Friday, March 2, 2012

Real Writers Drive Carpool

I love meeting other writers.

When I was growing up I didn’t know any “real” ones, so when my teenage self dreamed of someday being a published author, the goal was as farfetched and absurd as announcing I wanted to go to the moon. In college my awareness of working writers expanded, but only in a small way. My writing professors were brilliant, cool, creative people, but they only presented one pathway: poet slash teacher.

I guess it comes as no surprise that when I graduated, I started an MFA program in poetry. I had this vision of myself living in a funky house with an Emily Dickinson-style turret, teaching hippy and/or goth kids by day, scribbling poems and sending them off to obscure literary journals by night. I would own several cats and grow old, alone, in my funky turret, eating gingerbread brought to me by the timid children in the neighborhood who had heard stories of the wacky poet lady.

Yeah. I was a weird dreamer back then. At the end of my first year in grad school several realizations hit me at once:

1. I probably wasn’t intellectual enough to be a college professor.
2. Not many people really read those literary journals. (Sad but true)
3. I like the idea of gingerbread more than the reality of it.
4. Ditto on multiple cat ownership
5. I fell in love with a sweet and smart and stable man, and I gladly gave up turret-living for a house in the suburbs. I also gave up, for a while, the dream of being a writer. Because it seemed like kind of a childish dream. And because I didn’t know any writers who were also driving carpool.

The next decade of my life was all about parenting and teaching and attending PTA meetings and cheering for soccer teams and cleaning the house, but there was also this naggy little part of me that I couldn’t stamp out, and that part kept scribbling away—when the kids were napping, and later when they were at school or piano lessons or sports practices. 

I went, slowly and anxiously at first, to workshops and conferences and writing retreats. And was surprised to meet other writers, “real” ones, who also seemed fairly normal. Meaning, they did mundane stuff like go to the grocery store and pay bills and clean toilets. Shockingly: Some of them did not even own a cat.

Anyway, I love to meet writers and pick their brains about their books and their writing process. I grill them at writing functions like I’m an investigative journalist, peppering them with questions while we help ourselves to coffee and bagels (writing workshops are big on coffee and bagels):

Where do they get their ideas? Are they make-stuff-up-as-they-go types or outline ahead/planning people? What kind of work schedule do they have every day? How do they balance their writing time with their other obligations? How many books did they write before they got their first book deal? How many rejections did they get along the way?

And now more and more I am asking people how they promote their books and how they use social media and what are their opinions on self-publishing.

The answers are always interesting. Which got me thinking that those answers might be interesting for my blog readers, too. So I’m going to do that—officially interview some of my best writing friends over the next few months and share their insights with you.

Something I learned over the years is that it’s nice to have role models for a life that can seem mysterious and out of reach. Also, there isn’t any one right way to write or live this kind of life. But here’s the most important thing (and something I wish I knew long ago): wanting to be a writer is not silly and it’s not a childish dream. If you stick with it, I’m here to tell you, it’s hard—really hard—but probably not as hard as going to the moon.

(Emily Dickinson's house)

(the moon)


  1. Love the post, the pics, and the idea! (Um, but I AM a writer with cats!)

    ~Marcia Jones

  2. I think I missed commenting on this one. It's adorable! You're such a good writer - your time will come...