And Yes, I’m Happy About That!
Felix Quiñonez Jr.
If there’s one thing, I think we can all agree on; it’s that 2020 has been a hell of a year. But despite all of the awful things that happened and continue to happen, I think it’s afforded a lot of us the chance to take stock of our lives. It’s given us a time to stop, look in the mirror, and ask, “what am I doing?”
I know I did, and I realized that I didn’t like the answer. Like so many people during this pandemic, I found myself reassessing the direction my life was heading. It had been a long time since I had written anything, but being stuck inside awakened something in me. It reignited a passion that I thought had died for good. Because of that, I decided to give Medium a try.
Since graduating from college in 2010, I have spent years pursuing a career as a writer and an illustrator. As a writer, I’ve covered local politics, movies, fashion, and art, in print and online.
As an artist, I’ve written and illustrated a graphic novel. I made a lot of comics by myself and in collaboration with others. A friend and I began a comic book anthology that, over nine issues, has featured many other talented creators from all around the country. I sold My graphic novel and comics in NYC stores and online.
I made some money but never enough to quit the various day jobs I’ve held over the years. Working never bothered me, and I always thought of myself as a writer and artist first. Those jobs were to pay the bills until I inevitably “made it.” And that’s the thing; there was a time when I felt so sure I would be able to make a living off my words and art.
When I was illustrating my first graphic novel, I would spend hours drawing before and after work. I would come home early if I even went out. But usually, I would turn down invitations entirely so I could stay home and draw. As I got close to finishing it, I found myself frequently pulling all-nighters. At one point, I even stopped shaving and barely slept.
In my mind, I already imagined my future successful self, looking back at these days with a nostalgic smile on my face. When I finally finished it, I must have looked like a crazy person who hadn’t slept or shaved in weeks. But it was all worth it because I finished my first graphic novel. It took me a year and a half, but I did it. I wrote and illustrated a 160-page graphic novel.
To this day, I don’t know too many people who have done that. I spent so much time on it, and it meant so much to me. So, I thought it would mean something to the people I knew. But it didn’t, not really. I expected people to be overcome with disbelief, utterly shocked that I did it. Most people were supportive of it but generally indifferent.
One weekend, I visited my sister and noticed her using a copy of the graphic novel I spent a year and a half working on, like a coaster. I remember feeling like I got punched in the stomach. But I couldn’t ignore how perfectly it encapsulated the general reaction my work received.
A few stores were kind enough to carry it and even sold a few copies. But the rejections, if I even got a response, from publishers put a damper on all that. Six years later, I still have copies of it in my apartment. But I didn’t let it get me down. It wasn’t long before I started a new project. And every time I worked on a new comic book, I told myself that this would be the one that people would embrace, the one that would grab a publisher’s attention, the one that would help me “make it.” But my confidence slowly turned to self-doubt. I began to question if I was fooling myself if I was wasting my time.
I’d still drop off copies of my new comic books to the stores that carried my work, at least the ones that hadn’t gone out of business. But the excitement I used to feel slowly dissipated. I used to think the owners would be excited to get my new book. Now I felt bad like I was becoming a nuisance. I wondered if they were humoring me because I was a regular customer, and I spent money every time I visited.
I used to picture the owner asking me for more copies because my books had sold out since the last time I was there. Now I dreaded coming back and seeing my books gathering dust on the shelves or being unceremoniously dumped into the bargain bin.
And my writing efforts hadn’t gotten me much further. For a while, I was working at a magazine. I was getting paid, and my work got published. But it didn’t last long. Pretty soon, the magazine went all digital, and they began paying less until they stopped paying at all.
I kept pitching story ideas to whatever magazine I could get a hold of. And for a while, I was genuinely hopeful. Eventually, I learned that getting published has a lot to do with networking and knowing people, not just your writing ability. Being an introvert, I was never good at networking. Eventually, my excitement faded away, and I pitched less. When I did, it was mostly out of habit. I didn’t get my hopes up anymore, and eventually, I stopped altogether.
In 2019, I decided it was time to get a “grown-up” job, so I started working as an office manager for a construction company. I was making more money than I ever had before, and I was on my way to having proper health insurance. Slowly, I settled into my new job.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop writing, but that’s what happened. The workday was long, the commute made it longer, and by the time I came home, I felt like I didn’t have anything left. I just wanted to shower, have dinner, and brace myself to do it all over again the next day.
I wrote very little in 2019. In fact, contributing to our anthology was my sole creative output. And that was because I was one of the editors. I stopped thinking of myself as a writer. Sometimes I felt embarrassed that I wasted so much time kidding myself. Sometimes it hurt a lot, like I was going through a breakup, left brokenhearted. Eventually, I stopped thinking about it. If it did pop into my head, I quickly pushed it aside. It felt like a chapter had ended, and I was finally moving on.
Then the pandemic hit. I lost my job very early on. I stopped working even before NY State went on “pause.” I was told I could return to work soon as things went “back to normal.” At first, I thought that would take a couple of weeks at most. But I soon realized that wouldn’t be the case.
Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t struggle with being inside all the time. At first, I decided to catch up on shows and movies I hadn’t seen. I finally saw The Sopranos, and I thought it lived up to the hype. I started playing more video games. Eventually, I began illustrating the graphic novel I had put aside for a long time. However, when I went back to it, I decided I didn’t want it to be black and white anymore, so I started over.
After some time passed, I found myself wanting to write again. I’m not sure when it happened, it wasn’t a conscious decision. It didn’t happen slowly. One day I woke up and realized I needed to write. I didn’t have anything planned. I just needed to write. I needed to write something, anything.
After browsing the web, looking for a place to publish my writing, I stumbled upon Medium. I had heard of it before but never looked into it. After reading up on it, I was genuinely intrigued and decided to sign up. It had been a long time since I was excited about writing. This excitement genuinely surprised me. I started brainstorming story ideas. Before I knew it, I was writing and couldn’t stop. For some reason, I wanted to have four posts ready before I published my first one. Then on July 27th, I published my first story. Since then, I’ve been publishing regularly, and I have been writing every day.
A couple of weeks later, I noticed that my stories had collectively earned me my first dollar on Medium. The money itself isn’t a big deal, but it represented tangible progress. One of the main reasons I originally became so discouraged as a writer was that it felt like I was always standing still, never moving forward. But this felt like I was getting somewhere.
But the feeling of community that I’ve felt during my brief time on Medium has been even more rewarding. Writing used to feel so solitary. But it was different now. Since I’ve been on Medium, I’ve already had some encouraging exchanges with fellow writers.
I’ve found encouragement in realizing that I was not the only struggling writer. I’m not the only one who’s ever been overwhelmed by the dreaded “imposter syndrome.” I love being able to see that people are reading my work. I love discovering inspiring writers. And if the pandemic has taught me anything it’s that there’s no such thing as a safe bet. Even when you take the supposedly responsible job, life can throw you a curveball and upend your plans.
I don’t know where this will go. Right now, I’m just enjoying writing again, and that’s enough for me. Of course, if I make a few more dollars along the way, well, that’d be nice too.