When one of my coworkers died in her chair, I realized that it could be me and I would never have pursued what I truly wanted to do: write.
This week is my three-year anniversary of leaving my job to pursue writing. It was a very good job working with people I truly liked, and offered a lot of opportunities. But it came with a cost. At the end I worked very long hours for projects that demanded my intelligence, endurance, engagement, and empathy every day. It was exhilarating and exhausting. Critically, it left me no time or energy to write.
The first six months after I left, I mostly slept and recovered from my job. After that I started writing in earnest. I learned that I didn’t know enough about writing fiction to do it well. The last two years have been mostly a self-designed educational path. My husband calls it my self-designed grad school for writers. (His love and support have been phenomenal. I am so lucky to be with him.)
Writing well is hard. Lots of people do it while raising small children or working demanding jobs and I am in awe of them. I don’t think I could have.
It’s hard in the way that all new endeavors that require intelligence and empathy are hard. It’s hard because it takes time to learn. It’s hard because you have to wake up and do it when no one else cares what you produce that day. It’s hard because the world is endlessly fascinating, a glittering distraction. And it’s hard because it can feel like an endless series of failures.
There is a quote by Ira Glass, beautifully rendered in comic form by Zen Pencils. (I’ll put the quote here, but you will enjoy it more if you see the comic Zen Pencils did, so I recommend you click.)
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
I’m fighting my way through the early stages of learning and producing salable fiction with the support of my family and my writing friends. I’m doing the work. I’m not making a living because I’m not good enough.
I will be. This year is the first time I’ve produced fiction to a deadline. Next year’s plans are even more ambitious.
I’m learning as fast as I can. I hope that some of you will join me on the weather-blown ship that is my writing career. That’s not a storm ahead. It’s a portal into another world and I’m heading straight into it.
Be well, friends!