For the past twenty years, I’ve worked as a 911 dispatcher. In the beginning of my career, I worked the graveyard shift at a busy California Bay Area police department. I cut my teeth on everything from stabbings to suicidal callers. My husband and I first met over a homicide. I dispatched him to the call; a drug deal gone bad. I know, not your average boy meets girl story.
Over my career, I’ve taken thousands of emergency calls and each one has molded and shaped my dark sense of humor and often cynical-quick-to-judge personality. After all, I get paid to judge in a matter of seconds, type-coding a call that will determine the response of police/fire/ambulance.
As an author, the road to publication twisted and shaped the writer I am as well. I can’t help but see clear parallels between a writer and police work.
•It’s not always what it seems. A detective is trained to look for what the untrained eye doesn’t see—things like blood patterns, fingerprints, and previous cell phone activity. A writer’s path isn’t always an obvious three-step plan either. The craft must be studied, worked on, and almost never is how we dreamed it would turn out, with twists and turns taking you places you never thought you’d be. My two-page personal essay became a nonfiction book for moms—who knew?
•Friends matter. Whether you’re the suspect or the victim of a crime, who you’ve associated with always comes into play. As a writer, who do you hang out with? Do you network with other writers/authors? Or, do you think your work is so good you’ll be miraculously discovered? If you truly believe this way, you couldn’t be more wrong. Trust me when I say: it’s only a matter of time before you’re a victim of un-success. Writing can be very solitary. Having someone come alongside who understands the ups and downs can make all the difference.
•Word of mouth. Home invasions are almost always drug-related, a targeted place where the suspect has planned to regain their lost monies or steal drugs from someone they know. Occasionally, it’s a friend of a friend who bragged to the wrong person about their parents jewelry and non-belief in banks. As a writer, your reputation begins as soon as you share, “I’m a writer.” Once your words are published via blog, articles, or any other venue, your branding begins. Conferences, retreats, writer’s groups, and online relations are where your reputation is formed. Use every connection as an opportunity for helping other writers as well. I like to remind myself, no matter how well I write, I will never rise above the reputation my family, colleagues, and readers have of me.
•Are you a victim? I hate to break it to you…there aren’t as many victims as you think. Tough to hear? It’s true. The media loves to play on viewers emotions. As a writer, are you a victim? Do you suffer from itshouldbeme-syndrome? Do you believe every agent/publisher/editor just doesn’t understand your talent? Are you giving up the writer-ghost while complaining to everyone who will listen? Writer-victims aren’t as common as you’d like to think either. If your work is really that good and you are actively putting it in front of the right people, it will eventually be recognized. So, hang in there!
Writing and police work have a lot in common. After twenty years, my heart still races when I handle a hot call. There’s nothing like calming a woman who’s hiding from an intruder downstairs, encouraging someone to live another day, soothing a child who’s called an ambulance for their sick grandma, or the sound of a baby being born. The same can be said about writing. My heart still races when I submit an article, or speak before a crowd. There have been sleepless nights, anxious calls to writer-friends, and though my first published book is far from the New York Times best seller list—it’s been the ride of my life.
What about YOU? Does your writing journey have anything in common with your paying job?