Monday, February 24, 2014

What Would you Give up to be a Writer?

Note from A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

I am always inspired by how compelling the desire to write and be a writer is. Like an obsession, once it takes hold of you, there's no stopping it. Everywhere I go I meet writers who are juggling other successful careers, trying to "make it" so they could quit everything else and focus on being an author. Some of us go even further and take bolder risks. Like my friend A.D. Starrling who quit being a full time doctor in England after many years of studying and training to give writing a real shot. She'll tell you all about it as my guest blogger this week. Enjoy!

By A.D. Starrling 

I grew up on the tropical island of Mauritius, where academic prowess is highly regarded. I come from a family of scientists and from a very young age, I was expected to compete and do my best. For my father, that meant winning. Being second was not good enough. I had a pretty stellar school career. I majored in the sciences and landed a state-funded scholarship for a medical degree at a British university. I graduated in the top of my year, secured my first choice pediatric rotation, and passed my specialist exams within three years.

But throughout my training, I secretly indulged in another passion I had: Writing.

My father was an avid book collector and would take me to dusty old bookshops in the capital from when I was four. In addition to instilling in me the drive for success, he also taught me to love books. I started writing at twelve, and by the time I left the island at the age of twenty, I had written several short stories, two novels, and was a third of the way into my third novel. All throughout my education and training, I kept telling myself that I would write full time when I retired from medicine.

With just a few years left before becoming a full-fledged consultant, I quit full-time medicine. I was not happy with the direction my life had taken and the changes happening in the National Health Service. I became an agency doctor, with flexible working hours, better money, and the ability to work all over the country.

Six months later, on a train journey to London, the three characters that would drive me back to my writing desk walked into my head and wouldn't stop talking to me. And that’s when it really hit me. Why wait until I retire? Writing is what I want to do now.

I researched the publishing industry and discovered it was fraught with difficulty, with plenty of rejections and setbacks to be had. There was no guarantee I would ever be published or be able to make a living from it. Back then, I rejected self-publishing, equating it in my mind with the stigma of vanity publishing.

Still, I was driven and decided to write for five or six years and query agents and publishers. If during that time the consistent feedback was that I was a bad or mediocre writer, I would return to medicine and write as a hobby.

In 2012, no one had convinced me that I was a bad or mediocre writer, but I hadn’t gotten anywhere either. The consistent message I was getting was that I was a great writer, but hadn’t found my voice or perfect genre. Then a short story I submitted to the British Fantasy Society Short Story competition made the shortlist. It would eventually become the first novel I published.

One day, I came across an article that would change my life. It was about an author I had never heard of before, a certain JA Konrath, who had attained mainstream success as a self-published author. I took another look at self-publishing and saw it in a different light. It was now not just acceptable, but increasingly the smarter route to take. I decided to go for it.

From that time onward, I began seeing myself as a full-time writer, who once dabbled in medicine. I work part-time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and that door remains open for me. Medicine still pays the bills. But isn’t that the story of almost all indie writers? We are chasing the dream, and using our other skills to sustain ourselves until writing becomes our sole vocation.

My first book, Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book 1), was the winner of the Fantasy category of the National Indie Excellence Awards in 2013, a finalist in the adventure category of the same award, a finalist in the action-adventure category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2013, and got honorable mention in the general fiction category at the Hollywood Book Festival 2013.

I am still filled with fear and doubts when it comes to my writing career. Am I crazy to give up years of studying and training and a near-certain future of professional success and material comfort to chase a passion? Maybe. But I couldn't live with myself if I didn't at least try.

I have a memo note stuck to the lamp on my desk. It says, “Who do you want to be?”

It’s the first thing I see every morning before I start writing.

The answer to that question is what drives me to carry on.

What about you, fellow authors, what have you given up and what risks are you taking to chase this writing dream? Indeed, what double, even triple lives are you leading? And readers, what drives and wakes you up every morning?

AD Starrling is the author of the award-winning and nominated supernatural thriller series Seventeen. She lives in England, where she spends her time writing fast-paced, action-packed thrillers, and juggling babies in the intensive care unit where she works as a part-time pediatrician.

Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book #1) and King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book #2) the e-books are currently available for sale on Amazon, with the paperbacks scheduled for release in March and April 2014.

