• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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So I Turned Myself to Face Me

I’m curious about the moments in your life when you made huge decisions about your writing life. To first share your work, to first send it out, to apply to a writing program or conference, to talk to a famous writer. To take a year off to write. To take a mindless job that wouldn’t impinge on your writing time. To quit writing. To switch to non-fiction, or to fiction. I’m asking because a few writers have asked me lately: should I continue, should I stop teaching, should I go to journalism school, should I write for magazines? I guess what I’m asking is:

Did you ever come to a fork in the road? What did you do?

58 Responses

  1. I started as a pawn, then assumed the role of knight. The two steps forward/one step sideways approach is bringing me closer to the other side of the board.

  2. I’m at one. My next pub will be non-fiction that has been percolating for twenty years. I have tons of notes and anecdotes and scientific corroboration and it is so easy to write and it will be a legendary hit and change socity’s view on human sexuality forever. That’s all for now.

  3. Well, the chickens have come home to roost. God, I love cliches. Many years ago I exhibited at the ABA shows.The buzz one particular year was the year Crown Books came into exhistance and the indie bookstore in my neighborhood went out.

    The publishers said if Crown doesn’t order, we don’t publish.Literature was never intended to be a commodity but that’s what it became and the big box stores said if it doesn’t sell we get to send it back and sharing the profit started to mean not sharing the risk in America.

    I hear things are tough out there for agents just when I’ve decided to write.One agent rejected me by e mail and kept the stamp on my SASE!

  4. I come to one of the above-mentioned forks every few weeks. I usually choose the one in service to writing. So where the fuck is my book?

  5. Lots of forks in the road. Always. What would we do without them? 2002, finishing journalism school, I wrote my first fan e-mail to a beloved writer, Katherine Boo, and she actually wrote back. The experience spawned several such heart-pourings, as well as a feeling of kinship with my chosen field. 2005, two years into my first newspaper job, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I moved to Barcelona to learn to teach English and ended up staying two years, learning Spanish in the meantime and inexplicably waking at 6am every day to tap out more pages of a novel that I have yet to understand– or finish. 2008, I couldn’t get my papers to stay in Spain and my sister and her husband bought a small hotel on a tiny island in Mexico, so I moved there to manage it for her. Everyone seemed to think a screenplay would materialize from the experience. I was pretty sure they were wrong. I was right. 2010, I had exhausted my ability to have one-night stands with tourists and I was tired of waking at 6am to work on this damn interminable novel. I decided to move back to the States and spend a year visiting Facebook friends. It seemed like a fine time to spend my savings, devote myself once and for all to writing, and return to nonfiction. 2011, I finished the trip and found myself near broke and totally exhausted in Oakland, Calif. I got a kitchen job at a market, cut the tip of my pinky off twice, and started getting up at 6am again to work on my new novel idea: a fantastical fiction version of the real-life road trip I had just finished with my dog. Funny the circles we turn.

  6. I stopped for a while. It was healthy. I was not.

    The thing is I lived and saw so many stories that I was able to veer off the road, head out to the country, and start writing again. Without all that wretchedness, or less of it.

  7. Yes, I reached that fork as well only I wasn’t able to walk on my chosen path. I have been involved with writing in one form or another my entire life. Though I didn’t know how much I truly loved it until the spring of 2008 when I was in an automobile accident that come close to taking my life. I hydroplaned and flipped our 2001 chevy tahoe six times. Even making the front page of the paper. I was blessed to be alive and my only injuries were, a badly damaged leg which had to be rebuilt, (and I walk with a hitch) several cuts, an entirely bruised (blackened) body, a broken nose and gash atop it and a concussion. This accident caused me to be down on my back for six months with nothing to do but what I had always wanted time for but never had. Writing. During this time, I fell in love, all over again and when my therapy was up, even joined my daughters writing club and book club.
    For me, I still have nightmares about that rainy day that I come closer to death than I wanted. It was the worse day of my life. But also the best. For the writer finally emerged and the road rised up to meet me. It was then, that I realized that whether I took the left, or the right, either way would mean writing. Thanks so much for asking.

  8. Go with your gut. It hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

  9. When I was 28 years old, I sent a short story to Joyce Carol Oates, asking if I could sit in on her Princeton class. She told me that I didn’t need any more classes. I was publishable NOW. So then I sent that story to THE NEW YORKER, with a cover letter that began, “Joyce Carol Oates says…” I got a note back from their legendary editor (“MDK”) telling me that they like my writing and to keep submitting even though they wouldn’t be taking this one.

