I Am, Therefore I Write

August 14, 2017 § 70 Comments


zz priddyby Jan Priddy

Rejection came this morning, a personal note after being short-listed, and it’s the usual thing. Most writing is rejected. I thought about why—not why the story was rejected, because that’s fair. Editors don’t owe me an explanation. It’s the other whys:

Why write? Why submit?

Perhaps thirty years ago, my children were both in school and I was sweating my way through the new outdoor exercise park in Seaside. Neat wooden signs directed me to complete jumping jacks and then move to the next station and follow instructions to do sit-ups or chin-ups.

I do not recall all the activities I was asked to do, only that I did each one until I came to a wooden vault near the end of the circuit. On every side of me, greenery and expectation. I was just about to take a run at the apparatus, familiar from my school days, when I thought: I will hurt myself doing this, and it will take days or weeks before I am mended. I chose not to jump and deliberately turned aside to the next station.

It was about that time I understood I was never going to be wealthy and that I had become invisible because I was no longer young and pretty. (I had not noticed I was young and pretty when I was those things, so the realization that my time had past struck me as funny. I give myself credit for amusement.)

About that time, I also began writing seriously every day, and I can tell you I fell again for the delusion that one day I would be famous and maybe wealthy?—this time as a writer. I had always written, of course, but regarded my art as visual, composed of metal and fiber, the weaving and repoussé I studied as an undergrad. Nevertheless, in mid-life I found I must write, and that has commanded my attention for a long time. I cannot set it aside. I can leave Facebook and shutter my blog, but I still write in order to remain healthy. Like my daily walk keeps my heart healthy, I cannot stop writing without losing my soul.

Still.

Maybe everyone does not imagine fame, the book published to acclaim, the interviews and literary prizes and readings before an admiring public. Maybe most people are more realistic about their prospects. I was not. Even now, with novels, a memoir and a series of essays, creative nonfiction, poetry, and stories only a few want to read, I sometimes indulge the fantasy of a major publication. I waste hours sending work out. I check Submittable and Duotrope online before dawn. I check again. And again before shutting my computer for the night. I visit websites and I toy with querying agents, something I have done before with little success. All of this a bother and distraction from actually writing.

It would be easy to think I have wasted my time with words. I have written so much that I threw away, so much I have forgotten. I scroll through my computer files and wonder about the subject of a short story begun in 2005 called “Without, Still Night” that my computer assures me cannot be opened. There are twenty-three drafts of this piece in a folder labeled “New Stories” that can no longer be opened. No one will ever again read it or the others saved here, not even me. Instead, there is this.

No writing retreat waits in my immediate future, no workshop, no writing vacation free of responsibilities, but I am writing anyway. I have applied for several residencies recently and failed to win one, but I am writing. Bad luck or other, better writers? Forgive me for not caring. In truth I do care, I care very much, but I write regardless. Waiting for a journal’s response to my work is painful and I require time to recover from letters containing curt rejection, but still. I write most days and sometimes for entire days without ceasing and without expectation of reward, simply for the glory of putting words on the page.

I am, therefore I write.

Any experienced writer will warn that if that is not enough, if the goal is merely to seek fame or to become a “writer” rather than to write, it would be wise to seek fame elsewhere and to become something else.

That truth is hard to accept and easy as leaping into darkness. There is no set of instructions about how to do this or when or even if I should. Only I can choose for myself. I write. Sometimes I might submit. Do I risk the jump?

The alternative is to live mute in the universe.
__

Jan Priddy’s work is found in journals such as the Brevity blog, The MacGuffinCALYXWork MagazineRaven ChroniclesThe HumanistNorth American Review, and anthologies about running and race. An MFA graduate from Pacific University, she is lately writing nonfiction and fiction about pink, grief, and children who turn into owls. She lives in her great grand aunts’ home on the Oregon coast.

§ 70 Responses to I Am, Therefore I Write

  • selviafei says:

    Great writing 😊😊😊

  • philipparees says:

    How totally I identify with this! Every word, and every situation. I too write to remain sane, and throw out submissions heedlessly without even remembering when and to whom, since then I save myself the time pursuing rejections and hardly noticing when they appear.

    Not far off eighty with two unpublished novels, and a collection of short stories, a play and now a memoir in progress I flirt with stopping but my affair with vacant days, and mere existence does not sustain me. So I write to discover what I think!

    It IS a kind of hell, but the hell of not writing is worse.
    I enjoyed this explicit post by a circumstantial companion!

