Note to self: kids are really smart.
Case in point. The other day I got interviewed by a grade 10 student. He needed to dissect a living writer for a class project, and somehow, poor guy, he got saddled with me. We went for a coffee, and then I dragged him into a radio studio (the same studio, I should add, where the fabled literary broadcaster, Eleanor Wachtel, conducts all of her interviews). The student pulled out his iPhone, pressed record, and placed it on the desk between us. He asked me some very good questions – about writing, working in the field of journalism, how much education is needed to get a job in broadcasting, and how to build a career as a fiction writer.
He gave me a real grilling. And then, near the end of our discussion, he asked me this: “Knowing what you know now, if you had to go back and do it all over again, would you still set out to be a fiction writer?”
OMG. He had me. I froze.
As a seasoned interviewer, I usually love moments like this. The moment when a question hits the bulls-eye, and you can see your guest squirming, because he or she has secretly been asking him or herself the exact same question – possibly for years.
If I had to go back and do it again, would I still set out to become a fiction writer? I had to hand it to the student – his random drilling had hit a geyser.
“Do you want me to be completely honest?” I asked.
The student grinned from ear to ear. “Of course,” he said.
No way, I thought to myself, I’d avoid writing like the plague. It’s nothing but an endless road of pain!
Want proof? I wrote my first novella more than 2 decades ago. It never got published. Neither did the two novels I wrote after that. And of the 100+ short stories I composed after that, only a handful made it to print.
NO, DAVE. BE HONEST. 3 GOT PUBLISHED. ONLY 3. And the money I earned from them didn’t even cover the cost of the printer ink and stamps!
If someone had sat me down back in 1990 and done the calculus; if they’d explained how hard I’d have to work, how many hours of sleep I’d lose, how much my arteries would harden, how awkward I’d feel each time a friend asked how my book was coming along… If someone had told me all that two decades ago, would I still have gone into writing? No, probably not. You’d have to be crazy to embrace a career like that.
It’s one of the great mercies of the universe that I didn’t know the odds I was facing when I started out. This isn’t limited to writing. If any of us truly knew how much heartache was in store for us, we’d never do anything. If we knew how hard it would be to maintain relationships, we’d never allow ourselves to fall in love. If my parents had warned me about the skinned knees I’d get while learning to ride a bike, I never would’ve let them take my training wheels off.
I still hadn’t answered the student’s question. Sensing my difficulty, he shifted gears. “How about this,” he said at last, “what has writing given you?”
The question was a relief, and I was flooded with good memories. I started rhyming off the list: writing gave me a purpose in life, it gave me the career I now enjoy, it helps pay my mortgage, it stills my mind during stressful times.
Writing is my sun and my moon. It is my breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is my AEIOU and sometimes Y.
And in spite of all those rejections I mentioned earlier, writing eventually did make my dream come true.
I just started following your blog and this one really resonated. Just substitute ‘running a marathon’ for ‘writing’. Just finished one on Sunday. I had hoped to PB and BQ, but things completely flew off the rails. Would I have put in all those long,dark, cold winter runs if I had known that was going to be the outcome? But that I guess is part of the mystery and draw of the distance. And you are right…there’s so much that you get from the work to get there. And that is the more important question. Thanks for the perspective.
Well said. There are LOTS of things I’d like to rewind and do over, but the learning along the way has been priceless.
This is probably why we don’t know what life will bring us, because otherwise we’d lose so much good as well as the bad!