A writing career, whether successful or not, is simply a series of moments. A writer has ups and downs, usually many more downs than ups. The writer gets rejected. Sadness. The writer is accepted. Joy. But it’s often more than just rejection or acceptance. Writing is more than just that. Writing is a way of life, and the writer must cherish the positive, even if the moment is fleeting and inconsequential; the writer must also brush off the negative, even if that negative is massive and ego-crushing. I’ve had my moments, bad and good. Most are etched in my mind like two lovers’ names scrawled in still-drying cement. Writers live and die moment to moment. A good day, a bad day. A crushing blow that stuns us and keeps us from writing for days or weeks. A glorious compliment that keeps us writing for months or years.
Moments. That’s what we’ve got. Then, maybe someday a great body of work.
I remember driving in an old station wagon with my Aunt Marie down a bumpy road in Camden, New Jersey. She was smoking a long lipstick-stained cigarette and talking about me. I was twenty-five and hadn’t really given much thought to my future. She asked how my photography was going. “Not bad,” I said. “I love taking pictures, but I don’t know if it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life.” She took a drag of her smoke, then began coughing long and hard, the car veering wildly. Aunt Marie regained control of the vehicle before we smashed into a telephone pole, then said, “What are you going to do with yourself? I’ll bet your brother could get you into the union. Welders make a lot of money.” I replied, “I think I really want to be a writer.” Her wrinkled face went blank, then she broke out in laughter. Loud, mocking laughter. “You? A writer?” she said. “What can you write?” Then she laughed some more. I loved my Aunt, but her laughter hurt me deeply. I had told someone about a passion of mine that I wanted to pursue, and I got laughed at. That’s the day I knew I was going to be a writer, to prove her wrong. She doubted me, and I was going to do everything in my power to make my dream happen. I could be whatever I wanted. I was going to be a writer, and the memory of her laughter would keep me going.
I remember waiting by the mailbox every day, waiting for a response to the first short story I ever submitted to magazines for possible publication. It was a silly little horror story, about a succubus who preyed on men. It wasn’t original, wasn’t particularly good, and probably had enough errors to horrify even a patient editor. I waited for weeks, then the rejections began to trickle in. “Sorry, not for us.” “Please learn proper formatting when submitting in the future.” “Thanks, but we’re currently not accepting new submissions.” And so on. The very last response I received said, “Interesting, if familiar story. Some good writing here. Keep writing and send us something better in the future. You’ve got potential.” That was all I needed. One positive note. Just one editor to encourage me to keep writing. My story was rejected and rejected mightily, but I felt good. I felt like I was on the right path.
I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, a second visit. He stared down at my file and asked me about my occupation. I told him about the boring, mind-numbing job I currently held, the job that paid the bills. “Didn’t you tell me you wrote stories last time you were here?” I nodded. “That’s the goal,” I told him. “I want to write for a living, and I write every day, but right now I have to pay the bills, hence the boring day job.” He took his pen and scribbled out what had previously been written and wrote “writer” in its place. I smiled. He said, “If you’re a writer, say you’re a writer. That other job is meaningless. Don’t ‘want’ to be a writer, ‘be’ a writer.” I smiled, maybe as big as I could possibly smile. My doctor, who simply was supposed to go over my test results, had given me the best advice I’d ever heard: If you’re a writer, say you’re a writer. So simple, so perfect.
I remember answering the phone and hearing an agent’s voice. “Hey, I loved your novel. It needs some work, but it’s got potential. Would you mind having me represent it?” I said, “Sure, it’s all yours, and, you know, mine.”
Moments. I’d come a long way. But I want more. I crave those simple moments.
Joy and sorrow. A writer’s life. Moments.