by R.A. Riekki
“Your job is to get your butt in that seat.” That’s the work of the writer, because once you sit there, force yourself in front of that computer, the ideas inevitably will come.
I can’t remember who said that. And I will agree that it’s true. But . . .
I want to round out that idea and say that if you really want to succeed, you’ve got to get your butt out of that seat. Maybe even get your butt out of that city you currently live in. I know. I know. You think you can be J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon or Emily Dickinson. You think you’re agoraphobia won’t stop you from reaching the heights of the publishing industry. I’m telling you that opportunity awaits once you get out of Opelika, Alabama, or Mount Pleasant, Michigan. I’m not picking on those cities. I’ve lived there. I’m just saying that if you’re a playwright and you’re living in Flagstaff, Arizona, and you feel like you’ve hit a plateau with your career, you may just want to consider a move.
The economy’s too bad for you to take such a risk?
I’m unemployed. How the hell am I supposed to do that?
I say: If not now, when?
I’m not talking to the amateurs right now. I’m talking to people out there who have writing in their blood, that want to do this from now ‘til they croak. Where the pen is your life. Especially that dedicated writer who just isn’t moving up to the next level. Some of you might be stuck in academic careers in Fargo or administrative jobs in Cheyenne. This might not be a cure-all, because I don’t know if you have talent or not, if you have luck or not. But I came out to L.A. last summer to scout out the city, to see if I wanted to make the move, to allow myself the opportunities that a major city offers a writer. Through a series of very fortunate events, I found myself in the office of the Vice President at Comedy Central. And with her towering view of the city, she told me and I’m paraphrasing, “If you have talent, you’ll succeed here. It may take awhile, but eventually they’ll find you. Because this city always needs writers.” I went back to my university job for a year and saved like crazy, because I wanted to come back. I’ve only returned to L.A. for a month, but those series of very fortunate events have continued to fall into place. A producer read my novel U.P. and is interested in turning it into a film. That led to more interest from two other producers. That led to my having meetings with two literary managers and three literary agencies. I’m in the heart of this wonderful madness right now and have no idea what’s going to come to fruition, but I do know that if I would have stayed in Alabama and waited to be discovered, there is no way in the world that all of these meetings would have happened. My book is published by Ghost Road Press, a small publisher with little to no film and television contacts. But by moving to Los Angeles and letting people know that I want to be a writer with all my heart, things have started to happen, dreams are starting to come true . . . or at least I’m taking myself closer to those dreams, much closer than would ever be possible if I was in [insert your small town here]. God helps those who help themselves. If you want to move to the next level, why don’t you make the physical move?
If you’re a playwright, why aren’t you in Chicago?
If you’re a screenwriter, why aren’t you in L.A.?
If you’re a fiction writer, why aren’t you in New York?
Of course, there are a long, long list of novelists who’ve never come within two hundred miles of Times Square, but in my opinion Jack Kerouac would still be an unknown Lowell French-Canadian if it wasn’t for Horace Mann School and Columbia College. New York allowed him to co-create the beat scene. And whoever you are out there reading this, I want you to meet the Allen Ginsbergs and the Neal Cassadys of your life. But to do that, you can’t only sit behind a computer. You have to go where the action is—the conferences and workshops and cities where things happen. Then, if you’re lucky, hopefully everything will fall in place after that. But what’s critical is you have to take the chance. Greatness comes through risk. Your job is to get your butt out of that seat. Your job is to get your butt out of that city. Go where you need to be.