City Life: He's made amends

October 11, 2010|By Steve Smith

In 1993, I started a small wholesale business based in Costa Mesa. The goal was not to become the dominant player in the market, but to have more control over my schedule so that I could spend more time with my kids, who were 3 and 1.

In 1996, an odd series of occurrences triggered a desire to change my career and become a writer. Two years later, in 1998, I had devoted so much time to writing that my once-successful business suffered and had to be put to sleep.

That year, at the age of 43, when my peers were at or near their peak earning years, my annual income was just over $17,000. I owed money here and there, not a lot relative to others perhaps, but when you can't pay, anything is too much.


In June 1998, I started to write for this newspaper and managed to get some assignments from a few regional magazines. I was finally making money writing, but it was not very much.

Determined to make a career out of writing but still needing to put food on the table, I took a menial graveyard shift job to generate a little income. I started work at midnight, got home before 8 a.m., took the kids to school, came back home and worked on my writing assignments. I slept from about 4 to 11 p.m., then started the process over again.

It was the lowest point of my life, but I did what I had to do.

I worked graveyard for about three and a half months. In November 1998, I caught a big break and got a fantastic, full-time writing job that paid very well. It was more money than I'd ever made.

The transition from businessman to writer took almost a year, and was the most difficult year of my life. Through all of the stress at home, and from the leftovers of my business, I promised myself that somehow, someday, I was going to make it up to my wife.

At 8 a.m. on a beautiful, sunny day in June 1999, I was smoking a cigar on a 20-foot condominium balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, celebrating not just my writing success, but the process. All of my debts had been settled. I had not taken a dime of assistance from the government, friends or family, and had not declared bankruptcy.

The Hawaii vacation was paid for in cash from writing jobs.

That was one of the sweetest moments of my life.

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