Friday, July 30, 2010

Smaller Projects and Knowing What to Send Into the World

If you're looking at this blog you presumably look at other blogs like it and so must be aware of all the discussion lately on the great glut of writing rushing into submission queues every day. Even if you're not one of the publishing people fretting about or defending all the work coming in every day, every day, the rush of envelopes and emails stacking unopened, you're probably aware that a lot of words exist unprinted or unelectrified. Anybody who writes has thousands or hundreds of thousands of words in their hard drives or drawers that they probably don’t even send out, and anybody who knows other writers knows how many stories and novels and poems are homeless and wandering, screaming for attention.

I used to work for The North American Review and I edited fiction for Flyway for a while and so I'm very aware of the mass of work that comes in and of the mass of work that gets rejected. A lot of it is very strong and gets judged too quickly even if the reader spends long stretches agonizing over it. A lot of it is great and vibrant but not right for the journal, or comes in at a time when the roster is already stuffed. When my own projects come back unloved from agents and editors I try to remember what it's like on the other side of the conversation, for that person stuffing the RJ notice into the envelope or pasting it into the email.

This kind of thing has me thinking lately too about the nature of writing, about why we bother when the odds of anyone reading and enjoying what we put out are so long. Earlier this week Nick Antosca asked on HTML Giant how important it is for writers that their work be read or published. While I don't consciously dwell on the hope of finding homes for stories or novels while I'm knocking them out (I think that kind of obsession would trip up a lot of stories), if I were certain that no one ever would touch the things I'm putting together I would probably focus my energies in a different direction. I would become an excellent rock climber or alligator wrestler. At the very least I would become a visual artist. I am a terrible drawer and painter and have been jealous always of my friends who can put out even something awful (by their standards) and still have a vibrant and interesting object to hang on their walls and enjoy. A writer who produces anything less than amazing, by contrast, has at best a stack of scratch paper to use for future notes, or to use as the plate for a pair of microwaved pizza slices, or to fold into airplanes to launch at a cat. And a lot of times even the projects we love find these same uses.

This is the kind of thinking that lead me to start my current project, writing a (very) short piece each day on my blog. I'd been looking around for an idea around which to organize a blog, and this seemed like one that would also give me an outlet for the ideas that I usually toss away, flashes of fiction that I usually skip in favor of the longer or somehow "fuller" projects that demand more time and attention. I'm thrilled to be invited to share some of them here.

What about you? What do you do with the ideas that animate your thoughts briefly but that don't have a place in your larger schedule, or that you don't want to hector the world about while you focus on the projects that are more important to you? Is it enough that these things exist fast in our heads, or do they need to be created, and if they do need to be created do they need to be thrown out into the world at all? What criteria do you use to decide? And if you don't plan to send it out, do you still create it?


  1. I tend to sort of store them up in case someday I run out of ideas. Like a bear fattening himself for the winter.

    Or I tell myself, "That's really more of a comic book idea," or, "That's really more of a movie." Which is another way of saying it'll probably never happen. (I'm jealous of artists too.)

  2. I think "that's more of a comic idea" at least once a week. My head is a writhing jumble of ideas that really would only work in a visual narrative. I tried drawing one once and man, it was a mess. I admire comic creators like Ryan North or Randall Munroe who have taken visual limitations and created comics that are heady and that use stock art or stick figures, in these cases, to advantage..

  3. Yeah. I can draw okay but I'm too much of a perfectionist to accept my own work. I have dreams of getting a tablet computer someday and making peace with my meager talents long enough to make something incredible.