I read this story recently in Poets & Writers. It may be a parable about stick-to-it-iveness, or perhaps it’s an invitation to apply the vision of hindsight to our current ambitions. Bear with me.
Daniel Wallace, the author of six novels including a New York Times bestseller, has tried for more than thirty years to publish in The New Yorker. When he first began submitting work there in 1984, The New Yorker defined literary success for him. His stories landed on the desk of the fiction editor, Daniel Menacer, who eventually began jotting “a little something” on the rejected pages. “I had no idea who this person was,” Wallace writes, “and it didn’t really matter because at that time in my life, editors were all-powerful demigods whose approval would allow me entry into the world I hungrily watched from afar.” Over the first six years, Menaker’s rejections grew personal and encouraging. One story he even called “very good…as far as it goes.” He actually invited Wallace to continue submitting. Writers call such comments “good rejections.” (more…)
Today I’m appreciating Marty, a student and client of mine, perhaps because I’m only now digesting an important lesson he taught me.
Marty was born in Wyoming to a conservative Christian household in a virulently Christian community. When he came out gay, his pastor tried to straighten him out with intensive reprogramming. Because Marty was a lawyer and voracious reader, this involved years of in-depth theological study and long, difficult conversations.
Marty was also a raging alcoholic, and one day after coming out of a bar in Atlantic City he was gay-bashed almost to death. I met Marty years later, after he’d sobered up, left his law practice, recovered his faith, and begun a memoir. Being bludgeoned in the head with concrete, he’d realized, was a cakewalk compared with the theological abuse he’d suffered from this pastor and community. He wanted to write the story. (more…)
Yesterday I was yet again talking with an emerging writer about her first steps into publishing and ran up against that all-too-common resistance to self-publishing: “I just want to know that someone other than myself thinks this story is worthwhile,” she told me.
There are many arguments for and against self-publishing, none of which I want to tackle here. Instead I’m interested in her (and our) bare desire to receive external affirmation for our creative work. We seek it from agents, from publishers, from an audience. This is not necessarily bad. We’re human. We want to know we matter. We want to do good work. We want to make a difference. (more…)
Recently I asked a writer and agent whether I should attend an upcoming pitch conference to pitch my revision book. His reaction surprised me: He compared current trends in publishing to the increasing disparity of wealth in our country, the separation between the “haves” and the “have nots,” the elevation of celebrities and specialists and the successful above most ordinary folk… To move from peon status to what our culture views as success, he said, you have to get on your knees and beg. He sees pitch conferences as an opportunity to beg.
While I don’t entirely agree (I pitched my book at AWP and got an agent at Bloomsbury to look at my proposal; was that begging?), I’ve been mulling over his analogy ever since. (more…)
If I had to point to one piece of writing advice that upon which my work is built, it would be the fervent words of children’s author Jane Yolen. She had just finished a lecture on the importance of addressing faith questions in books for kids, despite the fact that the primary book-buyers are public schools and public libraries, when a member of the audience challenged her: Shouldn’t writers be accountable to those who buy the books? Yolen got angry. “All writers are accountable to three things, in this order: First we’re accountable to the story. Second we’re accountable to ourselves. Only lastly are we accountable to our audience.”
So many of us jumble these priorities! (more…)