Sunday, February 14, 2010

Just Keep Swimming, Er, I Mean, Writing

I talked a little bit last time about accepting the likelihood that my graduate thesis, which I’ve been shopping around to agents for the past few months, will probably not get published, or at least, not as my first book. This is something that I think most writers have to accept when they are in the middle of the early stages of their careers.

There’s a common story: the writer who can’t get his or her first novel published, writes a second (or third one, or fourth), finally gets something accepted and then goes back and dusts off that earlier manuscript, now that he or she’s broken into the publishing world. We’ve also all heard the stories of people who write a first book, a second, a third, and finally on their fourth or fifth they get a book published, but they don’t try to publish those earlier manuscripts because they know now that those early ones weren’t good enough.

Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that real writers – the ones who actually write and publish and slowly but surely make progress in their writing careers – just keep writing, no matter what. What distinguishes the ones who make it from the ones who don’t, as far as I can tell, is the ability to accept the inevitable rejections and the fact that you’re not perfect (and neither is your work), without getting discouraged and without ever, ever, EVER giving up.

Yes, this seems to involve a certain contradiction at the very core of your being. You’re willing to take criticism and you haven’t deluded yourself into thinking that you’re a genius (maybe once upon a time you had those delusions, but you’ve grown out of them by now, I hope, and now you know that you weren’t born to become the next Hemingway, that, in fact, Hemingway wasn’t, either; he just worked hard and got lucky, both). And yet at the same time, you believe in yourself, in your skills as a writer and your ability to keep getting better, and perhaps most incongruous of all, you truly believe that other people will want to read these things that you write.

It’s that balance you always hear about: hubris checked by modesty. Believing in yourself and your work just far enough, but not too far. Not so far that you become one of those a-holes who argue with anyone willing to give them feedback and who believe that every editor and agent who has ever rejected their work is an idiot.

But I believe that anybody can reach that balance. It just takes emotional maturity and perhaps being around other writers long enough that you realize that you’re not special but that doesn’t mean that you don’t still have something worthwhile to say. So the real deciding factor, then, is whether you’re willing to keep at it indefinitely. To receive rejection after rejection but still continue sending stuff out. To write every day, even when you’re positive that nobody will ever publish what you’re working on, even when you’re afraid that nobody will ever publish anything that you write, ever. To write a second novel, even if your first one never got published. And to revel in the small triumphs: journal acceptances, encouraging rejections, and those flashes of inspiration that send you breathlessly rushing to your computer, carried away by your own excitement to get this written down.

1 comment:

Anita Daniels said...

I totally agree with you that it would be good to just keep writing and writing. That way, even if you just write a short part of the thesis topic ideas, you still progress on the paper. I think it would also be good to write everything you think about the thesis, some of it might be important that you’ll never know when and where it can fit in your paper.