I live in a far western suburb of Chicago, population 8,897. I realize, as a writer, that without the support of the staff of the local library as well as the input of fellow writers at Northwestern University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in creative writing, I probably wouldn’t have the courage to pursue a career as an author. I have no idea how the writers who have come before me, without the advantages of a laptop and consistent feedback, managed to churn out page after page. Granted, they weren’t distracted by TV, movies, and the internet. Still, I’m not sure I would have the courage to continue on my mission to become a published author without all the positive encouragement of friends, fellow writing students, and professors. Let me put it this way: it takes a village to raise a writer. In my hometown, librarians such as my friend Merrill constantly cheer me on, and eagerly await whatever is the next piece of fiction I’m able to crank out.

God bless my believers.

Stephen King emphatically recommends that you not show early works of fiction to friends and well-wishers (I think his theory is that almost all first drafts are shitty and need to be retooled and reworked before anyone is allowed to see them), but I crave feedback. I have refrained for the most part from showing family members my work, but every once in a while I ache for a fresh eye. Most of all, I seem to need cheerleaders as well as critics (but be forewarned readers, I’m a bit thin-skinned). One fellow student, who writes a distinctively different type of fiction, has told me numerous times what an excellent writer I am, and his encouragement spurs me on. Plus, I think he may have gotten a bit sick of whiny text messages, so I’m forced to be positive, even when I want to give up.

In that respect, I think perhaps that’s the real value of a writing program. It teaches discipline through deadlines, and insures that we writers keep marching forward. I’m reminded of a quote by Donald Hall, “Mere literary talent is common; what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing.” I guess I’m going to have to sign on for the writing marathon after all.

Chad Harbach wrote a novel about baseball and falling in love and had a prominent gay character (all supposed deal-breakers in modern fiction). It took him over ten years to land a deal, but when he did, he secured a $650,000 advance for writing “The Art of Fielding.” He lived in virtual poverty the entire time, yet maintained his belief that his novel must be published. One of his close friends admitted, in a Vanity Fair article titled, “How A Book Is Born,” that early drafts of his novel were “Disneyesque,” yet he maintained a game face for his friend, and encouraged him to keep on keeping on. He and Chad scoffed at MFA programs in creative writing, but after an undergraduate degree at Harvard and a stint working as menial minions in the publishing industry, both applied to five writing programs each, and were each only admitted to one. Just goes to show that one acceptance is indeed enough.

In the meantime, I write with hope in my heart, knowing that in my small town in the western suburbs of Chicago, I am a big deal, if only because I have the gumption to pursue my dreams.