(I've been meaning to write for quite some time to let you know how it's all working out so far. Sorry for the delay.)
Over twenty years ago you left a very lucrative career in daytime television to pursue your dreams of "being a writer,." without an inkling of the treacherous, angry waves your little boat would meet along the way.
(It sounds like a hilarious memoir or sitcom but real life is very different so hold on.)
The writer's life back then wasn't risky. It was a picture coupled with fun writing exercises from books. It was your friend Bill's life. He was a "real writer." He made his living (a very good one) writing screenplays. What interested you was the whole Scotch, Dunhill cigarette smoke, wool sweater, up-all-night running hands through messy hair picture of the writer's life. Alone in a room. For hours. Creating.
(You loved the twist a well-turned sentence could make from your head to your heart. Remember in 5th grade you wanted to be a librarian?)
Everyone in your life (save a few dreamers) begged you to be sensible. First, rarely did people succeed at writing and second, YOU WERE ON TELEVISION. Everybody wants to be on television. That doesn't change. But they have no idea really how it really isn't much of anything but another job with its own set of heartache. You were about to turn twenty-nine and already getting flack from tv people about looking "older." There was no way you could grow old liking yourself if you had undergo the knife to stay "young." In this, you showed great wisdom.
So you quit. Your job, your house, your religious organization...and moved to a mountain top. Because you thought that's what writers did: lived in guest houses on ten acres alone overlooking the Santa Barbara Islands. For one year you stared at those islands writing sentences on paper that maybe weren't so great, but you believed in your ability to create your own fortune. People said you had real "courage," but that's what youth is: hope and courage.Taking risks.
(After risk, life happens: this is the part in your story where things don't work out exactly as planned. That ridiculous book you read, "Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow"? Well, by now you realize the whole new age thing was ridiculous. Do what you love and be prepared to work really really hard for the love of it. Everything else is just gravy.)
Over the years, and seriously low-paying day jobs, the sentences you wrote on the mountain top turned into paragraphs that turned into novels near the beach. You learned to come home from work, no matter how tired or achy or sick, and get right back to the story. You spurred yourself on with a passion for characters and feelings and worlds unto themselves, meeting like-minded book lovers on the same path who encouraged you to never give up in the midst of tears.
(Oh there will be lots of tears and drama.)
There were short stories published for little or no money, tv pilots and screenplay promises that came and went, but the ones that hurt the most are the "almost-published's," and the "you are the great new voice in American fiction, but you just don't fit in," novel rejections. Brace yourself the seas get super choppy.
(You now have hundreds upon hundreds of rejection emails and lunches and phone calls made or unreturned from agents or editors or producers, followed by days/weeks/months of tears, vows to quit, applications to colleges to study medicine/psychology/sociology/anthropology/any-ology, followed by wine or chanting or....walks through the woods, only to once again in the middle of the night be awakened by a voice speaking a clear simple, beautiful sentence. And what choice will you have but to follow and record its story? Some characters are difficult; they screw with your sleep and rent. Others are easy and sweet and everyone loves them only to break their hearts and dump them later.)
So this is where you wind up twenty years later, Young Writer. Loving your stories hoping that they will find their readers. There are no Pen/Faulker Award seals on the cover of your books, no raving Publisher's Weekly reviews...not even a response back from The New Yorker, those snobs. The sign posts you believed validated you as, "a real writer": the NY Times Bestseller list, movie options, invitations to speak at universities, yeah...they don't mean much of anything to your books. Except sales. They mean sales. Which would help.
(Today the car broke down and I just can't afford to fix her. Not with all of the mounting medical and student loan debt. So book sales or a movie option would be amazing but waiting for a Deus Ex Machina you have discovered is superstitious bullshit that only works in novels because it threatens the quality of your work, and more importantly, your real happiness. NEVER pin rent on some poor story in the works.)
In spite of all, here I sit.
Did you make the right decision twenty years ago? Cause that's what this is all about, right? Every time one of these glitches happens: a love affair ends, you wish you'd had kids, or you just can't fix the car again...you will ask yourself: Should I have just played it safe and stayed on daytime television? (It does read like a hilarious memoir, but you will never write it because this blog is enough navel-gazing for both of us.)
That is a question best asked late at night by someone filled with regrets. Or too much wine.
This is it: the writers life. It mostly does look like Bill's life....without the house, money, Scotch, cigarettes,or film credits.
It's been a harrowing, painful sea journey filled with loneliness, tears, crappy day-jobs, quitting smoking, living in your parents' basement and still.. something seriously beautiful. The gift of encouraging your own creative life to find the shore.
I don't know yet if that's enough. So just keep writing. And take the bus.