• Here’s the Story

    I wrote a book called The Forest for the Trees and it’s an advice book for writers. For four years, I blogged every day about the agony of writing and publishing, and the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gathered and thus ensued a grand conversation. Now, the most popular posts are gathered in Greatest Hits ( a work in progress) Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I've learned one thing about writers, it's this: we really are all alone. Love, Betsy
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LOVE LOVE

My daughter and I saw a young man perform his music tonight. It was an incredible night watching this performer give all of himself, surrounded by like minded musicians who collectively filled the space with their passionate music and voices. The young man was full of energy, intensity, was emotionally open, and whose voice had its own unique sound, an extraordinary range full of soul, jazz and pop. Later, my daughter asked me if I thought he would make it. I thought about myself at twenty feverishly putting my poetry collection together, all I lived for. Two years later, I was working a conventional job, health benefits (for the shrink) and a 401K.  What’s the moral of the story: if opting out is an option take it. If opting out isn’t an option, you are prepared to sacrifice. You have a fierce work ethic. You have a freeway in your brain. You might explode. It’s cliche by now, but you have no choice. And that’s just your starting point.

Was there a fork in your road?

for M.B.

49 Responses

  1. There have been forks. Four of them. Aged from 14 to 23. I am waiting for them to become spoons.

  2. There have always been forks, but I’ve always taken one that got me there, eventually.

  3. When my wife died nine years ago I was lost. I had been selling her art at The Farmers Market and doing wedding photography for years. But when Linda died I needed to change my life. I had published a couple of short stories when I was younger, and had written a couple of novels, but was too chicken to submit them; I had thought that some day I would come back to it. As I grieved for the loss of Linda and considered what to do I realized that my some day had come. When would I write, if not now? I started slowly, picking up steam; now I am a daily writer, no matter what.

  4. Yes and I stuck it in my eye last night in frustration.

  5. yes. here’s to the forking road. let’s hoist another stirrup cup and be on our way.

  6. Everyday there’s a fork in my road. And everyday I make the same choice. Go to work. Pay the bills. Keep the household running. I’m not ungrateful nor do I hate it. But I’d rather be writing.

    Just got a glowing rejection (weird, right?) from a publisher who took several months to consider the wip. Told me to make a few changes, gave me some really helpful advice, actually, and said she felt certain there was a place in the market for it if said changes were made. These days I feel like persistence is my only path.

    • That’s a positive for sure…I received two rejections from editors with statements like, “lyrical, poignant novel,” and “funny, wise, characters,” but they just didn’t “fall in love” with it. Sigh. Still, I was happy for such positive comments…even if they didn’t take me on. Keep on!

      • I am in the same boat – it is frustrating, disheartening and encouraging all at the same time. I find if i allow myself a good cry right after i get the rejection, it is easier for me to focus on the positives!

      • @ddelano…it is easier for me to see the positive as well after a “tiny” meltdown. LOL.

    • That sounds like encouraging advice.

  7. Every seven years.

    There was the year I went to college instead of joining the circus.

    Seven years later, I left the theatre company I co-founded and founded an all-girl circus company.

    Seven years later, NOW, I have taken a six-month sabbatical to see if this part-time writing thing can be a full-time writing thing. So far I’ve gate-crashed a major political funeral, had a poetry reading invaded by monkeys, milked a cow, and carried my dad’s ashes around the world. I don’t know if it’s going to sell, but it’s sure leading to writing. And I’m only doing enough sit-ups and push-ups so that I don’t completely lose it in case I have to go back to the circus.

  8. I don’t believe in forks. I believe you do this thing, which leads to that other thing, where you meet these new people, which opens that other door, etc…. I believe in “You are here.”

    And to Dan above, here’s to you and your daily writing.

  9. There was and I took the safe road. I wasn’t ready for a lifetime of rejection. I’m fairly certain I’ll come upon another fork one if these days. I’ll be ready. A lifetime of safety has prepared me for it.

  10. Forks are most easily seen looking back. Had I chosen differently, I could be wealthy or in any number of other situations. We can all do the Marlon Brando “contender” speech. It’s a waste of time. If you see a fork, good luck; if not, make your own.

  11. I wonder, sometimes, what might have happened if I’d taken more writing classes in college instead of education courses, or gone on to get my MFA instead of an MLS. The education classes were my parents’ idea and on their dime, but everything after that was my choice.

  12. A while back Betsy asked this same question, sort of, and I posted an answer on my blog. For those of you who read it and commented, thanks, and yes it’s a little creepy but it is truer than true.

    When I weary of the effort, when my hands hurt and my mind begins to trip over the words, I think about that fork in my road.
    How could I not take any other path? It was forged by a dead person.

    I’ve re-posted the answer to Betsy’s question on my blog so anyone interested…read on and remember, it happened just the way I said it did, really it did.

