The other day I mentioned you have to decide for yourself what “good enough” means to you. I want to elaborate.
I opened this “Add New Post” page with the intention of noting that I don’t mean it’s okay to be mediocre.
But then I got to thinking, “What’s mediocre?” Just like we wonder “What’s ‘good enough’?”
A few years ago, back when I published my collection, I used to argue that doing the same thing with a novel didn’t make sense. The market for a novel is different from the market for a short story collection, I argued–and still maintain, as they’re very different forms. I’ve always preferred writing novels, but never realized just how much I preferred it until I practiced more at short stories and screenplays in grad school.
Grad school was good for me, as a writer. I’d spent years querying agents, moving beyond form rejections to requests for partials, but finally recognized a painful truth: I wasn’t yet as good a writer as I could be. So I sucked it up and decided I was going to learn how to be a better writer, and I applied to USC and got in. I took workshops with great teachers who read like a who’s who of contemporary American writing, and I remember how formative my first ever fiction workshop was. I learned a lot about the marketplace, and publishing, and did so on top of experience actually publishing, albeit in a trade versus commercial publication.
Toward the end of my first year, I realized that the market for short fiction sucked. Honestly, not much has changed since then. There are a handful of publications–like Esquire or The Atlantic or Playboy–that reach a lot of readers, but they’re nigh impossible to break into unless your last name is Moody or McEwan or Franco, and then there are the smaller literary journals, mostly affiliated with university-level writing programs. Easier, at times, but filled with often homogeneous writing that all pretty much sounds the same and is often about middle-class ennui or the dissatisfaction of getting drunk at parties. They don’t pay much, and usually in complimentary copies when they do, but writers who get stories published in them get publication credits, which look good on a query letter.
For me, frustrating. I don’t write for publication credits. I write to get to readers. And chances are most of the readers of those small literary journals are either the volunteer university staff who published them or the writers who hope to submit to them.
Maybe I should have. Maybe I should have played the game harder, written more stories with blank characters nobody cares about who live lives in which nothing much happened. Freedom seems to be doing pretty well, after all.