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Breaking Free


By Catherine Dilts

Certain stages in life are clearly defined. Birth. School graduations. Weddings. They occur at a specific date and time. Retirement has been harder for me to pin down.

My husband is still active in his career, working remotely for a medical device company. When my day job went away, it was easy to piggyback on his routine because I already have a second career. I continued to get up early, and get to it on the computer.

It wasn’t like I was struggling to find a new path in life. I have one that I’ve been pursuing nearly since birth. After becoming published in 2012, I have treated fiction writing like a job. Maybe too much of a job.

I had a great conversation with my critique partner Beth recently. When she retires in a few years, she’s giving herself permission to do nothing for two weeks. I had a book deadline and my own workaholic nature to contend with, so I didn’t take a break. That may have been a mistake.


This is what a flower looks like when it breaks free from its seed. Specifically, a marigold flower. I started seeds indoors. When they sprout, they lift out of the dirt, raising the seed husk high, then casting it off and going about the business of being a flower.

I thought I had cast off my day job husk five minutes after receiving The Call. It turns out I’ve been dragging that husk around for months. The shadow of being chained to a desk eight hours a day keeps me stuck in a routine that’s not always conducive to creativity. 

This has been a year of casting off for me. Retiring from the day job has been more of an adjustment than I anticipated, besides the expected financial recalculations and medical insurance changes. The timing has been odd. If I had been pushed to retire a year or two earlier, I would have spent more time with my elderly parents. They are both gone now. My time is my own.

Well, that not spent on family, and maintaining our aging home. There will always be responsibilities, and all of this isn’t worth much without family. Let’s say, a higher percentage of my time is my own.

In ways, my transition has felt similar to that marigold struggling to cast off the confining seed casing. It often takes days for the primary leaves to push off the husk. Some sprouts are slower at completing the process. 

I had an interesting career. It was challenging and meaningful. But at the back of my mind was the desire to write fiction. To be a writer full-time. And now I’m there. Cause for celebration. For joy, right?

I’m getting there. One obstacle is thinking I need to achieve external milestones. Sales. Recognition. Accolades. But that’s never been what writing was about to me. It’s the process. The creating. Crafting meaning from the chaos of life. 

It’s time to cast off the rest of that husk of workday expectations. Writing is art. Writing is joy.

Catherine Dilts has lived in Colorado for decades now, but spent her formative years in Oklahoma. She must have left a little bit of her heart there because her Rose Creek Mystery series is set in the Ozark foothills in northeastern Oklahoma. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, Catherine also writes for several Annie’s Fiction series. Her short stories regularly appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and in anthologies. Recently retired from a career as an environmental compliance specialist for a global corporation, Catherine now gets to do what she always dreamed of – write fiction full-time. She and her husband enjoy traveling with their adult children and their families, camping, and participating in the occasional crazy long-running adventure. After having thirteen of her short stories, seven of her own novels, and five write-for-hire novels (with three more in the queue waiting for release) published, Catherine still struggles to define success.


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