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Burning Answers #1
Because burning questions deserve burning answers.
“I've been writing novels unsuccessfully for just about ten years now. It's been ten manuscripts and a combined total of over 500 rejections from agents and publishers, and only two or three requests for more material—all of which ended up going nowhere. I intend to keep at it until I get that agent or publishing deal. Is this insane?”—Carpal Tunnel in Chicago
After 500 rejections? Oh fuck yeah. To me, you crossed over into nutbar territory a while back. But to me, a mere fifty rejections would send me up into the nearest clock-tower with a .30-06 and a dream. Clearly you’re okay with it, because you’ve kept at it. You’re probably a few Sno-Caps short of a box, sure, but who says that’s a bad thing? Anybody worth knowing is at least a little crazy.
So here’s what you’re really asking: “Is my insanity destructive to myself and/or others?”
First, yourself. If writing novels gives you pleasure, by all means write them. Making art is Nature’s Welbutrin, and having an ongoing project can give shape and forward momentum to a life that might otherwise seem an like injured homing pigeon plummeting into the Sun. Avoid bummers, my friend. And if in the grueling course of stacking words into a novel-sized pile (I have always found it grueling, you may not), it helps to think of being conventionally published—if you can’t move your fingers without thinking of the book tour—then that seems perfectly all right, too.
But dreams are like alcohol: if they make you mean—and this includes feeling mean towards other writers, an occupational hazard—you gotta go cold turkey. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if it’s the object you want, that book on your shelf, the object you can make. But if it’s dinner at Elaine’s with your agent celebrating the seven-figure Hollywood deal—the whole mid-century Big Author orgasm—like all sexual fantasies, that should be indulged in only if it is pleasant.
Keep an eye on this.
As to harming others…well, what you are describing here is a hobby, and that is a very good thing, one of the best things. Capitalism whispers to us that hobbies are worthless, and only paying work counts. But how much better off we’d all be if most of the people involved in politics, for example, were content to travel, collect arrowheads, or play golf? Yes, I know golf is terrible for the environment, but most politicians are even worse. Hobbies are by definition not-important, and you should cultivate not-important things. They are very good for the soul.
Writing is a solo hobby, very solitary, and requires a lot of time, so keep an eye on your nears-and-dears. You don’t want them going feral because you’re spending every free moment in the frigid wastes of X’ktah-vyn, fourth planet from the Mechanical Star.
Also, since you’re from Chicago, I feel I must say: stay away from Malört.—MG
Every Friday, Michael Gerber answers questions from readers, like he knows anything. To add your question to the pile, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Question” in the subject line.