Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Barring unforeseen events, I quit (again)

In spite of the boundless optimism of most people that their lives are great stories, there are few things in the world less interesting than biography. So I apologize for dumping a paragraph or two of it into this space.

At one point in my buoyant mid-twenties, I wrote a life "mission statement" a la Jerry Maguire, in which I declared something like "anyone can have kids, but writing great literature is truly rare and much more difficult, so I will not apologize if I fail to raise children on the way to writing great literature--or even just trying to." I spent the next several years of my life living like I meant that--not doing much that would have moved me in the direction of starting a family (heck, I even got divorced, so I was going backwards on that front for a while). The jobs I worked were all subsistence and I quit them all when they began to vex me. I went to graduate school and accrued a great deal of debt that I have still not paid much of 11 years later. The only thing I didn't do was write great literature.

I got tired of that at some point after taking another hand out from my parents or brother or sister or whoever. So I decided to put away childish things. I gave up writing as soon as I got my M.A., got a real job, started a family, and did not look back.

Writing again was sort of just a thing that happened. I have a friend with a giant Civil War beard. He says he decided one day not to shave for a while and just kept going for a year. That's kind of how this project came about for me. I started writing again one day, read some books on how to do it better, wrote some more, read some more, sent some stuff in, and here I am.

It was really fun getting one of my stories published. Since then, I've had two "encouraging rejections" along with plenty of the regular kind. Today, I just kind of felt the way I felt when I decided I had taken one too many hand-outs. I want to get back to real work. I utterly reject that statement I made in my twenties. If it meant the difference between my son or daughter's happiness, I'd give up writing a thousand Moby Dicks. My life is calling to me with responsibilities, and I am not bright enough to apply the mental energy to those as well as writing. I choose the life responsibilities.

Many writers say they write because they feel they have no choice. I am glad I do not feel this way. I write because I want to, and now I no longer want to.

In the off chance anyone stumbles on this blog one day via Google, here is my only writing wisdom for you: do not spend the money to go to grad school in writing. Not unless the school is giving it to you for free, along with a stipend. It does not guarantee, or even significantly improve, your odds at becoming a successful (money-wise) writer. You will accrue debt. You will have few options for careers but teaching at colleges, probably as an adjunct, which has a low wage and poor benefits. You may get small breaks with small presses from your contacts, but they will pay very little. You will have paid a handsome fee to join an overly glutted field.

Instead, do what few writing programs have you do: buy a book on how to write. Buy two. Buy ten. Read them. Do the activities and prompts, or at least a few of them. Write. If you can find a good reader to help you for free, that is best. If not, pay for it with a literary service. It's 150 bucks or so, which is 1% of where you'll be in the hole after grad school.

I'll see if any of the stories I've already submitted get a bite. But I'm not submitting anything new.

It occurs to me that the only story I broke through with was about the people I love, the people I have tried to help. That must mean something. I'm going to focus on those people.

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