    Be gutsy. Read the signs, for the signs are everywhere in our lives. If you’re getting desperate, DEMAND that signs appear to give you advice and direction. I assure you: the signs will show up. Trouble is, you have to be open to where they lead.

    They’re always right.

    • I like this. Raises hands and throws back head, “Give me a sign!”

      Damand request submitted.

    • Oh, I totally agree. I demand signs at every turn. “Show me!” I shout to the heavens. At one crossroad, it was a choice between pursuing writing and going to vet school. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve groaned, “I should have been a vet.” Not really, though.

      I do miss the encouraging “ink” from magazines & lit journals. It’s just not the same with online submissions. I got an encouraging note from the NYer, too, which was a good day. Often, it’s those little signs that keep me on track. No regrets at all.

    • I soooo believe in signs. About a year ago I was working on a short story based on a women I see walking the streets of my town, (neighborhoods somewhere between burb and urban). Sounds like a comedy team, burb and urban, anyway, she wandered with a walking stick, backpack and floppy hat; always on the outskirts, no one knew where she was from or where she was going. One morning, frustrated, burnt out and ready to throw my dreams, and me, off a fucking bridge, (no bridges high enough in town), I DEMANDED, a sign.
      Yea, you guested it, at work that day who walks in the door where I work and starts talking to me, the wandering old hag. She wasn’t a hag at all. Intelligent and soft spoken, we discussed the weather and a new restaurant in town she loved. She just didn’t have a car. I’m still at it but because I had not seen her in over a year I figured she died or changed her walking route.
      Yesterday, I saw her, she’s driving now. I never did finish the story until now. The End.

    • It’s lonely to howl at the moon.

  10. After a very discouraging uphill climb of querying two novels which everyone, and I mean everyone, said (were phenomenal, they could not put down and would make me famous), I read a quote by Joseph Campbell, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

    The day I read that quote I didn’t put my novels on the back burner; I took them off the stove. I’m an essayist, (that’ll make you money), so I went back to what I do best. I wrote a six-hundred word piece about what a baby my husband is, and most men are, when they get a cold. I shot that off with a very clever query letter to a local paper and within 24 hours I became a columnist again.

    I love what I do, and I’m raking up a stack of bylines and tear sheets, but it’s a title page I want. In between column writing and the rest of life I’m querying the novels again. Maybe I should check out Campbell for a quote on climbing mountains without pitons.

    • Maybe you should self-publish. And maybe this little comment is YOUR SIGN TO DO SO.

  11. Today my agent will submit my new novel to editors. Should I have stayed with said agent? Should I have written something different? If I should get an offer and it’s not from whom I hope it’d be from, should I take it anyway? Will they make me promises they will not keep? Will they even be in business a year from now? These neverending forks…they stab me in the heart and I know not what to do. A flip of a quarter. A Magic 8 Ball works, too.

  12. For better or worse, road less taken nearly every time. It’s been a much more difficult path, rougher trails and all, and I have no friggin’ idea where am I at times, but the meandering back roads are filled with more interesting places and people than whizzing by the rest areas on treeless, exitless superhighways.

  13. I always thought of myself as a writer of fiction, yet ended up a journalist for more than 20 years, working as a war correspondent and running magazines. I toyed with an idea for a novel for six years, never getting more than a couple of lousy pages done, until one day my magazine’s parent company decided to downsize. Furious about the cutbacks facing my staff, I swore to never again devote more than 80 percent of my mental capacity to faceless bean counters, started writing and am now about to finish the first draft of the novel.

  14. You won’t reach a fork in the road unless you walk. In some ways I waited too long for that. I was a frightened little rabbit in the tall grass, afraid to move.

    • Walking is so it. Then add what ThreeKingsBooks said about signs and suddenly you’ll find a clearing up ahead. Sometimes there’s even a dazzling sunset waiting or, if you’re really following your nose, a leprechaun dancing a jig at the end of a rainbow. Offer him a cup of dandelion tea, and he’ll likely offer up all his pots of gold, not just the one you see.

  15. My father’s death pushed me to get an MFA in poetry and leave my little dead end life. I started writing prose because my friend said the stories I told about my new poetry project were better than the poems themselves. I have a first draft because I found support here in the blogosphere. These decisions weren’t as easy as they sound in retrospect.

