Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Big Picture

I spent last weekend in a state of delighted excitement. That Friday I had gotten word that a short story collection I had submitted to a book publication contest had been chosen as a semi-finalist. Only the winning book will be published, but it was inexplicably exhilarating to have come so close. This semi-finalist ranking came fairly close on the heels of my finding out that I had been nominated for a Pushcart this year, and I spent the weekend feeling like I had broken through to some new plane as a writer. I still hadn’t published a book, but I felt like it wasn’t unrealistic to think that book publication might not be too far off in my future.

Somehow I managed to pull myself back down from the clouds and get my grading done for the weekend. At the start of the new week, during the drive to work, something very interesting hit me: it didn’t really matter in any significant way. Not the pushcart nomination nor the semi-finalist ranking nor even the feeling that I had moved up a bit in my career as a writer. Even if I had actually won the contest, if I had successfully landed my first book contract, I would still have been in the car at that moment, on my way to teach. The basic facts of my life would have remained the same.

In fact, one of the finalists in the contest is a full time professor at Ohio University, in my husband Damien’s creative writing graduate program. She’s had several books published already and won several awards and contests, but she teaches to make a living. Most writers do, or they do something else to make money. Not many writers can actually live off of writing alone.

It’s not like this was news to me. I’ve long known that writing will never be my full time career. I’ve known I will always have to have a day job. But as I sat in the car on my way to teach that day, it really registered with me how little success as a writer actually means in the big picture.

While some writers might find that idea depressing, I find it oddly reassuring. There’s something both humbling and comforting about the thought that acceptances – and that means rejections, also – aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. Writing can add meaning to your life, but I think it’s important to stay grounded, too, in the fact that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get something published, nor is it world changing if and when you do.


Anonymous said...

wow! pushcart nomination! that's like massive.

can i ask is there an online link to the story?

cheers and well done


Ashley Cowger said...

Thanks! It's up here: