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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Becoming a Successful Writer

This weekend I put my new manuscript together in one word file, after months of moving loose pages around on the floor, on the bed, on the counter. While I did this, I reordered poems and fine-tuned lines. And cut a few poems altogether. And in general I just started getting the feel of the manuscript as a single document instead of as a bunch of poems tried out in various configurations.

While I was doing this (some of it, the actual locating of files and cutting and pasting, not the thinking part), I was listening to a podcast from the University of Iowa's Virtual Writing University by David Bouchier about avoiding verbosity (scroll down mid-page to find his podcast, although unless you are a truly novice writer, there are probably better ways to spend your time than on this particular recording). It was pretty amusing because Bouchier himself rambled and got lost on tangents (which, to his credit, he did acknowledge as violating his own premise). However, what I took away from the podcast came from one of those forays off-topic when he said that each writer needs to know what she considers being a successful writer for her would entail. He listed a few options, which I don't recall but paraphrase very loosely here: Could you call yourself a successful writer if your mother admired you, if you had nine devoted readers who truly understood what you meant, if your were locally famous, if you published dozens of books that were slammed by the critics but which you were pleased with? Do you need a dozen perfectly impeccably crafted poems, or do you want to be in certain journals, or in a certain number of journals? Do you need acclaim, or fame, or a wide audience? What is it you need to feel you are a successful writer?

This is an interesting question, particularly for me out here in Japan without a local audience, without a community of writers to sound my work and ideas off of. I do write for connection, for communication, with other people. I do write to have readers. I don't need that many. But I need more than I have. At least one more, and maybe that one is just me myself. I need to feel more connected than I do. That's why I write. And to know what I think (who said that? Joan Didion maybe?) But yes, to know what I think, and to find out that I'm not the only person who thinks as I do. And to not be alone. Even being with words on paper is better than being alone.

And paradoxically I crave being alone more than anything, so that I can have the opportunity to write my way out of my aloneness. Go figure.

And what if I ever get what I need? Will I still write? Or is what I need designed by me to be something I can never get so that I keep writing? Or if I get it, will I just need something else (economic's dismal science paradox), so that I keep writing?


drew said...

"I crave being alone more than anything, so that I can have the opportunity to write my way out of my aloneness."

Yes, that is the writer's paradox.

Thanks for making me think, and rethink, what "success" means to me.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

It's worth (re-)examining periodically, isn't it?

HATBOOKS Author Holly Thompson said...

Well, you have at least some local audience here in Japan--looking forward to reading this next collection!

Mari said...

Jessica, congratulations on putting your second manuscript together... that is an enormous accomplishment! I look forward to reading it when it's finally out in the world.

Mari said...

And, like Drew, your post has helped me to reconsider the meaning of "success" as I perceive it.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thanks for your support, Holly and Mari!

And Mari, the new manuscript is far from being world-ready, but I'm happy just to keep moving it along!