I am not currently living in the publishing stage of my creative writing life. I’m not submitting to publishers and magazines and polishing my collection of rejection slips. I’m not fighting with an agent, trying to figure out what my genre is. Right now I’m just generating short work for live readings, meeting other independent writers and publishers at those readings, and trying to contribute to the thriving writing community in the city. In so doing, I am accumulating a body of work that I can be proud of and a well of contacts to draw from. Should I enter the publishing stage of my life, I will be ready, armed with a backlog of good material and innumerable references and friends.
I think the braver among us are able to sacrifice comfort and security for their craft: the starving artists scraping by selling paintings, the actors auditioning for every single role, the writer whose only income is freelance work. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not of that mindset. I can’t not have a job. I would have horrible anxiety attacks without a sense of routine. I am the type of person who needs to have a stable income to pay my bills and support myself, because I can’t count on my talent or luck to swing the right way. So I have my 9 to 5, completely unrelated to writing, and I have my hobbies to relieve the pressures of work. At the end of the day, I admonish myself for not writing more, for not giving myself enough time to write, for spending too much time working or watching movies.
Still, the entire time that I’m doing that, I’m generating ideas. An idea will live in my brain for a while. It could start with an image, scene, statement, impression, or character. But it will be small. There it will thrive and grow and I will feed it little bits of “idea seed.” It gets bigger and bigger until it is big enough that I can watch it in my head like a movie. And then, for whatever reason, out of nowhere I will feel compelled to put it down and flesh it out in my voice and see where it ends up. When it’s finished, I reread it, validated, reminding myself that I’m not settling or becoming complacent. I’m just waiting for the iron heat up before I strike, and I’m proud of the work that I do. All my work in college and after college and the expectations of others and my own expectations were not wasted, because I can still generate an idea and produce something that makes me proud.
Of course, something I’ve lost since my days in the creative writing workshops at Iowa is the ability to have a fresh pair of eyes point out my mistakes, thus making my writing better. That was always the best part. In one class, someone noticed that I used the word “just” about 150 times. As in: “He just wanted to get some coffee but the shop was just closed inexplicably.” I was obviously just too close to the story to notice that! Since I’m primarily writing stories in a short amount of time for a specific person, I’ve lost that editorial component to the writing process, so I’m almost exclusively reading first drafts. I could have that back if I wanted, but it would require someone actually having the patience and free time to go through and circle my dangling modifiers. I would certainly recommend finding yourself an editor. Even if you are your own editor; some of the better advice I got was, once you are done with something, sit on it for a while and look at it when you don’t care anymore. That way, you won’t take it personally if you change it completely.
I’m a writer from Iowa now living in Pilsen. My medium is predominantly short fiction, though I have the first draft of a novel wallowing away on my hard drive. (I haven’t opened it in three years.) I am a contributor to Two With Water, a new DIY magazine operated by Amy Ganser and Rebecca Roberts, and I’m a frequent reader at their Rx Reading Series, hosted by Beauty Bar and Curbside Splendor. Additionally, I keep several solipsistic blogs and sometimes write about music on the CHIRP Radio blog, chicagoindieradio.org.
I’m not sure there is a better city for exactly this kind of thing. There are hundreds of little literary niches all throughout Chicago if you look hard enough: at bars and apartments and galleries, open mikes at coffeehouses. You have to look for them and pay attention, and you have to both listen and talk to people. They are ready to talk to you. You just have to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. Getting uncomfortable is probably the most important thing you could possibly do.
If you want to carve your own literary niche in Chicago, I suggest starting on the Internet, on Chicago Metromix, the Chicago Reader events section, or this website. Or just Google something like “literary readings Chicago.” I was looking on Craigslist for writing opportunities in the city, which led to my meeting and becoming friends with Amy and Becca, which led to going to readings and eventually being part of a bimonthly reading series. Because the audience of live readings is predominantly other writers, this led to conversations with other writers. So if you want to start somewhere, start there. Going to a couple readings will lead you to other readings and so on.
Written in Winter 2011.
Robert Daniel Evers grew up in small-town Iowa and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. He also wrote and performed
for the University's No Shame Theater and Paperback Rhino, as well as at poetry slams and other live readings. He wrote and worked for a year in
Rochester, MN, before relocating to Chicago. Since 2007, he's lived in
Logan Square, Wicker Park, and Pilsen, all the while writing and doing
live readings as part of Two With Water, a Chicago DIY literary and arts
magazine. He is also a regular DJ for CHIRP (The Chicago Independent Radio
Project) on Saturday afternoon.