November 9th, 2008
It was about this time of the year. Seventeen years ago. Walking with Professor Philips across the campus of Alpena Community College. When he told me how hard it was going to be. That if done right, it would be years and years of work, work, and more work. And then all that work guaranteed nothing. It was not easy to get published, and even if a writer was lucky enough to get his words in print, it was unlikely he could make money at it.
"Technical writing," he said.
"Technical writing. That's a good way for a writer to make a living. It can be very lucrative."
"Technical writing," I said.
The leaves had gone yellow. Most had already found their way to the ground. Students were bundled up, fighting the icy Lake Huron air.
"It's clear you are talented and that you have passion," he said. "But talent and passion can only take you so far. It's best if you have something to fall back on."
"Fall back on?" I said. "I don't want to fall back on anything."
He stopped. Took off his glasses. Cleaned the lenses with a yellow handerchief.
"That's the same thing my son says."
I looked across campus. Men and women. Boys and girls. All of them prepping for something. To be nurses at the local hospital. Utility workers. Machinists. Automotive technicians. Teachers. Computer gurus. Engineers. I knew very few that wanted to be writers. There were journalism students, of course. There are always journalism students. But I didn't see much sense doing something that anybody could do with eyes and ears, a pad of paper and pen.
"The thing is, I don't want to spend time preparing for something I might do. I want to prepare for something I am going to do."
He smiled. Put on his glasses.
"You will always write," he said. "Anyone can see that. It's in your blood. But even the best writers fail. There are many more creative writers struggling to make ends meet than technical writers."
"Technical writers," I said.
"Or journalism!" Philips added. It was an excited afterthought. Something he believed might lure me in, as he knew my affinity for Hemingway.
"Hem wrote for the Kansas City Star!" he said.
It was no use. Mr. Philips knew how it would be and there was no getting around it. I was full of hope. Full of myself. Absolutely positive that all I would ever have to do would be to write and write well for as many days of my life as possible. Do what I loved and that everything else would follow.
And a lot has followed, but I'm still not content. I don't think I'll ever be content. I am happy. At the best place in my life I've ever been. Beautiful, smart witty wife. Curious, loving kid. Dopey unconditional love in the form of our dogs and cats. This great small house. Full of respect, fun, and kindness. The kitchen full of sound this morning. S.B. listening to the radio, clinking and clanging pots and pans. Little Man chattering on about everything that's coming to life in his imagination these days. And the smell of bacon slowly pulling me away from this morning's dose of self love.
I wonder what old Philips is up to this morning. A Sunday in Northern Michigan. Cold. Leaves falling. Creative juices simmering. Probably writing. Chopping away at a novel. Putting together a short story. Penning his memoir. Or maybe he's sleeping. Heck, I don't know. I get these notions. Ideas. Develop these beliefs, but so much of it is rooted in the blurry spot between reality and fiction that it's hard to know what's true anymore.
At one time in my life, I thought I had a line on this writing thing. And it started with that Philips conversation. I believed that it was much easier and simpler than everyone made it out to be. But now that I'm in it. Farther into it than I ever thought I would be, I see that it's something you can never win-out at. It is like marriage, and it is an ultimate commitment. You are either in it or you're not. And as much as you care and hope and laugh and kiss and hug and exerience great things, it is not easy. All you can do is not enough. And the only comfort you can ever get is the comfort you create.
Know where you've been. Be thankful of where you're at. And remember why you are in it at all.
It is for her. For him. And for you.
Dear Mr. Stevens,
Thank you for your submission and for your patience with the delay in our response. We are a new agency that has been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response of the writing community. Unfortunately, your work is not a good fit for us. We simply could not connect with the style of your sentences. We appreciate your time and effort and would enjoy hearing from you regarding future projects. Hopefully, you will find an agent who connects with your work and will be able to represent you passionately shortly. We wish you good luck in all of your future endeavors. We are honored that you thought of us. Once again, we are so sorry for the delay.
BLISS Literary Agency International
1601 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, 389
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
No matter how many rejection letters, setbacks, and failures we encounter, there's no sense in turning back. Giving up. Walking away. It is about commitment. Bucking up and doing the right thing. And the right thing isn't always easy.
To the few faithful out there, those of you tuning in, fighting the good fight, keeping at this keepin' on, thank you.
Here's to another good day. Chin up. Eyes and ears alert. Keep steady and straight, and keep aim.
(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)