Posts Tagged futility of writing
Tom HIlbert, the coach of the Colorado State University volleyball team, posted a Weekend Ted Talk. The talk, via The Huffington Post, was titled The Key to Success. The CSU Rams are currently one of two undefeated teams in D-1 volleyball in the nation and are ranked #10. I’m suspecting one of the reasons Tom found this talk interesting is its relation to the team and the fact that they keep finding ways to win when this year had been presented as a rebuilding year. Friday night’s game was played against Air Force, our instate conference foe. The Falcons are perennial bottom dwellers in the conference standings. CSU is 41-1 against them, having last lost in 1982. While watching the cadets battle us on Friday, I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said, “They play with grit.” Even though they had to know they were likely to lose, they kept playing without a hang-dog attitude. One very long rally earned the respect of the crowd and they were given a round of applause.
The aforementioned TED talk suggests that IQ isn’t a good measure of success but grit is. What does it mean to have grit? Merriam-Webster online defines it as “mental toughness and courage.” Dictionary.com includes pluck, an indomitable spirit, and firmness of character. The lecturer, Angela Lee Ducksworth, defines grit as the passion and perseverance to accomplish long-term goals, or working hard to make dreams or goals a reality.
I never feel bad when CSU beats AF, mostly because I know these players have a chance to be successful in other areas of life, partly due to their grit, but obviously, grit in this instance does not guarantee success in volleyball. My question is, does it equal success in writing?
Ms Lee Ducksworth states many talented individuals do not meet with success, just as there are many smart people who are not successful. Submitting writing for publication is the one area of writing that I would agree requires grit. When you are faced with a deluge of rejection, you have to be able to get back up and resubmit. One other quality of grit that is mentioned in the short lecture is that those who demonstrate it do not believe failure is a permanent condition. Definitely a necessary characteristic to have as a writer. Most published authors had to exhibit some amount of grit in order to obtain the state of publication. One of the few successful authors who comes to mind who did not have the grit to continue to seek publication is John Kennedy Toole. Confederacy of Dunces,
the 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner, would be considered successful by most criteria, although the same may not be said for the author since he committed suicide prior to the book’s acceptance. It was his mother who exhibited grit in her determination to get his book published.
What about other aspects of writing? Does it take grit to finish a novel? A short story or poem? Or is the grit in the editing and rewriting? And even if you have the grit, say, to finish Nanowrimo, we all know that 50,000 words does not equate with success in publication. Possibly we could use the mentality that those who are successful have the grit to revise and rewrite to the point that their work is accepted and published. Certainly that is one type of grit, the determination to be published no matter what, and by that definition, anyone who is unwilling to conform to the exacting demands of agents/publishers/genres may not have the grit necessary for publication. Of course it is necessary to be flexible enough to listen to the critiques of others, but to some degree it seems to me that saying that an author who has spent time and effort concocting the best piece of writing of which they are able who is still not able to find a route to publication lacks grit, is an example of blaming the victim. Often you hear that if you are good enough and have worked at perfecting your craft, you will find success. If that is true, then someone who doesn’t find success did not maintain grit long enough.
This unsuccessfully published individual might still have had the grit to finish a novel or other piece of writing, but does having a finished product equate with success?
If you are a talented author with the will to complete a piece of writing and the grit to seek publication, are you guaranteed success? I think there are plenty of us out there who would respond no. What other factors are involved in writing (as in publishing) success and do they require grit in some form?
Sometimes writing to publish seems futile. Yes, I have published stories, but one wonders how many people read them/have read them? And if the only audience is my writing group and a select few others, why bother? I know the “correct” answer is, because I must. But must I sit and type and edit? Before I was a writer, I used to daydream stories. If I am not going to have an audience, why not do this again? It might be as personally satisfying and the editing can go on forever since I’m unlikely to remember what exact changes I’ve made. My house might be cleaner since daydreaming is compatible with vacuuming or dusting. It doesn’t, of course, accomplish two things; more than likely it won’t lead to growth as a storyteller or writer, nor does it do much for communication. As far as I know, no one is able to read my mind.
In the past, the first choice for publication was hard copy literary journals with their often dismal subscriber numbers. More prestigious, but how many people actually read each issue? Of course there are big-name journals with larger circulations, but the majority of these journals are less well-known and have small readerships. I suspect some of the students at the colleges, which publish the smaller journals read some of the stories and poems, but the I’d be willing to bet the largest audience is potential contributors. Yes, this may lead to readers, but I know I buy copies of journals, try to get engaged in a few stories, and then quit. One or two journals routinely published stories I read all the way through—StoryQuarterly being one—but overall I found only the occasional story interesting, and I seldom remembered the name of the author.
At one time I read The Atlantic, mostly for the fiction, so when they stopped including a story, I quit subscribing. Normally I purchase the fiction issue, although this summer I neglected to pick one up at the local newsstand. I also regularly purchased The Best American Short Stories. The stories in both these sources are usually more promising than those in random issues of literary magazines. In 2012, I didn’t buy the annual anthology as the stories, always well written, have taken on a sameness, featuring the same authors from the same sources. Besides, instead of being the best stories written, I feel they more accurately should be described as the best stories according to Heidi Pitlor; in most cases, this editor screens the stories before sending them off to the guest editor to pick. The truth is, I often found the comments on the genesis of the stories included, as well as the brief biographies of the authors more engaging than the stories themselves.
Internet journals, especially ten years ago, weren’t highly regarded, but there was a chance people would actually read the stories. Most of them were free. Many of them were short. And there were all those writers looking for places for their own work that either didn’t want to spend the money on the print journals or knew their material wasn’t exactly right for literary markets. Many of the online places made commenting easy, too. For me, the idea of readers on the Internet was tempting. I also liken these Internet journals to the “little magazines” that were published in the past.
For a while, a writer friend googled herself to see if anyone had commented on her stories. I’ve had a difficult time finding my stuff on the Internet, especially by writer name. Every variation of my name, except my married name, is very common. But one time my googling friend found a comment someone had made on one of my stories and forwarded it to me. I enjoyed reading this person’s reaction and commentary on my idea.
Even though the journal, Bewildering Stories, this story was published in has a very high acceptance rate according to Duotrope statistics, it pleased me that someone chose to comment on it and discuss it. Not sure I can ever find the comments again, though!
In case anyone is wondering about the genesis of this story, I wrote the first draft while driving home from visiting my in-laws in Roswell, NM.