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Being a Writer is Like Being a Consultant

career change

“All I wanted was to go somewheres, all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular.” Huckleberry Finn

Story Break

When I left McKinsey to become a writer, it was to get away, to change, to be something else.

I braced myself for an intellectual, spiritual, and psychological reinvention of self.

I prepared myself to do whatever it took to execute this career change—and its necessary reinvention of self—successfully. I’d done it before, could do it again. Change gets a bit harder the older I am, but no matter.

The Consultant is dead, long live the Writer!

And yet, here I am, after a year, in this new career which at first I could only whisper, I am surprised that a complete reinvention hasn’t happened. Hasn’t been necessary. I needed only minor adjustments, intellectually, spiritually, and psychologically speaking.

Are these wildly dissimilar professions actually similar?

Let’s consider.

The one problem to rule them all

What should this firm do? Make tough choices and changes.

What should this character do? Make tough choices and changes.

If you get those things right, it will work out.

Is anything about this original?

I possess a tested, proven, and published method for automatically reducing overhead costs by 13% for heavy manufacturers producing across a five-node network. We’ve used it on others, but we can use it with you too, Client. Wait, what do you mean “a monkey could do this job”?!

I possess a tested, proven, and published method for automatically creating a novel where my protagonist will be introduced, confronted, driven to death, and then redeemed across a five-act structure. Wait, what do you mean, monkey? You’ve done this job?!

“What do I have to believe?”

For this business solution to work, what conditions must be met? What do I have to believe about the business, its people, and external forces? Do I believe that? Will my client?

For this story about family survival to work, what do I have to believe about the characters, their motivations, external pressures, and consciousness? Do I believe that? Will my readers?

Precision and accuracy matter—to someone (and that someone sucks)

Me: “We found $13.45MM in expenditures on office chairs in the last 12 months.”

McKinsey Partner:On page 17 of the Appendix, that should be $13.45MM in expenditures on office chairs in the last 11 months. Now I have no confidence in your work.”

Me: “The little girl ate not only raspberries and blueberries and other red fruits.”

Reader/Editor: “There is an incorrect sentence construction on page 253. Now I have no confidence in your work.”

The forced, elitist, exclusionary (yet reassuring) dialect

I can synthesize, problem-solve, and find development opportunities when I’m on the beach. As long as I’m not boiling the ocean. I’d say that my work is distinctive, if we’re talking 80/20, but I don’t want push-back. Because I’m a Rock Star.

The antecedent of bildungsroman’s first pronoun was an anti-hero who, through much psychological distance, was able to self-actualize. If we’re talking about a close reading and exposition. Which we are, because I’m a Feminine Rhyme.

My mercurial, tyrannical “Boss”

“Yes, McKinsey Partner, when do you need this? I see. Well, in that case, I’ll just bend the laws of physics to make that happen. No, it’s OK, I wasn’t doing anything else.”

“Yes, Creative Flow, when will you return? I see. Well, in that case, I’ll just bend the laws of psychology to make that happen. No, it’s OK, I wasn’t doing anything else.”

Is it enough?

Is it enough? No. You have one more hour, redo it.

Is it enough? No. Your editor is a pushover, because she’s also you. Take another week, waste that week. In the last-possible hour, redo it.

Delivery and postpartum depression

I work with clients, data, and structure to form an excellent solution. I work so damn hard, become attached, carry it with me everywhere. As soon as I’m done, it is RIPPED from me. I know consulting is strategy, strategy is not execution. But . . . doesn’t my solution need me anymore? I feel so empty.

I work with words, imagination, and structure to form an excellent story. I work so damn hard, become attached, carry it with me everywhere. As soon as I’m done, it is RIPPED from me. I know writing is about publishing, published work cannot be iterated. But. . .  don’t my stories need me anymore? I feel so empty.

Ties that bind

The job is hard, predictably hard and then in other ways one cannot imagine. There is no upwards limit, no force, no push, no pull. There is only me. Climbing and falling. Climbing.

What keeps me climbing? What makes anyone climb – passion, desire, and, most of all, obsession. These are the only words strong enough to capture what I feel. Felt. Things that moved me, drove me to do the work that was—is—so extraordinarily hard. To climb, sometimes just hold on.

But where does it come from? Where does this obsession originate? From my beliefs, values, the core of who I am and what I want to do with my life. I want to help people reach their best selves.

That philosophy is why I consulted. It’s why I write. It’s why I do many things. That won’t ever change.

Story Break

Did the consultant or writer answer this?

Both.

The careers aren’t the same.

I am.

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