When I came back to St. Bonaventure after my summer in Oxford, I solidified my process: legal pad for rough drafts, revise that draft, type it, print it out, edit, and turn in. All of which took about three hours.
My senior year, I wrote a thesis on celebrity journalists: profiling Katherine Graham, Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, and Tom Brokaw. We counted the days until graduation: 200 days and Halloween. 100 days and prom. (Yes, really.)
My roommates and best friends were going to graduate school—for masters of education or business, but all of my journalism advisors said that if I wanted to go and be a writer then I don’t need to be in a program to do it. That the only way to do it was go out and get a job at a rinky-dink weekly paper and write and write and write until my hands fell off sometime around sixty-years-old. By then, I hopefully would have made it to the New York Times—my journalistic goal.
So I didn’t go to graduate that school. Mistake #1. I spent my last semester interviewing at newspapers all over the state from as close as Alfred, NY to as far as Port Washington, Long Island. None of them worked out.
At graduation, Bob Schiefer of Face The Nation gave the commencement address. The power went out in the gym. I don’t remember much of the speech other than Schiefer saying, pointing at the stands where all of our parents and relatives sat, and saying “You won’t understand this feeling of success until you’re sitting where they’re sitting.”
My faculty advisor that upon graduation you work for the advertisers when you work in journalism.
So I went home to Lake Placid. I managed to get some freelance work. But I was a seasonal worker, working as a lifeguard at the beach, working in marketing at Whiteface Mountain, back to teaching swimming and taking Kenpo karate classes. The latter was probably the only good thing I was doing in my “limbo year.” That year between college and when your professional life started.
But mostly, I played with the cult of the personality of the writer. Mistake #2. The virus that spreads from the biographies of Hemingway and HST and so many others. I emulated it. I partied five days a week. My output was one novella, a short story, and I co-wrote a screenplay. A horrible year. I still think it’s a good screenplay and the novella turned into a novel that got me into Brooklyn College six years later. That’s my biggest problem: when I start a writing project, I dwell on it for too long. Refining, refining, rewriting, and rewriting. That’s still true. Mistake #3: I’m working on the fourth rewrite of my second novel, Emerson, and I’ve been playing with it for the last four years. This is the last draft and then in the new year, I’m going to write three more novels. Just to hammer them out. To break out of this habit.
Mistake #4: See, newspapers were already dying in 2003. Small newspapers were owned by corporations and didn’t cover things that were against that company’s business interests. That led to a lack of readership, a lack of readership led to a lack of advertising which was the way newspapers made money so more old timer reporters were not retiring after the age of 65 and that meant a lack of space for kids like me. At the same time, the internet and Blogger was rising so many of us who couldn’t get a job in newspapers went to blogs and the attrition continued.
But I didn’t realize any of this until the summer of 2004 when I decided to move to New York City.