of life being like walking with a flashlight or driving at night with headlights. You can see the road, but not the whole thing, just the next part you need to travel. Thanks for the insight, Amy!

  2. So true! I often get paralyzed when I don't what the next steps are. Your post is a great reminder that starting is the main thing! Thank you!

  3. I appreciate the encouragement. Left my job a year ago and am halfway through my first novel.

  4. Like you, my first book was non-fiction. Then I wrote my first fiction novel, then the second and now am on my fourth book, third fiction novel. This time, the beginning came to me and I also do not yet know what the ending will be. Odd how the mind of writers work.

  5. Short, simple, profound steps to tackle anything! Thank you, Amy. Your three steps now reside on a sticky at the rim of my computer.

  6. Such a good point, Amy! We need find the courage only for that first step. That's so awesome how you found your way little by little. Thanks for sharing.

  7. This is great. I didn't so much taken a sabbatical but left work to stay at home with my children. At the same time I wrote during nap-times and then as they started preschool. My youngest goes to school full time next year and it will be the first time in my adult life without either a payed job or children at home to care for (holidays and sick days not withstanding). I'm excited, but I'm also nervous. I'm the sort of person who likes to the see how things are going to end and, of course, that's not always possible.

  8. I just reached an age where I was sick of not following my dreams but it's not easy. I love blogging because it reminds me to be positive and to pass that on. Great post to inspire, thank you.

  9. Sort of like the question - are you a plotster or a pantster. Do we write a novel using a plot, or by the seat of our pants. Like you, I've been surprised by my life, by the twists and turns, by how I became a full-time writer. So I prefer to write my novels that way - by the seat of my pants. We can't see ahead in our lives, why should we in our novel writing? ;--0

  10. Love that. When I let the story evolve and surprise me,
    I love the process so.much.more.

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