“About time!” [they] are going to say. “What is he waiting for to draw the unavoidable conclusions? Since works are the only mirror that allows the artist to see himself in his true dimensions, our man should assuredly not harbor any further illusions regarding his gifts as a maker of literature. And anyway he has no call to be upset about it. He should just go ahead and accept renouncing the world of telling and writing, and if he did, at least he would be free of the obligation of telling and writing about how he’s renouncing the world.” ~ Marcel Bénabou, Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books
As I do every year – and even more so today – when the calendar flips to January, I take stock of my life as a whole, especially my writing.
This year has been particularly difficult professionally, with too few successes and too many disappointments. For reasons I won’t specify here because we as writers are cautioned against airing too much detail on business woes lest we be labeled whiny, the perfect storm of industry fluctuations occurred, and in mid-November I found myself a publishing orphan. The second book in my police procedural series, a follow-up to 2014’s Forty & Out, was suddenly without a home. This was especially crushing, given an earlier enthusiastic reception and optimistic assurances.
But such is the business we’ve taken to heart.
My question since then, in ever-louder report, is why? Why do I continue to subject myself to the whims of agents/editors/publishers, etc., who reject a work not always (or only) on its merits, but on a mysterious, convoluted set of ever-changing criteria.
Often (usually?) without giving a solid reason why.
The answer from many fellow writers is: don’t accept the traditional path! Self-publishing is the way around those finicky gatekeepers!
But I balk at that route for many and varied reasons that would take up a post or two on their own.
So where does that leave me? Should I follow the advice of Marcel Bénabou’s friends and “renounce[e] the world of telling and writing,” so I will “be free of the obligation of telling and writing about…renouncing the world”?
At least then I wouldn’t continue to castigate myself for failing yet again, for never making my mark, for becoming “just the woman who never got there”* – and I wouldn’t write more posts like this one.
Maybe I should heed their words. At this point it certainly seems it would lessen my frustration, lower my stress level.
Maybe I should wash my hands of the whole writing thing, and instead focus my energies on helping my students learn the craft, on encouraging and supporting the writers in my circle who are successfully published, on anything contributing to the literary life other than putting words on the page that it’s increasingly likely no one will ever read.
But Bénabou didn’t. He didn’t stop writing, and I guess, ultimately, neither can I.
“Why doesn’t he hurry up and take [that ‘most honorable way out’]?”
…“Quite simply, it’s that he [and I] believes that one day he’ll be able to make something of his deficits.”
*Maia Sharp’s “The Girl on Her Way”
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