A Writer's Life for Me
There are not many things in this world I am qualified to do. I can't even say with a straight face that I am qualified to be a writer, which is kinda bad considering the number of books I've written. I will say, though, that I love writing. And I take the honor of being called a writer by others with great pride. But fuck, being a writer sucks!
As many other writers have said, being a writer is like giving yourself homework every night for the rest of your life. At least if you want to be any good at it. Unfortunately, I was a shit student. I was never dumb. Just lazy. Except for English. I was a pretty good English student.
Anyone who decides to pursue writing seriously, or for that matter, any of the arts, has to have thick skin. And for writers, I dare say it's the worst. For most other avenues of the arts, the reaction to a piece of music or a painting or a comedy bit is immediate or relatively easy to dismiss. For writers, though getting published is, for all intents and purposes, easier than it was even ten years ago, the process of getting poems or short stories published in magazines is still an ego-shattering mindfuck that can drive any decent person to madness.
Even as it's taken for granted that not everyone will enjoy your work, rejection letters, especially poorly worded ones, can make a writer reflect on the suicides of many of the writers that have come before them and make the writer say, "Yeah, that makes sense." I know I've certainly had some rejection letters that have made me want to stick my head in the oven or put a shotgun in my mouth. Obviously, I haven't done it. But, the process of having to wait three to nine months to be told, usually by some ivy league editor who you will never meet, that your work sucks is a soul-crushing level of Hell that even Dante could not have imagined. At least when a comedian bombs, they can start working on improving things fairly quickly. A writer has to wait anywhere from a quarter of a year to almost a year. And that sword of Damocles will hang over their head every second until a response comes.
Some publications even charge you to submit to them. That is personally where I draw the line. I may be a bit of a masochist, but I ain't paying for it. At least not yet. Some may ask why one would even bother with that process when a writer can so easily self-publish these days. That may be true. But for a writer with no literary agent, no real way to publicize themselves, and no real built-in audience outside of close friends and family, literary magazines are still the best way to be read by strangers. When the rest of the world is making the same kind of noise that you are in hopes of being seen, sometimes the traditional ways are the best.
I sometimes wonder if these magazines check the wording on their rejection letters. One of the worst ones I ever received said, "We thank you for submitting to us. Although we will not be publishing any of your poems, we will be contributing your poems to our recycling efforts to help make the world a better place." Another said, "Thank you for submitting. If I'm ever in the mood to commit suicide, I will read your poems." Another said, "Did you pay attention in English class, or did the public school system fail you too?" And again, I fucking excelled in English (mainly because I love to read), so that one really pissed me off!
It's not an easy life to be a writer. But it is worth it. Just as any musician can say about holding an album of theirs in their hands, there's nothing like seeing a book of your words, perfectly bound, with your name on it. It really isn't until you publish your second work that the reality begins to settle in. Where that moment of "Oh shit, I have more than one work out there!" hits you, and the proof of your hard work makes you feel proud.
Even better than that is when someone you don't know tells you they read your book. And they point out just enough that lets you know they're telling the truth. All art is about revealing the secret tenderness of the soul. Whenever anybody hears the unbiased truth that there is some good in something you may only see flaws in more than you care to admit, you can't help but become speechless.
And though moments like that are very few and far between, they, along with the few acceptance letters that'll come along the way, make the whole damn process worth it. It's not an easy life. But, to end on an old cliche, nothing worthwhile ever is.