My friend Nancy Williams is a true inspiration. She went to Harvard Business School for M.B.A, then worked in the telecom and mobile phone industry. However, she felt that her true calling was to be a creative writer. So she quit her lucrative job as a marketing director at AT&T, and became a writer! Since then she had won The Chattahoochee Reviews Lamar York Nonfiction Prize for her essay Deserting the Piano.
She is passionate about classical piano. She has started an online magazine Grand Piano Passion™ that "offers inspiration, practice pointers, book and video selections, and peer profiles for students of adult piano lessons." Here is her story...
Ricker : You went to Harvard Business School for M.B.A. and then worked in the telecom and mobile phone industry. And now you are a full-time creative writer. What inspires you to quit the business world and become a writer?
Nancy : I'm not sure how much choice I had in the matter of becoming a creative writer. In many ways, writing called me in such a way that it was almost impossible for me to refuse. In 1995, I felt increasingly alienated from my marketing director job at AT&T, such that even pushing the revolving door open in the mornings sucked the energy out of me. I enrolled in a career assessment class sponsored by my alma mater, and we did exercises to pinpoint ideal careers, including interviewing friends and family about the passions we had during childhood. I expected a conclusion that I should pursue a more creative career, such as an advertising director. When I finally allowed myself to admit how much I longed to write, I felt as though I had received a diagnosis of a disease. How would I ever make money as a writer? I took a one-year sabbatical, which over time morphed into a major career change. Although I now make a fraction of the compensation I enjoyed as a businessperson, my work is more fulfilling.
Ricker : You are now a prize-winning writer. When did you start writing, and did you have any training on creative writing?
Nancy : The switch from business to creative writing was formidable. If I could offer advice to others considering such a major career change, plan for a transition measured in years. I required two tries to leap across the chasm from business to creative writing. The first time, after I left AT&T, I wrote several short stories and a novel. During that time I took classes in creative writing from places like The Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y in New York City and The Iowa Summer Writing Festival sponsored by University of Iowas MFA program in creative writing. Although most of what I wrote during this time will probably never be published, I learned the basics of writing, such as scene-setting, point of view, and dialogue.
After several years, I returned to the business world, again as a marketing director, purely for financial reasons. I tried to write, arriving at the office by six am, but it was slow going. I started writing essays because they seemed easier, yet I discovered that nonfiction was the medium that truly sparked my interest. I wanted to explore what actually had happened in my life. After four years of marketing cell phones, I was able to retire a second time to writing. By then I had returned to the piano, and in the next few years, my creative nonfiction work about playing the piano took off. In 2009, I was thrilled when my essay, Deserting the Piano, won The Chattahoochee Reviews Lamar York Nonfiction Prize.
Ricker : What inspired you to start your online music magazine REFLECTIONS ON A GRAND PASSION™? What vision you have for it?
Nancy : After I returned to the piano in 2005, I was struck by how much joy I obtained from practicing, yet how few resources there seemed to exist for the adult amateur pianist, let alone a beginning student of adult piano lessons. So much of the literature and so many existing organizations seemed to pivot around the professional classical pianist or the younger student, especially child prodigies. I wanted to give adult pianists a voice, and so I founded REFLECTIONS ON A GRAND PASSION™.
During the first few months, I wrote articles about my own experiences studying the piano, focusing on my challenge of my high-frequency hearing loss and the emotional legacy I carry as an adult child of an alcoholic. Then, while shopping for a piano, I met Fraidel Leah Kletter, a very talented adult amateur pianist whose life has been transformed by the piano. I profiled her for the magazine, and I felt energized by how much I learned from her story. Now GRAND PIANO PASSION™ covers not only my experiences, but also includes profiles of adult piano students, interviews with piano teachers, and coverage of authors whose books touch on the piano. I like the way these different voices provide a rich perspective on my passion for classical piano music.