Last week after delivering bad news, my agent said something that reeled me back to my early 20s as a recent grad living the old adage that you can’t get a job without experience, but how do you get experience without that first job?
I face a similarly vicious cycle many moons later. Publishing houses are uncomfortable with first-time novelists, but how to get beyond the first time without a debut novel? It’s a conundrum, all right.
Surprisingly, I’m not obsessing about that side of the biz for the moment. The conundrum lingers on the other side of the writing. After all, I did land that first job, which led to the second, and the third…
I’ve always returned to writing as my primary solace. Whatever else occured in my life, I always had a journal, binder paper, scratch paper, anything-paper close at hand.
I remember my first career job, when I didn’t know I’d be anything but a business-type. I was a financial analyst in Ecuador, working for I.B.M. when I.B.M. was king of the conglomerate heap. What I remember most about that job was writing my first scenic vignettes, hoping all the while that no one would catch words rather than numbers marching across the monitor. I hunched over my trembling experiments in selfish fashion. I was secretive, and I lost large swaths of time to the words.
These were my first fictional reveries. I’d always been a journaler, a letter writer, a diarist, a bad poet. Expressing myself in fictional form was a revelation. The vignettes didn’t have beginnings or middles or ends. I was simply reimagining my ex-pat life in fictional form, taking my experiences out of myself, giving them a shinier life.
I moved to Brazil for another exciting finance job. I wrote a longer vignette, almost a novella, about a crazy Brazilian woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to my crazy Brazilian roommate.
Did I think of myself as a writer? Nah. But, by then, I’d discovered my creative calling, and I was an addict.