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.