    • Mary Carter says:

      I am with you. Just turned 60 this year. “I flirt with stopping but my affair with vacant days, and mere existence does not sustain me.” To not write, is to forget. The writing strings events, observations, and descriptions, on my thread of a soul. I do not know you, but I wish I did–and Jan Priddy. I made a career in another field, and am now finishing a M.A. in Creative Writing. I have no expectations, but as Jan describes, I also, have fantasies of publication… It will be my third career after I retire from this one (I have to put our last child through college first.) Anyway, thank you for posting.

    • Thank you both—the best thing is when a conversation starts!

  • This is a great piece about what it is to be a (literary) author in, especially, the early 21st-century U.S. I know so many authors whose work, like Jan Priddy’s, is excellent and would be gladly read, could it get past the “gatekeepers,” by many readers, and yet which, by chance or by being something other than the immediate fashion (standard or alternative) or for some other reason, does not get past those gates. I believe we have to keep writing–for we must, we have no choice, trying to “stop” does never succeed–and to not only keep seeking book/journal publication but also find ways to self-publish, individually or with other authors/groups, that will reach at least those select hundred or two hundred readers we most want to reach plus as many others as we can–preferably over two thousand or so and, let us, each and all, hope, many more.
    Thank you for having the courage to express here what so many of us are feeling, Jan.

  • Krishna KK says:

    Really such a great piece. Thanks for express your feeling. Great courage.

  • This is so honest and real. Thanks for sharing this, Jan.

  • Allison K Williams says:

    Soo true, right down to having to choose what risks I want to take now…

  • doubtpuppet says:

    I am afflicted with this same delusion from time to time. As an antedote I decided to submit some of my best poems to poetry contests. I figured it would be a good experiment. If I didn’t rank in any then at least I tried bla bla bla. But if I ranked in one it would be good publicity! (secretly I expected to win them all and a parade to be held in my honour – hail the new king of poetry). Of course, I didn’t win any or rank and the biggest kick in the teeth is when they unexpectedly publish lists of the 100 shortlisted entries and none of your 3 babies are on there. And one day, that acid realisation that you’ve just blown a load of money you haven’t got funding prizes for the proper poets. It’s haaaaaaaaard to get through that. It makes you feel like throwing in the towel.
    But then you hear successful writers(successful anything really) interviewed and time and time again, you hear the same common thread emerge – about countless failures, knock backs, insults, horrors … before they finally made it.
    So perhaps tenacity should be our watchword come what may. Ideally it would be good to just not want success, but in such a world as this, how is that even possible? I think everyone wants that with whatever they’re good at, no matter how they sell it.
    Also, I think people who create things usually crave praise for their creations and that’s what drives them in part. So it’s hard to just switch that off and live on the nobility of creating something beautiful alone. At some point, you want some kind of recognition that what you are making is good. But as with many things in a world of veneers, some people are better at hiding it than others. All the more credit to you for putting it out there so the rest of us don’t feel alone.

  • I am not a professional, but i have seen my shares of rejections. they were countless, and upsetting . but i have since dusted the seat of my pants, pushed up my sleeves and told myself i don’t need those agents. I can do it on my own. put together the stories you have written. have them beta read and get a cover and a title for the book .’99 shortstories’ or something. or even posts you have published in your blog. go to amazon kdp or whatever other site you prefer. start publishing, and most importantly, don’t look back at the rejections.

  • jeffstroud says:

    I recently read Stephen Kings book On Writing in which he expresses the submission process as well as offers how to select publication to submit to. It was great advise.
    I can understand how the writing process can be an all consuming life experience or even a way to experience life. If we write to write for ourselves, the world may or may not ever see your work yet the drive gets us moving in the morning, and our minds whirl about how to make situations into a story.

  • davidwberner2 says:

    I have always ask students in the rare Workshops I conduct, are you writing to write or writing to publish? Sometimes the two do not intersect. I admire your dedication and resolve, Jan. You are all of us.

  • I write because it encourages me to be courageous. It’s a muscle.

  • I am usually on Brevity first thing in the morning—very early on my coast and before dawn. I slept late this morning and what a dear thing to find my words posted with a better title. I am terrible at titles and my best ones have always been gifts from wiser folk. People had already clicked the little stars and told me I am not nuts. Maybe writing is a little like running. I used to be a runner. If I only ran to finish first, imagine what I would have missed along the way!

  • msellezed says:

    Wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • Shefali says:

    Jan, this is beautiful and oh, so poignant. Made me cry. And feel totally, completely understood. Thank you for writing–and sharing your vulnerability with me and the world.

  • Susan Littlefield says:

    Wonderful article!