  13. It’s only when I look back that I can see the forks, but never was there one that carried me away on a life that took me from writing OR is one I regret. That’s the not so funny thing about when your life begins in a place with people who don’t have much and expect even less, a small step like finally graduating college is making a leap to the moon. I do not begrudge the decently paid 8-5 aspect of my life. Having grown up with those whose every waking minute is spent worrying about money, I realize that my life now has a stability that allows room for writing and the belief (something I NEVER had growing up) that many things are possible.

  14. I’ve been at a well-defined fork – about 10 years ago. Do I stay in medicine, but veer a little, away from people, towards vet school? Or do I keep on, but focus more on writing?
    I often say I should have been a vet. I’m not as enamored with the book business anymore. The writing world has morphed into something unrecognizable to me. Thankfully, a writing lifestyle is as dreamy as you make it. I chose the dream and I refuse to allow a changing industry to crush that.

  15. My fork in the road was a river, a cascade of emotions when a good friend was killed by her son. She’s gone and I’m pretty well immersed in the river.

    • So sorry Mike D…not sure if this was recent, but there’s nothing wrong with immersion for a little while, just don’t let it keep dragging you under…

      • Thanks, donnaeve. It was almost 25 years ago and, beyond the sadness, my feelings changed and my outlook darkened and lightened at the same time; pain, yes, fear, no.

      • That’s good Mike D…pain we sometimes have to deal with, but fear is a choice. Good for you.

  16. I stuck to the straight and narrow road with a steady paycheck and a 401K for 35 years. And then, like some secret road crew had worked overnight, excavating, forming and preparing a path just for me, the fork I’d seen only in my mind and on my personal map of the world suddenly appeared. It was off in the distance, a vision, a mirage,sometimes close and other times, far away. It was a destination, one point to get to before I could see what was beyond.

    Without warning, it was within reach. I became the crazy driver, swerving through traffic to reach it, and then, it was right in front of me. I yanked the wheel hard, and …,here I am, driving blindly. No map now. At least all the rest stops have been adequately spaced, without the three cups of coffee level of discomfort, or cramped leg, muscle spasm need for a stretch, I just got started, but, something keeps me mashing on the gas pedal, even though I can’t see where I’m going.

  17. Gosh, there are always forks. But I truly believe that whatever road you choose, there’s always a way back.

  18. Life is full of forks. House or go to Europe? Baby or not? Another baby or not? Start my own business or suffer where I was? There was only one fork I felt for a long time was the wrong choice, but I still ended up here, own my own company, make my own hours, and writing again. So maybe there are no wrong choices.

  19. Aside from the fact that I’ve had the same bill paying job for over a decade my life choices seem much more like scribble than paths with forks. Maybe it’s due to a hopeless neurosis but doubling back and spinning around are more my speed. I try to avoid reading career advice on yahoo because they just tend to say I’m doing it all wrong. As for writing, I’m still arguing with my nature, not a morning person. My best hours to work are 7-11 pm. It’s a time slot I don’t have free often enough. So ever optimistic I set my alarm for 5:30. And don’t get up. Scribble, scribble, scribble. I’m not sure this makes any sense for the question.

  20. My wife is an incredible singer, and I know there are times when she thinks what if she would have done this or that before we had kids.

    The lucky thing about being a writer (and yes, there is a lucky thing to it–don’t get all poor-me-I’m-a-writer on me) is that you do it alone. You do it in a basement, in a closet, while you’re supposed to be typing a TPS report for your boss–early in the morning, late at night. When you can and when you must. You don’t just do it in spite of forks–it’s usually the forks that drive the work, that make it necessary.

  21. No forks. It’s not that kind of a road.

  22. Sure. At the age of 32, vested in the company pension, with nine years as a successful young journalist behind me, and a position as shop steward in the Newspaper Guild, I quit to go live in Spain and dedicate my life to literature. I finished a novel and five screenplays there before returning to launch a futile, multi-progned attack on the american culture industries.

    More importantly I got a deep lesson in culture, philosophy, politics and and other vocations of the mind and spirit that are simply not available in our economically dynamic country.

    It has been a wild ride with bounties of both ugliness and beauty. That decision was costly, but I feel having chosen the other fork would have been fatal.

  23. In 2009 there was a fork in the road: get a job or move to China with my two young kids. I moved to China where I sunk lower, but because of my 5’10″ height and long blonde hair, I felt like a celebrity.

  24. Every damn day the roads diverge and I must chose again and again. What else is new.

  25. My “fork” was a six-figure realtor’s figure after a 30-year career as teacher. Despite the heady experience of having lots of write-off’s and perks, I determined to ditch the showing-houses career and tap into the other house (excuse the metaphor) in my brain. I’d been writing for years–everywhere–just mostly closeted accounts of things that happened in my life, and because my life was a roller-coaster ride, I never get beyond that point to publish. Now, I’m doing that. This past year, I wrote and self-pubbed two children’s books (Hell, I didn’t know that’s a tough trade!) but it was merely gearing up for my next step–releasing a book about my lifetime interaction with the medical community. Then, I’ll do my ultimate–the story of my life, and I’ll do it for myself…just to prove to myself that “Hell, yes…I have REALLY made it to this point.”

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