Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Man up or give up, Weber

Got some nice feedback on my writing and this blog yesterday:
If I have any advice for you it would be this: don't take the rejection so hard. I've been reading your blog and I wonder if what is making you doubt yourself is writing about the doubt and the rejection, which is something you have no control over (and seems counter productive). Rejection, more than anything else for a writer (save solitary confinement at the keyboard) is the one constant. You will always hear no and you'll hear it often, but you also have many publications ahead of you because you are a fine writer, Jake, and I think you should put your energy into creative writing instead of questioning editorial decisions and the stories that are being published today. You are now a voice among them, and I think as soon as you accept that rejection will always be there, you will enter a new and productive period of writing that is solely focused on your work. The bookshelf is large and journals abound and all of it is so damn subjective, but as long as you don't give up you'll keep seeing your work out in the world where readers will find you. I felt compelled to offer you this ra-ra speech after reading one hell of a story. Keep going, and focus on the positives and the things you are absolutely in control of, which is your own writing practice. The marketplace will/has found you, so keep going and forget about the rest.
In the Marine Corps, folks would have put this less diplomatically, and asked if a part of my anatomy that I do not actually have because I am not a woman had gotten sand in it. Quit bitching about what people publish or don't publish, about you not getting published, and just write stories already, if that's what you want to do.

There is undeniable wisdom is this kind of no-excuses advice. (I'm talking about my imaginary advice I'm putting in the mouth of imaginary people, not the much nicer advice I got from this person.) I've been thinking of putting the blog on hold to get back to more fiction writing for a while now. (There was already a blog gap in September when I wrote non-stop to make a deadline.) But first, here's why I do this blog.

First of all, I think graduate school in writing was a giant waste of time and money, and want to make sure I leave that message to the world to help others not make the same mistake. Seriously, if you really want to make 22K a year teaching four comp classes, then get an advanced degree in English. If you want to write, though, learn to do something that pays reasonably well and that you don't hate. Then, buy some writing books, get someone to critique you whose taste you respect, and write.

Secondly, I don't want to write if nobody is going to ever read what I write (other than family and a few friends who feel compelled to). I don't think there's any value in that. If I knew that nothing I wrote from this moment on would find an audience, I'd stop writing this instant. So I want to work through the question of how realistic it is that I will find an audience.

Like a lot of writers, I do feel some sense of compulsion to write that is independent of the audience question. But the audience is there in my mind at an early stage. I think one important reason I write has to do with wanting to have more stories that I like to read out there. Nobody else is going to write them, so I have to write them. When I write something and accomplish my goal in writing it, I like it. But if I can't find others to agree, what does that say about me? Or about them? Either way, it makes writing seem futile.

If I can write stories and they can find an audience and those stories help make the lives of others better in some way, then writing is utterly worth it. If not, it's worth nothing.

That's where I've been for a long time. But my adviser is right--there really are no guarantees. I hate "faith," which I take to mean "thinking you know something that you don't really know." But I have some admiration for hope, which I interpret as "acting as though something matters when you have no idea if it really does." So I'll get back to it and quit bitching.

But not without limits. I put writing away for a decade so I could raise a family (and quit mooching off mine). I'm going to keep writing and sending off until the end of the year, then I'm putting it away again for a while. C.S. Lewis said that "the Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world," and while I don't share his faith, I do think that I would trade a Nobel for a loaf of bread if that loaf of bread would be of more use than all my writing could.

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