When I got my master’s in ’01, my mom invited me to stay home and devote my full-time efforts to getting a writing career off the ground (my lifelong dream). I figured it’d take a year or so to write a novel, then it’d sell (I was lucky enough to have placed poetry, short fiction, and literary critique in journals when I was in college, and was under the grand delusion that selling a manuscript would be a breeze for me), and in oh, two years or so, I’d have money in the bank, and I’d be off and running.
Okay, seriously. You can stop laughing now.
The truth is that it took seven and a half years just to get my first acceptance. In that time, my friends from college finished up PhDs, started teaching, doing research, became professionals. I often felt like all I had was a deep gash in the drywall where I’d spent months upon months banging my head against it.
And, let’s face it: I had guilt.
I cringe at the stereotypical portrait of the kid who’s living at home: the slacker who lies on the couch, playing video games, letting Mom do laundry, mooching, no sense of direction to speak of. That certainly has never been my life. I feel that your family is your family, regardless of what it consists of: your spouse and your children, or your siblings and parents. I participated in everything going on in my home: the upkeep, the repairs, the lawn, the floor-laying, the painting, the grocery shopping, the meal-planning…My office butts up against the laundry room, and, yes, I’ve always done my fair share of the laundry, as well.
Still, though: the guilt. You aren’t a responsible adult without feeling the sting of not contributing financially (I did teach piano and guitar lessons, and everything I made went to paying off what few bills I had—I got out of college with no student loans). Still, though, no matter how much I contributed, I often felt it wasn’t enough. I butted heads with my mom about finding work out of the house (she always talked me out of it). Instead, I worked, as we’d agreed, on my manuscripts: I created a floor-to-ceiling stack of them in those seven and a half years.
During those years, I learned to balance my writing with the comings and goings of a household. I can fix a lawnmower with one hand and outline a novel with another. I also learned that my greatest first reader is also the same person who insisted I stay home to write in the first place (Mom’s a great titler, too—she was the first to suggest the titles for both my published books). And when the triumphs finally arrived—selling a book, seeing my first book on a store shelf, getting the starred review, receiving a few lit prizes—my mom and brother, who had been my support, my sounding board for project ideas, my first set of eyes, took pride in it, too. They had a hand in it.
Come on—getting started is beyond rough. Everybody has to have some sort of help when they set out to forge a writing career. Now, when I step inside a library or a bookstore, I think there’s not just one person behind each of those titles, but a whole group of them—in addition to the writer, there’s some combination of parent, sibling, partner, spouse, etc., who supported that writer as they got started. It’s pretty incredible, when you stop to think about it…
Below: the trailer for my latest book, PLAYING HURT—a book that would never have made it to store shelves, without those years...and years...and years...of help.