How To Reinvent Yourself: Becoming A Writer at 48

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How To Reinvent Yourself as a Writer at Age 48

I created a mega successful national real estate brand. But since I was 8, all I really wanted to do was write

By Kaira Rouda

Since the third grade, I’ve known I wanted to write books. Yet, in between then and now, I had a 30-year business career, raised four kids, and built a national brand with my husband. And despite the fact that it took much longer than I would have ever predicted to make my dream of becoming a novelist come true, and despite the fact that it took a lot of pivoting and facing fears, it did happen.

But the most surprising thing about becoming an author much later than planned? Turns out, a lifetime of experiences is good fodder for a novelist.

I graduated college in the mid 1980s with an English degree and found my first jobs in the newspaper and magazine writing industry. The other passion I had, marketing, was fueled by watching my father, an MBA professor who specialized in the subject. (I always joked that I earned a home-schooled MBA.) Eventually, I pivoted to the world of advertising, and by the time my first three kids were born, I’d become vice president of marketing for an Inc. 100 firm and franchisor, and the first ever woman to earn this coveted title in the company’s history. 

Turns out, there was a reason for that particular oversight — a deep-seated one. Eventually, I resigned and filed a class action lawsuit for sexual harassment and gender discrimination. This was in the late 1990s, and the story was big news in the Central Ohio community where we lived. We even had reporters staking out our house, if you can imagine. Scary when you have four kids under the age of 10 who just want to play outside in their own backyard. 

At the same time, my husband was working on a rollup of 14 different real estate companies across Ohio and asked me if I wanted to help with the branding. Since I was suddenly unemployed and eager to stay busy, I jumped at the chance. Together we built Real Living Real Estate and grew it to more than 22 states. Real Living was the first brand in residential real estate to acknowledge women as the “decision makers” in the home-buying process, a tough reality for many to accept at the time. My specialty had grown into marketing to women, and I was proud to help an industry realize that not only is residential real estate sales one of the first careers in which women could make more than men (quite liberating!), but also that women make or influence 91 percent of all home-buying decisions. 

I’d stand in front of groups of real estate agents and brokers and refer to the customer as “her,” “she,” and stare out at all the bewildered faces. But we kept at it, and over time we created a sea of change in the industry with Real Living’s acknowledgement that women are at the center of the real estate transaction. It was gratifying to watch the female real estate agents especially embrace their power. This led to my first book, Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs, a business book, of all things, something I never dreamed I’d write but enjoyed immensely. I’m also proud to have won the 2008 Stevie Award for Women in Business. 

Reinvent Yourself: Have Perspective and Learn to Pivot
And then the great recession hit, striking Ohio — where most of our operating companies were located — hard. We lost 40 percent off the topline sales in the fall of 2008. The business was guaranteed personally. My husband and I and our four kids, one gearing up to attend college, were on the edge of losing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Fortunately, we managed to sell off a large Cleveland operation and subsequently sold the franchise division of Real Living to Berkshire Hathaway. These were, as you can imagine, tough and stressful times. I’ll never forget the faces, or the attitude, of those bankers circling like vultures. 

But I like to focus on the positive. Throughout my time running Real Living with my husband, I made a point of making our brand accessible and easily translatable to our agents’ personal brands. And that’s what I talk about in my first book.

I didn’t realize though, until the publication date loomed, that when you write a business book, people expect you to speak about it. Widely. Across the country. My fear of public speaking was immense, so I hired a speech coach. Eventually (and because I really had no choice), I overcame the fear and spoke to groups of entrepreneurs — mostly women, but not always — about living the life of your dreams, putting your passion into action, and those eight steps of articulating your personal brand. I often ended up asking the audience if they had a dream they hadn’t made come true…yet. 

And eventually, I asked myself the same question.

(The answer? A resounding yes: I wanted to be a novelist.)