    Seaside is so beautiful! My cousin lives in Warrenton, Oregon and goes to Seaside often to walk on the boardwalk. I would not be surprised if you two have met.

  • Joanne says:

    Terrific reflection. Thank you. And this–“The alternative is to live mute in the universe.”–yes, that is what keeps me going. I am done with silence.

  • The Serendipity Journals says:

    What a lovely quote! My reasons for writing sometimes feel so complicated, but I suppose that is at the centre. Perhaps I have been placing too much expectations on my writing: to make me appreciated, to make me famous, to fix me. Now I need to accept that it cannot, will not. I need to get back to the centre of it all. I just need to write.

  • A great piece for reflection. Unlike you, I spent many, many years not writing (besides shopping lists and the occasional academic article), so I have only been slogging through the experience of rejections for three, four years now. But when “declines” come at me like a chain of low pressure systems in the North Atlantic, it’s sometimes hard to remember why I do this.

    • philipparees says:

      I think part of why we do it is to find out what we feel and think ( that’s the easy part) and having done so we want to hear echoes of whether what we feel and think finds congruence in readers. That’s the hard part, because if you self publish ( as I have) readers take some digging out with loud hailers or sharp prods! (Incentives etc) If you offer books for free it is assumed they cannot be any bleedin good!

      Literary fiction will come back from Agents because its not commercial enough for them to turn a dime and every marketing stratagem ( I must have taken eight step-wise courses) assumed your books are a) In a single genre, b) In a series or c) are crime romance or erotica which can stand alone ( well in the book sense)

      So the writing bug is literally that, it bites, itches and never succumbs to lethal Die-damn-You aerosols!

      Perhaps why posts like this come as comforters.

      We are not alone in our private hells!

    • It is too easy to focus on rejection when they come in a lump like a series of unwelcome phone calls. Hang in there!

  • Yes! I can so relate to “I am, therefore I write!” Writing is like breathing. I gotta’. I sometimes forget how much till I can’t find the time or am unable to write for a few days.
    Maybe like you, I write because I have to. To be me.
    People read. Some review. I love it. I’d love more of it. I wrestle with the realities of time and energy to figure out the balance of how and where and what and if.
    Dreams and fantasies are icing on the cake of writing but they don’t replace the need, the absolute necessity, of writing.
    Keep at it. Write. Dream. Breathe.
    Because there are many of us who ‘know you’ and we understand.

  • You’ve always been a wonderful writer, Jan, and if you stopped, I would miss you. This reader, would miss your work. You write, therefore I read.

    • Oh, my dear. I saw this essay published at the start of a flood of company this summer, and I did not return as I should have to respond. I confess I reread your comment more than once. Many, many thanks!

  • mskinnerlanier says:

    I found myself resonating again and again with your points, Jan. Thank you for expressing your views with such humility and honesty. It takes courage and, as you say, the will to keep writing.

  • Cara says:

    Got me right in the gut, loved every second of it.

  • bone&silver says:

    I can merely echo what everyone else has commented on here before me, & commend you for so eloquently showing us your vulnerability & determination. I am but a beginning writer (at 51), yet it is hard not to dream or yearn for praise & some kind of contemporary glory! I feel a bit foolish after reading this, yet still I will write & blog. Thank you 🙏🏼

  • Thanks for sharing. Like others have commented, I write because it’s a way of discovering things about myself, things that sometimes surprise me. I’ve always thought that we’d have no more war if more people in power adopted daily writing habits. It’d give them time to get their evil heart out on paper and reflect on it. Perhaps this is mistaken though, as Hitler himself wrote “Mein Kampf.” Either way, it helps me stay balanced.

  • I think no matter what is said one writes to leave a mark of some sort so it is undeniable that as I write I want to be read…even if only by one person, well 2 people – one being myself, and perhaps the second being an older self of me..if the file still opens that is. Keep on keeping on is a refrain I hear when I feel like being silent; when I feel depression and I start to suffocate…I have to say..’do right..write’….it is, as you say, like breathing…so breathe.
    (…what on earth is pink about? and the owl children sounds intriguing!!!)

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  • themindvoices says:

    Great write up

  • There is so much beauty and truth here. Thank you for putting what I think and feel and experience into words. Perhaps it’s the last line that says it all for me.

  • I actually felt the feeling behind every word, Jan. The title answers everything in there. Loved your writing. Long way to go.

  • Beautifully written and keep writing. Thanks for sharing. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

  • uchenah says:

    “The alternative is to live mute in the universe” Thank you for these words : this is it for me.

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