How long have you been writing?
Well, I started when I was a teenager, so I’d like to say over thirty years, but I haven’t been actively working at it all that time. I started when I was in high school, where I was editor of the school newspaper, and I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me. In college, I majored in English and had some stories published in the student literary magazine.
English Major? Not very practical.
I’ll say. I graduated from SUNY Albany in 1982, which had had an unemployment rate much like it is today, and there weren’t very many entry-level jobs for liberal arts majors and I needed to make a living. I took a course in computer programing at NYU and got started in that. Getting into the software business back then was like stepping on a high-speed train just as it was about to leave the station. Computers and software just took in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and it hasn’t stopped. If anything, it’s just accelerated. Long hours, constantly trying to keep up with technology. It was very exciting. At the same time, I started a family, bought a house, and pursued the American Dream. I tried to continue writing on the side, and I managed to keep it up about three or four years, but it was hard to stay focused. First of all, there was no web to speak of so the market for literary fiction was very small. I got a “No thanks, but try us again sometime” form letter from The Paris Review, but otherwise it was very discouraging to send out stories one at a time — nobody accepted simultaneous submissions back then – and then wait for a year to hear from magazines with circulations of no more than 500 or 1000 copies.
Second, I was working in a business that was creative and took enormous amount of mental energy and focus to do well. In John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, he talks about the sort of day jobs that writers should have: menial jobs that let you use your mental energy for your art. Software development isn’t such an occupation. In fact, it’s probably the worst day job a writer could have. I was working in an industry that made everything I knew obsolete every two years and when not working at my job, I had to spend time studying and learning just to stay employable. Not to complain too much about it, it’s been a wild, exciting ride and I still enjoy it.
So what brought you back to writing?
Back in about 2005, in the middle of a mild mid-life crisis I realized that my software career wasn’t fulfilling me by itself anymore, and there was a part of me that missing. I lost both my parents a few years earlier, an event which brings on its own identity crisis. I wanted to start writing again, but wasn’t sure where to start. I reached out to an old college friend, also a writer and English professor, who suggested I start with a personal essay about something that mattered to me. I decided to write about a former writing teacher. I remembered how important it had been to me to be accepted into his writing workshop some twenty-five years earlier. As I was working on the piece, it became clear that I was writing as much about myself as I was about him. In doing so, I rediscovered that part of myself that I had tried to deny and suppress while obsessing about software architecture and development. I generally scoff at the idea of “writing as therapy,” but in that case it certainly was. The essay I wrote was eventually published in the Oregon Literary Review, and is now available as an eBook.
© 2013, Fred Bubbers. All rights reserved.