What is it that keeps a writer going? It’s a profession that guarantees regular rejection and demands of revision on one’s creation. What’s more, it’s not a profession that promises great wealth or benefits (we’ll see). In fact, the decision to write for a living is not rational on any level. For many, it is a luxury to write, a hobby to take up after retirement or to indulge in on weekends. But some of us work toward the dream of writing for a living, which is largely sold by a sort of writing-self-help industry that paints beautiful pictures of a writer's life: comfy retreats in the woods, secluded cabins by a lake with nightly wine and readings, only an occasional appearance at a quaint bookstore or literary event will detract from our time to write. The truth is, most writers have to work. As a result, there exist a few fellowships and retreats that promise a writer seclusion and inspiration. I've been wanting one for a while, a writer's vacation, but as I was beginning to research the possible applications I would turn in for 2010, I realized my heart wasn't in it.
I applied to three fellowships while I was writing Musical Chairs, and my only return was a partial scholarship and two apologetic rejection letters. The letters basically said that they would not fund my project, which was fine. I ended up writing it when I could, and ending up quite happy with my output. Now, I have a less focused set of projects. I've been working on a novel, but also writing short stories almost daily that I am sorry to say have yet to prove a thread that will bind them into a collection.
So, when I found myself searching the fellowship opportunities, most of which require a $25-50 fee, along with a writing sample, letters of recommendation and a letter of intent, I caught myself thinking, why bother? Maybe I should give up on the idea that I can actually get paid to write. Maybe it’d be freeing to do so. True, I do get royalty checks, but they are usually reinvested in various writing contests and fellowship applications that seem to offer the odds of a slot machine in Vegas.
This seems a dreary post so far, eh? Defeatist, even. Well, good. It’s reflecting the truth of difficulty that this business can bring. And it’s also bringing me to my point. I’ve decided to stop applying to fellowships and the like. Not because I feel defeated by the rejection, but rather that I've reevaluated my motives. I will continue to submit my stories to journals and publications, when I believe they are ready, but I will no longer invest any money in the writing industry that I believe would be much better spent on a good book; time much better spent jotting or typing. I firmly believe that my desire to get paid or offered a fellowship that promises time and isolation required to complete a masterpiece has actually stunted my growth as a writer by eating up more time than allowing. As a sort of rejection-fueled resolution, then, I have decided to focus all energy on the act of writing, not the business of writing. We'll see how it goes, but I'm optimistic. And sure, I'd still love a cabin in the woods, but somehow I think I'll have to write my way there, rather than get there to write.