Fun, Follies and Loss of Innocence in Novel Land

I become a crawling thing

Boxer knocked down, being counted out

I tried to do it all . . . and went down for the count

If you read the post A Spy Gets Me In From The Cold, you know I badgered my way onto a daily newspaper.

Finally, I had a steady income, and I got on-the-job training in being a copy editor.

Unfortunately, it all came to an end.

What’s that you ask?

Oh, not the newspapering.

My personal writing is what ended

If you plowed through other posts in the My True Story category to your right, you know that my real dream had been to write great literature or — if it didn’t turn out so great — crowd-pleasing schlock.

That dream vaporized after I became employed.

Why, you ask?

For one thing, I was exhausted. You see, I had taken an additional gig writing freelance articles for a local magazine at $50 a pop.

That was sweet money for a guy living in a $90 a month apartment, but I had no life aside from waking up and driving off to interview someone or do research at a library and then rushing to the newspaper to work from 3 p.m. to midnight and then falling asleep only to get up short of sleep to type furiously on an article before jumping into my car to start rushing around again.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking

If I was “a real writer,” I’d have kept at it like, say, William Faulkner who wrote his masterpiece “As I Lay Dying” using pencil and paper on an upturned wheelbarrow between his turns to shovel coal into a hot furnace during the night shift in the boiler room of an electricity-generating power plant.

Even now, just writing about how he sweated for his art gives me chills.

But we’re all made differently and, besides, Faulkner was inspired.

He said he knew what the first and last sentences of his book would be before he even began to write.

I didn’t know any first and last sentences for a great book because I had to confront my second big reason for stopping writing: I hadn’t lived enough life to know what the heck life was about so I could write about it. I needed to let time go by while absorbing life experiences along the way.

I needed to become a human sponge . . .

. . . sort of the above-water version of SpongeBob SquarePants.

So, I continued in the newspaper world, moving up in responsibility to work on copy desks until 2 a.m. — is that progress? —  while editing news and feature stories written by others and designing thousands of newspaper pages.

Eventually, after years of toiling on the Edgar Allan Poe shift, I moved on to the corporate world to live a more normal life in which I could see my kids grow up, enjoy national holidays instead of working on them, and have weekends where the two days actually were next to one another.

Now, like a crawling thing that covers itself up with the entanglements of its life, I have split open the cocoon and emerged, hopefully as a splendid butterfly.

But even as a down-home moth with its wings beating against the ground, I’m back and heading for takeoff.

Moth on green foliage

QUESTION: What imagined destiny did you drift away from?


  1. Karen Janowsky

    I daresay Faulkner’s unenviable situation shouldn’t be the standard we set for ourselves. Virginia Woolf said this of women writers, but in a different context it applies to many of us human beings: we need a room with a lock on the door. Writing in this era isn’t just physically draining; it’s emotionally and mentally taxing as well in ways people of Faulkner’s generation probably couldn’t have imagined. It’s probably true of most writers that time and physical space of our own, where we can have quiet and clarity, are necessary. We’re products of our time periods, and even then, some things don’t change.

    • Phil Cobb

      Also, to keep us from leaving the room, perhaps wearing nothing but a floor-length gray shawl like the one Victor Hugo purchased so he could have his clothes locked away for the duration of meeting his deadline in writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame (although the more popular recounting is that he wrote au naturel).

  2. Melanie Roussel

    I have done a fair few Edgar Allan Poe shifts in my time, yet it was always sans a pessimistic raven.

    I’ve given up comparing myself to the Dickens, Faulkners, Christies and Woolfs. Sure, they were talented, but I’ve like to see how much writing they’d have got done when there are so many games to play on Steam. XD

    • Phil Cobb

      I know what you mean about comparisons, Melanie. Now I just compare myself to myself, and sometimes I even fall short on that yardstick.

  3. Firn

    I feel you, Phil! I started ghostwriting full time in 2018 and didn’t touch my own work for years. Now, I’ve learned to manage creative burnout and find my voice again. An awesome post!

    • Phil Cobb

      When you can “manage creative burnout,” you’re the awesome one, Firn!

  4. Lissa Johnston

    Glad you didn’t get eaten while still a worm. A lot of that going on around here this time of year.

  5. Phil Cobb

    You might say I wormed my way out of it.

  6. Naomi Lisa Shippen

    Being in lockdown has shown me how much easier it is when you have the time and energy to write. I know I have achieved things at this time I wouldn’t have if I was working full time. Great story, Phil, and good on you for sticking to your guns.

    • Phil Cobb

      Talk about sweet operative words for a writer: time and energy. I’ve got them now, and I’m unholstering my literary guns.

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