Hello friends, me again on my digital typewriter thing. I am pretty sure I am going to get bored of this thing and store it in a drawer in a few days and never use it again, but that has not happened yet.
Recently I managed the amazing feat of completely sublimating all my rejection anxiety, so that my mind was completely tranquil and I had no outward anxiety regarding any of the zillions of things I have on submission right now. Unfortunately, this resulted in terrible jaw pain, and then my inflamed jaw made all my teeth hurt. It was miserable!
Hence I decided that the only solution was to consciously feel my anxiety and sadness, albeit in moderation.
It was a bit annoying to discover that my task of achieving inner tranquility, which I have pursued for at least a year, was doomed to failure. I have suspected this to be the case for a while, since whenever I manage to feel at ease, my jaw always starts to hurt. Then the moment I get angry and bitter and sad, my jaw eases! It’s hateful in the extreme.
But now that I am not trying to conquer my sorrows, I am left to live with them. I have to say, the thing I do not like is when authors completely lose perspective and get consumed by self-pity.
Don’t get me wrong, I think a healthy amount of egotism is a good thing. Many authors could use more egotism. They take the opinions of the world too strongly to heart. They get discouraged easily, they follow all the advice they get from agents, editors, and teachers, and they lose sight of what they’re really trying to do. An author should believe in their own work.
And I think it’s okay to feel sad and angry when you get rejected. I just think it’s wise to keep things in perspective. Longtime blog readers might remember that I enjoy the novel THE FOUNTAINHEAD, and I remember a moment in the book when seecond-rate architect Peter Keating asks art critic, and villain, Ellsworth Toohey something like, "Why did it all end? Why am I no longer on top anymore? Why does nobody come to me with commissions? How come whenever I read about an architect in your column, it’s one of those other guys instead of being me?"
To this, Ellsworth responds, "Did you ever ask why it should have been you in the first place?"
Keating never deserved the acclaim he got; he’s correct that he hasn’t changed, he’s just the same as always, but since the acclaim always came at random, it’s no surprise it should leave randomly.
It’s easy to think, "Why me? Why am I not hitting? My work is better than all this other work." But ultimately one must always remember, "Why should it be you?" It’s true that your work is good, but a lot of work is good, and a lot of good artists are being ignored. Why should you be one of the lucky ones that succeeds?
Moreover, we forget that the success we have achieved was also random. Our books didn’t have to sell to publishers. Indeed, we could’ve been born in ill-health. We could’ve died before writing a world. Ultimately, fate has a much greater effect on ours lives than does talent or skill or even effort.
I recently read a book by an economist at Cornell, Robert Frank. His book Success and Luck makes most of these points much better than I could. You cannot succeed without luck. Everyone needs it. Moreover, after a certain level of achievement, luck matters much more than skill. So what can you do? Even if you did succeed, it wouldn’t be because of your finer qualities, it would be due to luck.
Today as I was sitting at the counter, with our baby asleep, I said to Rachel, "I would be happy even if I never achieved more success than I have today, so long as I had you and the baby and our comfortable life, and I could keep writing and trying….so long as you’re willing to listen to me complain about rejection for a certain, not excessively long, amount of time each day."
This made her happy. I’m glad that my complaining isn’t tiresome to her yet. I do complain about rejection. Can’t help it. But I also try to keep perspective. That’s my compromise.
Writing has been going fantastically well for me lately. Had a third literary journal email me today and say they wanted the same story West Branch and Gulf Coast wanted, and they were sad it was already taken. LOL. At least they read my withdrawal notice before emailing me. Astute readers may also have noticed I’ve added a "poetry and essays" section to my bibliography up top. I have poems forthcoming in several journals! Yes I got into poetry, which I am sure will horrify Mary jo Salter, the head of the poetry department at Hopkins, who said (very nicely) that I had absolutely no ear for meter (she was right). But I’ve just been feeling inspired. I’ve also been writing essays, book reviews, all kinds of stuff. I’m working now on a short novel that I want to try to pitch to small and experimental presses. It’s called I DID NOT CONNECT WITH THIS PROTAGONIST. I call it a novel, but it’s half essay too. Is autofiction the word? Basically it’s a collage novel, heavily inspired by David Markson and Kate Zambreno. What’s funny is I don’t consider this a particularly avant-garde form anymore. Like most things, it has ossified into simply another form: a way of telling certain sorts of stories. Since my protagonists are often too cruel and/or pathetic to work at length, I thought maybe this sort of otherworldly direct address slash recitation would work better. Whatever, I will probably abandon it by tomorrow morning.
In my approach to essays and really any form of nonfiction, by the way, I’ve learned that it’s much more fun to play things fast and loose. An example is the quote I gave above from THE FOUNTAINHEAD: I could hunt down the direct quote, but why bother? I might as well accurately transmit the form the quote takes in my head, rather than pretending to a phony completeness, as if I’m the sort of person who memorizes exact quotes.
The only time this doesn’t work well, I’ve found is when deals with issues that are in any way important. I tried playing fast and loose in an essay on call-out culture, and I was like whoops better not submit this: it’d get torn to shreds.
But all in all, life is very good, despite the rejection and attendant despair.