I was eleven years old when I read Stephen King’s Needful Things and realized I loved stories and wanted to tell them myself. That King’s work prompted the realization and that my parents were both pretty avid readers while I was growing up were probably the two reasons I actually thought writing was a pretty certainly viable career option, or could be. One of the stories in my collection is called “Deluded,” and part of the point of that story, at least to me (and I’m only one reader of it, so consider this one personal take) is that there is, sometimes, a fine line between faith and delusion. Delusion and certainty. And that’s okay; I grew up with the firm belief that I was going to become a great writer through careful work and a lot of discipline, and could achieve success by way of the sheer force of my will to write better. Not better than anyone else so much as better than I realized I could, every word down.
For many years growing up, however, I also thought I wanted to be a doctor. I studied hard and started college with a major in premedical biology. In my high school yearbook, my life’s goals were: “go to med school, be a doctor, write a book.” I remember telling my parents I would start a practice and then, at some point, when my book became a bestseller, take a few-years sabbatical to concentrate on writing.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think that idea of a sabbatical was key; I think I was subconsciously realizing that I wanted the safety to support the more risky profession.
By the time I was a junior, however, I’d realized I’m not a doctor, and that’s still the way I think of it. Because, you see, I don’t believe that training and education make someone a doctor; one of my best friends is a doctor (and a successful one, at that), and I think he was a doctor when we were undergrads and roommates. He had to learn the anatomy and the surgery and the general stuff, certainly, but I think ‘doctor’ was part of his core to start. Me, I don’t have the confidence, I realized. I don’t have the self-certainty to stick my fingers into someone’s body, nor even to cut it open in the first place. I realized this the month before I was to sign up for my MCATs, but am glad I did.
What that meant was, after college, I floundered a bit. I graduated with (nearly) two degrees (six credits shy of a second in natural science) and honors and etc., but I hadn’t sold my book. So I needed a job. I fell into temping pretty much by accident and lucked into commercial production via a cushy gig on Madison Avenue. But it didn’t suit me as medicine hadn’t; advertising didn’t resonate with me, and I have trouble doing things I don’t believe in or can’t stand behind.
September 11th kicked me in the pants to figure stuff out. I thought I would by moving back home, regrouping, maybe subbing and then becoming a high school teacher, so I could write in my off time. I got set back, however, and fell into a six-month depression from which I emerged with shoddy credit and little in the way of real prospects. I became a personal trainer for a while, and then finally got into subbing, which was fine for what it was, but I’ve never been about fine with what things are. I remember being at a shitty Christmas party thing, though, and I remember thinking how much more fun it would be if the company throwing it had actually produced a book instead (they sold security systems, from what I recall of it).
So I got it in my head to work for a publisher. I considered moving back to Manhattan, but then found a gig five minutes from my parents’ house, where I was living, as an assistant editor for a healthcare publishing company. Felt like a perfect fit.
It wasn’t. I was there nearly three years, but never loved it. I discovered I couldn’t put my heart into it, and my performance suffered.
That was when I settled on graduate school, which opened my life. Moreso: teaching.
I became an instructor via USC’s Writing Program, and the most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t have to just be a writer anymore. I don’t have to try to rely on it for income; I can be a student, and an instructor, because I love to be both. It’s been a real relief, and oddly, it’s freed me to become a better writer than I realized I could be; this latest draft of my novel finally feels like the one, and I think it feels that way because I stopped worrying so fucking much about selling it or succeeding with it and just concentrated on telling that story as best I could.
Being a writer is probably a good gig, but I’m having much more fun just being someone who writes.
- ‘Cause Fighters Fight
- How I learned to write (and teach)