Thursday, December 26, 2013

Junot Diaz--How I Became A Writer

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

In my last post, I shared an essay that I wrote that will be published in one of the magazines I regularly contribute to, "The East Greenwich Monthly", about following my dream to become a writer.  As I celebrated Christmas yesterday with my family (8 very excited kids ages 8 - 21) I quietly sat back and observed and absorbed their innocence and excitement as they opened gifts, joked with one another, and simply lived in the moment of Christmas morning 2013.

As they exuberantly gave thanks for receiving the gifts that they had opened, I quietly gave thanks for the gift of my family, oh, and for the gift of doing something I love for a living--writing.  I can honestly say that not a week goes by that I don't pinch myself for the opportunity to write every day as well as get paid for doing so.

And although I feel privileged to write professionally, I still have many, many goals and dreams that I yearn to fulfill as a writer, the biggest one to finish the novel I've been working on for the past three years and then to see it published by a major publisher.   So when I feel overwhelmed that this seems like such a lofty goal to complete, I find that reading about how other author's "finally made it" is just the inspiration I need to give me a "kick start" in the 'write' direction again.

An author that I've recently enjoyed following is Junot Diaz, who I had the privilege of seeing in person at an author's event last year.  He did an interview with Oprah this past summer which I found raw, real, and passionate.  

In light of the brand new year ahead, I thought I'd share it with you with the hopes that if you are striving to make your writer's dreams come true in 2014--this might inspire you as well.   

So I became a normal. A square. I didn't go to bookstores or read the Sunday book section of the Times. I stopped hanging out with my writer friends. The bouts of rage and despair, the fights with my fiancée ended. I slipped into my new morose half-life. Started preparing for my next stage, back to school in September. (I won't even tell you what I was thinking of doing, too embarrassing.) While I waited for September to come around, I spent long hours in my writing room, sprawled on the floor, with the list on my chest, waiting for the promise of those words to leak through the paper into me.

Maybe I would have gone through with it. Hard to know. But if the world is what it is so are our hearts. One night in August, unable to sleep, sickened that I was giving up, but even more frightened by the thought of having to return to the writing, I dug out the manuscript. I figured if I could find one good thing in the pages I would go back to it. Just one good thing. Like flipping a coin, I'd let the pages decide. Spent the whole night reading everything I had written, and guess what? It was still terrible. In fact with the new distance the lameness was even worse than I'd thought. That's when I should have put everything in the box. When I should have turned my back and trudged into my new life. I didn't have the heart to go on. But I guess I did. While my fiancée slept, I separated the 75 pages that were worthy from the mountain of loss, sat at my desk, and despite every part of me shrieking no no no no, I jumped back down the rabbit hole again. There were no sudden miracles. It took two more years of heartbreak, of being utterly, dismayingly lost before the novel I had dreamed about for all those years finally started revealing itself. And another three years after that before I could look up from my desk and say the word I'd wanted to say for more than a decade: done.

That's my tale in a nutshell. Not the tale of how I came to write my novel but rather of how I became a writer. Because, in truth, I didn't become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn't until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am. 

Junot Díaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead) won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

Where do you look for inspiration to help you fulfill your own writer's goals?

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