An anonymous commenter points out that everyone wants to write, and that most people don't make a living at it. S/he asks:
What made you think you were destined to be a writer, despite the enormous odds? Now that you've been trying for a while, do you think it's still a realistic possibility?
A great question. The short answer: I don't know. The long answer, a blurt written with tears in my eyes, is beneath the fold.
Here's where I am on the writing thing. My mom is a writer, by nature and by avocation. It's just who she is. I grew up watching her write, and submit things and, by and large, have them rejected. She's the bravest person I know, because she still gets up and does it. Her writing is good. I have seen her very depressed, isolated, lonely and morose. She's got a thin skin. Rejection hurts. And still she writes, and works and revises and submits. She's terrifically disciplined, but I also think she can't help it. She's a writer. She just has to do this.
And growing up I watched her struggle with the difficulty of telling people she was a writer at cocktail parties and having them ask, "Have you written anything I have read?" and having her crumple inside as she tried to come up with a breezy cocktail party answer to something that cut her to the quick. Man, that's brutal stuff. I don't think most people understand how personal good writing can feel, and how much doubt there is when you put something out there and don't get a response. I wanted more than anything to protect my mom from that. And somehow I understood growing up how much she wanted to protect me from it. She wanted to give me confidence and success and social ease that she had only a tentative grip on. She wanted me to have a ready answer at cocktail parties, to have a strong sense of power and achievement in the world, to feel acceptance instead of rejection.
And I wanted to give her a sense of accomplishment and pride, something she could point to as her success. So I went out and achieved in the world. Doing so made her look good. And it highlighted her strengths as a mom. She DID give me confidence and social ease. She gave me a sense of success, and possibility, because she was always proud of my achievements. The unwavering love of my mom and my dad have given me a kind of confidence and faith in myself that is completely unmerited, and by now, steadfastly unshakeable. I did everything I could to assure her that I was happy and confident in the ways that have been so hard for her. I can navigate the world of money and power. I can handle cocktail parties. I can talk to anyone, and come across as self-assured. I can get things for myself. I win the things I set out to do. People give me jobs. It felt like doing that was somehow taking care of her, giving her something to point to as a good work she'd done in the world when her manuscripts were returned in manila envelopes.
And you know what? That stopped working, eventually. Because I can be successful in the world and trick people into thinking I'm a lawyer or a venture capitalist or a whatever it is but in my heart I want to be doing what my mom's doing. Writing things that feel tender and true and important and sending them out to the world, even if they never get accepted or published. I know my mom wouldn't do it if it weren't somehow necessary for her. I know that she didn't want to pass that on to me. I did my best not to want it for myself, because life is a lot easier if you have an answer like, "I'm a lawyer" at a cocktail party. People don't further question your success or credentials. You don't have to doubt every day whether you're good at what you care the most about being good at, or whether anyone will ever acknowledge what you've done. The problem is, nothing else feels as meaningful to me as writing something that feels true, and feels like it might touch someone else. The rest of it, all the stuff I've done in the world (except sailing, which is it's own story, and coincidentally enough, is my connection to my dad) is diverting and fun but feels as meaningful as playing a game of Foosball. It's not what I'm *for*.
So last year I had to admit that what I am is a writer. I invited my mom to go to therapy with me, so I could shake the childhood notion I'd imagined that I needed to take care of her by going out and doing something tangibly, obviously, reassuringly "successful." It was wonderfully helpful for me. My mom, as it turns out, has always known I was a writer. She's a friend and a supporter of me, and, of course, the strongest example and role model. But for years I was trying to support her by denying a big part of myself.
Your question doesn't make much sense, from where I'm sitting. "Destined to be a writer" is language I get -- I feel like it's inborn, or destined somehow. But "despite the enormous odds" is phrasing that suggests that only the people who "beat the odds" are *really* writers. That's crap. The people facing the odds are writers, too. The people who are brave enough to be doing it, and answering people who don't acknowledge anyone who isn't famous like Stephen King are really writers. "Do you think it's still a realistic possibility?" I don't know what this means. It's fate. It's what I have to do. I've shaped my life so I can do it. That's pretty realistic.
I think what you must mean is, "What makes you think that you'll make a lot of money, like Stephen King?" And I don't have any idea if I ever will. All I need to do is have enough money to survive, which I (just barely) do now. And I need to have time and space to write, and revise, and send things out. Which I do now. And I need courage, to actually do the sending out part. Which I don't really have yet, but am trying to develop. You guys, this blog, bits of encouragement that I get, those count way way way more than you know. The money and the success part feel irrelevant to me. I just have to make room in my life for words. I tried not to. It didn't work. So is it a realistic possibility? Yes. I'm doing it. This is as good as it gets.