Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"We're All Hacks," says Young Writer


Here's an anonymous email from today's mail bag:

"After six years of continuous writing, continuous submissions, continuous rejection, I’ve had nine short stories published. Some in journals no one’s heard of. Well, most. I just had a story published in West Branch. A journal you can find in a bookstore. A journal with a barcode. And then I had a story nominated for the Pushcart. I’m twenty-three, and I know you’ve never heard of me. I didn’t have a problem until I went snooping around your site more. And I read Ted Genoways’ contribution, the links to stories by young writers.

Now I have a problem.

Being a young writer doesn’t grant you a god-damned thing. Does it get you more attention because your peers aren’t as introspective? Because you devote yourself to something? Do I deserve an actual response as opposed to an automated rejection email from VQR? We all do. What bullshit am I supposed to be swallowing here? That somehow being younger gives me an advantage? That the editors of VQR are plucking up young talent and perching them on the thin limb of success?

I still live at home. I don’t have a job. I have a novel that I can’t edit because I can’t stand to read it. Because it reminds me of the four other novels I’ve written. Because no one wants to read them. Getting noticed for writing doesn’t change anything. No one’s sitting in an ideal world where all their problems have dissolved because they became successful writers. Faulkner was constantly in financial distress. He drank himself to death because he was a miserable man, mostly for not making enough money as a writer. And this was after he won the Nobel prize.

Recognition doesn’t give you confidence. When you sit in front of a blank page, you’re just as miserable as everyone else who likes words. No one really knows how to tell a story. That’s why we keep trying. It’s why everyone is rejected. No one knows how to tell a story and no one knows how to read. So when a clueless writer and a clueless editor cross paths, magic happens and a story gets published, and everyone else laments and resents and calls them both hacks. We’re all hacks. The secret to writing is knowing how to exploit it. That’s what publishing is. Shame on you if you think it’s a deep, spiritual endeavor. Stories move audiences. Not writers. Not editors. We’re immune.

Today was not a good day to think about writing."

How about we show our true good natures and give this anonynewbie some encouragement?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

must. resist. urge. to. snark.

Someone said...

I started writing fiction in my teens; published my first book in my mid-30s. There are no guarantees. It's a long haul, my friend. Keep at it.

ho hum said...

To the writer who wrote the letter:

You can either do what you're doing -- i.e. wallow in misery -- or you can actually keep writing and get a job on the side -- 23 is not the age to accept retirement.

I'm rooting for you. Get out of that self-pity pit now. You'll make it.

P.S. I'm 23 too. And guess what? West Branch rejected me. So cheer up!

Anonymous said...

keep on writing. ignore the literary journals. ignore academia, don't get sucked up by it. post online get some other job if you have to but don't give it. the mfa set get all the job perks but they are not going anywhere ... and nobody reads their obscure journals anway.

Anonymous said...

you'll have a better outlook on life and writing if you move out of your parents' house. 23 is about the age when most americans leave home.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you'll feel better if you move out of the house. Maybe join Vista or the Peace Corps or something. Or go to med school.

Or.... get an MFA. Why not? If you already know how to write, it won't ruin you. It'll give you a couple years to write and the opportunity to teach. Then, when your first book comes out, a nice comfy if low-paying academic job, where you'll meet a few interesting people in amongst the bitter academic bobs.

Your life is ahead of you, kiddo! 23 isn't even a "young writer" yet -- that's when you're 26, 27. You're just a young babe, to whom nothing has happened yet.

Anonymous said...

23 kind of sucks no matter what profession you've chosen. It gets better though. For now, just write for your own entertainment and ignore the publishing side.

Anonymous said...

find work, move out. or alternatively, move out and then find work. who wouldn't be depressed in you situation? i hated living with my parents.

Anonymous said...

the fact of the matter is that you need to familiarize yourself with your own mortality. this generally doesn't happen, no matter how precocious a writer one is, until early 30s or so.

and yes, move out of the house. resurface in about five years and mow them down--the publishers and agents, not your family.

Writer, Rejected said...

What are you people talking about? This kid has published 9 stories, and he's not even 24! Obviously, he needs to keep doing what he's doing. He could probably stop beating the crap out of himself for not being famous yet, but, seriously, maybe even that is part of his drive. Why mess with a good thing? Some writers are meant to be miserable and productive.

Here's my only advice to anonynewbie: Enjoy every ounce of your literary victories as often as you can.

Yes You Can said...

It's no small feat to have published 9 stories at the age of 23. West Branch, in particular, is a great journal to have published in. So you have to stop and pat yourself on the back.

If you always concentrate on what you don't have, you will always be miserable. Concentrate on the amazing things that you do have.

