Friday, March 23, 2018


I just turned thirty a few days ago.

I'm not terribly sentimental for those sorts of things. In this case though I set a goal a number of years ago: I wanted to publish my first novel before I turned thirty.

I made three attempts and all attempts have failed.

It feels significant.

I am not sure what to make of it.

I am going to push through, but I cannot just ignore it.

I am not totally sure what to do with it. I can't feel bad about it for too long, but I did fail to meet this goal.

I guess I just sort of have to analyze why this is. Did I not work hard enough? Was I not dedicated enough? Did I not network enough? It feels like I tried all of those things, I pushed myself in all of those things, but I guess I just did not try hard enough or push hard enough?

I researched and submitted. They all came back rejections. I networked and went to conferences and readings. I met some nice people but nothing really significant has come out of that. No mentors, no collaborations, no offers. I can't say I am bitter for the people I have met, but these are supposed to be the things that come of this expenditure of energy, right?

I submitted a piece to maybe fifteen venues, starting last April and until about last September. A lot of these were venues that I had received encouraging feedback from. No one took the piece. I have not published a piece since 2014. This is four years. I don't understand how time got away from me like this. I mean I have been working on novels through that time, but still, it is pretty incredible. And I would have expected that with all the work I have been doing it would have increased my chances of getting published?

I'm not sure what to make of this.

I'm not sure what is causing this, whether I am not editing my work enough or if it is just inherently shoddy or if I am submitting to the wrong places?

I am not sure what to do with my work when I am done with it. Should I just sit on it?

I guess I am not supposed to be focused on publishing. I guess I am supposed to forget about it. But I did that. I have done that. And four years disappeared. Why should I forget about publishing if I have done it in the past? Why have I been published in the past but should just forget about it now? I have this four year hole in my publication credits.

I am ruminating on this, I understand. And ruminating is not good and it makes for boring writing. But I am trying to understand this situation so that I can get better. I feel like the only way to get past this is to analyze it at least a little bit, to try and figure out what the problem is so that I can address it.

And I am also tying my worth as a writing to my publication, which I also understand is not good. You always see the advice that you should only think about writing and not about publishing. But this advice always seems to come from writers who have been published pretty extensively. I can't swallow that I can just totally forget about publishing and it will just magically come to me. Again, I have been trying this for five years and it had not happened. I have not been writing to get published either. That is, I have not altered my writing in order to make it more 'publishable'. I have edited my writing with the aim of making it better, but never as an attempt to get inside an editor's head and figure out what they want to see and provide that.

I guess I am just frustrated. Frustrated now and frustrated for years. The same frustration. The same confusion. The same confusion as to how long it takes to actually get good at this stuff. The confusion as to what it takes to get good at this stuff, as if there is some magic step that I am missing, some hallway that everyone else can see and walk down but which I am blind to.

I did something strange. I applied to an writing program. An MFA program. Only two. They are/were very competetive, but I figure I am only interested in doing a program if it is funded and in a place that I would like to live, et c. I was not sure what I was expecting. I mean on the one hand, with acceptance rates < 1% I knew intuitively, statistically, that I had no chance of getting in. But I did have this sort of deluded hope that my writing was good enough (at least better than fresh bachelors grads) that I might get an acceptance. I sort of had this fantasy of getting the acceptance letter and throwing it in their faces like 'Ha, I don't even need your paltry academic program.' No, but I did not even get the chance to do that. The rejection letter was short and sort of pitying. 'This does not reflect the quality of your work.' like they feel that they cannot hurt the applicant's feelings. There was a part of me that was glad, in all honesty it would have been a difficult choice and one that might have created a lot of stress. I would have had to think about it very seriously, and moving across the country to a city I have never lived in before to make less than minimum wage to teach freshman comp would have truly had a lot of serious pros and cons. There is still one application out, but it is an order of magnitude more selective, so I have no pretensions there.

What is also frustrating is this manuscript. It has been, or was, a two year false start. Two years, every day. Five scratch drafts. I have not counted the pages but it must be somewhere around five to six hundred pages. But it never really come together. I never gelled. I could never tell where it was going. I had high hopes for this. I always have high hopes, but I was doing things like researching. I was trying to immerse myself in this world. But it just became repetitive. I would just write the same thing over and over. I was a little bored writing it from time to time, and though I could have cut those parts I just imagine the reader would have been bored to tears. Also a week or two ago I learned that a pretty well known indie writer is coming out with a book that (without having read it, though I bought it and am excited to read it) sound very similar to the ms  have been working on. Like similar enough that if I were to submit it to an indie press I figure they would just read the synopsis and say something like 'Doesn't this just sound like Jesse Ball's 'Census'? Naw, we can't touch this.' So I put it down. I might pick it up some time in the future, but perhaps that was my real, first false start, just an idea not worth pursuing.

Right now my only hope is winning the lottery. I mean this sounds like a joke, and it pretty much is, but occasionally, like once a year I will just get obsessed with winning the lottery. I know this isn't unusual, but you would think that someone who has even a basic grasp of probability would be immune to this sort of thinking. I never actually buy any tickets, I just think about it endlessly. I plan out what I would do. In my head there is a lot of philanthropy going on but in reality i probably would not do it. But I would probably buy a couple hundred acres of land, drop a small house or a cabin on it and just write, every day. I would probably be able to sustain that for a few months or a year, who knows. I'd probably hire some editor to rip my stuff apart. But even then, I mean would that much change? Really? I guess having more time is the critical thing. It just feel so much better when I can dedicate hours every day to a piece of work.

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