Budding Writer, 1979: Another diversion

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Crocuses welcome spring in Southbury, Connecticut, on April 3, 2021.By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

If I had treated my first year as a freelance writer like a real business, I would have seen that the end of the first quarter was approaching a crisis.

With money likely to run out by the end of the second quarter, I seriously considered returning home to live with my mother and work in the dreaded hell of New York City. The hourlong commutes each way, and the grime and crime of Manhattan in the late 1970s, had taken their toll on my mental and physical health during my internship only a few years before.

It never occurred to me to develop the Houdini story I worked on at the Reader’s Digest. I wrote a play for playwriting class. That was it. But an unknown playwright had fewer opportunities than an unknown fiction writer, and so I went back to writing short stories that I could adapt into an anthology.

… began working on another Christmas Carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” I chose this project after long debate and study, including listing my backlog of writing projects. It seems that at this point another carol has priority, especially as it would both give me experience writing and produce a potentially saleable product. I didn’t get very far, and again I’m disappointed in the style, but the content — particularly the religious overtones of a “good news” newspaper that is unread — surprises me in its quality. I may be a better storyteller than I thought — and after all, story telling is the essence of writing. The mechanics and style can be developed, while the creative spark cannot.

Journal, Volume II
3 April 1979

Note to self: It’s spelled “salable.” Don’t be cocky about grammar, spelling, and style.

To avoid becoming a starving writer, I continued my visits to the Dartmouth personnel office and its three-ring binders thick with job descriptions for openings. That’s where I was, 44 years ago today:

This afternoon something prompted me to drop in at the Personnel office, where lo! and behold I found the Assistant Dean of Freshmen post up for grabs. This, it seems, is the official “baby dean” position opening this year, and one for which I seem eminently suited, with the possible exception, as Roger pointed out, that I may be a year too old for it. (They would probably be looking for ’78s.) Nevertheless, I think I’ll go for it — as this has been something I’ve been considering for some time.


Considering … and discarding. Time after time. But who’s counting?

That night I had dinner with friends Jim, Jon, Sue, and company, then “enjoyed sherry (and a cigar — my God!) in [Jim/Jon’s] … pad afterward.”

That night, I was tired, and wrote that I aimed to make my application for the deanship — and writing of “Hark!” — “numbers one and two priorities for tomorrow.”

Sound familiar?