Monday, August 28, 2017

TinyLetter: Rising Rejections

I just posted my first TinyLetter, a slightly rambling introduction to what I hope to accomplish with (hopefully) weekly letters and updates.

From now on, I'll just share the URL whenever I do a post, but for this first one, I'll share it here in full.

If you'd like to subscribe, you can do so here: https://tinyletter.com/jyatesLA

Even though I haven't posted here with any frequency, I'll still have original content that I'll update on this blog for the sake of variety. I like using social media in various forms, as in: not excessively cross-posting for one blandly unified collection of feeds.

Hi there, and welcome to my first TinyLetter.

I'm still figuring out how to navigate this space, and while I do have ideas on how I want this to take shape, there may be stumbles and hiccups along the way. So bear with me.

I first mentioned writing a TinyLetter a month or so ago. What I hope to accomplish is straightforward. After a year living in Lafayette, Louisiana, I want to document how my writing has changed after Southern immersion. Do I call myself a "Southern writer?" Is such a label necessary, and if so, what claim do I have? Just because I've eaten a ton of po' boys and I'm a writer, should I worry about how my new environment has shaped me? My last published story ("Love Bugs," Split Lip Magazine, December 2016) was explicitly Southern, and my latest WIP is heavily immersed in a Southern landscape. So am I a Southern writer? I don't know, but that's something I can explore later on. I'm concerned with how using my surroundings in fiction translates into honesty and reality, especially when faced with Southern stereotypes that I had in my head upon the move down here, and when famous Southern writers tend to form a small sect that is influential, both positively and negatively.

For now, as my bio suggests, I want to talk about anxiety, depression, and rejections. I hesitate to describe myself as depressed, because it's the kind of word that can be thrown around easily, and I've never been diagnosed with it, or treated for it. But my last several months were a spiral of negative feelings. After working as an adjunct instructor last fall, the university I worked for wasn't able to offer me any courses. I found myself dangerously unemployed for months, trying to find work in an area that had a) doesn't have a wealth of jobs available, and b) tends to give openings to family and friends in need of work. My girlfriend carried the financial weight, and I applies for dozens and dozens of jobs, with almost no return calls or emails. I was scared, depressed, and didn't know what to do. Between worrying about money and feeling isolated, my motivation to write was nonexistent, which led to even MORE writing anxiety: writers are supposed to write, no matter what. But I felt guilty and nervous carving out writing time when I didn't know what the future was going to hold.

I got damn lucky. A full-time management position was offered to me at the bookstore. I interviewed, got the job, and I'm now on better financial footing. And now I'm trying to get some long-simmer writing projects dusted off. I'm not entirely out of the woods. I still have anxieties and problems. And this is where writerly, geographic labels come back into play. I'm trying to be more brave, to write more openly about my problems. My reluctance to do so is a Midwestern trait (or, given my words above, a stereotype). I keep my fears bottled up.

And this is where this TinyLetter swoops in. I want to be more open, and I genuinely hope my own stumbles are reassuring to other creatives. This is a terribly simple hope, one I'll return to later.

Let's get back to rejections. Here are concrete numbers, presented as accurately as possible. Since January 2017, I've received:

16 short story rejections
14 novel rejections (both agents and presses)
1 fellowship rejection
1 essay rejection
1 poem rejection

I started submitting work back in 2012. I'm fully prepared for this to be the first year since then that I haven't had a single piece published. Of course, I still have many pieces both long and short floating around various journals and presses. These could be future rejections or acceptances. In addition to feeling like I wasn't a writer for most of this year, I've also dealt with the steady onslaught of rejections. Therefore, my anxieties have been twofold: "Writers write (which I struggled to do, given job woes and depression), and "Writers write to write, not to be published." I've struggled to accept this To borrow a phrase from writer Tasha Coryell, I think my post-MFA crisis year is this year, not last year. I had ups and downs last year, but I still ended 2016 with four publications.

I'm not treating this first entry as a full-fledged essay. I'm not going to say I've overcome the aforementioned obstacles, nor am I going to give any sappy notes to anyone who might be reading this, platitudes along the lines of "Hey, our struggles are the same!" We're not the same, you and I. I'm not going to assume that my being fairly open about my issues is going to make someone sit back, slap their forehead, and think "I'm not alone!" The psychology of writers and writing advice deals far too heavily in absolutes. I stop reading when I see phrases like "all writers must" and "real writers to do this." So if my future letters end up being looks at craft and process, I won't present them as set in stone. What works for me might work for you, but most likely not.

But here's the thing: you're not alone. Whatever you're dealing with, we all do. Am I being hypocritical? Yes, just as I'm hypocritical with my own creative struggles in the face of life struggles. Writing highs and lows are the same and different for everyone. But if my laying this out here offers you solace, I'm happy to do so. However, the last thing I want this TinyLetter to be is a sad sack diary entry. I want the majority of my messages to be detailed unpackings of current WIPs, readings, and entries on what it means to be Southern when one is a transplant (I plan to propose this as a presentation for next year's Deep South in the Global South conference).

I've been editing this over the last two days, but I'm going to stop for now. Thank you for reading these initial ramblings. And welcome.

-James Yates
August 28, 2017

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