  16. i had an column that was syndicated in about 12 or 15 (depending on the week) small dailies across the country. it didn’t pay anything and a handful of people ever read it, but it gave me some kind of (self-imposed) legitimacy around my writing. if i someone asked me what i wrote, i could say, “i’m a columnist.”

    a couple months ago, i hours before my deadline and thought, “i don’t want to write these anymore.” i quit that day and wrote a this-is-my-last-column column. i want to write other things. i haven’t started writing those other things…yet. my rationalization is that i’m taking a sabbatical to reconfigure what i write and how i write it.

  17. This could be a major bust. It is entirely possible that I won’t fit in. People may look at me in dismay when they realize what I haven’t read, or wonder why I didn’t just go to the beach if I have no stories dancing in my head. My response to the assignments may be so scant in comparison to my classmates that I might be in misery.

    I could have the time of my life. Whole mornings for writing! Entire afternoons for class. Are you kidding me? It is true that over the years I have become more protective of my writing time, moving it from ten-minutes-if-I-can to one-hour-first-thing-don’t-mess-with-me, but whole mornings? What delight. What luxury!

    I am not at all sure that this is a good idea, but I do feel reasonably certain that if I do not take this opportunity to the yield to the writing conference yearning, I never will.

  18. I’ve had two forks in the road so far, and I think I made the right decision on each. I have a new fork coming up this summer, and I’m hoping it galvanizes me to finish my madcap trilogy. It’s really funny and I want to know how it comes out.

  19. I’m currently waiting and hoping for my next fork. Which is my problem, of course: too much waiting and hoping, not enough doing.

    • Your sign will come, Laura!

      As for me, I’ve learned that the more resistant I am to the sign, the more out of whacko it seems, the more right it is for me.

      • I know. Me, too. Why is that? It’s never a straight or logical path, and it’s happened so many times that now I’m really starting to listen & look for the crazy stuff! Go figure.

  20. To write is to face your internal conflict. Conflict is balance…it forces you to choose.

  21. I never planned on writing anything. I went back to school in my 30s with the single purpose of finishing my degree. My first fork was taking a nonfiction writing class to fill a spot in my schedule, and the professor insisted I send a story I wrote to a lit mag contest that was closing in 2 days. I’d never heard of a lit mag. My story was 30 pages long, and they contest wanted 20. But I went home, poured a glass of wine and, without mercy, cutcutcutcutcut that story in half. I won the contest and took the new road.

    There have been many forks since. The first was the easiest — by far.

  22. The long and winding road as been forky enough to set places for the whole crew.

    When I was a high-school journalism student I realized the story meant more to me than the truth, so I decided I would not pursue a career as a journalist (I was young and idealistic).

    When I was still in my teens I accepted a good friend’s invitation to go to a gay bar with him because I wanted experiences to write about, (Got ’em! Ended up working there for two years.)

    When I returned to college a few years later I decided to major in philosophy, believing such studies would lay a foundation for better writing on my part (they did, but not in ways I might have expected).

    After I graduated from college I convinced my wife to support me while I wrote. But I was a piss-poor spinner of tales and a drunk and after five years that all fell apart, even though before the end I had sobered up.

    But also before the end, I wrote a little something that got me invited to NYC by a fellow named Gordon who was a teacher and an editor. This was NYC pre-Giuliani and it was a scary place for a young man from the desert. And I was broke. So I borrowed the money and I went to the center of the literary universe and my life was saved and redeemed and forever changed.

    A bunch of other forky shit happened but I’m beginning to get bored with this. Now I work at a job where I don’t make as much as I could if I worked at some other similar but more demanding job, but I have time and energy to write. And to dick around on the Iway.

    Campbell said you gotta follow your bliss. He was onto something there, though I gotta say, mine has not been a blissful bliss so much as it has been a surrendering to a necessary fate. And Gordon urged me to find the scary places within and go there. It’s been exhilarating.

    I would tell any writer, trust your intuition. Follow your hunches. Know yourself and be true to yourself and you will never go wrong, no matter what external appearances may be. Life is a dance. Get out on the floor and dance it, and fuck ’em all if they don’t like your steps.

    • Forky. My new vocabulary word for the week. Thanks!

