Junot Diaz in O Magazine, On Becoming a Writer

But if the world is what it is so are our hearts. One night in August, unable to sleep, sickened that I was giving up, but even more frightened by the thought of having to return to the writing, I dug out the manuscript. I figured if I could find one good thing in the pages I would go back to it. Just one good thing. Like flipping a coin, I’d let the pages decide. Spent the whole night reading everything I had written, and guess what? It was still terrible. In fact with the new distance the lameness was even worse than I’d thought. That’s when I should have put everything in the box. When I should have turned my back and trudged into my new life. I didn’t have the heart to go on. But I guess I did. While my fiancée slept, I separated the 75 pages that were worthy from the mountain of loss, sat at my desk, and despite every part of me shrieking no no no no, I jumped back down the rabbit hole again. There were no sudden miracles. It took two more years of heartbreak, of being utterly, dismayingly lost before the novel I had dreamed about for all those years finally started revealing itself. And another three years after that before I could look up from my desk and say the word I’d wanted to say for more than a decade: done.

That’s my tale in a nutshell. Not the tale of how I came to write my novel but rather of how I became a writer. Because, in truth, I didn’t become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn’t until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.

Emphasis mine. Junot Diaz’s whole essay is here. Via the excellent Maud Newton, who has quite the Toddy recipe for your winter cold.


  1. Very very true. I’ve always seen a writer = published author. I only recently realised that “I am a writer” when I continued writing despite feeling less than zero hope that I’ll be published one day. Luckily, I’m out of that pit of despair and I’m still writing (albeit in a somewhat happier frame of mind).

  2. i love this. you are a writer, not because your writing is fantabulous or whatnot, but because you CAN’T not write (excuse the double negatives).

    i also heart junot diaz, and it gives me so much hope when you think about how long it took and how much despair he went through, and in the end he produced such a magnificent piece of writing.

  3. I loved that line, from Junot, “But if the world is what it is so are our hearts.”

    I wrote to a friend that I want it tattooed on my soul, but I’m considering my skin, too.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. Writer; it’s not something I choose, it’s who I am – and sometimes it’s joyful and sometimes it’s painful. But with or without external validation (read: the publishing world) I don’t know how to stop being who I am, even when it hurts. Like Ann Lane Petry said, “the writers are the ones who keep writing after all the other folks quit.” Diaz’s words (like Petry’s) are a needed reminder that what we do may be solitary but our struggles and (fingers crossed) our triumphs link us.
    Btw, I’ve been a fan of your blog since taking your seminar last summer at Breadloaf. It keeps me coming back.

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