Monthly Archives: November 2012

“Breathing Underwater”

My friend Alexandra posted this on Facebook, and I now pass it on to you: famous writers and their pets. I love this photo of Flannery O’Connor and her peacock, but Mark Twain and his kitten might be the cutest.

https://i0.wp.com/assets.flavorwire.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/oconnor.jpg

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Journal

“Heretics”

Today I read a marvelous poem by William Gibson, “Agrippa“. Really lovely piece with an interesting history:

It was published in 1992 as a disk that ran a self-destructing program.  You could watch it once and only once, and so the poem was “bootlegged” and circulated on bulletin boards, which is how many people first came in contact with it.  Now it’s on Gibson’s website, which sort of contradicts the emphemerality of the original medium, but does have the benefit of preserving the work for posterity.

You can watch an emulation of the original program, as well as access other scholarly resources about the text at the Agrippa Files.

Leave a comment

Filed under Journal

“Don’t Gotta Work It Out”

A few days ago, Michelle passed on this great list of famous writers’ writing habits, including Ray Bradbury, Susan Sontag, Kurt Vonnegut, and Anais Nin.

I’m still learning my own habits, so I’m hardly in any position to offer advice, but here’s some of the best advice I’ve gotten:

  • Write every day.  This is hard but this was my New Year’s resolution to myself and I’ve kept it up for almost a year (33 days to go!).  It’s often not for nearly as long as I’d like to be able to write, but it’s always something.
  • Read work aloud.  Words are sounds and I’m galled sometimes by how many people don’t recognize this.  Reading aloud not only helps me catch errors and awkwardness, but keeps me thinking about the musicality of prose.  Also, it’s good practice.
  • Learn how to be “alone in a room.”  I have to have the courage to sit down and face my work, to stick it out and actual finish stuff, and that requires not a literal kind of isolation but a purposeful and single-minded focus of intent.  I often fail at this.
  • Leave something for tomorrow.  I try not to end the day’s writing having written myself into a corner; I try to make sure there’s room to continue and something to look forward to — maybe not a treat, necessarily, but somewhere, anywhere to go.

Leave a comment

Filed under Journal

“Amerigo”

As if io9 knew I might still be feeling self-conscious about all my writerly inadequacies, they posted some criteria to help determine whether your novel is worth salvaging.

Yeah . . . I might be ticking a number of these boxes on some projects.

Leave a comment

Filed under Journal

“Let Me Down Easy”

I’ve gotten a couple of rejections this week — certainly nothing unusual.

It’s just a fact of the writing life that most submissions are rejected.  I ran the numbers just now, and I have a 5% acceptance rate (well, 4.59, but I’m rounding up).  So, statistically speaking, I can expect rejection 95% of the time.  This is not self-pity, but empirical fact.  And, honestly, I don’t feel too horrible about those stats.  As demoralizing as it can be to scroll through the rows and rows of rejected submissions in my spreadsheet, this percentage actually seems fairly decent.  Unless they’re very lucky or very good, I’d wager that many young writers have a similar rate of success — or unless they send out a ton more submissions than I do (which would not be hard to do).1

So I don’t bring up these rejections because they’re anything out of the ordinary.  One was perfunctory, a bland, faceless rejection — not even an individual notification, but a general blanket email announcing the winners.  The other, however, was personal and very kind, from a journal I really respect. I may not have made the cut, but I know that a real human being read and enjoyed and really seriously considered my work, and that’s worth a lot.

There are times (this afternoon, for instance), when I begin to wonder whether I “have what it takes” (whatever that means).  It’s very easy to look at my mounting pile of rejections and think, ‘Maybe this doesn’t mean that I’m an unsung genius.  Maybe it just means that I can’t hack it.’  The definition of insanity, etc, etc.  Most of what I do as a writer, it seems to me, is about not being good enough: the submission process is brutal, workshop can be brutal, and most of all I can be brutal to myself.  But I also know I can’t take it personally.  Having a submission rejected often has very little to do with the quality of my writing.  Critique in workshop pushes me to improve and is often highly subjective.  And while I can sometimes be my own harshest critic, I need that editing voice (to a degree) to prevent myself from churning out utter tripe.  It’s not always easy to bear all this apparent failure and inadequacy, but neither is it really too much to bear.

And I would argue that a thoughtful personal rejection like the one I received this week is almost just as encouraging that a straight-up acceptance.  Yes, it’s bittersweet, but it means there’s hope.  It means there’s someone out there — maybe more than one someone — who would be interested in hearing more from me, even if this story, this time, wasn’t quite what they were looking for.

.

.

1. I would be very curious to know what others’ success rates are. It’s possible that I’m delusional to feel satisfied with this number. Compared to the percentage of submissions that many journals accept, it’s pretty good, but I have no way of comparing it to the numbers for individual authors. Anyone care to share?

2 Comments

Filed under Journal

“Monkeys Uptown”

Today I read:

I think I must be frozen inside with no heart to speak of.

– Janet Frame, “My Last Story

Leave a comment

Filed under Journal

“Gods & Monsters”

I went to the library today in search of a copy of The 3 AM Epiphany and found myself falling down the rabbit hole of writing advice books.  I’m not sure good fiction is something you can compile a definitive manual on, but I’ll take any advice I can get.  Good or bad, at least it gets me thinking.

So, gentle readers: want to recommend any good essays about the craft of writing?

2 Comments

Filed under Journal