GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Writers Shouldn’t Romanticize Rejection

Time and time again, the literary establishment seizes on the story of a writer who meets inordinate obstacles, including financial struggles, crippling self-doubt, and rejection across the board, only to finally achieve the recognition and success they deserve. The halls of the literary establishment echo with tales of now-revered writers who initially faced failure, from Stephen King (whose early novel Carrie was rejected 30 times before being published), to Alex Haley (whose epic Roots was rejected 200 times in eight years). This arc is the literary equivalent of the American Dream, but like the Dream itself, the romantic narrative hides a more sinister one. Focusing on how individual artists should persist in the face of rejection obscures how the system is set up to reward only a chosen few, often in a fundamentally unmeritocratic way.

What are we meant to make of the fact that James’s manuscript was rejected 80 times? Sadly, this phenomenon isn’t that uncommon. In fact, there’s a website dedicated to bestsellers that were initially rejected. Was it lack of imagination on the part of those publishers? Was it unconscious bias against a new and unfamiliar narrative—one that they didn’t regard as “mainstream?” Or was it a complex business decision based on multiple factors? As an emerging writer of color, I’m no longer inspired by this narrative. I don’t see much cause to celebrate when writers of James’s profound talent are roundly rejected in the course of normal business.

Three years later, I remain perplexed by a system that creates the conditions by which manuscripts that will go on to be lauded are first broadly rejected. While other sectors have certainly overlooked brilliant new ideas and missed opportunities for innovation, this fact isn’t usually romanticized or celebrated. In other sectors this level of oversight would be called “a system failure,” or “inefficiency,” or “failure to innovate.” And policies and practices would be put into place to try to prevent this from happening in the future.
But I don’t see those kinds of self-critiquing evaluative discussions or major efforts to dismantle such systems in the literary world. Just last month, Publishers Weekly’s annual field survey confirmed that 89 percent of the publishing sector workforce is white–exactly the same as the year before. Instead, the focus continues to be on individual persistence against myriad, intangible barriers, rather than on the role of the system in creating and perpetuating many of those barriers, thereby putting the full burden on writers.

One of the most curious aspects of this mode of operation is that it gives rise to a secondary narrative: that of discovery. Instead of dismantling these barriers, literary power players emphasize how they “discovered” an author, even though that author was knocking at the door of the literary establishment the whole time, just waiting to be seen and let in.

Read the rest at The Atlantic. 

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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On Art and the Introvert:

“That is why my first and most pressing question seems like such an outright act of mutiny. What I want to know is, since when does making art require participation in any community, beyond the intense participation that the art itself is undertaking? Since when am I not contributing to the community if all I want to do is make the art itself? Isn’t the art itself my intimate communication with others, with the world, with the unfolding spectacle of the human struggle as we live and coexist on this earth?
I mean, I can hardly see past the spotlights and pretentious echo to my own page of writing. It looks like an alien thing in this environment, wholly unbecoming and sickeningly feeble. And lest I imply that the underground bunkers and wine cellars are better venues for the bookish, all of us with our beer slouches, our pond-water hues toning in with the shadows, our mussed hair like bits of unspotted mold, that’s not the case either. It’s all the same. It’s all very embarrassing and alienating, when we look around. We’re real-life writers, not actors each in our own third-rate art film about the writing life. Aren’t we?
Since when did the community become our moral compass—our viability and ethics as writers determined so much by our team spirit? What if the community and the kind of participation it involves are actually bad for my writing, diluting my writerly identity, my ego and my id, and my subservience and surrender to the craft? What if I just want to make something? What if all this communing actually hurts the primary means by which I set out to participate and communicate—my writing itself? What do I do then? I mean, why can’t I make art in my clerestory abyss and snub the community without feeling like a snotty little brat? Why can’t I?
History has typically not been generous to the writerly recluse. It’s usually only a lucrative position after the fact of your success—and it works best if you’re a man—Salinger, Pynchon, Faulkner all have that esoteric aura about them that’s quite different from poor old Emily Dickinson, that self-imposed shut-in, or Flannery O’Connor, whose excursive limitations were a sad matter of physical ailment. Even Donna Tartt has to go on 12-city tours. And then there’s me. I’m not Donna, or Emily, or Flannery. I’m not getting anywhere as a young, reclusive, female writer.

For me the aesthetic of art is primal and private—it’s a guts-deep aesthetic that is not only losing its potency to the benevolent dictatorship of the screen, but that also goes limp and queasy in the rooms that host the reading, the conference, the Q&A. Writing, to me, isn’t meant to be read aloud. The last thing I want is some writer’s actual voice and bearing and personality scumming up my love affair with his/her book. I want to be alone with your book, please. It’s your words sweet-talking me deep in my head, it’s your thoughts caressing my inner voice, it’s your expression commingling with my perception. But I’m a selfish lover, and a limp compatriot. I want every book I read to be mine, not yours. And I also want every book I write to be mine, not yours—I don’t want to stand at a podium and acknowledge my readers and inoculate them to my writing through my underwhelming personhood, and I don’t want to have my own primal encounters ruined by your personhood either. If we must encounter each other, let’s do it the old way—in the dark, by the fire, our breaths bated, the world a big black mystery beyond us.

Or, if that’s impossible, I hope I can not draw too much contempt as the wallflower at our community shindigs, compelled to be here out of peer pressure but banishing myself to the sullen edge of the dance floor, clutching my bony elbows by the punch bowl, trying to disappear in this room of people that have welcomed me so very ardently. I don’t not want to be your friend. I just don’t want to dance with you.”

Read the rest of An Introverted Writer’s Lament. 

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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Tweets of the week:

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That’s really all you need to know. (…Is this is why you don’t follow us on twitter?!)

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

all yellow B&N | Amazon | Etc.