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Ablaze at Both Ends


I one of the lucky few.  Most days I like my job.  Every day I like my coworkers.  But there are some days, when I’m on a writing roll (in quantity, not necessarily quality) that I begin wondering how much I could get for a slightly dented, c-listed kidney so I could finance a writing life.

I joined a writing workshop with author Jon Katz at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY, a community theatre and arts center back in May of 2012 with the idea of improving my skills and, hopefully, finding to make a writing life.   I was nervous about both aspects.  The workshop had an application process, and, while I think any artist has heard him or herself say, “I could do that” when embarking on a new work, I was secretly terrified that, surrounded by real writers, I would find out that maybe I could, but I shouldn’t.  I was equally terrified that Mr. Katz would (as a few workshop leaders in the past had) have to explain the unpleasant facts of the writer’s life to us and make us understand that only a select few can ever enter that special circle.

Mr. Katz has had an long and successful writing career, by any measure, but, like many people, has seen his career go through rapid changes with the onslaught of the digital age.  I went into the workshop aware that the internet had driven down the incomes of many creative professionals – stock photos can be had for $1.00 a piece regardless of their production cost, ebooks at $.99 abound – and I was doubtful that anyone could still make a living writing unless they were already an established author or a movie star with a scandal to sell.  But Mr. Katz had invited us to Hubbard Hall to peddle optimism and encouragement – not negativity.

He spent the first hour of the first workshop talking about all the opportunities for writers – established and emerging – and by the time we took a break, I was ready to race home to my computer and wear down the keys a bit.  I still hadn’t figured out what I would write – his first assignment to us was to create our blogs – but I knew something would come.  And then he gave us a piece of advice which has – for the most part – wiped out writer’s block for the last 7 months.  “Look for the stories that are close to your life,” he said.

I thought about that for the next few weeks as we set up our group page on Facebook and each of us began testing the waters with our blog ideas.  The blogs began evolving, and we could see each other developing as artists.  I stopped calling myself a wannabe-writer, coming to the conclusion that writing is where I belong.

So now it’s Monday morning, and work is about to begin.  I’m sitting at my kitchen table watching the snowfall and getting ready to sign on to my employer’s group chat, but before I do, I burn a little of my writing candle.  I’ll work till I can’t see the snow anymore, and after dinner is done and homework for the kids is checked, I’ll burn a little more.  At one point I wondered if burning the candle at both ends was a good idea.  At some points I tell myself it’s just until I can have a full-time writing life.  The reality is, though, that this fire at both ends does not consume me, it sustains me, and it’s just enough to keep the dream alive.