Friday, May 29, 2015

When Failure is the Only Option

I have no delusions of grandeur. The average author - that is, anyone who is attempting to write and publish either novels, short stories, or poetry - collects $4 a year. That is not a typo. To date, I have made nothing from my writing, perpetually rejected by literary journals and agents. Only once have I received a personal response, everything else is a generic "thanks but no thanks." The odds are stacked. Technically speaking, a child born right now has a bigger change of making the NBA than being an author who can support their life by their writing. We tell kids one of those dreams is unrealistic early on, you can guess which one it is.

I have no delusions of grandeur. My talent level is good enough to write to the tune of all As when I was in school. I would get compliments about my conclusions and argumentative process in essays, or pacing and dialogue in creative endeavors, but I am not good enough to be published. To do so goes beyond being a one percenter. You must not only write well, but somehow chance upon someone who is looking for what you write, and enjoys what you write, and then is able to convince someone else, typically with money, that publishing what you write is worth it. It's a chain of command buoyed by barrier after barrier. And that's just for novels. There is very little money to be made in short stories or poetry, and even less in terms of publishing.

I have no delusions of grandeur. Some 20 rejections since I was 18. Try as I might, scouting out journals that have lower barriers to publication, I can not get accepted. Even the most generous publish at less than 10%, and the really good ones well under 1%. There's the percentage again. The only time I was in the top 1% for anything was the science and English sections on my ACT. Congrats, I took a standardized test, a real judge of intelligence that one. At least I had to write an essay.

I have no delusions of grandeur. I will try to continue to write, because I enjoy it. I know what kind of traffic my blog gets. I know that I will likely never be published. I will continue to check my email every few weeks to the tune of another "thanks but no thanks" from some editor or journal, and burn through ideas faster than the once a month cigarette at the end of my lips can generate them.

I have no delusions of grandeur. I've read the stories that get published, I've read the stories that are close. I've read stories that blow me away with prose and tenacity and creativity, the imagery lighting up like fireflies in our empty grass lot in late July. These people, whoever they are, will always be better than me, and even of those who are, some of them don't make it, either. I weep for the writers who aren't in the top 1% but are in the top 2%, so good yet so short of what they want.

I have no delusions of grandeur. When I read my stories, after a time, I can pick out flaw after flaw, error after error, and tweak and tweak and hope that I am getting closer to something, to what I don't know, the goal is publication, but I have to be honest with myself, some goals are just impossible. I can send off hundreds and hundreds of short stories and never get published; some people do, eventually giving up as midlife encroaches and their hobby is just another passing eccentricity, looked down upon by family and peers.

I have no delusions of grandeur. I know that the odds of someone having reached this point in this post is very small. I know my chances of ever being a writer are smaller. I know that I will be stuck in a cubicle, for the next 60 years, wasting away slowly to the tune of a paycheck, idolizing the written word, the prose, the sound of it as it rattles around your skull, and still I will write. I write because I know nothing else. Because I have nothing else. And while nobody may want to accept my writing, I certainly will not give it up.

I have no delusions of grandeur.


  1. I noticed you didn't mention that you're trying to learn. Why not? If you want to be better, learn more, don't just keep trying to write. You talk a lot about not giving up, but if you're not actually getting better, you won't go anywhere. Stop wasting your time, and make progress.

  2. I do endeavor to learn; acquiring new knowledge is one of my favourite pastimes. The best way to do that is to read a lot and write a lot, basically. And get critique. I do believe I have evolved as a writer over the years, but I doubt I have evolved enough.