I’m back. A whirlwind trip to New York City to celebrate an old friend’s fortieth birthday and Broadway debut as part of the ensemble cast of My Fair Lady. What a joy! What an accomplishment! What a long time coming.
My friend, the lovely and talented Christopher Faison, has been in the performing arts ever since I met him back in 1995. For as long as I have known him, he has had one guiding…principle? Focus? Direction? I’m not entirely sure of the word, but he has never wavered in what he has wanted: to perform, to make his living in theater, to get to Broadway. And finally, just before turning forty, he gets cast in a Broadway show at the Lincoln Center Theater.
As I watched him on stage, singing with Lauren Ambrose—a phenomenal performer, by the way— I was struck by a thought. There’s Chris, singing with performers at the top of their games, undeniably talented and skilled, after years of auditions. He has had rejections aplenty. He has supported himself with waiting tables and performing on cruise ships. Yet, this coming week, Chris and the rest of the cast will record the songs on the cast recording, which will be released out into the world.
And it hit me then. It took over twenty years to get where he is. He was persistent, pertinacious, and patient with his career. The boy never stops singing (we lived together in our early twenties and listening to him shower in the morning or making dinner was a treat; that voice of his). Chris has practiced his craft over and over; it is part of his daily ritual, it is a core component of his personality. Chris IS a performer, no matter if he is on the stage or not.
The realization that I have not done this with my life as a writer also hit me in that theater (well, perhaps a few hours later while I was happily tipsy at the birthday party). Regardless of where that realization popped into my brain space, it became the thing I pondered on in between sips of beer and gasps of conversation with actors and performers and people I had only just met.
Side note: As someone very much an introvert, in a room full of exuberant extroverts, I was drained and gutted at the end of the night. As much fun as I had, I could not do that every weekend.
As a writer, I gave up in my late twenties. It is only now, in my thirty-ninth year, that I’ve written with any consistency. The doubt and fear crept in early the morning after the party as I packed to take—what turned out as nearly missing—my train from NYC to Boston. Am I willing to write for twenty years without any success, without being published, without feedback that I’m a halfway decent writer? What about feedback that I’m a hack? That I’m no good? That I’ll never be a real writer? Can I put the same effort that Chris has put into his career, into his craft? Is my devotion to claiming writerhood as strong and stalwart as my dear friend’s devotion to performing?
The answer actually came surprisingly easy to me. Yes. A complete and resounding Yes. I’m done weighing things by their expected outcomes. I’m done calculating the return on investment I’ll get for putting in X number of hours. I’m done thinking like a programmer (“If X happens, then Y will follow, else Z does”). I will write even if the only thing I ever publish is here on this blog. The act is fulfillment enough.
Over these past four months, as I’ve kept my commitment to writing every day, I have learned two things. The first is that I genuinely enjoy writing. I’m enamored with creating characters, with writing here on this blog, with building worlds and fake lives on the page. Something is enthralling about sitting at my desk, throwing a scene onto the screen that is the complete opposite of what I see out my window.
The second thing I’ve learned is that my commitment to writing 750 words a day is not enough. It’s scratching the surface. It’s paltry. It’s a child pretending to be an adult. To claim writerhood, I need to shit words out like the morning after a debaucherous night of sucking whiskey through my nostrils, and a greasy, grimy breakfast vacuumed into the roiling, rumbling confines of my bloated stomach. I need to take my lunch breaks at work, head down to the miserly cafe at the bottom of my office building, and ravage my notebook like a sex-crazed lover. I need to stop playing it safe. I need to pry open my chest like a cadaver during an autopsy, pull out and weigh my organs, and cut the words afraid to leave the confines of my body out from the sinewy tissue.
The plan is to double my efforts after returning from Europe. The goal is the first draft of my novel by my fortieth birthday. The method is to eschew everything that isn’t writing. Double the words, each and every day. It’ll be like NaNoWriMo for the entire season of Summer.