The other day I told a male friend who I’ve known for many years that I’ve been writing fiction. I actually mentioned this to him once before and he didn’t really react (which is fine) so we didn’t discuss it further. Then this past Monday, he (we’ll call him Mitch) asked me how my weekend went and I said I was in Chicago for a writing conference.
“A what?” he said.
“A writing conference. I told you. I write fiction.”
“What? How long have you been doing that?” he said with alarm.
“Well, about three or four years now.”
“Are you published?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Well, why not?” he said leaning forward.
“Well, I guess I’m not ready yet,” I said wondering why a conversation about my weekend was suddenly feeling more like an inquisition.
“What do you mean you’re not ready? What does that mean?” he said.
“It means that I just need more experience, I guess. I’ve been writing for years now but it takes time. You know, like the 10,000 hour rule. I’m probably at 3,000 hours now.”
“Well, what have you written?”
“Well, I’ve finished a few short stories, some memoir pieces. I have a first draft of a novel that needs editing.”
“Have you had any interest?”
“Yeah, there’s been some. I had a few agents at the last conference who said…”
“Ok,” he cut in, nodding. “It sounds like you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire and nothing is really finished yet. I guess if it were me I would just be a lot more focused. Get things done and out.”
“Well, I did finish a few things like I said…”
“Yeah,” he said, waving my response away. “But can’t you like write 700 words a night and then sell them to a magazine or something?”
“Mitch, these pieces are 5,000, 6,000, 20,000 words or more.”
He just stared at me incredulous and shook his head. “Well anyway, I’ve got to get back to work,” he said.
I walked away feeling like I had been gut-punched. His words rang in my ears for two days – and then today I woke up.
Every now and then I run into someone who envisions themselves a writer, storyteller or who has some idea that, if they tried, they could be the next Great American Novelist. I do understand these feelings. I just got tired of not doing anything about them. So each day, I put in my hours writing, editing, reading and checking websites and planning for the next conference or whatever I can do that I hope will advance my work.
Years ago when I started this, I felt like Alice staring over the lip of the rabbit hole looking into the darkness below. It was scary starting something new. What if I totally sucked at it? I’d have to face that this dream would never ever come true. But I took the leap because I couldn’t stand wondering anymore and I’ve been falling ever since. I used to think that this writing bit would be just like having another job – very linear and organized – but then I found out that creativity and learning a complex new skill isn’t like that. One step forward, two steps back and sometimes fewer steps back until you read a manuscript you’ve written, like I did last night, and realize it did not in fact suck.
Mitch’s words hurt because I thought a friend would treat me better. Also, they were lockstep with the insecure voice in my head that says I should be much farther along. But the good thing about where I am now is I know that’s all bullshit. This is hard. It does take time and the time it takes is worth the strides toward a dream I believe in – a dream that I’m happier pursuing even if I never reach it.
I couldn’t explain this to Mitch. He wouldn’t let me because he was too focused on finding evidence that he would be more successful at this than I. Thing is, he needs to pick up a pen to find out. Will I ever be the next Great American Writer? Probably not. Will I never punch out of the rabbit hole and land in Wonderland? I don’t know. This is an endless adventure (one of the things I like most about it) and I’ll be down here as long as I’m supposed to be.