Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reconsidering Rejection

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.


  1. If you aren't enjoying what you're doing and no longer inspired, then drop whatever is sucking the joy out of writing. I have no delusions I will ever quit my day job. (Of course, I didn't earn a degree in writing.) That's okay. Success on a small level is better than none at all.
    And when you get that cabin in the woods, are you willing to rent it out to others?

  2. Yes, I'll hold retreats of my own, so long as writers are willing to stock the place with coffee and good conversation.

  3. I completely agree. Unfortunately, there are many sites,contests and people who are willing to scam for money and take advantage of artists. I've made a similar decision. The pay to enter is always a red flag for me. Perhaps this is the norm, but I'm passing for now. It does feel a bit like gambling at Vegas and the odds are about the same. I have a house in the woods, but I still have to do laundry, cook, clean and all the other stuff that interrupts the writing process. Ah life!

  4. I appreciate your insights Jen - your expressions of realization. I especially liked your defense of a dreary post.
    My personal experience has been that so far I've not been able to make significant money doing the things I love to do. But there are so many different reasons why some artists are commercially successful and others are not. Obviously skill and talent are not the only criteria. I think I write because it's an addiction. I'm not even sure it's a healthy one, though I always feel I have something unique to say, which is I feel important.
    I do think it's very probable that you will make a living as a writer because, not only do you have the skill and talent, but you also have excellent promotional skills and because you are starting out at a young age. Best wishes for a bright future and a comforting cabin.

  5. Little buckaroo--it's good that you're not giving up on the enterprise of writing, because you have something to say, and the longer you live, the more you'll have to say. The whole submission/rejection cycle does feel like jumping onto a roulette wheel. Only makes a poor girl dizzy . . .

  6. Just stumbled upon your blog and your post hits so close to home. After finishing my first novel, I plunged into full time submission (aka: change your novel to fit the agent) mode and lost the passion for both my writing and the profession. So I've put the submissions on hold for a while and started my seond novel and figure when the time is right, I'll take another plunge into the submission world. And along the way maybe self-publication will become more accepted.

    I wish you the best of luck finding the perfect balance between writing and "living" and the work required for both.

  7. Thank you, Johanna. I agree, the trick is balance, and the profession of writing is such a far cry from the art of writing. Sounds like we're taking familiar paths. I wish you the best in turn :)

  8. Jennifer - You are so right on target with everything you said. It is all so true. For me, I wrote a novel because I wanted to do it and did not give the business side of it a thought at the time. I did not consider seriously I would get published but knew it was strong inside me to do the writing. As far as a living in the field, do you subscribe to Publisher's Lunch? It's free and very informative regarding those issues. Ever thought about applying for a job with a publisher. There are many in many different aspects on the job board. Even online sales. Perhaps an entry into the profession could create a path to your goals. You are certainly young enough.
    David Lane


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