Monday, April 17, 2017

What Hat Do You Wear? by Betsy Ashton

I've recently read a beta copy of a new coming-of-age book by a debut writer. He wrote a sentence that caught my attention and won't let go: "Try on as many hats as you like until you find one that fits. That’s the one you’ll wear the rest of your life."

The story goes on to talk about the hat you wear in public and the hat you were in private. The one you wear in public is what you do, your job, your role in society, your role in family, etc. The hat you wear in private is the one that guides your heart.

I personally wore many public hats: wife, teacher, student, consultant, et al. Each hat held a special place in my development, but by themselves, they weren't enough. Don't get me wrong. My wife hat is the most satisfying one of all. I've worn it for over 35 years. The teacher hat didn't last as long as I'd hoped, not that I wasn't qualified, but I sought college-level teaching positions right about the time President Nixon (remember him? Tricky Dick?) cut federal aid to education and jobs vaporized.

The consultant hat began after the teacher hat blew away. I held a series of ultimately well-paid positions in several companies over 30 years. I enjoyed my work, but I never defined myself as a consultant for Blap Consultancy. Never to myself or to people I met. It was a job that became a career but was never a passion.

After one egregious day when the moon was transiting Planet Poop, when my colleagues were cranky, and when the client was crankier yet, I curled up in my hotel room immediately after a dinner-for-one and dragged out my laptop. Before I knew it, I'd written a short story about the day, complete with outrageous behavior and a protagonist that had to be me...

I was hooked. I'd found my hat, and a very private hat it was indeed. I wrote early in the morning before we had to be onsite at the client's offices, after hours, on airplanes, at home. I wrote every spare minute I could find. I wrote an office romance that still sits in cyberdust, although I think I'll resurrect it. I feel more capable of trimming it and underwriting it (yup, too much purple prose and too many mechanics of sex) now. 

I wrote a saga about the women who form the core relationships with family and friends. That's way too long (350K words), but I designed it as a trilogy. It may yet see the light of day in a vastly trimmed-down version.

While I was still working, I began the query process and racked up 109 rejection letters from agents. Guess they knew my books needed serious help. I found a sympathetic agent who helped shape my first publishable novel. When she asked if I was thinking about this as a series, I paused a few beats too long.

"Of course, you are," she said. "Of course, I am," I replied. She told me to write brief synopses for two additional books--"a paragraph or two is enough"--and them back to her as soon as possible.

And thereupon, the course of my passion was clear. I was to be an author. I was to write and publish. I was announce to the world that I was a serious author. I was to wear that author hat proudly and loudly.

What hat do you wear?


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery. She has a new short story, "Midnight in the Church of the Holy Grape," in 50 Shades of Cabernet. Her works have appeared in several anthologies and on NPR.


Jannine Gallant said...

Wife, Mother, Author...yes, I feel that one is now a public hat. I have a Parks and Rec hat (literally) for my paycheck jobs, but they're simply a way to help pay bills. I worked as a dept. head at a ski resort for years BC (Before Children), but I was never passionate about it. The Author hat is the one that fits best! Great post, Betsy!

Andrea Downing said...

I've changed hats so many times--reinvented myself--even my brother wonders who I am now. I loved this piece, Betsy--thanks for making me feel I'm not alone!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Yep, the author hat I now wear is far and away my favorite too. After too many years working PR where I had to be very, very careful to protect my and my organization's 'public persona' I'm now free to do whatever I darn well please. Feels Great! Thanks for the reminder.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Betsy, I think you were smart to wear two hats for while, to see the 'fit' of writing for you. I like the hat analogy, but I'd have to say, that sometimes one has to wear a hat for quite some time before we know it's a fit. Took me about 10 years to be sure about teaching, a few years before principaling was a fit. Even the writing thing took eight or nine years. Point being, we may not know for awhile what fits...and after a time,a hat may start being uncomfortable (e.g. my consulting career-too much driving involved; soft money problems ). Thanks for the post!

Diane Burton said...

Wife, mother, grandmother, author. I've had other jobs, but none were as satisfying as being my own boss as a writer. I love the independence, the freedom. As an independent author, I wear a few more hats--promoter and formatter, for example. I like the idea of wearing a hat for a while to see if it fits. I could tell you about all the hats that didn't fit, but then you'd fall asleep. Wearing the grandmother hat is the most fun.

Leah St. James said...

Great message, Betsy. I've spent my whole life wearing hats that didn't fit. I've been a baker (yes, in a bakery), a legal secretary, self-employed editor for court transcripts (talk about story fodder) and many years as an administrative assistant at various corporate entities. My wife/mother/sister/friend hat is my most cherished, but the one that gives me peace is the author hat.

Brenda Whiteside said...

I also know about ill-fitting hats. I've had a bunch. Some I chose and thought they fit until I wore them a while. Others I plopped on only to get me by a point in my life. My personal hat says Mom, Sister, Wife, daughter, and Grandmother around the brim. My professional hat says Author, but only on the front. If I get a little more successful that word will be stamped all around the brim so I don't have to keep explaining to people what the hat makes me!

Alicia Dean said...

Love this post. Wisdom and humor all in one. :D I have worn many, many hats over the years. I currently wear half a dozen or so. I feel like mine all fit, but that wasn't always true. Thanks for the food for thought!

Barbara Edwards said...

My Hat is similar to yours. I am a writer.