The leap of faith — when should authors take it?


The dream of many authors is to make writing novels their full-time job. But how do you know when it's time to make that leap of faith? For some people it's purely a decision dictated by dollars and cents. For others, an emotional component plays a greater role.

I've asked C.J. Lyons to share her story because her financial decision — she gave up a career as a doctor to write full time — was bigger than what most of us will face. The second reason is the emotional factor, sadly, is also much more than most of us will (hopefully) ever have to face. And lastly, C.J. is from my hometown of Pittsburgh (Go Pirates!).

Her story:

I’ve been a storyteller all my life and in high school wrote my first novel (a YA fantasy) and two SF/F novels in med school. But everything changed during my pediatric internship year.

Halfway through my first year at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh one of my fellow interns was killed in a very horrendous way. The police apprehended the killer, thanks to good forensic work and cooperation of several agencies. But we interns were still traumatized. Left to mourn and make sense of this terrible thing while simultaneously caring for infants and children entrusted to our care and trying to help families cope.

For me, writing helped me to heal. I wrote my first crime fiction novel, a romantic thriller called BORROWED TIME (which hit the USA Today Bestseller list). Before I'd always written SF/F, but after Jeff died I needed to explore good/evil, justice/truth more than I needed the escapism my previous novels provided me.

I wanted to change the world, to bring Jeff back. To punish the bad guys and give the good guys a happy ending. To find the courage to stand up and face the darkness. And the only place I could do that was in my writing.

I never could have made the leap of faith that took me from medicine to published author without the courage I learned from Jeff. Without finding the strength to climb out of the despair his death created and to face the pain of living with the loss.

My writing explores the gray spaces between the black and white of good and evil. That’s why I call them “Thrillers with Heart”—they’re less about the action and more about the people. Stories about every day heroes finding the courage to change their world.

I think Jeff would have approved.

Leaving medicine was hard, especially since at the time I was practicing as a community pediatrician and had long-term relationships with my patients. Plus, it took a real leap of faith to abandon that job security for the vicarious life of an author.

Becoming a doctor was amazing—I come from a small town in Pennsylvania and worked three jobs to put myself through medical school—but becoming a writer was a dream I'd had all my life, so being able to make it come true has been fantastic beyond words.

My writing career hasn't been smooth sailing, in many ways it's as hard as being a doctor (I actually work longer hours now!) but it has been fulfilling in so many ways.

As a doctor the greatest rush came from those rare moments when I actually saved a life. As a writer I get the chance to touch hundreds of thousands of lives—and I can't begin to describe the feeling I get when I hear from fans about how my stories have done more than provide entertainment but have inspired or empowered them. Talk about your dreams come true!

You can learn more about CJ and her novels at Her newest novel is "Snake Skin."