In it for the long haul

Okay, I bought and finished Catching Fire, and can I just say: IS IT AUGUST ALREADY?! I want to read Mockingjay. Like, NOW!


{deep breath} Okay, anyway…

Since I can’t speed time up and make it August, I will just finish my reading binge (4 books in 3 days so far) with Scott Westerfield’s Uglies. I admit, with all this reading I haven’t been diligent about my outlining… but I will get back on it tonight! (I was going to say tomorrow, but we all know how easy it is to never make “tomorrow” become “today”.)

In the meantime, I think this “essay” by author Dani Shapiro is a must-read for any writer. A few gems:

“It doesn’t appear to be a matter of talent itself,” he wrote. “Some of the most natural writers, the ones who seemed to shake their prose or poetry out of their sleeves, are among the disappeared. As far as I can tell, the decisive factor is what I call endurability: that is, the ability to deal effectively with uncertainty, rejection, and disappointment, from within as well as from without.”

Today’s young writers don’t peruse the dusty shelves of previous generations. Instead, they are besotted with the latest success stories: The 18-year-old who receives a million dollars for his first novel; the blogger who stumbles into a book deal; the graduate student who sets out to write a bestselling thriller — and did.

The 5,000 students graduating each year from creative writing programs (not to mention the thousands more who attend literary festivals and conferences) do not include insecurity, rejection and disappointment in their plans. I see it in their faces: the almost evangelical belief in the possibility of the instant score. And why not? They are, after all, the product of a moment that doesn’t reward persistence, that doesn’t see the value in delaying recognition, that doesn’t trust in the process but only the outcome. As an acquaintance recently said to me: “So many crappy novels get published. Why not mine?”

Writers now use words like “track” and “mid-list” and “brand” and “platform.” They tweet and blog and make Facebook friends in the time they used to spend writing. Authors who stumble can find themselves quickly in dire straits. How, under these conditions, can a writer take the risks required to create something original and resonant and true?

The latter two I think are true of a lot of industries, not just writing, nowadays.

Yes, my generation grew up believing that things can (and should) happen right away. And yet, we also grew up goofing off online, wasting time but telling ourselves we’re just multi-tasking. It’s a funny contradiction: wanting results immediately, but putting off or drawing out the work indefinitely. There’s a lot written about how this is a problem for today’s employers, but I wonder if any of us are aware of just how big a problem it may be for us.

Anyway, I’m not here to pass judgment. I’m just saying that as much as I am a product of my generation — as much as I would love “the instant score,” and as much as I do waste time online — I am aware that writing is a long-haul kind of industry. And I’m here to go the distance. I’m here to cross that tundra. I’m here to work and wait as long as it takes.

(At least until August. Then I’m taking another reading break. :P)

20 responses to “In it for the long haul”

  1. Kimberly Franklin Avatar

    OMG… you read Catching Fire. Didn’t you just love it??? August can’t get here soon enough! : D
    .-= • Recent post by Kimberly Franklin: Snowed In =-.

  2. Sonja Avatar

    This was one of the best quotes that you’ve put up. It is interesting. I haven’t decided if I’m one of the ones who “gave up” or not. It’s true that I haven’t tried to get published for well over ten years, but my lack of publishing ambition hasn’t put a damper on my desire to write. And it is possible that I might try my hand at the publishing game again one of these days.
    .-= • Recent post by Sonja: This post brought to you courtesy of Philadelphia’s multiple, record-setting snow storms =-.

  3. Kristan Avatar

    For what it’s worth, you’ve never come off to me as someone who “gave up” — on writing, or anything.

    But if we stick with writing, I’ve always had the impression that you’re content (for now, if not forever) to write for yourself. Anything else is/would be icing on the cake. And I think this essay would agree with me that that’s perhaps the most noble pursuit of writing that there is.

