For the past 30 years I have lived with being cut from the 9th grade basketball team at Lemoore High School. I have told the story a few thousand times. For those of you lucky enough never to have heard
the story here it is in fewer than 25 words: I didn’t make the 9th grade team, I worked very hard and made the JV team the next year, I went on to play small college basketball. Moral of the story: Hard work= success.
If you dig a bit below the surface of the story you can find the real moral: Someone told me I wasn’t good enough. I knew they were wrong and I focused my anger in a constructive direction. It really isn’t about hard work, it is about bitterness. I know that if I hadn’t been cut in 9th grade I would not have worked as hard as I did to become a better basketball player. I will be the first to admit that I have had some genetic advantages in my basketball career, but being 6’6″ doesn’t automatically make you a good player, it certainly helps though.
This past week I was holding my breath again as I looked for my name on a list of people who made the second round of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. I had attempted the same contest several years ago and got cut in the first round. I was unhappy that I didn’t make the second round then, but looking back I know I wasn’t really prepared and didn’t understand how the publishing world works. This year, I made the second round. Do I think I can make the next cut? I think I should, but judging writing isn’t an exact science. Shortly after the contest announced the people making the next round, the Amazon discussion boards exploded with comments about how unfair the contest was, how stupid it was, and how it was a waste of time. I will admit, it was a lot easier reading people’s visceral reactions knowing that I made it into the next round.
Writing is a deeply personal activity. Steven King says in his book On Writing (I am paraphrasing here) that writing is telepathy. You are reading these words but I am putting them in your head when I hit these little keys on my computer. (Send me $100. Send me $100. Send me $100. We’ll see if that works.) King’s insight really struck me. Writing and reading is intimate. Yet, most writers are hoping that someone will read what they have punched out on the keyboard. This private and public medium is played out in the construction and publication of written material. I am sitting at my desk listening to music with my headphones on plunking away at the keyboard, but once I hit the Publish button on this webpage, my intimate ideas and ramblings can be read by anyone with a computer and too much time on their hands. The advantage of running a blog is that I can avoid much of the rejection associated with the publishing world. I can pretend to be popular and unless someone posts a comment like, “You are an idiot,” I can avoid most criticism.
Karl Marlantes is my publishing hero because it took him 35 years to get Matterhorn published. How much rejection can one writer tolerate? 35 years worth. I am not hoping to take 35 years to get my first novel published and I have no illusion that I am some Emily Dickinson figure cranking out great work that will remain undiscovered until my death, but I do think I can always improve my writing by working at it.
If I make the next cut on March 23rd I will be happy, but if I get cut, I will swallow the bitter pill and work a little harder. I might also have a little hissy fit.