This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is upcoming debut author Jessica Corra revealing hers…
Guest post by Jessica Corra
When Nova asked me to take part in this blog series, I enthusiastically replied sure. I love her blog; I love her; and was honored to be asked. I knew what I’d write about right away: 2009. I’d figure out the details later.
Then I sat down to write and nothing happened. I knew 2009 was a big year for me, but nothing stood out. The thing is, my whole life has been nothing but turning points. I use a less polite term, though, and call them WTF moments. I’ve been hit with them regularly, so often that I can’t tell you a defining moment in my career. I have a lot of them.
It may seem disingenuous to say that: that nothing truly defining has happened or that I am devaluing the things that have. Not so. Simply, it is only in hindsight that we see the weight a moment has. Every day we make infinite choices, most small—bagel or cupcake for breakfast? That one turns out 50/50—but some big. And every day, things that don’t seem like choices turn out to be.
Everything that happens to us can break us if we let it. But what, really, does that look like? We could quit. We could shrivel or avoid. But in the end, we typically keep going. One foot in front of the other. We cope, is what we do, even if for a time we quit or shrivel or avoid. We still keep going, sometimes in a new direction, sometimes straight ahead.
Because the only other alternative isn’t something most people really contemplate. So even the act of coping, of choosing to be, has the potential to be a turning point. We talk all the time in writing about stakes and arc. In our daily lives, we don’t. But they exist. The ultimate stake is usually life. In daily life we don’t barter with that.
I did. In 2009.
2009 was a very hard year for me. By October, I was working a full-time office job I hated—I am allergic to office jobs. I was married and sinking under the weight of it. I hadn’t finished a novel yet that year. (I had written five manuscripts between November 2005 and November 2008.) I was already struggling with depression, and my inability to write was compounding my personal life issues. I was broken.
I woke up one Friday with a choice clear in my head: I could stop. I could dress for my job downtown and then step in front of the train, or I could keep going. I could go to the hospital. I don’t remember making that decision, only knocking on my neighbor’s door and asking for the ride.
That moment doesn’t seem like a turning point, does it? Keeping going isn’t changing direction, really, but when your options are to end the line or not, it’s a very big decision. I spent a week on the psych ward, and you can read more about that on my blog here and here.
While I was there, I decided that for my own health I would stop trying to work in an office. I was going to be a writer, full-time, and make a real go of it. Ironically, I lost my office job while I was hospitalized, so it’s a good thing that had been the plan anyway.
By the new year, I had completed a draft of a women’s fiction novel, something I had always wanted to write but never did. I’m primarily speculative fiction, and usually YA at that. But getting out of the hospital released me in more ways than one: I wrote SAoG quickly without censoring anything, without worrying about if it was good or bad or readable. I wrote to prove myself to myself. I wasn’t broken. I wasn’t crazy. I was capable.
I’d made the choice to live, so I was going to damn well do that. And that meant writing.
I set SAoG aside with minimal revision because I knew I didn’t want to pursue women’s fiction. I wrote a new book and revised it, and while querying that one, I started After You. I got an agent in November 2010, just over a year after my hospitalization, and in November 2011, I got my first advance check for its sale to Penguin.
I no longer work in an office. I’m no longer married. But I will always write. Because sometimes choosing yes is its own defining moment.
Jessica Corra believes in magic, chocolate cake, love, vodka, and books. Her YA magical realism, After You, comes out in Spring 2013 from Penguin. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she holds sundry odd jobs and does a lot of baking.
Find her at her website, where she talks a lot about identity and authenticity, or on Twitter, where she is much goofier.