Today’s guest is Robin Antalek author of The Grown Ups (William Morrow, 2015) and The Summer We Fell Apart (Harper Collins, 2010) which was chosen as a Target Breakout Book. Robin’s non-fiction work has been published at The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown, and collected in the following anthologies: The Beautiful Anthology; Writing off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema; and The Weeklings: Revolution #1 Selected Essays 2012-1013. Her short fiction has appeared in Salon, 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review and Literary Mama among others. She has twice been a finalist in Glimmertrain Magazine, as well as a finalist for The Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Doing the Work
I was walking the dog and a neighbor came rushing up to the fence that faced the sidewalk where my dog was sniffing a pile of dirt and leaves. Over the chain link he asked in rapid succession, “How did you get to be a writer? How did you get published? Do you need an MFA?”
His son had just completed an undergraduate English degree from a prestigious northeastern college and was presently living in his childhood bedroom sleeping way past noon and telling his confused parents that he couldn’t just go look for any job because he “wanted to be a writer.” But they hadn’t seen any evidence of writing happening. I think they had visions of their son watching Netflix until the sun came up and sleeping all day for the rest of their lives and it terrified them.
My fast answer is usually: “Butt in chair.” And I did say that—but I also asked him if his son just wanted to “be a writer” or did he really want to “write”? He shook his head. He didn’t understand the question.
Being a writer and writing are worlds apart. While fiction was my one true love, after college I took any job that would pay me. The writing gigs were few, but I didn’t turn anything down. I wrote ad copy, radio scripts, press releases and did a stint working for a business news network where I kept a massive tome of financial terms in my desk drawer. I didn’t have a clue about Wall Street but I learned to write thirty-second business briefs like I’d gone to Wharton. I wrote for pennies per word or for free just for experience and the byline. Nights and weekends were my time to write fiction and I trained myself to do just that. Butt in chair, whether I felt like it or not. [Read more…]