Natalie Roberts Collins (who writes the Jenny Partridge mysteries) guest-blogged on www.murdershewrites.com yesterday about her parents’ neighbor, a novelist/fiction writer who killed himself in despair over repeated rejections (after an ultimatum from the long-suffering wife to “get a real job and give up.”)
While I am sure there were other psychological factors at work here–eessentially the lack of skills to cope with a “real job” and the sudden overwhelming hostility from the wife that led to an overall feeling of failure and unworthiness, something I’m intimately familiar with–it is still sobering to consider that rejection helped bring this person to that brink.
I’ve gotten to that despair-point many times over my twenty years at serious submitting (actually, more, if you count the juvenilia, but I generally don’t), and each time I’ve had to take a break. Generally, I’ve gone off to get some kind of Real Job in software just so that I’d have some sense of success. When I went out on interviews for positions as a software engineer, the companies and the interviewers always acted impressed and dazzled by my transcript from SMU and whatever references they got (although I never could figure out what was so impressive, but something in there must be a doozie); they talked about various glowing things said about me by former employers, and so I was almost always offered the job.
Then I’d actually get into the job, and after the honeymoon period was over I’d find that it was again an awful prison sentence to sit in a padded cell writing code in the midst of other introverted engineers who thought that literature and all forms of text not related to software documentation was useless and idiotic. You had to be all serious about the job and quiet (at least where I worked–not at those fun dot-com jobs, though.) You couldn’t make any kind of witticism that used wordplay or literary/cultural references, because they’d just look blank. You had to believe that Your Code was So Important and The Neatest Thing Ever, and it was a no-no to say things like, “This stuff may be used for a year or so, and then it’ll be thrown away and obsolete, and these hours of your life will have been traded for dollar bills . . . you aren’t leaving a legacy behind here.” They wanted to think their software would live forever.
Maybe things would work better today if you went into the job crazy about all those SF-channel TV series that every engineer seems to love and you could talk to them about the fandoms. But anyhow, I always felt oppressed and wished I could get away from those cubicle farms. I also would secretly start writing again when a character or an idea or a situation or (usually) an opening line too good to resist came to me . . . and I’d start writing at night, on lunch breaks, and during those interminably boring meetings. (They all always thought I was taking notes, and so I’d get elected minutes-taker, which was maddening! Who cared about those action items?! I wanted to get down what I’d thought of for Mary Sue to do before it slipped away into the ether 4-ever.)
Whenever I finally got laid off (and I always got included in the “next layoff,” partly becuase I was the one with the least seniority and partly because they knew I hated the job and they had built up some quantity of hurt feelings or resentment at my heavy sighs and vocal hate of meetings), I’d start the cycle again. Finally, after the life-threatening illness I had, hubby said he’d prefer me to stay home and be a housewife and write, as long as I actually did the housewife/errands part. He doesn’t really want me whining about whatever office politics I am going through or explaining the flaws in management’s logic, so he’s just as happy to see me “doing nothing all day.”
But I know he and the rest of the family are frustrated that I’m “Never Good Enough.” They have given up expecting to see me “make anything of myself” and are now hoping to see the kitchen counters cleared off and the Thanksgiving decorations put out. Along with a fresh roll of T. P. in each bathroom and a few home-baked muffins in the canister. They hoped I’d leave a legacy behind for others to read someday–but I’ve been as ineffective as the cubicle farmers who cranked out forgettable TPS reports that were thrown away the next week, and wasted their lives and their life-energy on trivia. How stupid of us.
I have given up, but I can’t seem to stop sending stuff out and having these delusional hopes. It’s kinda pathetic. I’m just like that guy, except I was never told I would be the next Grisham. You’re sick of hearing how Harlan Ellison liked the first page of my story, and how Damon Knight said, “You’re writing at a pro level. Go forth and be published,” and how this or that agent or editor liked my book until I somehow scared him or her away or disappointed them. But it’s just like with Pavlov’s animals–when you get the occasional pat on the head, it only encourages you to press the button again and again.
So I feel for this guy. I hope that on the Other Side of the Veil, where he is now, he finds success and fulfillment in whatever creative activity they put him to work in. For our souls go on, just in a different dimension or form, and I’m pretty sure we get to keep our wisdom and knowledge that we’ve gained to build on. (I really hope there’s a use for all the useless factoids that I know, because the only use for them over here is to play trivia games!)
I also hope that his widow doesn’t blame herself and have a tough time living with the results of her ultimatum (at least in part), for there are always choices, and he didn’t have to make the one he made. (Surely there was some kind of job he could have gotten for a while that wouldn’t have been so soul-sucking, and that he could’ve used later on in a book; it’s all grist for the writer’s mill. But that’s tough to see when you’re at the bottom of the pit, the way he was.) She didn’t mean to say what she said the way she said it. She was just exhausted, and overwhelmed by the responsibility, and worried about the economy and the mortgage on an ARM and the rising gas costs, and . . . and . . . and. . . . But she didn’t mean for this to happen.
Still, I can’t say I’m surprised at hearing about this . . . just saddened. It probably happens pretty often, and we never hear about it because they’re not listed in “Somebody Who’s Anybody,” like B. Spears and O. J. Simpleton. They’re just God’s children trying to make sense of this old world, just like we are.
Anyway, Natalie’s piece contains soundbites from various published authors who talk about getting published. Analysis of these responses she got convinces me even more that you’ll either get published within three to five years, or you should give up. In fact, many of these responders say they sold within a year or two. I’ve reasoned before that part of the dichotomy is because of a generation-gap effect; it’s the younger ones getting published sooner, on the whole, it looks like. But it’s also what they’re writing. Category romance, erotica, and some other genres are easier to place work in because they print more titles each month in those imprints.
The responders here are the lucky ones, and I wish them continued luck. They’ve worked hard. Still, a lot of us have worked hard, and there’s a point at which we need to admit we’re licked and just plain GIVE UP. There’s a time to return to reality and say, “It’s over.” Sure, we keep hearing that all we need is a little persistence.
But I think this business is more of a crapshoot than anyone wants to admit. I see good books fall by the wayside all the time. There are too many books being published, and not enough people who turn to reading for pleasure. . . .
So this overview from published authors wasn’t really great news for us Vast Unwashed*, as the overall effect was, “We who are worthy got pubbed within three years, and you guys won’t ever get pubbed or become worthy.”
[* Yes, Diana tells me that because I took a bath, I am not the Unpubbed Unwashed. . . .]
Maybe you’ll read it differently and gain some new insights. I’m going to go find some (Medifast) chocolate.
Read more about Natalie at www.jennytpartridge.com.
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‘Bout the WGA strike (TV writers and now Broadway stagehands, in sympathy) and a helluva lot more, from a writer for the “House” TV show, if I understood it correctly.
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Kind of tapped out on the NaNovel right now. Reached a sticking point (“what the hell can happen next?”) and at the same time became overwhelmed with the “what use is it, as no one is going to want to publish this” vibe. I know I said I was doing this one for fun, but it’s like a virus, this drive to publish. Somewhere in my babyhood I imprinted on that as my Mission In Life. Ptui!! **Spit that out! You don’t know where it’s been!**
But I typed a few stupid sentences that will probably get deleted out of the final copy.
22318 / 50000 words. 45% done!