Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pride and the Failing Writer

Since I decided to write the Great Jewish American Novel, my imagination has been perky and optimistic. Despite the fact that I contribute to it sporadically, my ego has swelled, envisioning swift and eager acceptance by a somewhat established publishing house, glowing reviews (with the occasional glower from closet anti-Semites), resulting in a hearty best-seller. Not akin to The Da Vinci Code—I am reasonable—but I will receive a check with a couple of zeros, at least. 

But my cocky self-assurance began to slide backward into the realm of reality after Sporadic Intelligence encouraged me to send a piece to Mishpacha Magazine (I only know how to write about Jews), and I had been greeted with steadfast silence. (No worries, SI, I'm glad that I did.)

Now the question: If they failed to recognize my genius, then why should anyone else? 

With another kick in the kidneys, enter "Failure Is Our Muse," by Stephen Marche. Example followed by example of great writers who died penniless and hungry, of great classics that were gobbled up only for the benefit of the estate, the grand composers of language dying while wallowing in their own unpaid bills and squalor.
Failure is big right now — a subject of commencement speeches and business conferences like FailCon, at which triumphant entrepreneurs detail all their ideas that went bust. But businessmen are only amateurs at failure, just getting used to the notion. Writers are the real professionals.
Three hundred thousand books are published in the United States every year. A few hundred, at most, could be called financial or creative successes. The majority of books by successful writers are failures. The majority of writers are failures. And then there are the would-be writers, those who have failed to be writers in the first place, a category which, if you believe what people tell you at parties, constitutes the bulk of the species.

This news is quite disconcerting, especially since I consider myself more pragmatic capitalist as opposed to starving artist. I don't like to expend copious amounts of energy for naught. Only recently I broke myself of the sedentary habit of only tackling a flight of steps unless there is more than one task at the top that requires doing.
Writers don’t fail like ordinary people. They fail in their bones. They fail even when they triumph. Bernard Malamud took the 1959 National Book Award for his short story collection “The Magic Barrel”; he left the check on the dais, and when he arrived at the dinner in his honor, the organizers had forgotten to set a place for him.
Ouch. I gotta say, I don't have that much tolerance for belittlement.

Marche concludes with the blah blah blah of don't stop  trying:
If there are to be any claims to greatness, they are to be found only in the scope of the failure and persistence in the face of it. That persistence may be the one truly writerly virtue, a salvation indistinguishable from stupidity. To keep going, despite everything. To keep bellying up to the cosmic irrelevance. To keep failing.
Well. It would appear I have found humility before I have even begun. 


Sporadic Intelligence said...

They didn't even send back that they received it??

Try again! And Again!

I say the only people who succeed in these sorts of ventures are those with no shame.

I have too much, and say "Those who don't try, never look foolish".

But I'm an idiot.

Send it in again! :)

FrumGeek said...

Lovecraft only found success after his death. Just saying.

Sarah said...

I once sent in a piece to one of the "big" Jewish publications and they published it. I was incredibly excited until:
a. they paid me pennies (seriously, I looked up the going rate for magazines and they paid about 1/4 of the lowest rate) and took about 9 months to pay, and
b. the big one: they ruined my story through chopping, rewriting and bad editing. I was ashamed of the final product, it was that bad. For one, the main character's voice, which I worked to make different from typically bland POVs, was rewritten to one of those same sorry POVs. The result was a pretty boring story with choppy prose.

Maybe my experience would have been better with a different magazine, but when I finish my own Great Jewish Novel, I'm sending it to a secular publishing house. At least the editing and final product should be better.

Anyway, to wrap up this rant, don't give up! Write that novel and send it in for publication. Don't count on lucrative financial success, but you truly never know!

Daniel Saunders said...

I feel for you. Really, I do. It is very, very hard to keep going without positive reinforcement. This is part of the reason I gave up regular blogging: I sometimes got criticism, usually utter silence. In the end it became too much and I packed it in.

I would like to submit some of my poems somewhere, for the feedback as much as anything (I really can't tell how good/bad they are) but don't know where. I submitted three to Altar Journal, but, like you, I got no response, although I think Altar Journal is dead now anyway. Anyway, whoever made a living from writing poetry?

I have had a review published professionally, though, which is something.

Tovah11 said...

You are so talented. Please continue to write. I usually save your blog as the 'reward' of the day and I just love your blog. Don't give in to one publisher who didn't even have the good grace to send you a 'thank you but no thanks'. That's just rude.

Princess Lea said...

So much for finding humility! You gals have made me feel all swollen-headed again! :P

SI: But I'm the same idiot! That's why we get along! she wailed.

I am full of shame to the eyeballs, and I always observe the michutzafim like an anthropologist. How do they do it?

OK, try again. I can do this. Try again . . .

FG: Did you actually read the post? That's the whole bloody point.

Sarah: Yikes. That is so upsetting! It is such a sacrilege when your work is twisted and destroyed, and without your consent to be meddled with! It is a violation!

I agree, secular publishing house all the way! But I always wonder about those really bad writers who manage to get published while better authors are left to wait tables. How does one get in there? Hmm.

I've decided to abandon my delusions of financial success. I'll have to get used to starving artist-dom.

DS: That is very much something! I had one letter to the editor published in TIME and I hold onto that for dear life.

Tovah: Thank you so much. I'm actually blushing.