Still, there was a time, not too long ago, when writing 400 words seemed an impossible task, and when I was submitting exactly zero stories anywhere. Before, there were always excuses: I don’t have a job! I have a job but it sucks! I don’t have any money so life sucks! I’m too drunk! Netflix!!! And yet, I have a job, which still sucks, I still have no money, I’m still too drunk, and is Netflix actually getting better? It just might be. On top of that I now have a daughter on the cusp of turning one. So what happened to make a day like today, slogging through 400 words of a story that may never work and getting two rejections (in form letters!), feel like a letdown instead of the major accomplishment it would have been a year or two ago?
The long answer is I finally found a writing community for myself that works with my current life.
When I was doing college in San Francisco, I knew pretty much nothing but writers. Some of the best and most generous writers anyone could know. And our lives were all about writing, or revolved, in some way, around our identities as writers. It was nothing to meet every other week and drink wine and share stories and bullshit about writing and being writers and art and literature and having some really high-minded shit-talking sessions. It’s a great way to live.
But at some point you move on. You move, everyone moves, you have to get a job, you start paying your student loans, you get married, you get famous, etc, etc. If every artist could live in the Neverland of their incubating group forever, that would be fun, but it never works. Hemingway ended in his life in Idaho, not Paris.
And for a long time I struggled with not having that community to rely on. Writing is a solitary activity but being a writer alone is impossible. But I was alone, and all of a sudden I was in my early thirties, working full time, with a baby on the way, and it seemed very likely that my ambitions as a writer were dead in the water. I felt an incredible pressure due to that imminent parenthood: I knew everything would change when she was born, and if I wasn’t writing now, how would I possibly manage it with a baby to take care of?
In some ways, becoming a father clarified all of my fears and worries and made them approachable, definable, instead of vague and impossible. It was a “man-up” moment of, “If you want to do it, you better just fucking do it.” Still, I didn’t just fucking do it until my daughter was about eight months old (not coincidentally, around the time she started sleeping through [most of] the night).
Two things happened: 1.) in the sadly un-literary town of Chico, I made a literary-minded friend interested in sharing work. Not enough can be said for having a friend willing to talk about stories like they are the most important things in the world over a few beers (even if the beer he chooses to drink is a Hamms); and 2.) an old friend from my San Francisco days visited while on a book-writing tour of California and basically dropped an ultimatum: whatever you need to do to write, I will help you, so you have no excuses. She offered to give feedback to stories that I wrote, and I said a monthly deadline would be the best fit for me.
Four months later and I’ve completed five stories, one of which has been accepted for publication already, not to mention a couple false starts and some rough sketches for unfinished pieces. And I started this website. What happened was that with a full time job and a marriage and a baby I found a community that works with an incredibly busy, sleep-deprived schedule: a workshop buddy who is cool to meet irregularly, and a regular “editor” who lives in a completely different state. And I’d obviously be remiss if I didn’t mention the world’s most supportive, patient wife, who not only allows all this but is also the first reader for every story I write. It is not a re-creation of the community I had in my 20s in San Francisco; that time is gone. What I’ve learned, I think, is that you get the community you need if you create space for it; and you do the work you want if you make time for it; and the former encourages the latter
And lo and behold, here’s another 860ish words to add to that earlier 400.