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Fiction, Publishing, The Writer's Life

Who Needs Plan B?

What keeps you going as a writer? Is it artistic passion or dreams of success, or does something else drive you?

Yesterday I caught part of an interview Terry Gross of “Fresh Air” did with comedian and cable show star Marc Maron. In it, he talked about the down times, which are many for a creative person, fighting the doubt and lack of success. But one thing that kept him going past those depressive times was a simple, irrefutable truth:

“All of a sudden, when you’re in your late forties, or mid forties, and everything goes wrong, there’s no Plan B in place anymore. You have that moment where you’re like, ‘I could always…’ and there’s just nothing there.”

For Maron, lack of a Plan B led to thoughts of suicide, although he never went so far as to attempt it. Eventually, his garage-based podcast caught on and he parlayed it into a show on IFC.

Do you have a Plan B?

The journey of the writer—or this writer, at least—has come to the same crossroad that Maron experienced. There were dreams when I started, glimpses of bestsellers and appearances on “The Daily Show,” but these evaporated over time, as they have for so many others amid the sad realities of the publishing culture. At least the passion is still there—just ask any of the members of my writers’ group, who endure my frequent invocations of Chekhov and James Wood.

But what really keeps me going is the knowledge that there is no alternative. No Plan B. This is not the point in my life to turn to law or medicine as a new career. And knowing that there’s not enough time left to master a new calling is a powerful motivator.

I wonder how many writers close their laptops for good, rationalizing they will be happier, or at least more secure, with a nine-to-fiver, or more traditional family life. While I understand and respect that decision, that Plan B is no longer for me.

In retrospect, my decision to write may have been, unintentionally, a smart one. Since it supposedly takes 10, 12… or is it now 20 years to find one’s voice and become established as a writer, it seems to make sense to preclude any exit strategies, any beckoning side routes that would derail such a long journey. If all that’s left is to write, then I must continue to do so. Marry the passion and the dreams to the reality of no options, and the writer can only write.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


11 thoughts on “Who Needs Plan B?

  1. Sudden inspiration, hearing or seeing something that I want to take further. Sometimes a way to express emotion I can’t articulate. The writing can revelatory, and dare I say, therapeutic. Other times it’s an assignment and a way to share ideas with others. It’s a daily practice that I look forward to.

    Posted by Diane DeCillis | May 10, 2014, 6:21 PM
  2. Dear Joe, If your book of stories was anything to judge by, we’re all lucky you don’t have a plan B. Now (as I crack the whip over you) get back to work writing!

    Posted by shadowoperator | May 11, 2014, 10:09 AM
  3. I admire you, Joe, for your bravery and your passion for the art. I’m one with a Plan B. Right now I’m pursuing writing while working part-time and raising a family. I can’t imagine giving writing up, and I don’t think I ever will, but I love my profession, too. Someday, when my children are grown and they need me less, I’ll return to my career, and I look forward to that day. Writing will still be a part of my life in my free time, and I feel very fortunate that I’ll be able to have my cake and eat it, too.

    Posted by Gwen Stephens | May 11, 2014, 12:31 PM
    • I certainly understand that decision, Gwen, and I respect it. I also know I’m in a rather unique position of having the opportunity, both family-wise and financially, to write. Looking at it as a responsibility sometimes helps.

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | May 11, 2014, 4:05 PM
  4. Joe: how do you formulate a “Plan B” for what you were built to do? You’re a writer, There is no Plan B, my friend! Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll be a famous well-paid one, but the drive within you drove you to do all this. Otherwise, you would have done something else. Not all of us are meant to be rich and famous…and it shouldn’t be all about that. It should be about the WRITING. It should be about YOUR reasons for writing. In a Zen way, it’s not even about limiting your options or making no exit strategies. As I’ve said before (somewhere…), it shouldn’t really even be about whether or not readers READ our work…we write, we COMMUNICATE, because it’s part of our makeup. Some may do it as a way to pay the bills, or fill in loads of free time, but whatever the reasons, it’s part of their makeup, too. As to whether we “hit it big,” or any other remunerative or social goals, that’s another Zen discussion (which, to me, involves our beliefs about ourselves more so than editors, agents, nor the market), but are consequences of our writing in the first place. IN AND OF ITSELF.

    Don’t beat up the journey for the the destination.

    Enjoy it.

    All our journeys come to and end far too quickly than any of us ever realize. You think on our deathbeds we’re really going to wish we had more money and fame…or had enjoyed our lives to the fullest? Lived our lives to the fullest?

    Live. Write. Be happy.

    Posted by fpdorchak | May 11, 2014, 1:17 PM
    • For a creative person there really isn’t a Plan B, but we live in a society that doesn’t see it that way. To most people, earning a living is Plan A, and not everyone understands how writers have flipped those priorities. There’s pressure to conform. It’s something that has to be resisted. As you said, we can’t “beat up the journey for the the destination.” Sometimes setbacks and depression are part of that journey, as they were for Marc Maron. We embrace them as such. Thanks, Frank.

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | May 11, 2014, 4:08 PM
  5. My Plan B gives me courage to be aggressive with my writing. Nothing’s riding on it, so I may as well write what I want. I think I’d be a nervous wreck if I didn’t have a fall-back plan.

    Posted by Averil Dean | May 11, 2014, 1:18 PM
    • A Plan B that actually supports Plan A. A brilliant strategy, Averil. I hope I’m onto something similar with TLR. If the world won’t let me write, maybe they’ll let me edit and publish.

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | May 11, 2014, 4:11 PM
  6. beautiful post. thanks.

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | May 12, 2014, 6:42 PM

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