      • So you want to know about forks in the road. Okay. I’ll tell you about forks in the road. The moment finally comes for every student pilot when the instructor sez, “Stop here,” gets out of the plane and sez, “Gimme 3 landings and takeoffs!” Then turns and walks away leaving the student sitting in the plane with the engine idling. His choices are simple – either fly it or park it and go home forever. Now, that’s a fork.

    • Forky shit, I like that.

  23. I worked for a major telecom company for many years and when they began to falter, time and again, I could have done what others were doing – bail out. But I stuck with them, even through the real swan song which was a Chp 11 declaration in 2009. While I worked, I also went back to school and got my degree. Then, I pulled out the ms I’d been “playing” with for about 8 years, and finished it. It was all about options, see? Another year working with an editor and it was ready. I landed an agent on March 9th 2012, and was laid off exactly 3 weeks later – on March 30th, 2012 – BUT, with enough bonus money (paid out for dealing with a lot of depressing crap of shutting down a company) to pay off all our debt. I am still flabbergasted by what seems like a stroke of luck, but it was really about choosing, right?. About five years ago, I had no idea I would be where I am right now, but I’m grateful for it. Somehow my feeble little brain nudged me along, and I do worry every day about where this will go, but for now, it’s all good.

    • I’d trust that road you’re on and stop worrying. Clearly you’ve taken all the right forks so far. Why should it change now? Bravo for landing the agent and for being debt-free!

  24. There are the obvious life predicaments that demand action, then there’s what you are made of and where that will take you if you are willing. Arriving at those truly dividing roads I remember something my foster father told me when I was agonizing over what I thought was simply another job decision—‘you need to do what only you can do.’

    Sounds all mystical and whatnot I know, but it works. Most book lovers can be librarians, but only I can tell my story.

  25. I quit my corporate job, sold my house, lived off the money for 3 1/2 years. I began writing my memoir in 1997. After 15 years of work, it will be published nex year.

  26. i had a friend with ALS and, when he was faced with the reality of 2 years, asked me what i’d do if i only had 2 years. i replied “finish this collection of short stories and spend all my time with my family”.

    at the time, i was a student in a non-profit management degree program and needed to write a strategic plan for a course, so i wrote a strategic plan for my writing life. best thing i ever did. i mapped out what i needed to do. when i handed the plan in, the professor asked for a sample of my writing and i complied. he gave me an A and wrote “now quit this program and go write” and that’s what i did.

    btw writing a mission statement was one of the best things i’ve done because it keeps me focused.

  27. I quit a good and regular correspondent gig so I could move to Spain and write a novel. I loved Spain and stayed too long. It turned out to be very costly. I think my life has been harder after the great adventure, but thanks to going, I can write better and don’t have to complain about life having passed me by.

  28. I’ve taken lots of forks: I went part-time for a year, then took a year off to write. Now my luxury is paying a babysitter three hours a week so I can write.

    The forks have taught me that what matters is what you do on the road, not just what road you take.

  29. I’ve never been able to risk losing financial security for the sake of writing. And I’ve always felt like a huge pussy because of that.

    I chose to obtain a degree in science rather than English. I’ve chosen to seek a publisher via the traditional route rather than opt for self-publishing. And 6 months ago, I came to a fork in the road and again, chose a steady paycheck.

    So, I guess I choose to be a pussy.

  30. I was a teacher in Chicago for nearly 30 years. I retired, needed to find a cheaper place to live, so moved to Louisville, Kentucky. I wanted a house that was way too big for me so impulsively launched into another career so I could afford it. I’ve been an Inn-keeper for 17 years now. Although I had no prior business experience, I learned to run a successful inn.

    It’s afforded me time to write and blog every day. A bed and breakfast can be demanding, but it was the right choice for me.

    I have recently come to another crossroads. The business is becoming more than I can or want to handle at my age. I would like to retire again and write full time and am trying to make that happen.

  31. Many times. A year ago I stopped trying to fictionalize a part of my life into a best-seller and began to just write the damn memoir. I resisted mightily at first, fought and went for therapy, anything to not write memoir again. One book was enough! Now I would write a breakout novel! So I created and tried to fashion a novel out of something true–but my talent is in nonfiction and poetry. My fiction sounds like, well, fiction. It was such a crossroads for me that the book is tentatively titled, Knife at the Crossroads. The title may change, but the story won’t change back into fiction. I took a path.

  32. It was never a decision.

    I’m open and if someone is listening (or reading), great. If not, I would just be doing it for me.

    Sometimes it’s cathartic. It just needs to happen.

    This did –

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