I’m a little embarrassed about this post. It reveals — God forbid — that I was once callow and overestimated my skills.
I used to have this fantasy about getting a writing windfall — an NEA grant, a Stegner Fellowship, or the like — and quitting my job. If only someone would recognize my genius and give me some money, I could follow my heart’s desire.
At the same time, I was starting my career. Like just about everyone else who didn’t go to professional school, I’d say I applied for a lot of jobs I wasn’t qualified for. It’s the new grad’s dilemma: All the cool jobs require experience, but you can’t land the job to acquire that experience.
Eventually, I paid my dues and advanced to exactly the job I wanted: a full-time writing gig. I’ve been writing for a living for nearly nine years now.
Meanwhile, I slowly realized that what goes in the world of work also goes in the world of grant making. If you don’t have much experience at creative writing — if you don’t have publications or an MFA under your belt — why should someone give you $25,000 to do it?
This year I was blessed to have a small grant from the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. That’s the type of grant maker I should have been setting my sights on all along. Even so, I think I applied at the right time in my writing endeavor. I’m working on a serious project that I had already invested several years in. I could promise my benefactors that I would use the money well.
I like the way my career has turned out, and I really enjoy my job. I write about meaningful topics. I like feeling somewhat socially useful all day and then making stuff up in my spare time.
Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t mind switching that balance, and I still have fantasies. Last Friday night, while supping in Dupont Circle, my husband and I talked about how nice it would be to move into the city one day. “When I get a big advance on my novel,” I joked.
“Then I can go to school full time and get back into painting,” he said. It was nice to know he shared my fantasy.