Pursuing Your Passion Project: An Interview with Phillip Lewis, Author of “The Barrowfields” (Part 2)
I have hobbies and interests that take away from time I could otherwise be working and billing clients. This blog is an example, as is my forthcoming book Building a Better Law Practice. It took me years to come to terms with it being okay to take time for myself. But now I understand that having a hobby and taking time to recharge are essential, not only for a healthy me, but also for a healthier practice. Although times are a-changin’ that’s still a minority view in many circles. If you are a lawyer considering or in the midst of pursuing a side hustle or passion project, the words below offer reinforcement and encouragement you may need to hear.
That mindset is something Phillip Lewis (lawyer and author of The Barrowfields) adopted, and which was accepted by those in his firm. If you missed Part 1 of the interview, you can read it here.
Interview with Phillip Lewis (Part 2), how his passion project affected his practice
Were your partners aware that you were undertaking to write a novel? And if so, were they supportive of your endeavor?
My partners gradually became aware of my work on a novel as it progressed, and they were more supportive than you can imagine. I’m still amazed by this. It was routine for other lawyers in the firm to come by and ask how the book was progressing and have a real interest in it. Several of them read and commented on drafts along the way. At each milestone—when I found an agent; when we first sold the publishing rights; when the first galleys came in, etc.—they celebrated with me and helped spread the good news. 4
During periods of time for which my work on the book significantly cut into my lawyer time, the other lawyers in my litigation group took over cases for me, handled my hearings, wrote my briefs, and in general made it possible for me to focus almost entirely on the book. I honestly don’t know if there’s another law firm anywhere that would have been as supportive, and I couldn’t have done it without all that help.
In what ways has your being an author affected your practice?
Being an author has had an enormous impact on my practice. I feel very much like I’ve had two full-time jobs for the past few years, but only one of them pays with regularity. I’ve spent countless days away from the office visiting bookstores or speaking to organizations or book clubs since The Barrowfields came out in March 2017. Before then, in the final two years before publication, I missed out on a lot of billable hours because I was busy writing and editing.
Even now, more than a year after publication, there are frequent opportunities to focus on book-related matters. For example, a German translation of The Barrowfields is in the works, and the translator in Berlin is wonderfully detailed and precise. She has contacted me many times to discuss language and implication found in The Barrowfields, and how that may be successfully communicated in German, which has been more challenging than I anticipated. (This year there has already been a Polish and an Italian edition of The Barrowfields published overseas; later in 2018 the book will also be published in France and the Netherlands, with the German edition to follow in the fall or early next year.)
So it seems that there is always something book-related which has a way of taking my attention away from practicing law. My hope is that all the marketing effort on behalf of the book will eventually bring some good new business for the firm, because I certainly feel I owe them that after the kindness and patience they have shown to me. I’m starting to see this more and more, and I hope it will continue.
What advice would you give to other lawyers who want to pursue a passion project or side hustle?
First, you just have to decide to do it. If you wait until “the time is right,” it will likely never happen. Second, if you are writing a book, understand that it’s damn hard work, but it’s supposed to be. People get frustrated when they sit down to write and run into the first of what will be a series of walls that are hard to see around. You just have to know going in that it’s a slog, and that’s the reality of it. If you’re like most writers, there’s no such thing as instant gratification. Read The Autobiography of an American Novelist by Thomas Wolfe and you’ll see you’re not alone in this. Third, you have to be willing to believe in yourself despite clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
Along the way, you will be beset by innumerable distractions and naysayers, and you’ll be presented time and again with plenty of reason to believe that what you’re attempting is a fool’s errand. You have to firmly decide “to hell with all that,” and just keep working, even though there’s part of you that thinks the naysayers could be right.
The Barrowfields is one of the three best novels I’ve read in the past year, with the others being Gilead and All the Light We Cannot See. I listened to The Barrowfields on audiobook (which is a format I’ve taken to lately) and it has an excellent reader. You can find The Barrowfields in all formats on Amazon, and I fully recommend that you buy this book that so effectively encapsulates Southern culture in a coming-of-age story, full of idiosyncrasy and charm.
One of the lines from The Barrowfields set off a chain of ideas and a conversation on LawyerSmack that led to a blog post, “I Have a Useless Undergrad Degree, so I Went to Law School“.