Along with the rest of my writing friends, I got a huge kick out of Rebecca Makkai’s post on Ploughshares yesterday. “Writers You Want to Punch in the Face(book)” perfectly exposes writers’ awkward and often tortuous relationship with social media. Through her fictional Todd Manly-Krauss, whose status updates are oh-so-#blessed deposits into his cool-point account, Makkai spells out exactly why we sometimes cringe through our feeds. It’s one thing to say to a friend on a long overdue phone call, “Hey, guess what? Remember that essay I was banging into shape for a long time? The one that I almost gave up on? It just got picked up!” It’s another to say it to 300+ friends in the strange public-private forum of FB. Many of us agonize over how to do it just right. We don’t have experience saying such a thing to a room of 300+ people. If we ever found ourselves in front of such a crowd, surely we wouldn’t tell them that. Facebook is a wholly unique in that way.
I wonder if writers who’ve read and appreciated Makkai’s post will shy away from their own updates for a while. If I had an update this month, I don’t think I’d share it.
But that makes me sad.
Because I like you. I like your publication news.
Forty-five percent of my Facebook friends are creative writers. I did the math. We met in two graduate programs, at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, in writing workshops and literary gatherings and conferences, through writer friends. Forty-five percent.
Not one of my creative writer friends makes a living by writing alone (to my knowledge). Some make a living on the craft. They teach creative writing at MFA programs and edit literary journals. They are writing coaches and manuscript editors and speakers and workshop leaders. But no one in my FB world makes a living solely as a novelist or poet or memoirist or playwright or children’s book author.
I like your publication news because I know you are not being paid much, if anything, to have your piece published.
In creative writing, self publishing is tricky. If you ever want to teach creative writing, for example, you’re told not to self publish your work. Sure, that painter might be selling his prints on his website, but you can’t sell your poetry on yours.
I like you because you are not selling me your poem but I know if someone paid you for your poem it would feel good to you. And if your publication news is of a chapbook or memoir, I will try to budget to buy it. And if I can’t afford it, I will tell you anyway that I will try to buy it, and then I really will try.
So what do creative writers do, the ones who don’t self publish? To earn an income directly from writing, they apply for fellowships, submit to contests, submit to paying markets, and try to get their books published. They pay application and submission fees. They spend more money trying to get their work out there than they make.
I like your publication news because I know you might have spent $3 or $15 or $28 to submit that short story that had a less-than-one-percent chance of winning. I like your publication news even if it’s just your name and your piece’s title listed as a finalist and the piece itself isn’t published.
Many of my creative writing friends carry other writing-based jobs, like me. Teaching writing, not just creative writing, at non-MFA programs. Journalism, corporate communications, advertising copy. Editing, publishing, audio narration, librarian.
Many work further outside words: architecture, marketing, advertising, health care, nonprofits. The waitress. The nurse.
I like your publication news because I know you had to find time outside work to craft the piece that has been published.
Like everyone everywhere, creative writers also must manage their children, aging parents, siblings, friends. Their volunteer positions on scholarship boards or neighborhood councils. Their house hunting. Their obligations to attend weddings and funerals and birthday parties. Their law suits over satellite dishes and sidewalk repairs. Their felled trees and flooded yards. Their taxes. Their cancer.
And they want to exercise. And be social. And watch television. And cook. And shop. And travel. And read books. And take walks in the park.
I like your publication news because I know something had to go in order to write the piece. And I know that as a writer, you may be keenly empathetic as well as driven to explore your world and therefore you are not likely to have shirked your obligations toward family and your need to get out and walk and travel and explore. I know you probably gave up sleep to write the thing. Hours and hours and hours of sleep to imagine it, draft it, revise it, edit it, proof it, search for the right market for it, write an appropriate cover letter for it, submit it, track your submissions of it, and log the multiple rejections that came before it hit someone in just the right way.
I like your publiation news because I think you must be very, very tired, and I want to give you this little lift.
To maintain a life as a creative writer, which sometimes seems like an entirely alternate existence, a second life, takes a ridiculous amount of hours drafting, revising, submitting, blogging, participating, reading, reviewing. All for so little money, or for no money, for just the amorphous platform building that will hopefully lead to a future in the writing world. It often seems unfair to the urgent first life to dip into that vague second one. But writers would wither and die if they didn’t.
I like your publication news because you are not withering. You are voicing. You are slaying.
So please keep posting. “Like” the shares of Rebecca Makkai’s spot-on satire. (It’s really worth the read.) And keep posting your news.
Ok, but if you Manly-Krauss it and write about your ex-model spouse doing 100% of the childcare for a whole week and still finding time and good will to make and deliver meals to you in your quaint little writing cabin that you somehow afforded to build on all that land you own, I won’t like it because I won’t believe you.