Today, we are excited to debut our Debut Author Spotlight series with a contribution from the wonderful Michael Andreasen, whose first collection The Sea Beast Takes A Lover came out from Dutton at the end of February. Our Debut Author Spotlight series aims to illuminate the work of exciting new authors as their first releases hit the shelves. Authors contribute essays that talk about their path to publication; whether it be the inspiration for their book, finding motivation, connecting with an agent, or designing their book cover—these personal essays help demystify the publishing process. In our inaugural installment, Michael Andreasen talks about the importance of finding a group of writers who will give you valuable feedback and hold you accountable. Sometimes a little pressure is a good thing.
“Writers will tell you that they write for themselves, that they write to see worlds born and dreams realized, and I suppose that might be true, but that ain’t all of it. At least not for me. I write so that the people I love and admire will say, ‘I liked that story. Tell me another.'”
I don’t remember how long I had quit writing for, but it was long enough that I remember thinking: I guess that’s it. I guess I’m done with writing.
I was maybe a year out of an MFA program—a program which had been great, by the way. Great teachers and smart readers and a handful of dedicated, insanely talented friends—everything you could want, which made the quitting feel that much worse. It wasn’t writer’s block, which has always been described to me as a kind of artistic constipation, all those pressurized ideas desperate to get out. What I felt was the opposite of pressure. Nothing was coming because nothing was expected, least of all by me. I’d never encountered this in my conversations with other writers. For them it always seemed a lack of time was the problem, or a dearth of ideas, or a demoralizing parade of rejections. I wasn’t getting rejected for the simple reason that I wasn’t sending anything out. There didn’t seem to be any reason to. You hear about muses leaving and lives changing, but no one ever tells you that you might wake up one day and feel that most crucial desire—the desire to tell someone a story—gone as the goddamn ghost.
Flash forward farther than I’d care to admit: I’m at a party with some friends from my writing program, because we’re all still in the area and we’re all still friends. We reminisce about workshop. We admit that the things we used to dread about it—the deadlines, the critiques, the obligation to dig deep and excavate the very best within us—we miss those things now. We want them back. We hatch a scheme to start workshopping again, just the four of us, just a little, just to see. We propose a meeting the following month.
I hadn’t had the heart to tell them I’d quit. I didn’t want them to think I’d gotten soft and atrophied. Oh god, had I gotten soft and atrophied? Was I about to embarrass myself in front of these dedicated, insanely talented people whose work I adored? I needed to get home. I needed to get writing…
And out of nowhere, there it was: the pressure. I was an idiot. I hadn’t wanted to write for so long because I hadn’t had anyone to write for, no one who knew me and knew my stories and wanted to see more of them in the world. And not just anyone, but these amazing people whose stories I loved and whose approval I craved. Writers will tell you that they write for themselves, that they write to see worlds born and dreams realized, and I suppose that might be true, but that ain’t all of it. At least not for me. I write so that the people I love and admire will say, “I liked that story. Tell me another.”
It’s been almost a decade since I came back to writing. I still meet with the same friends (again: dedicated), all of whom now have at least one book with their name on the spine (again: insanely talented), and as of last February, so do I. We’re all in each other’s acknowledgements, and we’ve all admitted to each other that we might not have this work if not for the group. We don’t meet as often as we used to, but we’re still writing for each other, and whenever there’s new work, there’s an email, and a discussion, and all the insight and incisiveness that can only come from years of reading each other. They know when I’m off my game, and they tell me. They let me experiment and help me hone. They’re the people I’m writing for, the ones I want to impress, the source of that pressure and responsibility that I need to keep going. “I like that story,” they say to me. “Tell me another.”
Get yourself some people. Find them anywhere you can. Find one, just one, who reads you well, who can be honest without being cruel, who can notice your strengths and nurture them. Write to impress them. Write to entertain and enthrall them. Give them the best story you’ve got, and then another, and another, and never, ever let them out of your sight.