This time last year I was traveling in Cambodia with my girlfriend. Our train had just run over a cow. I would see eleven more countries before returning to America.
In 2018 in had two short stories and an essay published and they made me exactly $0. I got lots more rejections from journal editors and agents. Some rich novelists get 12 or 14 rejections before the big yes and they’re celebrated for their perseverance. I’ll be venerated. They’ll make me a damned saint.
But I’m living the life. Counting pennies so I can stretch this out, make this dream reality.
Five years ago I was making low six figures as a management consultant. Traveling for work, stacking points and custom-made shirts. Married to a woman I’d met 17 years prior. There were whispers of starting a family so we were looking at a house. We had a dying pet that consumed a lot of time and energy because we loved him so. Before 2014 was over I had that house and was living in it alone. On Christmas Day I sat in bed and finished the first draft of my first novel.
No kids, of course. Would’ve been irresponsible to do this. I’d have had to keep the steady soul-sucking corporate gig. Where the winds of fortune shift, and you go from managers who are brilliant and caring to a micromanager who can’t explain what they want (think about how much that would suck), or one who is looking out for themselves alone.
But that’s the responsible play. Stay on the ladder. Associate Director now, but hide your opinions and kiss the right asses and in two years you might be up for Director. Keep climbing and fake smiling and after four more years you might make Senior Director. Or you could take a big career risk and jump to a smaller company, where you have a clearer path to vice president—assuming the company doesn’t go under and you don’t make the wrong enemy first. But hey, high risk high reward.
I did neither of those. “Playing the game” never fit my style (ask anyone who’s worked with me). Throw in my writing during meetings and the on-again off-again office romance that we worked not very hard to hide and you can see why I needed to reevaluate. A little sad I’m not putting that MBA to better use—I worked hard for it and I’m pretty good at business. It’s just the culture that rankles me.
So no wife, no kids, no house, no BMW. No relationship but good friends. Minimize distractions so I can work for this. So I can pound away at my keyboard and brain, make the words travel from my head to my hands—it’s a longer distance than you can imagine until you’ve sat here, hour after hour, fueled only by belief.
Could you handle that? The uncertainty? The instability? Sacrificing the sure things, the adult things? The house, the new car, the appliances, the shoes? Lawncare and HOAs? The fully funded 401(k)? Could you be 41 years old and further from having a family than you were at 31? All on the bet that, of the thousands of great and very good books, books that are genre-perfect and the cross of two hot comp titles all sitting in slush piles, that yours will break through? How many rejections could you take? Getting your hopes up and getting them dashed until they don’t get up anymore but you still have to. All anyone can tell you is “keep trying”. Send another query letter? Write another story?
This is literally my life. When my ex-wife was my girlfriend she would “joke” that she worried one day I’d come home having spent my checking account on a handful of magic beans. In a way, she was right.
But I do have this.
Think it’s almost time to pack again.