Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thoreau Thursday

 On going confidently in the direction of our dreams and living the life we have imagined.

This morning in my ritual combing of the Internets I ran across this article by Betsy Lerner, a writer and editor: Keep Your Day Job.  The title pretty much says it all: Dear Writers, you will never make money writing.  Aarg!  Isn't that kind of the point of my mission here...

I've heard many writers say that they write because, well, they can't not write.  This immediately brings to mind an image of a long-haired hipster writing away with his fountain pen in his little brown notebook on the train ride home to his tiny apartment, or maybe box.  But for me it is not this way.  Sure, a big part of my life, as I heard John Grisham put it yesterday in an interview, is "my hyperactive imagination."  I spend more time than I would like to admit playing out weird scenarios in my head that often turn into stories or at least starts for stories. But frankly writing--the physical act of putting fingertips to keyboard--is all about extrinsic motivations for me.  I want people to like me!  I want people to like my writing!  I want to be famous! I want to make money at this.  I seek awards.

And I know the publishing world is a scary place.  Right after I graduated from college I worked at a literary agency (basically the people who represent the writers and sell their work to publishers) where I was sent into the back corner of the office to read the "slush pile" for eight hours a day and write rejection letters accordingly.  If I thought someone's 25 page submission had potential, I was allowed to call them and ask for more work, but usually that just resulted in us saying, essentially, "Well, upon reading a little more of your work, you're not as good as we thought you might be."  It was a terrible job--especially for someone who was hoping to be a writer one day!  With each thanks-but-no-thanks letter I signed, I really felt like I was completely skewing my writerly karma.  My work has been in variations of that slush pile and the rejection letters are always swift and cold.  I once got a rejection letter from my college's literary magazine saying that they almost published my story except they felt it didn't really make sense!  Eeeek!

So much of being a writer is being told that you're good.  Otherwise you are just a toiler, a wannabe.  What is the antidote to this?  I think to make the decision to be good, to be one's own editor and critic, to put forth what you know is true.  To tell stories that illuminate something, however big, however small.  To seek out characters who have suffered.  To explain redemption.  To invent a new language and give voice.  All of that's publishable.

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