Career choice: Becoming a writer

Alex Wade

Name: Alex Wade 
Level of PQE: 22 years
Current position and immediate former position: Writer, freelance journalist and pre-publication lawyer for The Times, Guardian and other publishers.

Why did you go into law in the first place?

I studied American and English Literature at UEA - books and writing were my passion. After university I took a year out, and returned hoping to crack it as a writer and/or journalist. I got nowhere.

By then my brother had completed a law degree. The rather prosaic truth is that it seemed sensible to follow in the family footsteps - Dad is a solicitor, too.

What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?

I qualified as a solicitor with Carter-Ruck in 1994, having done my articles with them too.

What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?

While studying the law conversion course, I targeted libel law firms for articles. But becoming a freelance journalist and writer was down to a life-changing event in my early 30s.

What steps did you take to make that move a reality (include details of resources that you found particularly helpful)?

In a bid to escape the temptations of the media world in London, I moved from my second job in the law (as Richard Desmond’s head of legal affairs) to Wiggin, the Cheltenham-based media law firm. But I was a troubled soul back then and eventually erupted at a work function, behaving very badly. I was rightly sacked the following day.

I returned to London and worked on the night lawyer rotas of national newspapers. I got into boxing and tackled my demons.

One thing I realised: I was desperate to write. So I started banging on editors’ doors and managed to get pieces away in the nationals and magazines, while still working as a night lawyer. I also wrote a novel, which secured a literary agent.

That agent sold my story - of getting into boxing and finding order out of chaos - to Simon & Schuster. Wrecking Machine, published in 2005, was my first book. I’ve written two more sports books and another novel.

How easy or difficult did you find the move?

The day I was sacked felt like the end of the world. All my fault, and I’d let so many people down.

But the more I boxed, and the more I confronted the damage binge drinking had done, the more it dawned on me that I needed to accept myself. That meant accepting that I had to write, not be a conventional solicitor.

What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?

I was determined to prove people wrong - unsurprisingly, I was written off by many people.

Tough love helped too. One of my oldest friends took me in when I was 'on my uppers'; but after four weeks he was tired of my self-pity and kicked me out. He did absolutely the right thing.

How did you find the transition after you made the move?

I've loved every minute of my career as a writer and freelance journalist. Nothing makes me as happy as when I'm writing (except time with my kids - now grown-up - and, miracle of miracles, watching QPR win).

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

The variety. I kept my hand in with the law and continue to work for various newspapers and publishers as a pre-publication lawyer.

But as much as I'm still engaged in libel and other media law issues, I'll be writing about anything from sport to literature, or copywriting for law firms and hotel groups, or maybe even writing a travel piece having been sent somewhere like Barbados.

What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?

My career path is not to be recommended. Being thrown out of a law firm is not fun. I don't believe in not having regrets and I will regret the events leading up to my dismissal, and the damage I did, till the day I die.

That said, the past is another country. If I was there again, I'd make sure I had the courage to embrace writing from the off, rather than it being something that came about because I imploded.

What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?

  • Think honestly about what makes you tick
  • Be bold and embrace it
  • And have faith in yourself - whatever happens

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