I go to work early in the morning, most times leaving the house by 6 a.m., and I often stop at Starbucks for my caffeine fix. I order a tall bold, bring my own travel mug, and pay cash. Sometimes, I get a breakfast sandwich, too: reduced-fat turkey-bacon when I’m on good behavior, or bacon and gouda when I’m not.
This morning the barista filled my mug with “Tribute,” a special blend celebrating Starbucks’ creation way back in 1971. Tribute is decent, but I prefer the Christmas blend. One of my students bought me a pound of the holiday stuff after I wrote her college recommendation and I silently pay homage to her whenever I dip into it.
Coincidentally, my creation harks back to 1971, too, and I was a bit alarmed to learn something of that vintage is worthy of a tribute. I’ll be 40 in October, and, according to the Starbucks model, at a notable milestone. I suppose I’ll be expected to look back on my life on that day, and decide whether I’m satisfied with its progress.
It sounds like a big job, perhaps too big, so I’m scaling down. I’ll look back at the past year instead, one I’ll let historians call “The year he decided to do fiction” or “Writing, Year One.”
A year ago, after 10 years of journalism, five years of teaching and a few random detours, I decided to get serious about the writing thing. It was just time: the stars were aligned, Career 2.0 was going well, I had a house and a wife, my car was running well, etc. I wrote a bit of fiction in college, mostly short stories, and banged out a couple of NaNoWriMo novels with my students, but I hadn’t really put my head into it. I’d talked about doing it for years but I remained on the pot.
Last spring, I applied to grad school, using a piece of a NaNoWriMo novel and half of a short story (the only half completed) I’d written as an example for my students. I got in and received the syllabus: 30 pages of new fiction a month, plus two craft essays. As a warm up, I sat down after school got out in June and started doing reps; four short stories resulted. After the MFA summer residency in July, I used one of those short stories as the origin of my thesis, my first serious attempt at a novel.
In August, I joined Critters and started submitting and critiquing stories. I bought a Moleskine notebook and started jotting down the random ideas and observations I make. On Oct. 4, I started this blog, as a way to get some of my writing into the public eye. I started submitting work to lit and genre publications.
It’s March, early days of spring: a year after this journey began. What do I have to show for it? Two-hundred pages of novel, five short stories, 30 blog posts, 1,205 “hits,” dozens of conversations about writing and publishing, several new friends, 40-odd critiques, 18 graduate credits, eight rejection letters and a renewed appreciation for the craft. I also find myself wanting more: more time to write, more discussion, more feedback. I’ve started fantasizing about quitting my job and turning my whole brain to writing (I won’t, Brenda; not yet. Don’t worry. Much.)
Can I call this writing year a success, sans sales and deals? I think so. I’m further along than I was, with full awareness of how far I have yet to go. I’m excited about my work, my projects and my potential.
Maybe I’ll celebrate with another mug of that Tribute coffee.