HARD SELL

“Of course, resilience matters. But given the dearth of practical support, ‘we need to understand that emotional resilience might not be enough,’ said Brian Hughes, a professor at the National University of Ireland, Galway, who specializes in the psychology of stress and crisis.”—from the In Her Words series of The New York Times, 18 February 2021 by Corinne Purtill

Purtill and Hughes are not talking about writing at all, but genuine hardship. Pandemic, hunger, unpaid bills. All I have to complain of just now is disappointment. A story rejection arrived via email the other day. I’d had hopes for the particular story and for publication in this particular journal, but no. I should be used to this by now. I tried taking it as a matter of course, but I really wanted to crawl under the bed and suck dust bunnies.

But Gary had vacuumed up the dust bunnies.

Rejection is nothing new, particularly for a writer of fiction. Ursula K. Le Guin used to say it was harder to become published as a fiction writer than as a poet—just look at how many poems are in a literary journals compared to the short stories. But it’s not easy for poets either, or even for nonfiction writers, despite demand for “true stories”. All writers get used to rejection, or most do. Few literary journals take more than one in a hundred submissions. Many accept fewer than one in a thousand, or one in two thousand or even far fewer than that. It’s those last that you want to publish in, those well-know and respected journals that accept only the tiniest fraction of the work sent to them.

The editor of this most recent rejection wrote: “I like a lot of the writing here and there – ‘herds of deer did not dash…’ is a wonderful way to open a sentence, for example – but the story didn’t grab me and it takes too long, for me, to get going. I felt one step removed from the main character throughout the reading.” ouch And he probably meant to be kind.

I worked hard on this story, revised it many times. Sent it to others for advice. Rewrote. It is not that I didn’t try. My story is very long and woman-centered and what is kindly referred to as quiet. That is, the story is at fault, not the five editors who have turned it down. It’s a hard sell. There is no blood or drug abuse or traumatic childhood event. No war or fighting at all. A lot of death, but like Shakespeare’s plays (see how I did that?) the deaths in my story are mostly off stage. I probably should complete a few more drafts, and I probably will. But still not even everyone who likes or even loves me will read it. That’s the way writing goes.

All this to say, I have no excuse for feeling so sad for being rejected. The truth is that all stories are a hard sell. Poems are a hard sell. Memoir and essays are hard too. There is no easy route for writers. If they hope to actually profit from writing, there are ways to make that happen—by writing purely to the market. I might be able to do that, but I don’t. Maybe that’s only an excuse, right?

Writing is hard work and underpaid. I should be used to work and underpayment after teaching public high school for forty years. (Private school paid worse.) Even teaching pays better than writing. The average yearly income of a full time writer is about what a typical doctor grosses in less than a week. Honest, it’s been studied. I have three undergrad degrees with honors and a masters in writing (the infamous MFA), but teaching was my day job. And it was the exact day job that John Gardner recommended against. If you want to be a successful writer, he warned, recognize that the energy for writing and teaching come from the same place.

“Don’t be a writer. Be writing.”

—William Faulkner

I am reminded. Don’t worry about definitions of “success,” be doing.

The writing is because I want to write, just like I weave for weaving’s sake and piece quilts just to see them build under my hands.

Yesterday, I baked a sourdough loaf like the “Haystack loaves” from the Cannon Beach Bakery where I first worked in 1979 when we moved to the Oregon coast. I was hired to work the front, but I liked getting to the shop while the bakers were still there. They came in by 4am to start the loaves and the biggest seller was Haystack loaves, baked in a genuine brick oven with a domed roof. When it was baking, the brilliant heat made that oven hard to look into. The raised round dough were called “boys” before being shoveled into that heat one at a time. They came out light and fluffy, domed and with a special topping. I loved their crunchy top but only tried looking for how to replicate it recently.

So here it is, my version made with sourdough (no yeast) and half whole wheat. Bread is not so hard, but satisfying—a pure reward for my efforts. Every time. Just goes to show… something.

Purtill and Hughes also warn: “Evidence from past catastrophes suggests that people don’t falter psychologically because they don’t have enough personal fortitude, but because they have too many external pressures.”

No personal “catastrophe” here and the external pressure is only that it’s raining again. And I like rain. I guess I have no excuse but to get back to work.

Be making.

First post this, go for a walk, then toasted cheese sandwiches for breakfast, and later I will wind a warp.

7 thoughts on “HARD SELL

  1. I had to look up the crunchy topping on the Haystack. Your bread looks so delicious! CB Bakery used rice flour, sugar and salt. Is that what you use? Don’t give up on that story. We all want to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brown rice flour, pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, enough water to make in spreadable, and a dribble of olive oil. The Haystack loaves were made with bleached white flour and white rice flour. Their layer was thicker than what I used (I will make more next time), but I am very happy with the result this first try.

      Like

  2. Is this one about writing or a writing one about baking?
    Which one came first—the tourist berm or the tasty cheese sandwich?
    I’ve got whiskers on my fingers
    and I need to lie or lay down
    because it’s almost daylight shaving time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for writing this. Got me started editing a piece I am working on that is ‘due’ to my writing group tomorrow and I can’t quite face. Write, edit, submit repeat. But thanks for the reminder that just to be writing is always worth the effort. And when in doubt bake bread!

    Liked by 1 person

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