So following up with my last entry about being a good reader, I had an essay about what it means to be a good reviewer published in Full Stop. I was expecting to have some sort of dialogue pop up around the piece, but it didn’t – I wonder if that’s a lack of readers or a statement of consensus.
As a sort of continuation of this train of thought, I’m moving now from how to write book reviews to when to write book reviews and other short pieces. I said no to a solicited book review for the first time this week, and for a good reason, but I couldn’t help but think about the fact that a year or two ago I wouldn’t have even considered turning down any chance to have writing in print, no matter the circumstances. This line of thinking pushes me to spend time worrying about what I should be writing.
Of course, honesty check – if I spent as much time writing each week as I ambitiously plan to on Monday mornings, I wouldn’t really have to choose. Such is life.
This summer I had planned on spending a lot of time on a long-form project with the hopes of having an almost-complete book draft done before I started the MFA program. Given I have about a month and a half left, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Instead, I’ve completed a variety of short-form pieces: a couple of book reviews, a couple of essays, and an academic presentation/article/amoeba. I think individually each of those pieces was absolutely worth it, but the amount of time they’ve taken, theoretically, from my long-form project was probably not worth it. I say theoretically because that’s not really true. I write short-form pieces faster because I can hold the whole scope in my head and because there’s a quicker pay-off. Delayed gratification and marshmallows and all of the nonsense.
I think there’s a lot of people at this place in their writing careers – at least, that’s what it seems to me watching others on Twitter and other sites. I think you have two choices, and both are difficult. You can throw yourself into a long-form project that may or may not get published and probably end up having to find a day job anyway. Or, you can pump out short-form pieces and attach yourself to various sites and publications as a reader, an editor, or a regular contributor and hope this eventually leads to a paying gig. (Here I am disregarding the infinite complexities of also being a spouse, a friend, a parent, a family member, a student, a teacher, or whatever other roles you take on “outside” of your writing life [outside in quotes because all of it is inextricably linked and tugging on each other].)
Obviously they’re not mutually exclusive (There’s tons of people who start off doing regular short-form work as writers and editors then break through with a novel. Thinking here of The Rumpus contributor Cheryl Strayed and editor Roxanne Gay, as well as journalists like Caroline Knapp) and obviously some people will tend toward having the skills of one or the other, but it’s a crappy choice to make because it’s so easy to fail at both. It’s also crappy because it feels like, for me at least, that if I worked just a little harder it wouldn’t be a choice at all, that I could write enough short-form to continue contributing, write enough of my long-form project to keep moving at a decent pace, and contribute to social media and other sites enough to stay semi-networked in.
And maybe that’s true or maybe it isn’t, but I guess it does no good to worry about it, or write entire blog entries about it, but here we are.
Outside Content: Speaking of delayed gratification and marshmallows, did you know that the infamous marshmallow experiment not only correlated their choices regarding the marshmallows with their performance as young children in school, but also showed significant differences in their brain activity as adults more than 40 years after the experiment? Scary.
Also, sorry for the lack of English subtitles, but this video is beautiful. A child realizes the eating animals means killing them, and decides he wants to eat potatoes instead. I think if more people really thought it through, they would make similar choices. Not all of the time, but enough to make a difference.
Finally, in the midst of all my anxiety over teaching for the first time, I had to go and read something like this. Although, in truth, I’m more worried about not being able to be fair when someone comes teary-eyed about a paper.