Friday, February 27, 2015
The Travails of a Modern Day Writer
I minored in creative writing when I was in college. If you looked at my transcript, it would say English, but I was given the freedom to take multiple writing workshops. I wasn't asked to enroll in more than a few literature classes, which I usually enjoyed. My primary training was as a poet, a discipline I have set aside completely, since it no longer speaks to me. Poetry is consigned to a limited audience as well, which is part of the reason I no longer obsess about publishing a chapbook that will sell a total of 400 copies and no more.
My most current frustration is with the process of publication. One particular literary journal likes a particular short story, but has insisted upon a full year's worth of revisions. The topic is a first-person account of a transwoman. What I have crafted is entirely fictional on one hand, but I've relied heavily on the personal anecdotes of other transfolks I have met over the last several years. I've always envisioned writing fiction as a means of taking truthful bits and pieces of a life and creatively putting them together in whichever order best suits them.
The editors and readers are of a very different generational and political mindset. Transsexualism in any form is foreign to them, and I've had to excise whole portions of the manuscript that I would much prefer to keep. I have, as of this moment, minimal cache as a writer. The editors hold most of the power and I have no choice but to make the changes they request. I don't think I'm being exploited in any way, rather that what I write is too foreign and remote for some.
I've removed the first two pages with reservations. I want my main character to feel guilty and remain partially closeted from start to finish. If I had a greater publication name, I'd be able to keep those sections intact. Still, I have to admit that most literary journals and publications would have cast me aside without a second thought if what I wrote didn't fit their needs. What I dislike is that the date of publication has now been moved back to August, since most periodicals publish only twice a year.
For aspiring short story and memoir writers, my advice is to develop patience. The largest unwritten rule is that every publication has a particular style and subject it favors. Knowing that, one can try to write in accordance with their guidelines, or recognize the futility of the gesture. The latter is true for me. I've been able to rule out several publications who will never accept my style. I'd rather be myself than try to mimic a particular format.
I took several journalism classes during undergrad and found the grammar and rules to be restrictive of creativity. Once, I recall being required to write a standard newspaper lead, a fairly basic assignment, which I did in a very unconventional sense. The professor liked the finished product, but noted that he would never be able to teach the way I did it. Even in an electronic content era, I think there will be always be a need for people who have mastered specialized formats.
I am not one of those people. This is why I didn't take more than a handful of mass communication classes. I found the theories fascinating, but not the work that went into it. If creative writing has a tragic flaw, it's that it claims to encourage original voices and new directions, but it is instead under the control of picky people with very specific parameters. I've found that beginning creative writers are often under the delusion that anyone can write and that eventually someone will notice their genius.
Unless a person has substantial solid connections, luck is as much a factor as talent. Much like attorneys, there are too many writers and not enough slots to fill. The process resembles applying for jobs in a challenging and competitive market. I'm thankful for what I've achieved already, but it's only a fraction of what I thought I could achieve at the outset. I wish this wasn't so.
I have confidence in myself. I know I'm a good writer, but the problem is that I'm surrounded by many other good writers. As mentioned above, I don't have the kind of elite academic credentials that are an inside track to greater success. If I hadn't gotten severely sick my last two years of high school, I would have been on track to go somewhere prestigious.
I'm almost exclusively self-taught at this craft, and my college classes have been minimally helpful. I've had to learn a brand new language without anyone holding my hand along the way. It gives one a degree of pride to be a literal self-made man, but a substantial feeling of resentment in the process. I had to make every ounce of this myself, from scratch. No one gave me anything. That recognition and grudge keeps me working hard, even if it encourages biases that may be unfair to their audience.