Listen to me: you're going to make it. You probably have talent, and you obviously have a lot of drive. I can hear the energy and passion in your voice. So hang in there and keep on keeping on.

Start looking towards the next steps in your career: publishing in slightly better journals, attending conferences/retreats, getting an MFA. Stage by stage, my friend, stage by stage.

Writer, Rejected said...

Or skip the MFA and write your novel. Also an option. Just sayin'.

poo said...

post introspective missive of despair. tell commenters give encouragement. commenters say dont worry be happy, get job move out. ask what are you people talking about. mean that commenters should encourage status quo. this commenter confused.

Writer, Rejected said...

Oh, don't pay attention to me. Just being stupidly contrary. I just meant the whole "get out of your parents house and get a job" thing. Maybe he should stay home in his old childhood bedroom instead and make writing a novel his job. I didn't mean anything serious by it.

Everyone (almost) is being very encouraging to the young writer. So I'm happy. Thank you.

Native Ink said...

I'm just wondering if your parents have room for one more struggling writer. I'd love a set up like that. Of course, I'm in my thirties and have already experienced working and paying rent for quite long enough. Seriously though, you've already started to lay the foundation for your writing career. I didn't get focussed on my writing and learn the craft until much later. I regret that now. You might think of following the advice of some of the other commenters and go out and get some more life experience. Even working a bad, low-end sort of job can be quite instructive to a writer, although you'll probably always sigh for all that free time you used to have.

Native Ink said...

One more thing: I'm a big believer in the ancient Greek idea that it takes 10 years to master the art of writing. You've been at for 6, so I would applaud you for the progress you've made so far.

james said...

not only an ancient greek idea, but a modern american one as well: consider malcolm gladwell's 10,000 hours rule.

Anonymous said...

No, writing is a craft, and like any craft, it is one that can be mastered. Mastery is something that a craftsperson would be very aware of having.

Anonymous said...

It's not that hard to figure out who this writer is, if you're curious. Just go to the West Branch website and Google the names of the three fiction contributors of the latest issue. It should be pretty obvious.

Good for him for his recent success--it's surely deserved-- but I think for a lot of us it's hard not to be annoyed that he's wallowing in the fact that he's jobless, (seems to be) entirely supported by his parents, and therefore has unlimited writing time. Would I turn down the same deal? No--well, actually, I probably would. This guy needs to get out of the house, maybe go on a date or something.

And I'd say consider going for the MFA. Get a TAship, let a university support you, and give mommy and daddy's purse strings a rest.

Native Ink said...

The snarkiness of Anon 10:57 is why no one can let slip the slightest bit of personal info on this blog. It's a shame, really. I'd like to know where some of the blog's posters have been published. I might even read their work, and not just to criticize it.

beep beep said...

I don't think Anonymous 10:57 was being terribly snarky. It's the cold hard truth, as many commenters have said, that this guy needs to get out of his parents house, for a variety of reasons. (I'm assuming it's a guy because this fits a common pattern.) The thing about going on a date, ok, that's snotty, but probably hitting the truth.

Anyway, it's up to the corresponders to conceal their identities. This blog has several Achilles Heels where a clever person can figure out who W,R is.

Lily said...

Native Ink, How nice of you to ask! My first story is coming out in Southern Humanities Review in about six months. That gives you plenty of time to get a subscription! And, who knows, maybe this year I'll get a deal for my first novel, and talk you into buying that too.

lily said...

Oh, and I should also say, to the young writer who is the actual subject of this thread, that I have no advice to give. I don't think you're looking for advice, in fact. But I do have a reaction, which is basically to congratulate you for perservering -- even though you're not sure you know how to tell a story yet, it sounds to me like you are working very hard at it. As for living at home, I have three sons, and if they were as serious about writing as you are, I would not think it in any way wrong for them to find shelter in my house while they pursued the thing they love to do. They'd still have to walk the dog, and make food and clean up, and they'd probably want to get some kind of job so they had money to buy books, but I see no shame in getting some help from people who love you when you're just starting out in a difficult career.

jaded said...

I can't snark, I like this writer's honesty. 9 stories published but he also knows the reality of the game. Good for him!

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing, though. If the original poster's having that sort of cred STILL requires this level of soul-baring to predictably generate lots of encouragement and sympathetic response? Maybe this ain't the job for the OP. Writing is lonely, it's often unrewarding. That's the reality no matter how much of a superstar you might be.

So. OP, you're only 23. Why not quit writing? Given what you describe about yourself, I highly doubt it would be a permanent decision. But why not quit for a month, six months, a year? Be a civilian for a while, relearn what it's like to live life without obsessing over this stuff, maybe find out what else there is to you besides an ability to find affinity with editors. Billions of people go through life without thinking about that even once.

ANY age is too young to be thinking like you are.