Two months ago, I started writing fiction again after nineteen years of falling away from it. During the past week, I attended two events in two days that made me feel like a real writer again. Here’s the story.
First, here’s where I’m at
I studied creative writing back in the nineties, graduating with a B.A. in 1999. During the years that followed, I fell away from writing. Why is a long story, but for our purposes here, I’ll boil it down to two reasons:
(1) Throughout my twenties, I gave in to social anxiety, isolated myself, and consequently had no one encouraging me to write, and no role models showing me how to get published. Not a good thing, but see #1 below.
(2) Around age 30, I had persuaded myself that a practical job that paid the mortgage was necessary, and that by going for such a job, I was crossing a Rubicon that meant permanently turning my back on being a writer. This was an even worse thing, but see #2 below.
Both of those were unfortunate, but the point is that I’ve turned the corner on both of them in the last two years. How is a long story. It’s a story I could see myself sharing, but not in this post. For this post, I’ll boil it down to two things:
(1) At age 41, my social anxiety reached a tipping point that made my life unmanageable. I found a support group that helped a lot, and I saw a therapist. I’m still not an extrovert, but I don’t lay down to anxiety, and I don’t compound my problems with extra negative thoughts the way I once did.
(2) As part of the same process, I resolved to get back to writing.
Therefore, I also did the following:
(3) A year ago, I started a blog, began to write in my journal every day. I wasn’t ready to get back to writing fiction, but I started doing some miscellaneous creative projects, including some paintings and some work on developing a computer game.
(4) Back in July, I joined a mastermind group for people who are writing and doing other creative work.
(5) With the encouragement of that group, I took the plunge back into fiction writing, writing my first short story in nineteen years.
(6) I signed up for a workshop class to give me feedback on my story. The class instructor told us about a literary reading that he and another writer were giving, as well as an upcoming book festival. I decided to go to both events.
Now, here are the events I went to
As a result, on Friday and Saturday, October 12 and 13, 2018, I went to two events in two days.
And so, last Friday night, I attended a literary reading for what I guess was the first time in nineteen years.
As I type these words, I need to step back and figure out what this means. To state the obvious, for those nineteen years, I’d given up on being a writer, so to some extent or another I’d also given up on being a reader — at least a reader of literary fiction. In fact, it goes beyond that. I’d also given up on the very notion of my life having any purpose. There’s a lot more I could say on this topic, but I’m going to leave it at that.
And so when I attended the literary reading on Friday, it was a celebration not only of the fact that I am once again embracing my creative self, but also of the fact that I now feel able to escape from my shell socially and share such experiences with other people. Again, I’m not a social butterfly, but I’m not a basket case, either.
The Friday night reading had very few people in attendance, only about eight or nine, but this made the event all the more intimate and meaningful to me, as it gave me a chance to talk to both of the speakers.
I spent a fair amount of time talking to the first of the two speakers, Bernard James, a short story writer and poet. He, like me, works an IT day job, and writes on the side, but unlike me, he has been writing consistently for many years and has a good number of publication credits. He is working on what sounds like a strong short story collection with a compelling theme that spans from 1865 to the present day. He read a short story, as well as a few poems.
The other speaker on Friday was A. Rafael Johnson, who teaches the writing workshop I attend at The Loft Literary Center. Since I enjoy his workshop, I was especially predisposed to enjoy the passages he read from his recently published novel The Through — passages that displayed his capacity to write with a strong voice.
Getting a chance to talk to these writers was great. I got Andy (as A. Rafael Johnson is known) to sign my copy of his book, and I talked to James (James Bernard Short is the real name of Bernard James, which is a pen name; I don’t think that’s much of a secret) about the process of developing the craft of writing short stories and poems.
James, if you read this, I need to boost my skills at offering feedback that doesn’t fall flat and sound lame. I’m going to read your story in The Blood Orange Review.
Andy, I’ve put The Through on my reading list, too.
The following day, I went to one of Minnesota’s biggest literary events of the year, the Twin Cities Book Festival, which reportedly about 6000 people visit each year.
There were a number of high points of the day, of which probably the top ones were:
- I met Colleen Waterston, a fellow writer whom I knew through the mastermind group, but had never met in person before!
- I had a really nice conversation with the guy who runs Red Dragonfly Press, which has published a number of poetry collections by Minnesota poets, including Philip Dacey’s last collection before he died in 2016. This was my first time hearing that he’d passed away.
Between the Friday and Saturday night events, the intimate reading on Friday night was, if anything, even more meaningful to me than the biggest book festival in the state. I am going to have to see if I can’t find some more readings of that sort, where I can make a connection with other writers.
Thanks, Andy and James. That Friday night event went some way toward making me feel a little more like a real writer again. Maybe not as real as you two, but you know what I mean.
[With this blog post, I’m attempting to kick off a version 2.0 of this blog. Wish me luck!]