The book given me by a workshop mate as I went off to my Clarion and twenty years in the wilderness.
So, one of the things about being a writer is that you do it by yourself, mostly. You do it anywhere, everywhere. You create your own structure. Most writers have day jobs or do freelance work and have families and all these things eat up time.
Your kids lives rush by in an eye blink. Your day job teeters precariously in the jaws of the global economy. There are about a million reasons not to write fiction.
Your chances of ever making a living are infinitesimal.
Channeling the mental energies of writing into anything else will yield tangible results. Ph.Ds, real estate, happy children, a cleaner house, stacks of neatly folded laundry, tasty meals, european vacations, better local elected officials.
Why in the name of God would anyone want to know what Jay has in the box?
(Google: Let’s Make a Deal.)
It’s going to take you a few years, lets say five, but it could be ten, to see if you can even do this thing. That’s five years of mostly solitary confinement.
And so, as with any rite of passage, any exile from the mainstream, any gulag, any ghetto, any polar expedition into the arctic, the people with you, the ones you walk with, become hugely important; because mostly, you choose them, and mostly, they have chosen you.
You’re not working on an assembly line, or as part of a team in a corporation; if a relationship isn’t working, you can walk away from it. A workshop, a beta-reader, a fellow writer whose work you follow, who follows yours, nobody cares, it’s all up to you and down to me, as a former business partner of mine used to love to say.
I’ve been workshopping off and on for twenty years, doing social media heavily for as long as it has been around. I have people but, ah, this is thing, the people come and go.
Writers seldom stay put. Oddly, I do. I’m embedded in Cambridge, in my family, and nothing is likely to pry me out of here any time soon.
But my people come and go.
As writers we size each other up, and try to help each other. You look for signs, that your input is helping someone, or changing them; are they getting any better? Do they keep doing the same thing over and over again? Do they really get what you’re trying to do? Is their feedback useful?
So I have reconnected, to some degree, with the people I’ve written with over the years, around my raft of 10 professional sales over the last year. They’ve been wonderful, supportive, happy for me, and jealous and pissed off to a degree that is reasonable. (I’m a white het cis upper middle class middle aged male soaking up valuable publication slots. Even I piss myself off sometimes. I am diversity kryptonite.)
So I went looking, online, for a smart, compassionate man who gave me a copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” as I went off to Clarion in 1994, to tell him the places I went; the decades of darkness and my short sweet time in the sun.
I looked for evidence of his publication, hopeful. This guy was smart, focused, driven. He’d been a corporate lawyer. He’d gotten himself and his family situated, and cut his hours back drastically to give himself time to write.
I remember thinking, in the 90s, wow, that was the right order to this in. Get a real gig, get comfortable, and then, scale back your lifestyle and clear the decks and put the time in, from a position of strength; knowing that you could choose to be richer, choose to have a bigger house or a nicer car, but instead, choosing to write. Know, first of all, that you aren’t a loser–then, write.
He looked me in the eye, and told me, he simply had to do this. He had to write. He couldn’t live with himself otherwise. He impressed me. I was sure he’d do it, he’d make it.
So I looked and looked and looked. Maybe he was writing under a pseudonym?
Finally, I looked for him on Linked In, knowing that finding him there would not be a good thing.
I found him. A bank president. A man in a suit. I barely recognized him, he’d put on weight and gotten grayer, but he looked happy, in the photo, happy and maybe a tiny bit sad. But you can’t really tell from a photo how someone is feeling.
Linked in profiles are scrubbed clean of anything resembling humanity. Linked In is your resume personality. This is the version of you that when asked, what is your greatest weakness, answers, “sometimes I work so hard I forget to eat and sleep.” Linked in is a world of professional lies.
Oh, the Places we Go.
I hope he writes under a pseudonym.
If he doesn’t, I hope he never sees my name on a magazine.
I wish him nothing but the best.