    I certainly don’t think this essay means to judge that end of the spectrum; but rather, the opposite end, the ones that want all the glory and none of the work. Whereas for you, the glory IS the work. :)

  4. Jon Avatar

    “As an acquaintance recently said to me: “So many crappy novels get published. Why not mine?””

    Such a great quote. We idolize authors not for the content of their stories but their own personal stories. Who hasn’t heard about JK Rowling coming from near poverty to become the highest paid British celebrity ever? I mean, as interesting as that is, it’s all about the writing. If you can’t bring that, then what’s the point of a book contract?

    Not to dis JK Rowling, of course, who is awesome!
    .-= • Recent post by Jon: The Short Film: What Works? =-.

  5. Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist Avatar

    Enjoyed Dani Shapiro’s essay and while, yes I want the big pay off, the industry has changed too. There is less career-long nurturing of writers as they find their feet (and readers). Publishers want the big pay-day, instant hit, overnight phenomenon as well. So where does that leave us?
    .-= • Recent post by Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist: Kill the Critic! =-.

  6. Kristan Avatar

    Good point, good point. It’s not JUST modern writers who are falling into this mind-trap mentality. It’s the whole industry.

    Where does that leave us? I’m not sure. As an idealist, I’d like to think there’s a way for everyone to win: for writers to have long-term, quality-producing careers that generate significant revenue for the industry.

    But first: that requires readers! (Which many of the astute commenters commented about on my previous post.)

  7. Sarah Avatar

    Kristan, part of the reason I quit Facebook for a while is because it used up my precious time (I only manage to get an hour or so a day, sometimes more)…I am one of those time-wasters because I must be self-sabotaging or something. I really, actually, do want to write, however, I also realize that every writer has a ritual. Right now, mine is to blog, post, then revise my story. It encourages me and helps me focus.
    I am into writing for the long haul, but am waiting to see how others fare in the publishing game. I will jump in sooner or later because I’d really like to write stories and get paid to do it!
    I must admit that what motivated me from the beginning is that feeling of “So many crappy novels get published: Why not mine?” I needed that to boost my confidence so that I could get started and not let my inner critic stop me…not because I set out just to get published by writing crap.
    Is ambition a learned behaviour?
    .-= • Recent post by Sarah: Lost the Plot =-.

  8. Todd Newton Avatar

    Agreed. If you have no patience, you won’t survive long. Then again, if you procrastinate too much … um that reminds me, I should be writing.
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: The Halestorm Interview =-.

  9. Sarah Avatar

    me again. I just read the entire article by Dani Shapiro and am now overcome with this immense respect for her opinion on writing and publishing. It’s a different kind of encouragement (for the writer) and I admire her stand against that insane struggle to have a blockbuster novel. cool.
    .-= • Recent post by Sarah: Lost the Plot =-.

  10. Kristan Avatar

    Isn’t her article brilliant?!

    And as I told Sonja, I think writing without thoughts of publication is truly noble. There’s no *need* for ambition or publication. But if you want it, I think Shapiro is saying (and I am agreeing) that you have to be willing to work for it. That’s all.

    And from what I know of you, you seem willing to work. :)

    (I guess overall I’m sort of preaching to the choir… lol. Oh well. I like the reminders to myself too.)

    Lol ain’t that the truth? Back to my outline…

  11. Aisha Avatar

    I don’t know, networking does seem important in this day and age. (Maybe it’s always been? But before it probably didn’t take up as much time as it does today with all these online social networks.) Obviously it’s not as important as the writing itself, but I think you have to learn how to balance the two if you want to get ahead.

  12. Kevin Johnson Avatar

    I’ve mentioned this previously, but after having discovered the desire to write the things -I- want to write about instead of feeling shoe-horned into writing things that the public sector, presumably, want to read, it opened up a new avenue of pursuit and drive that I think areas that schools tend to discourage, not actively, but indirectly; many people get the sense while in school that writing is all about research and footnotes and essays.

