Welcome to the writing club

We’ve talked a lot about the difficulties that come with a writing career. With the market changing as it has the last couple of years, rejection and disappointment has become an even bigger part of our reality. In some ways, all the rejection makes success feel that much better. In others, it feels like a punch in the gut after running a marathon. Why does it have to be so hard? Talented writers who are penning wonderful books with dedicated agents and supportive publishers still often face challenges making it all work.

So, let’s all just give up now, right? I mean, did you read the piece in The Paris Review about the writer who approached Philip Roth in a deli on the Upper West Side with his just-published novel, and was told he should quit while he was ahead? That’s not the most inspiring story to share with our blog readers.

But this one is. Perhaps you’ve heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, one of the biggest books of, well, all time. She read the Paris Review piece and has something to say to Roth, and about being a writer. Let’s just say she puts a more positive spin on the subject than Roth did. It’s entertaining and hopeful, and pretty funny.

So while the gloom and doom scenarios about publishing abound, and all of us in the business will face inevitable rejection (repeatedly), writing and the business that surrounds it will always be a place we can go to find creative energy and inspiration in the art of creating something from nothing. And how many jobs can you say that about? Not many so chin up, keep writing, and welcome to the club!

6 Responses to Welcome to the writing club

  1. D. C. DaCosta says:

    “You write and write and throw it away”….

    Yeah. Duh.

    It’s called taking pride in your work. It’s called not being content with the first draft. It’s called being a professional who won’t accept slop and won’t inflict it on others, either.

    Have you ever visited the Rodin Museum in Paris? Did you notice how many versions of The Thinker he did before settling on the best? Ever see an exhibit of the works of Winslow Homer? How many treatments of “The Lifeline” and other works did he do before “getting it right”?

    The advantage the writer has over practitioners of the other arts is, we actually CAN throw it away…and our sloppy first attempts will not come around to haunt us.

  2. EDWARD says:

    Gilbert, according to her own book, has not had an especially difficult life. Anybody who has the wherewithal to get a divorce and rediscover herself by taking a year off to wander India has not had an especially difficult life. Richard Gere, the millionaire movie star who visits Tibet frequently, has the same message as Gilbert. Gilbert and Gere have no idea how the other half lives. They may have spent some time and money playing “poor person”, but they have not really lived it.
    Philip Roth and I were both born in Newark, New Jersey. We didn’t just see poverty from a sanitized distance the way Gilbert and Gere did, we lived it. Gilbert talks about the secluded beach in Mexico one theoretically doesn’t want one’s friends to find out about. This metaphor, presumably off the top of Gilbert’s head, reeks of privilege. Roth came up the hard way and and he was undoubtedly the better writer for it. It is difficult to put Roth in a similar category as Gilbert and claim they are both “writers”. EAT, PRAY, LIVE is a yet another memoir about how tough life is on a rich person. It has none of the depth, texture, or sensitivity as AMERICAN PASTORAL (a story which never leaves the suburbs of New Jersey). There really is no comparison. It is becoming clearer to me why the Pulitzer people could not decide on an outstanding novel to receive their prize for fiction in 2011.

    • Vanessa Demasi says:

      PREACH. Elizabeth Gilbert and her response can have a whole stadium of seats as far as I’m concerned.

      When Philip Roth, who has been one of the brightest of American literary lights ever since Goodbye Columbus (and for good reason), and who has had so much success and is so revered, even by people who don’t like him or what he writers very much, advises a new writer to quit while he’s ahead, he’s saying something beyond that superficial “writing is so hard” level that Gilbert is choosing to take it at. And anyone who has ever tried to sit down and to write their guts and their heart out, understands that.

      As much as some people might not like to hear it, the fact remains that all writers and all books were not created equal. Gilbert has been very successful. She’s been successful because her book resonated with so many people. That is an admirable thing and a rare accomplishment. No one can deny that.

      But lets not act like Gilbert, who chooses to write what she writes about, is talking about the same kind of writing that Roth is talking about.

  3. anonymous says:

    A friend and I seem to meet a fair amount of debut authors in the course of our work. They are very excited, as they should be. They have big plans. They expect the road to be smooth from now on because they’ve sold/published a book.

    She is mid-career, I’m more toward the beginning. Her road has been smoother, but not with huge sales…reasonably good…but she’s not broken out, so to speak. Mine has been more troublesome, but I have not given up.

    When we meet these debut writers and hear their enthusiasm, we both kind of want to say, “Oh, God. Brace yourself because you’ve barely got a toe hold. Getting one book published will not give you a career unless you’re very, very lucky, and probably not even then. This it the beginning of publishing hell. There are good things, worthy things, and wonderful things, but it is not all fields of gold ahead.” But we don’t. Instead, we choose to listen to their enthusiasm and cheer them on. They will discover their own path and journey the same as everyone else.

    Creating art is a fragile way to live. While you don’t have to be Elizabeth Gilbert and say, “Welcome” I don’t think there’s any benefit in saying what Roth did, regardless of your background and experience. It’s one thing to have a frank and private conversation, I have done this with close friends who are still aspiring writers. They know more about the pitfalls than you’ll ever read on a blog, but I would not tell a stranger any of this because it’s art, and it’s hard, and encouragement is all I’m willing to offer. They can hear about the crappy parts from someone else or experience them themselves.

  4. Stacey says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful and insightful feedback. There are so many ways to view this interaction. I believe that happiness is a choice and spreading positive energy is a lot more effective than the alternative. I am not always successful, but I do try to practice what I preach!

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