How Do You 'Hit The Slide' If You're a Writer?

Aug 13, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Whether people think he's a diva or a hero, everybody's talking about Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant. Annoyed by a reportedly rude and abusive passenger whose luggage hit him in the head, Slater made a dramatic exit from a plane at the end of a flight from Pittsburgh to New York City.

He not only announced how fed up he was on the intercom, he grabbed a beer from the beverage cart and left via an emergency slide.

What a way to quit a job, but how do you hit the slide if you're a writer?

I had early success. My first good short story won a prize and was published in Redbook, garnering me fan mail and cash. It also turned my head, not that I needed much encouragement there. I grew up in New York and getting a story into a national magazine with a circulation in the millions seemed a natural first step. What other possibilities were there?

Five years of drought followed. Well, there was actually a vile crop: I reaped endless rejection letters. Nothing I wrote was accepted anywhere by anyone. I grew desperate to quit and contemplated alternate careers as a therapist or even a rabbi.

This wasn't the first desert I would cross in my 30 years as a published writer. I wanted to succeed, and I also wanted to quit. But writing wouldn't let me. I was compelled to keep exploring my inner world and the world around me in short stories, which finally in the early 1980s started being published.

But getting a book of stories published was unbelievably hard, especially when editors would say things like "I don't like your metaphors and such." My such? What was that?

More than once, I told my partner, "I'm giving up writing as a career." And in the age before everything was on one kind of computer or another, I pictured burning all my writing and letting go.

It wasn't until I was reviewing for various magazines and newspapers like The Detroit Free Press that I finally had an actual writing job, even if it was freelance. And I could quit whenever I wanted to, but I enjoyed the deadline pressure, the challenges of reviewing across genres, and the interaction with editors and readers.

The ups and downs of publishing 19 books in many genres since 1990 have echoed the ups and downs of my early career. Things look great, then they look crappy, then I look for an exit. But there isn't one. Because every time I've tried to or wanted to give up, fortune hands me a plum, or I get an idea for a new book and it won't let me go. The cold hard truth is what novelist Sheila Roberts one said, "I love the sensual pleasure of putting words together with words."

I always will. Writing is often as good as sex and rarely as messy.