I’m a writer. Even so I’m beginning to dislike that phrase. It’s so vague. It means exactly what I am. It also means a million things that I’m not. Some of those “nots” are things I would be embarrassed to be. Some of those “nots” are things I dream of being.
So what kind of writer am I? I believe I’m one of the desperate sort. I’ve reached the level of where I write for the sheer joy of creation. Of course I would take great pleasure in gaining a worldwide audience, but I’ve reached the state where I find joy in writing even if my audience is only in my imagination. My “desperation” isn’t born from the need of being discovered, but from the need of finding time to write.
I’ve broken the cardinal rule of any artist: I married and had children before I was famous. If you don’t know what that means it means you haven’t broken that rule or you don’t know any aspiring author who has. I didn’t just break the rule, I broke the rule is a big way. I got married and had eight children. What was I thinking? I knew what I wanted to be when I got married. I had been published in limited markets and was studying writing under a very successful author. Frankly, I was bowled over by naiveté and life itself.
I never had anything against having children. In fact the idea pleased me. I had my first son before I graduated from college. He’s been nothing but a good thing in my life. To be fair it wasn’t he who stopped me from writing; it was the basic responsibility that I be able to shelter and feed my wife and him. Yet, that alone wouldn’t have stopped me from writing. Now I have eight kids and I am writing. The difference is that back then I had big emotions for writing, but no faith in my ability. That lack of faith, combined with the fact I found a very good job, deflated my ambitions.
It was sixteen years later that my desire to create gasped and started breathing again. The Great Recession of 2008 had begun and my employer had gone under. I found myself with seven of eight kids still at home and no income. I was desperate for a way to provide for my family. The idea of writing again came to mind—and not just the idea, but the desire. However, unless you are JK Rowling you don’t just write a book idea on a napkin and turn it into a billion dollars. I needed money in time to pay the next house payment. I hadn’t written seriously in fifteen years. The desire to write again was more of a nuisance than anything. Still, amid my desperation for money the compulsion to write again wouldn’t go away.
Ignoring that compulsion and concentrating on responsibility I started eking out mortgage and food money through a one-man computer repair shop in the small town near where I live. I was making a living that a homeless man would turn his nose up at. Then something wonderful happened—my family and I got used to living on very little money. Rather than try to build my small computer repair business into an IT empire so that I could buy a big house, a car with less than 200,000 miles on it, and a trip to Disney World I gave convention the finger and started writing again.
I didn’t have the courage to do this on my own. There was a trigger. My computer shop wasn’t making enough money to keep me from losing my house. I picked up a second work-from-home job that would take away a few hours from my shop each day. It was a desperate action to get the extra dollars I needed. It was a miserable job and I lasted only two weeks. That job made me so miserable that the relief from quitting changed me. I should have been afraid of losing my home, afraid of what would become of my family, but I wasn’t. I decided that since I had been willing to take those hours away from my computer shop anyway, instead of giving them back to the shop I would use them to write. Each morning I would keep my shop door locked and ignore the phone while I wrote on my novel, Joey and the Magic Map. It was the most freeing experience of my life.
Every writer knows there is a hole in the plotline here. How did I keep my house and feed my family? It’s not like my shop suddenly started making more money in the fewer hours I was giving it. A friend, aware of the struggle my family was having, made me aware of an opening for a school bus driver. Now there’s something that never crossed my mind in my entire life. I got the job. Driving a school bus is an obnoxious interference to my computer shop and to my writing while at the same time inspiring and enabling the latter. Being amidst the life forces of so many children is strangely invigorating.
During summer break I keep my shop door closed and write late into the morning. During the school months my morning writing time goes up in smoke due to my morning bus route. But what is the cliché? Where one door closes another door opens? I often find myself driving activity trips: girls basketball to Manti, boys wrestling to Panguitch , or the Spanish class to Cedar City. Many times these activities run all day. I drop the kids and then I’m off to the nearest public library to write for four or five hours. I’ve found some of the quaintest, most charming little libraries you can imagine where the writing just spills onto the page. Some of the activity trips are over three days. On those trips I am basically getting paid to write. My computer shop struggles along, but stays open. On the multi-day trips my son, who is in a computer-based charter school, keeps the door open for those dropping off computers. It’s a desperate bid, but I’m a desperate writer.
Today I am writing this while at my daughter’s dance team competition. It is the four hour break between her morning dance and her afternoon dance. I’ve found a chair and an electric outlet behind the door to one of the dressing rooms. The door has opened and closed a million times already almost, but never quite, hitting me. Girls in heavy eyeliner and sparkly eyeshadow come and go; girls with flouncy feathers on their derrieres strut down the hall; girls in flowing white drift by. The energy is amazing. It is inspiring and horribly distracting to my writing, but I am a desperate man. I will do what I must to hang on to my family, but I will write.