On Becoming a Writer

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about who I am.

Perhaps more notably, how what I do informs who I am.

Finding some time to journal while hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail alone.

We all have the strong tendency to identify ourselves with our primary activities in life, and I’m probably no different. If I use that formula of what I do defining who I am, then I have changed over the years. If I think back to those cocktail party conversations when people asked me what I did, I said a variety of things such as:

I’m a student.

I’m a basketball player.

I’m a communications director.

I’m a coach.

I’m a college spokesperson and public relations director.

I’m a marketing consultant.

When we’re small, people ask us all the time what we want to be when we grow up. And when we’re young, the possibilities of life are endless. We can become anything. Back then, when someone asked me what I wanted to be, I always answered one of two ways:

1. I want to be a professional basketball player.

2. I want to be a writer.

When I graduated from college in 1995, I had the opportunity to play professional basketball in Israel. I could have accepted and would have fulfilled one of my childhood dreams, that I’d worked so incredibly hard to attain. But at the time, I was burned out from playing basketball, and the reality was, I wouldn’t have a very long career in the sport. Jobs for graduates were tough to come by, and I was lucky enough to land a job in a public relations firm in Connecticut. So, I intentionally chose to walk away from basketball to do what I thought I was supposed to do: gain experience in a stable career.

And I did gain experience. I worked hard, paid my dues, made useful connections, and worked my way up the proverbial career ladder. Everything was on track. Everything except that niggling number two on my list of things I wanted to be.

Over the years, I tried to trick myself into believing I was a writer. In a manner of speaking, I was. I wrote thousands of ads, hundreds of pages of marketing copy, program descriptions, admissions acceptance letters, college president speeches, and so on. The fact was, I wrote every day, but I wasn’t writing stories. I wasn’t writing for me.

I wrote short stories and poems in my nearly non-existent spare time. I submitted those half-baked attempts to a litany of contests and anthologies as if acceptance would somehow be a sign from the Universe that I should proceed. It’s probably not a surprise that those responses always came in the form of rejection letters.

On March 7, 2007, I completed the first draft of a feature film script called DEAR EMILY, based on the life of Emily Dickinson and her lesbian love affair with her sister-in-law, Susan. I queried and cold-called independent producers to see if they’d be interested. As you might expect, they didn’t give me the time of day. I knew what I’d written was good. Really good. I knew because when I was writing, there was a point in which I left myself behind, and I felt as though I was merely a conduit for something more significant. It was as if I was inside the room, recounting what I had seen or heard. It was the first time in my life, except when I was on the basketball court, where I felt so wholly connected to something far grander than myself.

As the next couple of years passed, I became more and more disillusioned, thinking my journals and stories were vestiges of my childhood dreams that I should stop toying with and leave behind for good.

But I couldn’t walk away. Mostly because my wife wouldn’t let me. She saw something in me that I had allowed to become tarnished and dull. And she reminded me that I was the one responsible for becoming who I wanted to be and that I damned well better get on with it.

One day, I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized the person gazing back at me. I was good at what I did. I worked extremely hard at it, too. But I didn’t love it. I had to decide if the money and title were worth selling myself out for.

They weren’t.

In the spring of 2009, I quit my job as a senior college marketing and public relations director a month from a sizable promotion to senior vice president. Thank God for my wife, Dara. She was my biggest cheerleader, holding my hand with me as I took this gigantic leap of faith. She also took on the financial burden of our life together to allow me the space to live my dream. If it weren’t for her, I’d probably still be toiling in some college somewhere suffering migraine headaches, office politics, and subsisting on a steady diet of stress and Advil.

I realized that my success as a writer was based entirely on my effort. This formula had always worked for me as a basketball player and communications professional. Up until this point, I had not put forth one hundred percent effort into being a writer, and so it was really no wonder that I wasn’t successful at it. I decided to focus all of my energy on the craft of writing.

Eight years later, that screenplay on Emily Dickinson was sold and is in production (stay tuned!). I’ve published two novels, one collection of poetry, one non-fiction book. I’ve written eight more screenplays and television pilots, and I’m working on my third novel called Raising Artemis.

My life revolves around telling stories. Every day I work to improve as a writer and a storyteller. It isn't always sunshine and roses, but there's nothing else I'd rather be doing.

I read an article recently on writing that said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. Real writers write.” I don’t entirely agree with this statement. Yes, writers write. Every day. Even when it’s hard. Even when we’d rather procrastinate by re-organizing the kitchen Tupperware cabinet. But real writers also live for those moments of pure inspiration, when a character speaks to us before anyone else in the quiet of the early morning, or a story weaves its way in our minds while we dream.

Reading at Napi's Restaurant in Provincetown during Women's Week. From L to R: Lucy Madison, Georgia Beers, Melissa Brayden, Lynn Ames, Rachel Spangler, Carol Rosenfeld, Marianne K. Martin, Cheryl Head.

I recently returned from Provincetown where I participated in a bunch of different readings, panels, and events during Women’s Week. While I relished being in my beloved PTown, I also really enjoyed spending time with so many amazing authors, creative people, and thoughtful readers. Spending time with other writers talking about how they practice their craft, how they balance selling books with finding time to write, how they create stories – all if it was incredibly beautiful and emotional for me. I was where I always wanted to be, and the surge of gratitude I felt for all of it was so incredibly overwhelming that I had to share it with one person.

She happened to be home in Connecticut holding down the fort with our fur babies while I was at our second home in Provincetown. After eighteen years, she’s seen me be so many things, but she’s the main the reason why I am finally what I always wanted to be.

At one of my final readings in Provincetown, I read a poem about being in love. Someone commented, "wow you must've really liked who you wrote that about."

"I did," I replied.

"What happened?"

"She became my wife," I said, laughing.

Dara and me at the beach in Provincetown this summer with our black lab Maggie, and our yellow lab Jessie.

Dara and I were at a cocktail party last week where someone asked her what I did for a living. “She’s a writer,” my wife said proudly, smiling at me as if no one was in the room.

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