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the writer’s lament/manifesto

This is not something I do easily – but I’m going to divulge here my bewilderment at the lack of success I am having right now as a writer. People are full of praise for my teaching; the things I do and say as a teacher obviously work. But my writing seems to be going nowhere, and I’m sharing my despair, right now, with you.

I’ve been trying recently to get more work out there and last winter entered the CBC non-fiction literary competition with what I thought was a powerful story about the fire that nearly destroyed my home. Yesterday the long list was published: 31 writers, not including me. For the first time in years, I sent a story to the Globe, a story I thought was moving; not a word. The proposal for the memoir I’ve been working on for 3 years has been turned down by 2 publishers and went out this summer to 4 more, plus a query about an article. So far, nada.

Am I delusional to think I’m a clear, honest, interesting writer with something to say and a modicum of style? I realized a long time ago that something about that style doesn’t work for competitions; though I did try again this year, I won’t waste time with competitions any more. But even the Globe, where I have published scores of essays, is not interested now.

I know publishers are slammed; the business, always erratic, is incomprehensible right now, and they’re overwhelmed and underpaid. And I know the lack of interest is at least partially because I’m an aging middle-class white woman, the least interesting demographic as far as they’re concerned, though it seems to me that demographic is also who’s buying the books. I don’t have a name, no huge social media following, no Twitter followers, so what do I offer them? Simply a story, written with all the craft and skill I can muster, that matters deeply to me and, I hope, would matter to others if they had the chance to read it.

But in every artist’s heart there lurks what Wayson called the devil – the voice that says, Why bother? No one cares, and you’re wasting your time and theirs. You’re just not that good. So go do something useful, like the laundry. Or I know what would be fun – an hour or two leaping about on the Internet! Let’s start now!

And, often, I do.

Just had lunch with a writer friend who’s similarly down, waiting for her agent’s feedback on the latest rewrite of the fantasy novel she’s been writing for nearly 4 years. Why do we do this? we asked each other, this hopeless business of little money and few readers, endless waiting for pathetic returns. Why? Because we’re writers. Because we’ll keep trying no matter what. I have a friend in the ad business who thinks writing for no money is crazy and self-indulgent. But there you go. All it takes is one nice word about the work, and we’re back at it. And often, not even that.

All right, thanks for listening, enough venting. It’s 3 p.m. and I’m going up to my desk now to figure out where to go with the latest material, the stacks of letters. Perhaps one day the essay or book will be finished and find readers. Perhaps it won’t.

But sitting there thinking and writing and reading, mad as it may be, is what I do.

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2 Responses to “the writer’s lament/manifesto”

  1. theresa says:

    Courage, dear Beth..

  2. beth says:

    Thank you, Theresa – I'll take it!
    b.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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