How I started to write (and saved myself from being a bored computer programmer)

It was 1999. I was earning more money than God but I was bored and unfulfilled

It was a good time to be in the technology sector. There was a lot of money sloshing about and companies were upgrading their systems whether they needed to or not. My daily rate was very healthy but my mind wasn’t.

My life completely lacked creativity. I was desperately searching for something that would bring meaning. At one point I even signed up to do a charity bike ride down the Nile in Egypt (which I subsequently cancelled). I just needed something that would bring excitement and give me something to work towards.

In the Spring of 1999 I attended a couple of personal development seminars. I remembered my dream that I too would love to give such talks and inspire people to improve their lives. But who would listen to a bored computer programmer? What interesting encouragement did I have to offer?

This malaise continued through the summer. In late August I went to New York to visit my friend Elizabeth. She was raving about her massage therapist so I booked an appointment. True to Elizabeth’s recommendation the massage lady was indeed brilliant but it was the contents of her bookshelf which changed my life.

On the shelf were lots of books about Tarot. I practice Buddhism and we are encouraged to trust our faith to find the meaning of life and not dabble in other traditions. However, I was on holiday so what the heck!

I asked the massage lady if she did tarot readings. She said that they belonged to her partner and he did readings, so I booked myself in for a session.

My session was on Tuesday in the early afternoon. Later on I was due to fly home to London. It turned out that the tarot man was a tarot master and was also fluent in astrology and numerology. Like me he had a musical background and in the past had also worked in the technology sector. He understood how I felt, trapped by the lack of creativity in my life.

The reading began with him analysing the numerology and astrological features of myself. I gave him my date of birth and the time I was born. He said lots of stuff that I didn’t really understand. Then he said, “Ah. You have Gemini in your mid-heaven. This suggests you might be good at writing.”

This was my light bulb moment. The only job I had ever enjoyed in my working life was when I wrote the training manuals and on-line help for an IT system at an investment bank. The work was tangible, I had something to show for it. Back then, when you went on a course you came away with a large binder of information in your hand. Information that I had written.

In our initial chit-chat the tarot man had already suggested to start journaling as a way to discover what I really should be doing with my life. Now he recommended two specific books about how to start writing. They were The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write, both by Julia Cameron.

I had heard about the concept of The Artist’s Way and doing morning pages but I couldn’t remember the name of the book. It was fantastic to finally have the details.

After the reading I walked the twenty blocks back to my friend’s apartment. On the way I stopped at Barnes & Noble, bought both books and a spiral bound journal with a furry leopard print cover.

Once back at my friend’s apartment, the car service arrived to take me to the airport. I checked in, went through to the departure lounge, settled myself in a chair and then pulled out the leopard print journal and The Right to Write. The first exercise it prescribed was to write three pages of anything that came to mind, there and then. Since my journal was a smaller page size I decided to write six pages, thinking that this would be equivalent to three pages of regular office paper. I didn’t realise it at the time but this was my introduction to doing morning pages which years later I am still doing.

I was excited about my writing for two reasons. Firstly because it was an exciting way of being creative and it tied in with aspects of my job which I enjoyed. Secondly, and I think this was the bigger reason at the time, it would give me something to talk about if I ever became a motivational speaker. I had noticed that those speakers all had some kind of before and after story. Now I had mine. Once upon a time I was a bored computer programmer and now I’m a best-selling author. I would be able to tell my story of how I changed my life and charge large sums of money for it. Voila! I had a plan!

I spent the next three weeks reading The Right to Write and diligently completing every exercise. I loved it. It felt like it was opening up a world of possibility. Within a few weeks I had written my first short story. I waxed lyrically to anyone who cared to listen about how I discovered writing and the synchronicity of my New York trip. I continued to come up with short story ideas and wrote some of them.

I began the twelve week programme of The Artist’s Way in January 2000. At the time I described it as the most exciting time of my life since I had started to practice Buddhism. Again, I assiduously worked through the exercises. As promised it did help me to look at the creative demons from earlier in my life, start to heal them and to move on with other creative ideas. At the same time one of my short stories had grown and I decided to continue it as a novel. I have to admit that this eventually fell by the wayside but it was exciting for the first four chapters.

On Saturday 4th March 2000 two significant events happened. Firstly, I took possession of my dream car, a Mazda MX5 with leather seats and walnut trim. It was brand new. I had wanted one for years, my nose continually pressed against the glass of the Mazda dealership in Mayfair which happened to be across the street from my hairdresser. Until recently I hadn’t had the money but thanks to Y2K inflated pay rates I could buy one from new, paid in cash. It was the Julia Cameron exercises which had given me the the L’Oréal “I’m worth it” permission to go after what I wanted and make it happen.

Me and my brand new car. Apologies for photo quality. Smart phones did not exist then!

Secondly I started working on a writing idea that had been percolating for a few weeks. When I was proudly driving my new car home, I realised that the indicators weren’t working. Despite having a shiny new sports car, mortifyingly I had to use hand signals to drive safely through the London traffic. Plans of spending the weekend cruising round town showing off went out the window. By the time I got home the dealership had already closed. I had no choice but to park the car and wait until Monday before I could return it to them and shout at them to fix it.

Instead I got on my push bike, rode up to my favourite bookstore, Waterstones on Piccadilly (lovingly called my Piccadilly office), ordered a cappuccino from the basement café and started to write. It was a writing project that became my first novel, eight years of work and earned me several rejection slips from London’s top literary agencies.

Fast forward 18 years. I still don’t have a published novel though I have written a personal development book. What about the dream of being a motivational speaker with a best-seller under my arm? No, I don’t have the best-seller (yet!) but I do use the story of my transition from bored computer programmer to writer, and someone who continually hustles for what they want out of life, to encourage others to do the same. I’ve done this as a life coach and I’ve given numerous talks and workshops about achieving your dreams alongside your day job. So in a roundabout way, I can tick that one off.

And the best bit — I still work in technology but now I love my job. Since 2001 I have worked three days a week. I earn sufficient money to live and I have time for creative activities. I am so grateful that my job has removed the burden of having to be financially successful with my creative pursuits.

I’d still like the best-seller though!


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