As one who writes in his spare time, while holding down a full-time job, I am the literary equivalent of a Manhattan waiter refusing to give up on a dream, however farfetched, of securing a leading role on the Broadway stage. But it’s clear the term literary does not apply to my publishing aspirations. I compose poems, stories, essays and other forms, send them out into the world and hope someone pays attention. Most of the time the work is ignored.
So why do I keep trying? Why do I rise at 5:30 a.m. every weekday and write before going to my job as a video producer at Syracuse University? Because I must—because I cannot ignore the compulsion to create. Yet I have discovered the world is not waiting for my words; no readers or editors clamor for my work.
Still I do not give up. And when I get discouraged about my progress I write in my journal, and these entries take the form of pep talks to myself. Here are some I have made in recent years:
I need to make use of these thoughts, however trivial, to put them down on paper and give them life. Otherwise, they are impotent, just swimming around my head without direction or purpose.
My words testify to my existence. They say, “I was here. I spoke. I wrote.” And if you failed to hear me, you do not have to look far to find me—for the evidence is stockpiled in the archived documents I left behind for others to sort out.
A Writer’s Regrets
I must let what is inside me out, regardless of the unlikelihood of success.
Failure meets me along the way.
I receive two forms of rejection. One is silence; the other is some variation of the following email: “Thank you for your submission. We appreciate the chance to read it, but unfortunately this piece is not for us.”
I wish God had implanted in me the desire to fly fish or hunt elk, to cook world-class entrees or pastries or make stained-glass windows in Gothic cathedrals. Anything but the need to string together words that no one wants.
I’m like a boxer on the ropes taking repeated blows to the head but refusing to go down. I wish my knees would buckle or the manager would throw in the white towel. Then I could give up on my dream of becoming a professional writer (one requiring no other employment).
Yet I keep at it, even though I may die as an unknown scribe with a stack of manuscripts bulging in a dresser drawer, heaps of paper suited for kindling in a pot-bellied stove.
And when I am gone I will haunt the rooms where I once wrote, unable to let go, raising my voice to get someone to listen, someone to read the collection of unpublished texts.
And this makes me wonder: do words have life if no one reads them? Are they real without an audience? Or are they just jumbled sentences searching for a home?
For now I concede failure. And I ponder why I am such a fool to keep writing. And yet I know I will.
What if I didn’t need to write? Then I could live without paying attention to the world. I would not feel compelled to look around for subject matter—people, scenes and stories to capture and write about. I could enjoy the course of my day without seeking to preserve some aspect of it.
But this is not a choice; it never has been. I’ve been blessed and cursed with the desire to be a writer.
Yet ambition alone does not translate to success. Wanting to write, striving to express something of value, to steer the collected thoughts and ideas into vivid, lucid prose—all of this is meaningless. You are judged by the work alone. And you face rejection daily. I feel like a .220 hitter still trying to crack the opening day lineup.
But maybe even a bad writer can write something good at least once. And that notion keeps me going. And giving up is an option I cannot accept.
Why I Write
I have to let go of the need to succeed with my writing. Otherwise, publication and praise become the motivation for my work. Instead, I must celebrate the accomplishment of seeing ink arranged by my hand, the paragraphs stacked neatly on clean white paper.
I may never taste the fruit of this labor but I will not stop working. The reason is simple. I was a writer before I could even recite the alphabet. This aspect of my existence came with the package my parents created, like being left-handed or parting my hair on the right side.
I am a writer and I will no longer be afraid to write, to try, to fail. And while I must accept the judgment of others who may reject the words I offer, I refuse to get so discouraged as to quit writing. And why should failure stop me? A writer writes, as the saying goes. And that’s what I intend to do.
Francis DiClemente is a video producer and freelance writer who lives in Syracuse, New York. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks and his blog can be found at francisdiclemente.wordpress.com.
Author’s Photo Credit: Susan Kahn