I asked a band this week in an interview: What does success mean to you? They didn’t really have an answer. Success changes as you grow older and as you accomplish new things. So what is success to me? I don’t have an answer either. All I know is that I don’t have it. And I’m not even sure I know how to get there anymore. It used to be so clear. If I write and continue to write, I will be successful. I don’t know anymore. Maybe it’s not even in me to begin with.
A writer is told by pretty much everybody that a writer is only a writer if that writer writes. And if you read those so-called “craft” books, a writer can only be a writer if that writer writes at least two hours per day. More is encouraged. Less is, well, fine, if you want to [audibly scoff] write fan fiction. Pick up any copy of Poets & Writers or Writer’s Digest and you’ll find advice like this. It might be cloaked in encouraging exclamation points but, in the end, every piece of writerly encouragement boils down to this: Just sit down and write.
The story is analogous to my own experiences as a writer: struggling to place my own work in literary journals, disappointment, unjustified rejection. I wanted the main character (Westinghouse) to lose and then soldier on, silently, resolute and without emotion. As writers, we’re trained by seemingly endless failure that we can’t get too high or too low… that we just… keep… writing.
The three snubbed nominees were Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and The Pale King by the late, great David Foster Wallace. That’s right… one of the authors is farkin’ deceased and even that–even the thought of a final reward to one of the great writers and thinkers of the last metric crap ton of years–couldn’t push that 18-person committee to a final conclusion. I think I speak for every writer, of any genre, when I say “FIX IT.”
We’re not all writing stories for the New Yorker, but based on writing workshop criticism and notes from many journal editors you’d sure think that there’s only one way to write. It’s akin to claiming that the five-paragraph method is the only way to write an essay. It’s asinine. And today is the day I choose not to sweep it under the rug with the rest of my rejections. We ditch the five-paragraph essay when we graduate high-school. Not so with outdated ideas for dramatic, literary short fiction.