More A.D. Starrling links:


  1. Thank you for inviting me to feature on the blog, Aymen. It's a pleasure to be here!

    Writing is indeed an addiction and once you catch that bug, it's pretty impossible to give it up. I have met some truly amazing people over the last two years who have sacrificed something significant to chase the writing dream, and other dreams (like my editor Sara).

    I have also met others who are unhappy with their lot in life and would love to be doing something else but can't, either because of financial and family demands, or because, more commonly, they fear failure and criticism.

    I want to go to my grave knowing that I gave it my best!

    PS: No juggling babies today, just smart-mouthed immortals trying to get out of a tricky situation! ;)

  2. What an inspiring story! So glad to read about your courageous decision and your journey, AD! I'll look for your books. And I love your note to yourself, “Who do you want to be?”

    Good luck with all of your projects! :-)

  3. Thank you Jodie! :D And thanks for checking out the books!

    That note definitely helps me focus. The other one I have says "Live each day as if it were your last". Most of us are always thinking of what we need to do in the next days, weeks, months, years even. I needed this second note to remind myself that every single day is precious and that I will never get this time back. This reality is even more poignant to me in the job that I do.

  4. I tried to comment before but I think it got lost... If it turns up again, sorry for the duplicate! I just have this funny vision of you actually juggling babies :p I'm still juggling numbers as a part-time, reluctant accountant while I pursue the dream of running my editing business full-time and writing on the side! Important to note that you don't just single-mindedly pursue your own goals but are so supportive of others - thank you for being such an inspiration! Off to find a post-it now to copy your lamp-side memo :) Sara

    1. Hi Sara,

      It's great to see you here! I think you and I are twins in another life, determined to follow our paths come what may. The important thing is that we're doing it, instead of just wishing it :)

      Now, I suspect the babies would enjoy the juggling, but their parents less so ;)

  5. Thanks for sharing your story. It takes courage to pursue your dream, when the "smart" or financially secure path leads elsewhere...or is even expected. But loving what you do is more important that just about anything. Best wishes!

  6. AD, what a beautiful post.

    I was almost 50 when I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. People who loved me and only wanted the best for me had encouraged me in an entirely different direction. It paid the bills, but it wasn't my heart.

    My oldest granddaughter is a lawyer (who happened to practice in London for a little over two years) but wasn't following her heart, her passion, with the type of law she worked with every day. Now that she's back in the States, I think she's coming closer. (Same firm, different focus.)

    My youngest granddaughter, in her second year of college, and I have talked about how important it is to listen to those who love you—their advice is coming from a good place; but more importantly, to listen to your heart.

    Don't wait until you're almost 50.


  7. Indeed Peg. To this day, I still meet people who feel it's too late for them to follow their heart. Most of them are in their 30s or 40s, which makes me weep. I always encourage them to look at their situation from every possible angle to see if they can't work something out. But a lot of them are either not truly passionate about their dream, or believe them to be completely unrealistic.

    One of my colleagues has just put the brakes on her career to allow her husband to do another degree; he's an engineer but he always wanted to be do an IT programmer and had dabbled in it as a hobby. Another lady I know (a dentist) was the full-time bread winner for her family while her husband gave up his day job and took 3-4 years off to write (he was an IT Consultant); he's now traditionally published.

    It's true what you say about the people around you. Your family will want the best for you but only YOU know what's truly important for your health and sanity. Do you continue to slog away at a job that leaves you dissatisfied or do you take the risk of trying something different? I know when I told my extended family what I was doing, many were shocked. In their eyes, I was sacrificing a stable, high-earning career for one with little chance of success. But quite a few of them got it, like my sister, my mother, and surprisingly of all, my father.

    My friends and my colleagues have been tremendously supportive.

    I hope your granddaughters pursue what's really important to them and go on to inspire others Peg! :D


  8. Fantastic post, AD! It's great to "meet you."(That Aymen--what a peach!) I applaud you for your bravery. The cliché rings true: life IS too short to not do what you love or to not be someone that you're happily honored to greet in the mirror each morning. From one indie to another, best wishes and much joy! :) :)

  9. Thanks Jennifer, it's great to meet you too! :D I'm hoping to meet up with the peach in April, at the London Book Fair ;)


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