Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
In How the Sausage Gets Made, On Being columnist Courtney Martin (@courtwrites) writes on the messy, imperfect behind-the-scenes reality of the creative process. Too often, we reveal only the impossibly manufactured final product to the world, we put forward our best, most coiffed selves, we uphold unreasonable expectations about how the work should get done, we are unforgiving of our very human rough edges:
We go public when the website looks perfect, when the book has its endorsements and its authoritative author photo, when the baby has arrived, safe and sound and wrinkly. But that’s not life. That’s respectability.
Life is all the stuff that happens before those things. Life is the messy process, full of self-doubt and false starts, desperate phone calls to friends, rejection and distraction and resilience. Life is burnt toast. Life is a crying baby. Life is a credit card decline…
Her brief essay explores her own self-doubt during the writing process and urges us to accept and revel in the “invisible muck of creation,” reminding us that it’s all for a worthy end: “I just cling to that little rope of faith that what I’m doing matters, in part because I’m doing it. I might be the source of all this imperfection, but I’m also the only me that ever is, was, and will be.”
The New Yorker featured George Saunders’ homage to the writing teachers who meant most to him in his life. This honest (if, at times, humorously self-deprecating) piece is a generous glimpse at the forces that shaped his writing education and serves, perhaps unintentionally, as a gentle prompt to consider your own. It is peppered throughout with pearls such as:
It is somehow mind-blowing, this notion that the people who write books also, you know, live…
Literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life taking verbal form.
But there he is: both writer and citizen. I don’t know why this makes such an impression on me–maybe because I somehow have the idea that a writer walks around in a trance, being rude, moved to misbehavior by the power of his own words. But here is the author of this great story, walking around, being nice.
Good teaching is grounded in generosity of spirit.
Live in such a way that, when neighbors walk by your house months after you’re gone, they can’t help but blurt out something affectionate.
The essay is breathtaking and worth reading for any writer–or any human–in its entirety.
Joy Lanzendorfer (@JoyLanzendorfer) penned a polarizing piece for The Atlantic on whether literary journals should charge writers just to read their work. She describes the growing practice of journals charging writers modest fees (often $3-5, but sometimes upwards of $25) simply to submit, without promise of publication or payment upon acceptance. These same publications often compensate well-established writers for solicited work, thereby creating a system that supports the old guard on the backs of struggling newcomers. Most troubling, according to Lanzendorfer, is that these fees, which can quickly add up, may create a barrier to soliciting diverse voices, something these journals claim to support and foster.
Of course, there is always another side: literary magazines are notoriously underfunded, with their editors and staff often making little to no money. Nominal submission fees are one way writers can contribute to a literary community in which they see themselves as an integral part.
The issue of paying writers (or not) extends far beyond the world of literary journals. Lanzendorfer’s piece offers an incisive, stimulating analysis of one aspect of this perennial dilemma.
Jennifer Niesslein (@jniesslein), editor of Full Grown People, also tackles the issue of earning a living in the writing world in her recent piece for Creative Nonfiction, The Price of Writing. She deftly sets forth the different tiers of publications, from those that bring in no money to the glossies where nearly everything is funded by advertising.
Each writer, it seems to me, has to cobble together her own moral code of which rung or rungs she’s willing to work with. Some flat-out refuse to work for publications that don’t pay well; from my perspective, these writers might make some bank, but often it’s for writing service pieces or articles that aren’t especially close to their hearts or that require intense months-long immersion in stories.
For her own part, having a fulfilling writing and editing career has trumped seeking monetary success:
I don’t know how it is for everyone else, but for me, it can’t be about the money, at least not entirely. I want to look back on my life and know that I did something worthwhile. And right now, I think I do. There’s nothing like the pleasant buzz I get when I’m editing and I come across a passage that makes me think, This is going to be just the thing that somebody needs right now.
Finally, I will leave you with this short, uplifting blog post by Casey Fowler (@humeansacrifice) on the perpetual perfection of the first draft. I happened upon it on a difficult writing day and it was exactly what I needed:
The first draft is always perfect. perfect. Its only job is to exist. Like minerals. Like dirt. Like air. It just needs to be. All a first draft need be is an idea borne into reality. A first draft is something made tangible from nothing – its only purpose is to pierce the space between your thoughts and the reality we all share.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!