When we sold the franchise division, my day-to-day job ended. We had moved to California where my family was from and where my oldest decided to attend college. After settling the kids into new schools, I found myself at home, alone, without a job and with nothing but time. And with this time, I started to think about the possibilities for my second act.

Reinvent Yourself: Face Your Fears and Stay Resilient
I sat down and wrote my first novel Here, Home, Hope about a mom experiencing a midlife crisis who makes a things-to-change list and finds her path. My first novel came out in the spring of 2011 and my new career was launched.

And, like my time in marketing, and my time running a company, I’ve learned resilience is the key to getting your work published. I’ve been self-published, traditionally published, and everything in between. I wrote a couple of romance series and three women’s fiction novels before my breakout book, Best Day Ever, that took a decidedly darker turn. This was my first big publisher deal. When my publisher sent me to the Book Expo in New York at the Javits Center, it was quite literally a dream come true. I walked through the doors of the huge convention space and saw my book cover hanging from the rafters, and well, just WOW. I like to credit all my spectacularly awful male bosses of my past for the rather not-nice characters you’ll find in my suspense stories. And the powerful women you’ll find there too. One reviewer said my novels show off my trademark “deliciously devilish women and inherently ignorant men”… I love that review because those characters come from deep within me and my lived experiences. 

My 10th novel, The Widow, about a cheating congressman, his charming wife, and a reporter intent on bringing them down — became my first one set in Washington, DC. 

The inspiration? My husband ran for congress, his first-ever foray into politics and his second act, in the 2018 midterms and defeated a 30-year incumbent. We had such an interesting and fast-paced life for those two years, traveling back and forth from California, learning the city, and all its treasures. He loved being a legislator and was great at the job. And then the pandemic hit, and he narrowly lost his re-election, and just as he was gearing up to run again, redistricting made his seat attractive to an incumbent one district over, so my husband graciously stepped aside.  

But, we’re both all about resilience these days. And growing. And trying new things.

He is now starting a real estate business with our oldest son; I’ve recently partnered with my daughter, a screenwriter, to adapt my novels into scripts. And I just had the thrill of having one of my novels Beneath the Surface optioned for film.

So, the advice I have to that question I asked myself a dozen of years ago (the same one I asked women across the country during my speaking tour): Don’t let fear stand in your way. It’s never easy, chasing a dream, but it’s much better than having regrets.

When I made the pivot from real estate to writing, a wonderful industry leader and trailblazing woman sent me a placard that still hangs behind me in my office to this day with a quote that is often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. It reads: Do one thing every day that scares you.

This could be as simple as calling a friend you’ve neglected to keep in contact with and asking her to lunch, forgetting about the reasons you haven’t called sooner and just moving forward. Or, if you’ve been thinking about taking adult classes or getting another degree, sign up or just submit that application and see what happens. Is your dream like mine? To be a published author? Just get started; sit down and write the first page.

And this is key: You don’t need to quit your day job to start something new. I think that’s one of the obstacles that holds people back the most (and an easy excuse to not move forward). Make the time for you; take the time and jump in, even if it’s only with one foot … for now.  

Kaira Rouda is a USA Today bestselling author of 20 books. Her newest novel, Under the Palms, publishes this month; read a short excerpt on her website. Next up: The Second Mrs. Strom (out in August) and Only the Nanny (publishing in November). She lives in Laguna Beach, California, with her family. Follow her on Facebook 

  1. Dana Killion

    I can confirm this. Being an author wasn’t a lifelong dream of mine, but the need for a pivot due to family circumstances shoved me into the arena. My first book was published at age 57, to date it’s a five book mystery series. And when that familly circumstance shattered the rest of my life, my history as a novelist was the foundation for another smaller, but scarier pivot, memoir. I told the story of what shattered my life. I only found my voice to tell that truth because I had dared to make up stories.

    If writing has been a dream of yours, do it! It’s never too late. And the most important point in our stories is that you never know how magnificent that pride and transformation is going to be until you do it. Bravo Kaira!

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