Many years ago, two months before I began law school and when we still used typewriters, I took a fiction writing course at Boston University with the late Ivan Gold. In the last week of the course when I had my one-on-one conference with him about the stories I had produced, he asked me what my long-term writing plans were. I told him I wasn’t sure I’d have much time for writing, given the demands of law school. He advised me not to go — instead, to keep writing. He thought I had the makings of a fiction writer. I flat-out ignored his counsel. Maybe I thought he didn’t know what he was talking about. How will I support myself? I asked. Borrow the money, he suggested.
We didn’t do that in my family.
I wasn’t ready—or willing—to devote my life to writing, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to earn a living if I were writing. Too, it seemed such a solitary existence, and I wasn’t sure I was cut out for it.
Ivan died in 2008, or else I’d be emailing him this week to tell him I finally took his advice, not the part about eschewing law school—I got my J.D. degree and went on to practice law and then returned to full time teaching a decade ago. But it would be nice to let him know that I never forgot his encouraging words about my writing, and I have happily spent the past seven months writing an almost-completed novel (just give me three more weeks and I will have the full draft completed, if the creek don’t rise), and three dozen poems, two-thirds of which have been published in small literary magazines.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: if writing is something you must do, then sooner or later you will do it. If there are readers out there for your writing, so much the better. But don’t wait decades to start. Write it, and they will come.
Do as I say, not as I did.