I Had It All Wrong
My early fantasies of the writing life bore no relation to reality, saturated as they were with a determined sentimentality. I must have gotten my ideas from photos I came across in which writers were always pensively portrayed in workspaces that overlooked meadows and streams drenched in dappled sunlight.
I envisioned these writers living in unearthly serenity, happily insulated—probably by wives. Since I wasn’t a man, nor had I a wife, I don’t know who I thought would be earning money for me or handling life’s bothersome details—which admittedly were less onerous 25 years ago—while I was gazing out on a verdant landscape from my writerly haven.
By the time I moved to Boston in my early twenties, I was penning stories and essays, which I rarely completed. I know now that that was because I knew neither how nor where to publish them. I’d had it drummed into me that it was virtually impossible to get anything in print if you lacked important contacts. Publishers, I was told, were terribly selective, and no one understood exactly how they weeded people out. But, weed me out these disapproving, deskbound gatekeepers would.
Get Make My Start
So, I read a great deal, and I wrote all those things I didn’t complete. But now I see they were all practice. I was learning to write better and building up my confidence until one day, I offered to write brief reviews for a regional art paper. I doubt if I formally queried or got paid for those reviews, but I got my name in print.
A local feminist paper let me write my first feature article. In the end, I was dissatisfied with the piece, because it didn’t accurately reflect my views. Even the photo they took of me on a neighbor’s lawn (well, here at least was my pastoral setting) was unflattering. But the experience took me from writing for myself to writing for others, and I learned to work with editors.
My town library needed someone to promote a literary lecture, so I interviewed the Cape Cod author and submitted a feature article, which was published in the local newspaper.
All the while, I took writing classes.
I Arrive at My Goal
I produced a blog offering creative writing tips for my alma mater. I wrote, under pseudonyms, first-person columns and an article about being overworked for two national higher education papers. Then I had an essay published in a women’s paper that’s circulated in a number of cities. More Magazine online published my essay about joyfully leaving organizational life to teach creative writing.
I managed to become a writer, publishing two dozen articles and essays, even though I had no idea how to do it. As writers, we have to make our own opportunities, and now more than ever before, we can do that.
The Real (and Rewarding) Writing Life
Neither I, nor anyone else, ever foresaw the major publishing houses disappearing or morphing into something else, with even greater strictures against risk taking. Who guessed that a writer would need a strategy as sophisticated as a business plan to get published? (And I thought it was hard to get published way back when!) Who suspected that we writers would have to learn to repair our computers, sometimes moments before a deadline, and distribute our work on things called web sites, and use keywords and tags, Facebook, Twitter, digg and delicious?
But at the same time that we couldn’t imagine the Internet, we couldn’t imagine that we’d perhaps be discovered electronically by a total stranger who might be an agent or an editor. Or, we can bypass them, distribute our own work, and maybe be discovered by them after the fact.
All this has liberated writers from those unknown publishing house denizens as remote and incomprehensible as the anonymous authorities in a Kafka novel.
I teach writers the tricks of our trade, so that these teens, parents, engineers, business owners, and military veterans don’t have to spend decades, as I did, figuring out how to publish the work they’ve waited a lifetime to see in print.
And there’s another benefit of being a writer today: if we post our work on sites we control, then realize we haven’t said what we meant, we can correct or replace it altogether. That’s professional freedom.