I had a bad half hour there, feeling thoroughly depressed about my writing career, and then I told myself that it was the middle of the night and I should just go back to sleep already. Which I did. But now it's morning, and I admit, I'm still pretty bummed. I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and some of these books are so good, and I'm working on writing four different books right now, and things keep getting rejected, and I'm losing all sense of perspective on my own work. Maybe it's just not that good. Maybe whatever I had, when I was writing Bodies in Motion, I've lost. And that book was uneven at best anyway. Publisher's Weekly said so. I do think "Monsoon Day" is really a pretty fabulous story, but The New Yorker turned it down, so it can't be that good. Ugh.
And I had a great teaching day yesterday, the first day of classes, and my life would certainly be simpler if I just concentrated on kids and teaching and house and cooking and gardening and the like. I enjoy all of those things, and I'm reasonably confident that my job is relatively secure, even if I never write anything decent or publish again. As long as the state keeps funding the university, anyway, which they probably will. Although those four furlough days last year were kind of scary.
I told my students in the advanced fiction class yesterday that they shouldn't wait for someone to give themselves permission before calling themselves writers. A writer writes. That's it. I told them the market was random, publishing was a fool's game, and if they were going to write, they couldn't measure themselves by what others thought of their work. They should just keep writing, and keep trying to write better. That's all.
At the end of class, we did ten minutes of writing. It felt good. I started a new story for Demimonde, and I'm looking forward to going back to it. And I also need to finish up the revision of my story for the next Wild Cards book, because even though that story is already accepted in theory, it won't get published unless I actually write it. I'm going to go on a walk with a friend today, and do some yard work with Kevin, but I'm also going to block out two hours for writing. Because I want it, I need it, even if no one ever publishes me again.
Before we did the writing in class, I read them this bit from Rilke's Letter to a Young Poet. I need to remember this.
You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must", then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
8 thoughts on “The baby woke me up…”
Your journal has inspired me to hang in there for years; the least I can do is send you a funny URL about hanging in there as a writer:
I wonder if there are people you can, and should be talking to about your writing goals. “Keep trying to be better” and aiming for the New Yorker – maybe you don’t mean that the way it sounds, but would it be so awful if you found your voice was not a New Yorker voice? You’re so drawn to the tactile and the patterns, and in a day of new media, I suspect you have a lot to offer outside the traditional boxes, like your artwork/poetry, only more so. Just a view from a distance, sorry if it’s totally off.
Oh, I mostly publish all over the place — I was being a little sarcastic about the New Yorker thing. Although it sure would’ve been nice if they’d taken that story — they did ask to look at it. Sigh.
yanno Mary Anne, one wonders how writers managed to get things published in the Late 1800’s, early 1900’s when everything went by snail mail, circulation was mostly regional and anything actually published relied on hand set type. Thin books were common and thick books….. (months of work).
Today books are churned out as fast as the computers can process the content. Soon it will be direct to e-readers/tablets.
The thing that hasn’t changed is the content factor and the need to create new work that will rise above all the material that is being generated thanks to technology. Every writer is challenged to get his work to the top of the heap before the next trend rolls through.
As a teacher/ writer I suspect you feel the pressure to “publish or perish” to validate your position. Tough job. But bottom line is you have to keep hitting the keyboard to stay fresh, and satisfy your desire to write.
Not everything is going to be a keeper, but you’ll have fingers to the keyboard. It’s your profession, your passion, your skill.
“…Maybe whatever I had, when I was writing Bodies in Motion, I’ve lost…”
My wife called to say I had received a package that’s probbaly your book. I have to read a couple of novels for my Hugo nomination list, after which I’ll hop into yours. As for having lost your talent… I’d say “No you haven’t”, based on what you did for “Fort Freak”.
It’d appear that what I bought was an ARC of “Bodies”. I guerss I’ll have to go back to Alibris and try again.
I’m not a writer, but lately I’ve been thinking back to times when I thought I could be. The comparison that Rilke suggests we not make – I made. I found out important things, about the difference between wanting something and having it. About the non-writerly gifts which I took for granted, assumed everyone had. I even had a literate, New Yorker voice, but – at 16, certainly – I didn’t have something burning to say. Must you write? I still write, and speak and make art, for we all have our stories to tell, but I see no harm in being aware of whether we’re telling stories to our families and friends, or for the greater generations. That’s the real question, is writing your calling, your gift to the universe? It was not my calling.
@anon e mouse
You touched at a good point. How good are you at story telling? What makes a good story teller? This doesn’t reflect good technical skill as much as the ability to capture the readers imagination and carry them along. It’s the OMG moment that one has when, while reading a book, they look at the clock and realise it’s 3:00 in the morning.
To me that’s what counts, not the number of pages in the book or how many footnotes or how many reviewers plaudits are listed in the front of the book. ‘Nuff said.