Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One Round of Self-Doubt

Recently I have been looking at my growing pile of rejection letters and thinking perhaps I have better ways to spend my time; maybe I should concentrate instead on contributing more financially to our family, on spending more quality time with my kids, or on studying Japanese. Maybe everyone around me cringes when I talk with childish self-indulgence about trying to write, to be a writer.

.......Then I ran across this, from a well-known essay by short story writer Kathryn Chetkovich on being the girlfriend of Jonathan Franzen.

"It’s not as though anyone thinks that being a good writer makes you a good person. But it helps. (Isn’t this perhaps one reason why women, as a whole, are more apt than men to see writing and reading as therapeutic acts? All that private time spent rendering and transforming personal experience on paper is easier to justify if the writer – and, ideally, the reader – is healed in the process). If you’re truly talented, then your work becomes your way of doing good in the world; if you’re not, it’s a self-indulgence, even an embarrassment.

But how do you know you’re good, if not by comparing yourself favorably to others (an essentially ungood activity)? And how many women are comfortable doing that?"

Kathryn Chetkovich, from “Envy”, in Granta, Summer 2003 issue


The other voice in my head says, "No one will take your writing seriously unless/until you do," but how can I take my writing seriously when no one else does? (Okay, not no one else, but no one in publishing). Round and round I go.


Now it occurs to me that this post is related to the post I wrote yesterday, about whether to write or not what conflicts with actual family history, embedding those invented facts within that history and willfully failing to make a distinction.

It occurs to me now that a good writer should write whatever is necessary, actual facts be damned, whereas a good woman (and to a lesser extent, a good person, gender unspecified, and in both these cases I mean a culturally-defined good woman/person) should not write what might be unsettling or uncomfortable or disturbing for her family. I can't be both a good writer and a good woman/person. Shall is shoot for the lower target, or the higher? Should I give up on both?

Or, even more accurately, I can't be both a good daughter and a good writer.


Tracy Slater said...

Interesting post, J. I've been pushing many of these questions aside a bit in my head as I prepare to publish the memoir. Just one thing I need to take issue with though: It's not true that no one in publishing recognizes your talent and your contributions to poetry. Since you are an award-winning poet! From real, wonderful, prestigious publishers and journals that are dedicated to recognizing award-winning poets!!Don't let momentary discouragement--or important ethical/philosophical quandaries--belittle that truth.


Jessica Goodfellow said...

Happy, Happy Birthday, T! Hope you are enjoying your day.

My day started off with two brand new rejections in my inbox.....But as you say, perspective...this is happening now, but is not what has always happened, and this too will end.

In the meantime, celebrate your big day!!!!

Mari said...

Not sure if you saw this, Jessica, but I'll share it here.

Stay true.

Tressa said...

Changing names and writing it under fiction is still writing what is true because the essence of the story itself is still true to itself. You'd still be writing what you saw and felt honestly.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hi Mari,

One of the perks of being back on FB is that I did see the link to that Writers on Writing column. Not sure if what I'm doing counts as healing or as ripping open an old wound, but I'm going to do it anyway.....

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Tressa, I guess my big concern is that I'm NOT writing what I saw honestly (what I feel, yes, but what I saw, no). I didn't see much of what I'm writing about (wasn't privy to certain scenes, was too young, etc), so I'm filling in details, and I'm even putting in details that I know for a fact aren't true, but they speak to a larger truth or (more likely) they just have the right sound compared to the real detail (this is poetry after all). So that's where I start to feel a bit sick to my stomach...that I'm mixing in stuff I'm sure isn't true. As it happens, it doesn't make anyone look bad, but it does make them seem different than they were, and is that fair? That's what I'm wrestling with.