After I left college for the first time, I had spent a lot of years defining myself as an intellectual, but none of that time of deep thinking helped me figure what I wanted to do in life. I’d been rejected from grad school some half dozen times, and eventually decided I didn’t really want a PhD. Job interviews didn’t go over well, because I couldn’t convince anybody I was serious about any one career path.
So I worked as a department store salesman for a number of years. A couple Black Fridays convinced me that was the worst job ever, besides digging ditches. My back constantly hurt from being on my feet five to eight hours a day. Corporate retailers at the time were beginning to scale back their staffing, and I was often stuck by myself handling three dressing rooms spread out in the different corners of the store.
Not to mention, I’m terrible at faking a smile. I always forget which muscle to move, and for how long.
To be clear, I’ve never been suicidal, but I was damn far into the abyss in those years. I truly felt I was wasting my time, and if nothing changed in five years I might as well been dead.
The constant cycle of Christmas music didn’t help my mood. Only so many renditions of “Silver Bells” one man can take. Still. Hate. Christmas. Music. To this day. (Well, unless KT Tunstall is singing. A few other exceptions, but not many.)
It took me years before I started enjoying the holidays again.
Then I went back to school, dabbled in research coordinating, unloaded trucks, merchandised shoes for a time, got into a multi-level marketing gambit. Never found anything that I truly enjoyed doing. Nothing that made me say every morning, “Holy shit, I’m the luckiest bastard on Earth to be doing this!”
I figured writing would be the one thing that could make me say that. So I did NaNoWriMo, bought a subscription to Writer’s Digest, and… hardly wrote anything.
I wasted five years or so, saying I wanted to be a writer, and wrote very little. My published output for those years amounts to some perma-free short stories on Smashwords, a collection with a horrid cover, and maybe twenty or so flash fiction stories on my website. I wrote some craptastic novels, with the intention of rewriting them. I bought into every myth under the sun—rewriting makes better fiction, writer’s block, you can only write when inspired, novels have to be outlined etc.
The first real change for me, admittedly, came about when I discovered Heinlein’s business rules. That’s when I became at least slightly more productive, I took workshops, and shed some of the writing myths.
The next big change came about in June 2015, and developed slowly.
I’ll be publishing this post on December 23, 2016, and 563 days before that I made an important choice.
I looked at where I was with my writing, where I wanted to be. I wondered if fiction writing was even for me, and considered if maybe the experiment was over and I should write it off as another failed career.
At the time, I was reading Jerrold Mundis’s book “Break Writer’s Block Now,” which gave me an idea for how to proceed. I set up a schedule to slowly increase my word count, beginning with a mere 200 words a day.
I didn’t follow the schedule, but getting started was the real key. That’s when I started writing every single day. Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve completed far more stories than I’ve ever done. I took a lot of classes, wrote, studied my ass off, wrote more, and kept learning.
Compared to where I was in 2015, I’ve become a better fiction writer. I’ve developed better habits.
Writing is a choice.
Sitting at my desk at the close of 2016, with the holidays coming up, I’m in a different place than where I began, because I chose. I decided, after all said and done, I wanted to be a writer. I enjoy writing in a way I never thought possible.
Whenever somebody tells me they don’t write on the weekend, or wonder why I’m writing in the Nano off-season, I just shrug and tell them I enjoy writing. Inside, I feel sorry for the other person, who feels that writing is too stressful to do outside of the Monday through Friday hustle. I never say anything, because I used to think writing was stressful too.
Not anymore. I have a blast every time I sit down to make up stories. Some days I have to force myself to get to the chair, but when I’m in the chair and start typing, I’m lost in the story.
The attitude shift happened slowly, over time, and with a lot of study and constant practice. I’ve learned a distinction—learning to tell stories is hard work, but actually telling stories is easy and fun.
This year, I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had to learn how to be a writer. I’m thankful for the decision I made to become a writer, because this is my true calling. I’d rather do this than any other thing.
And instead of a New Year resolution, my goal is to stay on my streak of writing every day for as long I’m able. When I get knocked off the streak, which I will at some point, I want to just climb back on and keep going. And I’m going to keep increasing my daily output, which is around 1300 words a day now.
Writing is a choice.
You can chose to believe writing is hard work, and only the lucky few can be gifted enough to tell stories. That’s like saying writing is no different than standing on your feet eight hours a day for minimum wage, while faking a smile and contemplating how dreadful your life will be in five years. Or you can chose to make writing fun and worthwhile, life-changing even.
Well wishes and good luck.
If you found this helpful, please consider leaving a tip.