    In an odd way, I’m glad that blogs became popular (not so much FB or Twitter). Of the number of crappy ones out there, smart ones like yours pop up, offering several new and unique insights in not just writing, but in all aspects of life. Strangely enough, blogs discourage “Big Man” ideology, the concept that only THE writers from THE magazines or publishing companies have valid opinions.

    Which is why, while I agree with 95% of this post, I have reservations about employers having issues with the generation of instant gratification. Employers are simply trapped in old school business models across the board, which inevitably led to the financial crisis, which destroyed jobs, which left the new generation (excuse the language) assed out of luck, job-wise. I see nothing wrong with hiring with fresh, active, eager college grads; we want to learn and improve their skill in which ever field they’ve chosen, and they need the experience. To constantly search for already-experienced individuals does a disservice to the job industry as a whole.

    From a writing perspective, this means we get the same mundane pieces and essays and journalism (not to say novels, movies, and comics) that seemed “fresh” 30 years ago.

    Sorry that came off as a rant. I have a lot of issues with how the system of employment is set up. :P
    .-= • Recent post by Kevin Johnson: CLOSE REVEIW: CATDOG =-.

  13. Kristan Avatar

    You’re absolutely right: in this day and age, there’s a certain amount of online presence that authors HAVE to have. But aspiring writers? Well, some of them will stay aspiring forever if they lose themselves in the internet.

    That said, both groups (authors and aspirers) have to find the right balance, just like you said. That’s something I’ve been working on, and I think I’m doing a decent job with my blog, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s more like how much time I spend in Gmail that’s a problem… :P

    Oh, you definitely have a point. I’m not saying that older generations of employers don’t need to wake up and smell the technology a bit. But I think what I was getting at is that it’s a naive/arrogant assumption for us to think we’re 100% in the right too. My firm belief is that the real solution lies in the middle ground. But since neither side has gotten there yet, I can certainly understand your frustration.

  14. Dara Avatar

    I completely agree that many in our generation want it all and want it now. It annoys me when I see that because I was raised differently–with the mindset that all good things come in time and with lots of hard work.

    I sometimes have to shake my head at the naivete of some I graduated college with, thinking they’d be earning six figures within two-four years of graduating. I don’t know of anyone personally that’s done that!

    At the same time, it does get irritating seeing employers only ask for those with experience. How are we to get a job if no one is willing to train us? Those with experience will retire eventually and they will have to spend money training at some point. I’m right in that conundrum–I’ve got too much “experience” (AKA a college degree) for some jobs, while others want two or three years or more, but no one wants to hire an entry level. Sometimes I wonder if four years of college is a bit of a scam and if it should be colleges focused on your specific degree rather than all the “other” crap classes :P
    .-= • Recent post by Dara: I Am Inspired…Again =-.

  15. Trisha Avatar

    There is no such thing as multi-tasking; only mono-taking in rapid succession.

  16. Kristan Avatar

    Yeah, that paradox can be really frustrating. I think that’s why so many jobs are gotten through connections… (Which is not to say that it’s impossible to get a job without a connection! I got my job “blind,” so to speak.) I think that’s another reason unpaid internships have become so valuable, even though it’s sort of unfair to expect anyone other than a student to take one.

    LOL!! So true, so true…

  17. Meghan Ward Avatar

    We will cross the tundra together! I’m so glad to know other writers who are as determined as I am to “go the distance” – and thanks so much for sharing that article. I’m jealous that you have been reading so much lately. I wish I had more time to read. (I want it all!) Maybe I’ll try to read the first two Hunger Games books before August. I also have to work on my book, though. So much to do!
    .-= • Recent post by Meghan Ward: Link Love =-.

  18. write-brained Avatar

    first time here!! Oh August– I cannot wait! go team Peeta! Or maybe Gale, I still can’t decide! :)
    .-= • Recent post by write-brained: Dear Bread: =-.

  19. Kristan Avatar

    Haha, no worries, I can’t really decide either. (Although maybe I lean towards Peeta? Maybe?)