A year or so ago I was submitting about 200 short stories to lit journals per year. I had two novels I believed were complete and in a year’s time I sent out maybe 150 query letters and samples. My book review editor position immersed me in a network of indie presses, and I communicated with dozens of publishers and reviewers daily. Out of all those submissions, queries and networking I had about six stories accepted, no agent, no book deal.
Now, for the moment, none of that. And I’m enjoying writing more than I have in years.
Last week the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) accepted my panel proposal for the 2014 annual conference in Seattle. This is the event that draws 11,000 writers—unknown, famous and infamous—from around the world for three days of books, seminars, networking and general renewal of one’s inspiration. Most of the 500-plus panels are concerned with the craft of writing, pedagogy, or the state of the market. A few dozen are readings of the works of a well-known writer, or a publication from the local area. Ours, as you may infer from the title, is not like that.
Those other sessions are fine and traditional and all that, designed to appeal to the success side of the industry and foster the hope that literary accomplishment is just a submission or query away. Established writers and teachers come to stay up on current trends and news. Students and new writers are excited about the possibilities that await them. But I wanted to offer something different, something for the writers in the middle, those (yes, like me) who have been writing for years and have not seen those possibilities materialize. We’ve been published occasionally, but it’s nowhere near enough to even consider quitting the day job. The novels we’ve written are publishable, but remain unpublished. We didn’t come up through the ranks of the university system, so teaching jobs are out of reach. Maybe we set our goals too high.
Many writers in that position eventually quit, rationalizing that writing perhaps wasn’t their uncultivated talent after all. They may find a renewed passion for their first careers, or realize the joys of family, or find another calling and put the unfinished novels and stories in the closet. But some keep on writing just the same.
There are a lot of us, I think. We know our work is good and therefore find ways to adjust to the realities of the writing life, as unfair as they may appear to be, because we love what we do, society’s relentless pressure to succeed be damned. That’s what the session is all about, finding ways to keep going when everyone and everything connected with writing tells you that you haven’t measured up, that it’s time to grow up and reassume your responsibilities. That it’s time to stop. But we don’t.
As for the submissions and the queries and the job apps and the self-marketing, my withdrawal from the vortex of industry-imposed insanity is temporary. In other words, I’ll get back into that crap when I’m ready. For now I’m writing, which is what I set out to do. I am stoking the fire, feeling the heat.
Hope to see you in Seattle.
 I swear, if I didn’t know what pedagogy meant, I would think it was some kind of disease. You’d think a bunch of eggheads could come up with a better sounding term.