Feeling very accomplished today. I had a pitch accepted for an essay. Nowadays I do this thing where I write the essay, and then I send the pitch, and at the end I’m like BTW here’s the essay itself, if you’re interested. So, you know, having the pitch accepted is a lot like having the piece accepted: although you never know, things can also go wrong.
I also made significant progress with a short story I have due for a YA anthology. It’s a very cerebral story, which is perhaps ironic, since the anthology is about sports. Lately I’ve gotten a lot freer with my short story writing, I’ve started to feel like I can do slightly wilder stuff (wild by Naomi standards–this story is in the present tense, which I almost never do). I just feel like short stories aren’t meant to be mini-novels. This isn’t the 40s, we’re not just writing little detective stories because detective novels don’t exist yet. We’re writing something people read instead of novels.
The short story, poem, and essay are also where I’m going these days to put everything that I probably couldn’t get published, either for stylistic or content reasons, in a longer form. Honestly, it’s all about the market. I feel myself grappling with the market more and more these days: not trying to win it over, but simply trying to find some way to make peace with it and sneak somehow into print. In every form, there’s a nexus of desire–there’s a reason that the form exists and is being published–and there are certain structural truths about the form. For instance, nobody reads poetry journals and nobody knows what a poem is, so if you give them something that looks different in some way from the rest of the slush pile, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s good or in any way inspired, you probably have a chance.
I dunno, I wouldn’t want to be pinned down too much on these insights, such as they exist. The point is, what they don’t tell you when you’re starting out is that writing can become addicting. You get high on your own supply! You fall in love with your own thoughts, your own words, with the affirmation that comes from hearing people respond, praise, retweet. I think this is the source of Twitter: this is why Twitter exists. It is the shortest-possible feedback loop between publishing something and getting a response. And you can sit around all day, just tweeting and pulling that lever.
But it’s the same, albeit to a lesser extent, with everything. You can write novel after novel, send them out, even publish them, you can finetune your approach, figure out how to make big swings, learn the market more and more, and become more and more a creature of conventional wisdom.
And the whole process gets you high. It makes you feel good. It’s exciting. It has nothing to do with reading books, thinking about life, or producing literature. This is why failure is so salutary for people. It pulls them up short, makes them realize, what am I doing? Why am I wasting my life this way? It also short-circuits the rewards system, so they can’t just keep putting stuff out there.
Anyway, it is really hard for me to take a conscious step back and read, instead of just writing all the time. I’m like halfway right now through a dozen books: I couldn’t even tell you all their names. Most notably, I’ve been reading a lot of Kant. I finished The Critique of Pure Reason, which felt like an accomplishment, and now I’m reading his much-more-accessible moral writings. The only problem is that because they’re so much more accessible and less abstract, you don’t have to think as much, so whereas I feel like I sort of got what Kant was saying in the previous book, right now I’m a little more at sea. Like if I was tested on this book I’d probably score lower on the test than if I was tested on the last, even though this book’s material is objectively simpler.
I’ve been trying to be the kind of writer who keeps a journal, but it’s hard. It’s very easy for me to just write nonsense in a journal, like total nonsense words. And then writing about real actual things feels silly, since writing the words takes so long that I get bored before I’m done. It’s hard to focus and drill down and only waste ink on things that matter to me in the moment I’m writing them.
I’ve been reading (amongst others), Lydia Davis’s Essays (can’t remember if it’s volume one or two), which has been great. She is so cerebral, and yet unschooled. She talks about being freed by these short fragments of stories that she writes, and she talks about how she revises each line, and how she will revise random lines in her journal, even if they’re not part of a story. It feels very organic, very unaffected, and yet also new. I also got a collection of her stories, and I like it a lot! I’ve been writing a lot of these really short stories myself, because I think they give me a chance to say things you can’t in a longer form (or at least not say and get published in a longer form). The more seemingly trivial a form, the more leeway you get, that’s why comedians are allowed to say more or less whatever they want.