One of my goals in starting this blog was to chronicle my experiences as a writer. You may have noticed that many of these experiences have related to my strategies for dealing with the gut-punch of rejection letters. Despite that, I do manage to get published every now and then in various litmags, journals webzines, etc. However, the most monumental development in my writing career to date occurred in December of 2013, when my first full length poetry collection, How a Bullet Behaves, was released by Scars Publications. Granted, you probably won’t find my book at your local Barnes and Noble, but people can buy it on Amazon (and actually have!), which is still pretty cool. (Plus, I bet Barnes and Noble could order it for you, if that’s your thing.)
Publishing my first book has been probably my longest-standing writing goal. Getting to this point made me think about my future goals as a writer. Sometimes, I worry about stagnating, or entering into a slow decline. I always want to be moving forward with my art. I always want to be working toward achievements that excite me as much as this one did. I perennially want to be a better writer. For all of this reasons, I attended a writing conference this weekend, sponsored by the New Hampshire Writers Project. I got to hang with writers of all sorts, including friends, strangers, and a few wildly successful bestselling authors.
One thing that struck me while I was at this conference was what I truly wanted out of my writing career. On a basic level, I want my books to be published and I would like people to read them. If only it started and ended there. At the conference, I had the opportunity to listen to many authors present on the more practical aspects of a career in writng, such as the challenges of working with agents, negotiating contracts, and simply getting paid. This made me question how I define success, and whether a big-money, high profile book deal is a necessary component of that concept. Don’t get me wrong; if a publishing giant ever offered me a multi-book contract with a nice advance, I would consider myself extremely fortunate and would jump on that opportunity. However, if that doesn’t happen, and it probably won’t, will I count it as a failure? I don’t think I will, and here’s why. For one thing, many of the bestselling authors presenting happened to work in genre fiction or “blockbuster” novels. I, on the other hand, write poetry and quirky, literary fiction. These are not genres that are currently clogging bestseller lists(regardless of whether I think they should be). The current list of NYT Bestsellers in Fiction includes authors like Janet Evanovich, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and Linda Lael Miller. Although I respect and admire their talent,I will never write like these authors, nor do I aspire to. This may not preclude the possibility of my achieving commercial success, but it probably won’t grease any wheels.
In considering these things, I’ve realized that commercial and financial success is not at the top of my priorities list as a writer. DISCLAIMER: This is not the moral high ground. This isn’t a commentary on anyone who values these things. Now that we’ve established that I’m not trying to be obnoxious, I’d like to stipulate that I would certainly be thrilled if I happened to achieve fame and fortune as a result of my artistic endeavors. I’m not saying that I don’t want these things, or that I would reject them. I’m simply saying that it won’t ruin my life if I don’t get there. I would consider myself a failure if I stopped writing. I would consider myself a failure if I never tried to publish another book or schedule another reading. If I can manage to be an active writer for the rest my life, I’ll probably feel pretty good about that.
Postscript: I left the conference feeling humbled, motivated, and fortunate to have received guidance from such brilliant artists. Props to NHWP for putting on such a killer event, and much gratitude to all the authors who taught workshops, especially Alice B. Fogel, Andrew Merton, JoAnn Adinolfi, and Elaine Isaak.