September 2019 marks the twentieth anniversary of Jay’s decision to become a writer. His gift to you all this celebratory year is DO IT – Twelve hard lessons on learning by failing, succeeding by accident, never giving up and saying FXXK WRITING all at the same time. You’re welcome!
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“Pardon me for staring,” said my Google student from Spain. “I’ve never actually met a writer before.” Apparently being a writer is a novelty. Not as much as an actor, but more so than a poet. Please notice I did not say ‘successful” or “acclaimed” or even “published” writer. In such classes, I try to dismiss the mystical and novel elements of this vocation. Writing is labor. Writing is work. It is a skill, not a cosmic gift from destiny for the privileged few. It is available to almost anyone willing to put in the work (talent, circumstance, and context notwithstanding).
I had enjoyed the limited cultural cache of this novelty and identified with the toughness associated with surviving in the cultural marketplace. But there were darker streams of this attachment to the novelty of seeing yourself in mythic terms because of your oh-so-special vocation. Writers can justify their seclusion and solitary existence every day. Art is more important than human relations, until you’re clutched by the suicidal loneliness of art that can’t love you back. But hey, you almost sold a short story to Creepy Sci Fi Writer Monthly.
It took compounded trauma and poverty to shatter the illusion of art being my identity. After working sixteen hour days, six days a week, I clawed back to writing. But the middle-class daydream of being a career novelist vanished. Living below the poverty line for years forged a new truth. Being a writer was not magic. Writing was magic. I was not plagued by dreams of stardom. Shit, there were no dreams except the fever dream of stories on the page, of revising to make it crackle, of throwing everything I had into it, to challenge myself, of embracing unconventional structures, forms, topics, and taboos. Of trying to get better and avoid the signal to noise ratio of writing gurus who sold bullshit about story over craft. And as they say in the wrestling world, business picked up. But the writing is still what fucking mattered.
I came to the hard conclusion known far and wide by blue-collar, working class, and under-represented and oppressed communities of writers: the act of creating alternate realities, screaming desires, and spilling fears on the page, makes the shitfucking drudgery of the bottom rungs of capitalism bearable, and that can keep you real and alive.
Ironically, these truths bled bright when I largely abandoned writing fantastical fiction and embraced a much wider range of genres from where I’d spent the past twenty-years. In this chrysalis, I was introduced to the work of Mark SaFranko, author of Hating Olivia, The Favor, and other fine works of confessional fiction and crime stories. His work injected straight into my id, and the more I read, the more I craved. A blue-collar writer from New Jersey whose work is bigger in France because they think he hates America, SaFranko unveils the truth I’d only seen when I had nothing left to lose.
So I leave you with his words.
“Someone once said, ‘Art is an addiction. That’s why there are so many bad artists.’ I think that’s true. I can’t imagine not liking to write. Why the fuck would you do it, then? For the inevitable rejection? Sure, you get stuck here and there, but why put yourself through the torture? Isn’t there enough in life to make you miserable?
“I don’t know why I love it. For some reason I’m wired that way. Probably it has to do with coming from a blue-collar background, where really tedious, boring, unrewarding work was what you had to face every day, day in and day out. Doing anything creative [is] like traveling to another universe.”