My writer friend Stewart Sternberg recently posted about the difficulty in working two “jobs,” his daytime paying position, and his nighttime, mostly unpaid career as a writer. He is far from alone in that pursuit. How do so many people find the energy and drive to do both especially when faced with the odds of ever becoming self-sufficient as a writer—odds that have ground the psyches of greater talents than mine into creative writing dust?
I work two part-time jobs, which is still not as tough as a single, all-day jag inside a cubicle at some fluorescent corporate warehouse, but it’s hard enough after the day’s work is done to clear my mind enough to write.
Add to that my writing time, which is generally early in the morning or after dinner, severely detracts from time spent in that happy social arrangement known as marriage. While other couples are relaxing together in front of the TV, or sharing the details of their days, I’m either immersed in my latest tale about human depravity, or wishing I could be.
And for what? Most of my stories are still as yet unpublished. Many have been rejected more times than I can say without embarrassment. At my current pace of success, I will become writing self sufficient around the year 2237, long after I am dead.
In among the dozen or so form rejections I now receive weekly (I’ve been on quite a submissions tear), I usually get one or two personal rejections from an encouraging editor (like the one from Conjunctions, which is one of my “pinnacle” journals).
Notes like that tell me I must keep writing, because I am getting closer to my goal, and that means if I stop now I am a quitter. I might never know what success the future might bring, and to not pursue it also makes me a coward. But what if I keep writing and I am never successful? What if no editor or publisher believes in me enough to take on a novel of mine? After five years of writing almost every day, the path of irrelevance and wasted effort has come into sharp focus. What if I look back after years of effort, only to see that I have missed out on much of life, on the moments with loved ones and friends, on the entertainments others enjoy, because I was hunkered over the keyboard?
This is the barrier, the real writer’s block, the thing no one mentions when you decide to write seriously. Call it doubt or personal demons. Call it the industry’s unfairness and rampant cronyism. Call it bad luck or the they-just-don’t-get-my-writing syndrome. Fortunately, it rarely surfaces while I am actually writing. It prefers to save its tortures for idle moments, when the mind is open to suggestion.
For now, back to my latest story. I will put my doubt aside for a few more hours, until it returns to haunt me again.