random thoughts on writing
Posted by E on October 15, 2010
I have to preface this particular entry by saying these are my own, personal thoughts on publishing, prizes, funding et al, so feel free to take it all with a grain of salt. Anyway, now that you’ve been adequately forewarned, this is what I want to say:
Until now, if you chose to be a full-time writer you would face an uncertain, gruelling profession – you could get piecemeal publication, one or two poems at a time in various magazines, and get rejected ten, twenty times over for no reason other than that the editor’s style did not reflect your own, or they had an idea of an angle for the new issue and your work just didn’t fit in.
Where could you go for money? One place you tend to assume artists can get funding from are municipal and provincial art councils. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the jury members on those arts committees don’t have their own preferences for certain types of art. I’m not talking about all juries, of course – and it’s not an issue of sour grapes because I have had projects funded. But sometimes biases do happen, because everyone is human. Rejection is an unavoidable part of a writer’s path, and, as anything in life, such personal judgment calls on the part of editors, reviewers or literary juries are unavoidable. And you cannot assume that your writing is crap simply because your project is not recommended for a grant or an award.
In fact, having just very recently served as a juror on an arts funding committee, I can tell you that there simply is NOT enough government money to fund all outstanding projects, and A LOT of exceptional writers and projects can suffer as a result. In fact, the top three projects I felt most strongly about were NOT funded. (There were about ten in total I felt terrible about not being funded, but the competition was fierce – as luck would have it, we had a record number of applicants, the most applications ever in one cycle of this organization).
I fought as hard as I could for them and other works I absolutely loved, but in the end my hands were tied by the budgetary constraints and the process itself. By the end of the day I was absolutely dejected, feeling guilt at having failed to push them through, and I know for a fact that all the other jurors also had personal favourites that didn’t make the cut. It was an eye-opening experience. So remember, such things DO happen. There are tons of brilliant artists out there – writers, poets, graphic artists – and not enough money to go around. So please don’t let an arbitrary decision influence your future as a writer.
Sometimes I think we should step back and look at the historical context of publishing. A large number of writers of the past, including the 19th French poets I looked up to when I was a student, had all self-published, then distributed, their own work in various circles, until it “caught on”. No self-respecting publishing house had published Rimbaud, or Baudelaire, or any of the more scandalous writers of later day. But those “scandalous” writers – think Henry Miller, Anais Nin – eventually swayed, and altered the course of the industry.
I’m not saying we should all go and self-publish directly, since I myself am pursuing traditional means of publication. But I also realize that when the beat poets of the 1970s made up their own poetry, they distributed it illicitly, like political manifestos, in taverns and on the street, and nobody gave a hoot as to whether the prestigious Harvard Review published them.
When rappers put verse to song, everybody laughed. They’re crazy, they said. This isn’t art. Until it caught on.
So I think we need to remember that demand is what drives any industry. We are in a new age, where talent only, where the story itself, not the censors, will control which way the industry goes.
If you don’t allow yourself to be discouraged, you will succeed. It’s only a matter of time, a continuous process of improving and refining your craft. Once you have something in print, it CHANGES you. It’s hard to describe — it’s as though a process begins inside you, deep at the molecular structure of your being; your self-esteem unwinds, as does your realization that it IS possible. ANYTHING is possible.
There are so many talented voices out there, and we are all making our way through the muck. But at least we are shaping our own futures. We can begin today to promote ourselves and revolutionize the world. We hold our destinies in our own hands.