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.