I used to be in a band.
We played more than 600 shows in our roughly seven years together. We lasted seven years and 600 shows and three full-length albums and four EPs and two tapes, and dozens upon dozens of sessions, interviews, and videos. We weren’t the best. We weren’t the coolest. We weren’t the hippest. But we were good. We were really fucking good. And we outworked everyone. Beyond any music we ever created, we became most known for that work ethic. We were the Road Dogs, the writers said, the Working Man’s Band, the Hardest Working Group in Rock ‘n’ Roll. Our tires were bald, our heads heavy, our guitars torn to absolute shit.
Yet all of that hard work yielded nothing.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It yielded seven of the greatest years of my life, the majority of which were spent driving around the country, playing my guitar every night, making new friends and fans, seeing old friends and family, watching our small but devout fan base singing words that we wrote right back in our faces, and spreading our beer-soaked gospel in every corner of the country. We got to see our world in a way few people get to see it, and I’ll never suggest anything other than our being amongst the luckiest people on Earth.
But in the end, it resulted in nothing other than fond memories and a lifetime of experiences. As far as tangible returns on our years-long investment, we had nothing to speak of.
And yet here I am, starting at the same point I started at almost a decade ago. Only now, in place of a guitar and a bunch of songs, I am armed with a laptop and a bunch of stories.
I’ve decided to parlay my life and career from (arguably) the hardest industry to break into to break into (arguably) the second-hardest industry to break into. I’ve decided—thanks to a resume whose main body attempts to explain how being a “guitar player” can bring value to your company—to try and get paid doing one of the few things I know I can do well: writing.
Because being a musician—a decade of noes and passes, of agents and managers and labels and distributors and venues and bigger bands and producers telling me (in their kindest boilerplate language) that they’d rather not work with me—wasn’t enough, I’ve decided to have another go at failure in an attempt to start a writing career.
In the 18 months since I gave up on a job search and threw myself headlong into trying to get paid enough to make a living as a writer, I’ve enjoyed a modicum of success. I’ve had a bunch of stories published online via sites great(ish) and (very) small. I’ve written for The New York Times and Catapult. Some publications have paid very, very well. Most have not. Every day, I apply for full-time work as a staff writer. I write and rewrite pitches. I query editors.
But I’m making a living—thanks, no doubt, to relocating from Lower Manhattan to the much less expensive Chapel Hill, N.C.—solely from writing.
There are the good gigs. The thrilling stories and the personal essays I hope to one day publish as a collection. There are the bad gigs. The dreaded listicles and the less-dreaded SEO work that pay the bills more regularly than anything else.
I write about sports and about wine. I write about the local flair of my adopted hometown and about the Italian-American food that is my family’s heritage. I write about my son, 18 months old and nearly half as tall as his mom.
Last summer, I pecked away every morning at a story about him, about her, and about me, and emerged with a 45,000-word manuscript of which I am very proud. I wrote it for myself. I wrote it for my mom, who’s been dead half a decade, and for my family, who are still here. I wrote because I felt that I had a story I had to write. I wrote for all the reasons the half-cocked self-help gurus tell you to write; “Don’t write the story because you want to get published. Write the story because you need to write the story.”
I needed to write that story. But I also wrote it with the intention of selling it to a publisher. Because fuck the self-effacing, pre-failure refrain of writing only to write because the story needs to be written. Because I want this story to be successful and I want it to be read and passed on and, at best, I want it to resonate with people. Because I want to be paid for my work. Because I want the book tour and the trappings that come with some bit of success.
Because I want it to be a book. Not just a manuscript. And I feel not an ounce of shame in saying that.
And it will. Someday. I have little doubt.
But first I have to wade through another cycle of the endless noes and passes, as the 50-plus literary agents whom I’ve queried and the 50-plus more that I’ve yet to query tell me in their kindest boilerplate language that they’d rather not work with me.
And while I recognize that most aspiring writers’ unsuccessful queries number in the dozens, if not the hundreds, and while I’ve already had dozens, if not hundreds of editors pass on my story pitches, it doesn’t take the sting out of the Thanks-But-No-Thanks responses that litter my inbox at present.
It took seven years and 600 shows for the wind to leave my sails as a rock ‘n’ roller. Seven years and 600 shows and three full-length albums and four EPs and two tapes and dozens upon dozens of sessions, interviews, and videos for the noes and the passes and the boilerplate letters to cause me to crumble under the endless weight of denial, under the endless reminder that my music just wasn’t quite good enough.
So I still have some time. I still have hundreds of queries to send and editors to pitch and more manuscripts to write and more people to bug with my endless optimism. And if after seven years, my resolve is destroyed by the noes and the passes and the boilerplate letters, I can always try out for the Mets.
It can’t possibly be harder than trying to write for a living.
Image: Scott Warman