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Publishing is Trying to Kill My Creativity
But it hasn't killed it yet!
Happy Shot Day!
Today we’re talking about publishing and some of that pesky dark side that comes with the beauty of the book world. Part of many assistants and entry-level workers in publishing’s day-to-day is reading submissions, and writing reader’s reports and editorial letters. A lot of the time, this is very cool! Not only is it an important part of the process of publishing, but it’s also so special to be able to read an author’s work. I have such an appreciation for writing as a craft, and writing a book is in itself a major triumph. I don’t take my job reading submissions lightly - someone has spent months, years, longer than that, writing something that’s incredibly important to them, and I want to treat it with as much care as possible when reviewing it.
However. When it comes to my own writing, I find that the editorial part of my brain won’t shut up long enough to allow me to be carelessly, blissfully, creative.
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One of the oft-given pieces of advice is to write a shitty first draft. I think this is great advice! I give it to my friends, and to my workshop group members, and try to follow it myself. But what happens when all you can see is the marketability (or not) of the idea you have? When the line editing jumps in right alongside each new sentence that appears in the Word doc? How do you bypass the editorial brain that can’t help but comment?
Picture this: I’m sitting down at my desk to write. I have a lovely cup of ginger tea with honey, perfectly steeped, placed purposefully on my desk. The only lighting in the room is ambient (overhead lighting should be outlawed) and my desk is clean and neat. I have my notebook open, my favorite pen next to me. I’m ready to write. I don’t make it further than the first sentence before I start thinking editorially. Things like this dialogue is unrealistic. This plot sounds similar to the book you read last week, or last year, it’s not original enough, it won’t be interesting to a wide audience. Who would care about this? You should story map before you just write. Do you even know what you’re writing about? Your pacing is off. You keep switching tenses. Didn’t you give that character green eyes? Why are they blue now? Are you even paying attention? Does this, by chance, sound familiar?
I wish I could say I’ve figured it out, I’ve cracked the code, and here’s how, but I, unfortunately, cannot. This post won’t be an advice column, as much as I wish it could be. I recently did get some good advice that sounds obvious but was nonetheless quite heartening: keep writing, as much as you can and is sustainable for you, and be dogged in your submissions. A rejection is not really a rejection until it’s been submitted to at least 30 places. As someone currently stuck in the loop of needing experience to get experience, needing publications to get publications, I’m holding on to this advice like… well, not a life raft, but maybe a pool noodle. Just that little extra bit of buoyancy while I keep treading water.
I’m desperately trying to find my place in the publishing world, and in the writing one. I’ve been reading Craft in The Real World and “the making of a story,” with orders placed on Reading Like a Writer and a few other books. Writing is, after all, a practice, and I need better tools. My goal is to join others that I admire, like Ayla Zuraw-Friedland, in finding practices that will motivate me to keep writing, and hopefully inspire joy while they do it. Ayla has been keeping track of her writing via this thread since May 11th, and it’s been a joy to follow. Literary mags like Taco Bell Quarterly are inspiring me and restoring my faith in the wonderful silliness of writing, one tweet at a time (break down the literary gates! Live más! You can be a literary writer, too!)
Being caught between gatekeeper and gatekept is quite a tricky place to be. A large part of my day is reviewing submissions and making recommendations to the people I work with on whether they should consider something for further recommendation or reject it. Most of my evenings are spent wondering if/how/when I will ever be a writer myself, if my writing will ever pass through those pearly gates of “recommended for further consideration,” or if I simply don’t have the star quality I need to get published.
Clearly, though, I haven’t given up - I’m too phenomenally stubborn in that comedic Jewish way that my father and I share. I reach for the strands of creativity left to me at the end of the work days, writing snippets of things on the backs of bookmarks, the corners of my work notebooks and meeting notes from earlier in the morning. Publishing is trying to crush the creativity out of me while also sparking so much of it - each proofread manuscript, each book deal, and each new author I come across brings a familiar thrill of possibility.
Thanks for joining this week’s installment. Questions, comments, and craft book recommendations are welcome below:) And if you haven’t already, subscribe to Shot Day for more conversations on publishing, bagels, and queerness!