Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based freelance writer

Tag: Roxane Gay

“Getting Good” as a Writer

I recently read Richard Russo’s essay collection The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life, and really liked it. Russo had previously existed in a literary blind spot for me, where I certainly recognized the name and knew the titles of his biggest books, but had never read a word he’s written. An uncle of mine recommended the essay collection to me recently by saying that a lot of the essays, where Russo talks about being a young writer starting out as a university teacher, reminded him of me. With an introduction like that, of course I eventually checked it out.

A couple of essays in particular really spoke not just to my current career situation but to writerly concerns that I don’t see addressed very often. The title essay discusses a telephone exchange Russo has with a former writing-workshop classmate who seemed destined for literary stardom, and who, discovering that the less-talented writer he remembers from classes 40 years earlier has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, more or less accuses Russo of having stolen his destiny. It’s a thrillingly, almost nauseatingly vivid evocation of the fear and uncertainty a lot of writers have of doing everything they can to succeed, trying hard, and just . . . never making it. “The Destiny Thief” is the first essay in the book and going through it, I was a bit wary of accepting advice or sympathy on this issue from a writer as well-published and celebrated as Russo. But he handles it with a lot of sympathy and empathy, and I found I was pretty much in for the rest of the collection.

The centerpiece essay, for me anyway, was “Getting Good,” a long, sometimes wandering meditation on failure and rejection, self-publishing versus traditional publishing, democracy versus egalitarianism, art vs. craft, and, yes, getting good as a writer. (Note: I’ve linked to the essay, over at The Sewanee Review, but only the first page or so is available there and the rest is behind a subscription paywall.)

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On the angry post-rejection e-mail

I’ve never done it. Roxane Gay, editor of PANK, makes me glad I’ve resisted. Great piece that helps to put things in perspective. I’m simultaneously surprised to hear so many writers do this, and also not at all surprised. I recently strongly considered writing back to a journal, “Are you sure?” But that came more from a spirit of joking and wanting to see what, if anything, the editor would say, than from anger. Tucked within the piece is a lot of great, necessary advice for writers on how to deal with rejection. At one point, Gay cites her own rejection rate in Duotrope as being up around 78%. She makes her own point about it, but my first reaction was something like jealousy: surely mine is somewhere in the nineties. Point being, you’re succeeding as a writer if only eight out of ten submissions are rejected. As Gay notes, that’s just the nature of the game. The sooner you acclimate yourself to that, and make rejection the expected outcome of submitting, the better off you will be.

Update: Probably could have seen this coming, but the comments section under the above-referenced blog post has turned into something of a shit show, as they say. The person whose angry post-rejection e-mail to Roxane inspired the post has stepped forward in comments—though not really, as he’s writing under the name “Donny”—to reiterate his points. Which as you might guess, are pretty insipid. Read it if you like car wrecks and that sort of thing. I haven’t seen the comparison show up yet in the comments section, but the whole thing reminds me of this authorial flip-out, which I pontificated on here.