I’m sitting in the fifteenth floor lounge of the Boston Park Plaza Hotel drinking vodka on the rocks. It’s only six o’clock in the evening, a little early even for me for straight alcohol, but I’m in need of a little buffer because in twenty minutes I’ll be sitting across the table from an editor who will be holding the first twenty pages of the manuscript of my novel. I had already been through the drill earlier in the day (Muse & The Marketplace Writer’s Conference) with a different editor whose unenthusiasm for my writing (and/or story) was deafening.
I think I’m done, finished with the whole process of submitting to agents and meeting with editors. I can’t take anymore of the nonsense. One editor says they like that I don’t overwrite while another states, rather dismissively, that one of the problems with my work is that I overwrite. Another doesn’t like the name of the main character and a fourth editor thinks I should “strongly consider” turning my literary novel about a couple falling in love into an espionage thriller.
I’m not even sure if the vodka I’m drinking is to bolster my courage to endure the session with the next editor or to just not show up for the meeting at all.
Sitting at the bar to my right (there are only two chairs at the bar of this tiny lounge) is another gentleman nursing a tall glass of clear liquid. For some reason I believe that it’s tonic water or some other non-alcoholic beverage. Unlike me, he seems to be killing time instead of brain cells.
Now, I am not one to talk to strangers, and my drink isn’t even half finished so I know it’s not lubrication that prompts it, but I turn to the gentleman, and, surprising myself with my audacity, ask, “How do you know when to quit?” As I wait for his response, not really sure he will even entertain my question, I wonder if he senses the exasperation in my voice.
The gray haired man seems to ponder my question for a moment before answering, which he does, with an analogy of an aging rock group, a reference I’m not exactly thrilled about. But his point is well taken. After ten years of being on the road and playing every dive along the eastern seaboard, you come to the realization that you are (probably) never going to make it. It’s at that point that you realize that you do what you do (that you CONTINUE to do what you do) for the “love of it.” And with that, the gentleman finishes his drink and leaves.
But that was no ordinary gentleman. That was Ron Carlson, the brilliant writer who would be giving the keynote speech the next day to an audience of eight hundred people. And while his advice wasn’t exactly “novel,” it was honest, it was considered, and it seemed heartfelt. He was kind enough and generous enough to indulge this struggling writer and give a thoughtful answer to a somewhat ridiculous question.
I don’t write with the hope of being rich. I don’t write with the hope of being famous. I write because I love to and because it’s the best way I know of (sometimes the only way I know of) to be engaged in the world. And I will continue to write (but not submit to agents and editors) because of that love and because of the community of wonderful, extraordinary people (like Ron Carlson) that I get to meet in the process.