Monday, March 1, 2010

Shapiro on Perseverance

Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion: A Memoir, writes in The Los Angeles Times about how current publishing culture discourages young writers from developing perseverance:
The writer's apprenticeship -- or perhaps, the writer's lot -- is this miserable trifecta: uncertainty, rejection, disappointment. In the 20 years that I've been publishing books, I have fared better than most. I sold my first novel while still in graduate school and published six more books, pretty much one every three years, like clockwork. I have made my living as a writer, living off my advances while supplementing my income by teaching and writing for newspapers and magazines. ...

[But] the 5,000 students graduating each year from creative writing programs (not to mention the thousands more who attend literary festivals and conferences) do not include insecurity, rejection and disappointment in their plans. I see it in their faces: the almost evangelical belief in the possibility of the instant score. And why not? They are, after all, the product of a moment that doesn't reward persistence, that doesn't see the value in delaying recognition, that doesn't trust in the process but only the outcome. As an acquaintance recently said to me: "So many crappy novels get published. Why not mine?"
Read the whole thing. When I submit a manuscript, I automatically prepare a SASE in a particular way, using a specific font, squaring the stamp in the envelope's corner just so. And I hate it when they show back up in my mailbox because I know what sort of news they contain. But before I start feeling sorry for myself, I ought to remember Jacob Appel, a literary writer who has landed 82 pieces in markets such as StoryQuarterly and Agni. An impressive showing, one that grew only more so when Appel revealed to Literary Rejections on Display that he has received over eleven-thousand rejections. He concluded, "I suppose the key to the limited successes that I have had is perseverance. And a great deal of good old-fashioned dumb luck. And the reason I keep doing it so simple that it may disappoint some of your readers: I love writing stories."

Suddenly Shapiro's downbeat trinity of "uncertainty, rejection, disappointment" seems to offer a stupendous lesson, namely that love is the thing when it comes to writing.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
toolmantim; Hat Tip: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent)


dolorah said...

Somedays, I don't know if I should keep on dreaming or wrap it all up in a box and burn it.

These articles capture that feeling effectively.

BTW, I really enjoyed your "Fragment" post. I just read it and it was inspiring.



Loren Eaton said...

Thanks, Donna! I'm in the keep-writing-even-if-it's-for-an-infinitesimally-small-audience camp. Writing's fun, and you never know what's going to happen with it. After giving up on publishing, Leif Enger wrote Peace Like a River for his asthmatic son. It went on to dominate all sorts of year's best lists.

Unknown said...

Man, I've got to step up my game if I'm going to beat that 82 out of 11,000 record.

Unknown said...

No, I'm not going to specify which direction I'm going to beat it in.

Loren Eaton said...

Well, for me it would be both directions ...