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Friday, May 30, 2008

The Bioethics of Rejection

By popular demand, more from Jacob Appel, the guy who wins when you lose:

Hi WR:

My last name is pronounced uh-PELL (rhymes with lapel--sort of). It's
originally Flemish.

I write whenever I can find a block of time. I wish I could say that
I had a structured schedule and I greatly admire those writers who
consistently write three hours a day, every day, even on Christmas Eve
and Thanksgiving, but I just cobble together a few hours whenever I
have the opportunity. My students often ask me when/how they should
write and I tell them I don't think that there is any magic formula.
Every writer has his or her own cycle. The trick is to find the time
and place that feel most natural. My only wisdom on the subject is
that I think one of the hardest skills to learn is when to *stop*
writing for the day--to figure out when one is too mentally depleted
to continue creating. That takes far more discipline--for me, at
least--than sitting down to start writing. This is particularly true
when the writing is going well...but stopping while you're still
performing at the top of your game is, in my opinion, a crucial skill.
Or at least one I find valuable.

I earn a living through a combination of teaching and lecturing, both
in writing and in the field of bioethics. I rarely turn a profit on
my stories, as I try to put as much of my literary earnings as
possible back into my writing budged: journal subscriptions, contest
fees, donations to worthy literary causes, etc. I think it's very
important to subscribe to and to read as many of the literary journals
that one submits to as possible, although I don't always practice what
I advocate as much as I probably should. I am truly addicted to
reading literary journals, and they have become an increasingly large
part of my monthly budget.

I hope that's helpful.

Jacob M. Appel


Anonymous said...

I like the way his writing economy works -- you get some money from contests, selling stories, and you plow it right back into journals -- they could certainly use the cash. You write because you like it. I haven't read his stories yet, but I certainly think his attitude about his work is terrific. Here's to Jacob Uh-Pell! I'm going to dedicate my next round of submissions to him. In fact, I think a good, healthy week of getting work out there should be referred to as a jacobean week.

Writer, Rejected said...

Jacobean week. I like it.

The Quoibler said...

I love the idea about stopping writing when you're just passing over the zenith of inspiration. That's something I've never considered... no wonder he's our hero!

The Quoibette

Anonymous said...

Is he single or wot?

x said...

Stopping at your peak. Wasn't that the advice of some famous writer who also recommended you stop mid-sentence, so you can start your writing where you left off without having to start from scratch each day?

What it greatest about this post is that it adds a whole new dimension to this blog, which has largely been about bitching and moaning albeit humorously about editors, agents and rejections. Jacob is infusing a very positive and constructive element that might inspire a change of tenor to this blog altogether: how to live with and persevere despite rejection, which is inevitable.

Anonymous said...

There are two-schools of thought on stopping at the peak. Some people, like Hemingway, who made the quote, can pull it off, especially if they have an active life outside of writing. Hemingway was a drunk and also used alcohol to take the edge off.

Personally, I get into a flow state and stopping before I've exhausted myself is usually a recipe for severe depression and insomnia.

Anonymous said...

Okay, you know how sometimes you learn a new word, and then suddenly you see that word everywhere? Well, suddenly Mr. Appel is everywhere. I was just looking up body modifications on Wikipedia (don't ask), and I surfed over to the article on tongue splitting (really, don't ask), and what do I see at the bottom under references?
"Appel, Jacob M. In Defense of Tongue Splitting, Journal of Clinical Ethics, Fall 2005. Pp. 236-8"

Seriously, he's everywhere. It's spooky. Furthermore, I Googled him to make sure it was the same JMA, and according to his website ( he lives a few blocks away from me. So now I suppose it's only a matter of time until I start seeing him at Appletree or Toast.

Thanks, WR, for helping to remind me that the literary world is disturbingly small.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I live in that neighborhood, too. I didn't realize until you mentioned Appletree and Toast.

Leigh Purtill said...

Completely agree with the notion of not writing until you're spent - who wants to start the day with a blank page staring at you? I had heard it was a Hemingwayism.

Anonymous said...

It depends on your writing personality. That is when one really starts a new day, when it is a day of creation. If you feel different tomorrow, yet are still bound by today's work, then that can be problematic for some.

The thing I've noticed about Hemingway, Appel, and others is that their writing hours are word count (in Hemingway's case he wrote 500 words per day) are somewhat limited or low.

John Gardner, for instance, wrote upwards of 12 hours a day.

Flow State:

rmellis said...

Because something works for one person, doesn't necessarily mean it works for someone else.

One key point Appel makes, though: being addicted to literary magazines. If you want to publish in them, you have to absorb them wholesale into yourself. It helps, anyway.

Anonymous said...

To be fair though, literary magazines sow the seeds of their own demise. Stephen King was talking about how he went into a bookstore and had to really search out the magazines. He bought four of them. The total? Over $80

When a magazine costs $12-$20 and they are not paying contributors or are paying them less than the cost of a single issue, something is amiss. To be honest, the journals are responsible for the decline and ghettoizing of short stories. In this day and age of decreased attention spans and full schedules, interesting stories of less than 5,000 words should be in demand, but marketing sucks.

Most journals are pretentious (I’ll go ahead and include anything named (insert) Review) when it comes to popularization; there is really no excuse to continue to run print magazines. Special print editions are nice, but the circulation is so low and the price tag so high, that print-only journals harm the artform. If they aren't paying contributors more than an honorarium, then they have no excuse to not publish directly to the web, maybe even allow a small ad or two.

It's just not worth it to buy journals if you are on a fixed budget, when you can get short story collections and anthologies at the library. It sounds a bit shady, but literary journals are worth nothing but a publication credit.

Web-based lit journals are the wave of the future. Why wouldn't contributors read web-based journals or support them? Simply click a link and read. No need to search in vain for a print mag, or cough up half a day’s wage, or wait weeks/months for an issue to arrive.