Young Writers

I know that because I'm only forty, I am technically a young writer, but teaching introduction to creative writing now for seven years has taught me that there are even younger writers out there. They are not fools, but they are callow, and when their feathers come in, they will realize that writing, like flying, is as much work as it is joy. And, in fact, some of the joy is in the work. It must be in the work or you'll quit.

I'm just coming off the big push to get a novel done and out into the world, which comes with a lot of work: e-mails, phone calls, websites, tweets, and Facebook updates. There is so much of this non-creative labor in publishing that I now take time with my students who wonder about publication to make sure they understand that getting published can be a real monkey's paw.

They imagine a life where they have made so much money from their creation that they can retreat to their Scottish castle and dream in peace. Of course, the chances of that are somewhat like winning 24 million in Powerball and then having a meteor slam through the roof of your house and smash your head to smithereens while the ticket flutters slowly to the ground.

Last August, my wife and I were coming home from a family retreat to the ancestral cabin in the mountains east of Oakley, Utah. We stopped into IKEA for some cabinets, and as we were loading up, I noticed Brady Udall and his son Finn loading a whole kitchen into a U-Haul. He blurbed my novel, Rift, so after exchanging a couple of "small worlds" and "man it's hots" he asked about the status of the book. I told him I was in the last stages of editing. He said that's where he was with his second novel.

We chatted about how the publishing world is these day, which after the economic disaster of the last year and a half is just about as bad as every other non-essential business in the country. Brady used the "every man for himself." He was optimistic, but you could hear a tinge of the apocalypse in his voice.

The irony that we were having this conversation in the loading zone of an IKEA is not lost on me. Writers, along with other artists are always dealing with the marketplace, but we are less like money changers on the temple grounds than we are evangelists in the parking lot of Costco.

Since that conversation, I've been re-thinking my relationship to writing. I've been asking myself how much I really want a big book contract. I mean, seriously, if I got a call from Gary Fisketjon I wouldn't hang up on him, but I'm starting to wonder if there isn't something grand about being able to publish something on a human scale, something that keeps me balancing the hustle that large scale literary operations require with the niceness of the life I have right now. I just don't know if I'm ready for dog eat dogitude; I am really enjoying the relative slowness of my life.