Sometimes the best ideas are associated with a red couch. . .

NaNoWriMo Day #13 – I became a writer when dedicated myself to it

By Eric Shonkwiler

The pivotal moment in my writing career came when I made the rather cavalier decision to dedicate myself to it. That may sound anticlimactic, or out of order—it’s not. Toward the end of my college days I was a 911 Dispatcher, working third shift and scribbling out notes for a novella in between taking calls. I was socking away a decent amount of money while slowly coming to hate what I did. Reading literature (and trying to write it) fostered in me a contempt for the mundane. In particular there was a Contemporary Lit. class— Sula, and Gilead were formative to me, showed me the kind of beauty writers were putting out into the world today. Reading Don Delillo’s White Noise, a book I didn’t particularly like but that nevertheless nearly drove me to live in the woods, further spurred me to make something of myself. One day, after graduation, I decided that I wanted to get serious about writing; I wanted to do nothing but write.

Naturally, that’s damn near impossible. I tried anyway. I quit the job I hated, hit the road, and worked as little as I possibly could. Rent was low, bread was a dollar—I was extremely lucky to be in a position to live the way I did. I lived in a house with no insulation, a cracked foundation. In the winter, I could see my breath indoors. After a rainstorm, ghostly mushrooms would grow from the carpet. I wrote, stealing time in my alma mater’s computer lab until they caught wise, then I broke down and bought a laptop, becoming a fixture at a nearby coffee shop. The novella became a novel. I applied to MFAs, moonshots, and failed. I papered my bathroom with rejection letters (the old cliché—I should have stuffed them in the cracks in my walls.). A year went by, in which I wrote another novel. What else was there for me to do?

I got better. I polished the work that I had. Nearly two years after I decided I cut out whatever got in the way of my writing, I was accepted at The University of California Riverside, based on the strength (minimal as it was, looking back), of the novella I started with. Two years there, and years after, the ashes of that novella gave me my first published novel. And I don’t doubt it wouldn’t have happened without that I had decided, with no good reason but hubris, to drop everything and write. That’s the turning point. Long before I ever had a book—before I even had a short story published—I think that decision is the one that made me a writer.


Eric Shonkwiler is the author of the novels Above All Men and 8th Street Power & Light, (MG Press), and the story collection Moon Up, Past Full (Alternating Current Press). His writing has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, Fiddleblack, [PANK] Magazine, and elsewhere. He received his MFA in Fiction from University of California-Riverside as a Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellow.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: