(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)
A few weeks ago, in the midst of this exhausting book tour for ASHEN WINTER, I saw this tree:
an old, hollowed out sycamore tree growing beside a stream in
Fortville, Indiana. From the top of that seemingly dead trunk sprouts a
vibrant young sycamore about six inches in diameter. I took a picture
because the image plucked a chord within me.
students ask why I became a writer. And I tell them it was the only job
left after I got fired from every other profession I tried. I answer
that way because it's funny, and I like to be extremely candid in my
interactions with students--they can smell fakers from all the way down
But the truth is that I fired myself; I quit
most of the jobs I held before I was a writer. I did a bit of
everything: janitor, marketing executive, wine salesman, and remodeling
company owner among others. In each job, I felt like that old sycamore
tree, getting progressively more hollow as small daily iniquities rotted
me and office politics gnawed my core.
Now, I feel
more like that new tree, growing fast and proud from a base of failure.
In another sense, though, all those abandoned careers were anything but a
failure. Everything I tried informs my writing today. The new tree
could not exist without the roots the old one put down.