Almost a year ago, I did an interview with poet and friend Mark Wagenaar. Since then, the post has been one of the most viewed on my blog, which is understandable - Mark is an assiduous writer (remember to get Voodoo Inverso if you don't have it) and has been published loads and wins poetry competitions.
I got a comment on that blog post the other day and I thought it was worth sharing.
Comment: "Mark Wagenaar is brilliant, and the music of his poems has the power of "Beethoven played backwards". But I wonder what room there is in the world of publication and prizes for those of us who cannot afford the networking camino real of mfa/phd/high-profile workshop programs. I am grateful to have had a handful of poems published here and there, even in academic journals. But it is dismaying to read bio after bio describing the author's life as a graduate student who can afford (in time and money -- some of us have children, mortgages, and blue-collar jobs) to spend hours on their work, connected to others who can help with contacts and connections. I would be happy to be refuted (really). Steer me toward one of the middle-aged, single-parent, 60-hour work week poets who have made the grade."
My Response: "Thanks for the comment. I think you have something of a point. Mark is a personal friend I know well, and he does have more time to write than a parent with a full time job; and it would be cool to see the profiles of more writers carving out careers despite the full time job and kids (there are many famous examples by the way- Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot; even many more contemporary ones, such as Brian Turner, a soldier). But Mark has also endured years of poverty and a rootless itinerant existence to get where he is- and he doesn't have people or networks getting him more publications. He sends in to the slush piles of magazines and gets hundreds of rejections and, once in a while, an acceptance. He knows editors because they've published him, not the other way around. He started from scratch. But slowly he has been able to build up from there - and that is how the publishing world works. You get more publications out there, more quality work in print, and you make a name for yourself. So, let me encourage you not to be dismayed by the bio of an author who has earned to get where they are, especially by comparing it as different from your situation. Mark's bio, for example, comes from years of stalwart dedication to his craft and to furthering his career as a poet.
Its a combination of putting in the hours and working at the craft to produce quality material that will fit into the marketplace. I'm not a graduate student. I have a mortgage, a 40-hour a week job, a wife who also works, we have children, and we have responsibilities outside of our family as well. I use the tag #3rdshift often on my twitter account - referring to the time I get to work on story. 1st shift is work - hour commute, 8 hours there, hour commute home. 2nd shift is family - dinner, chores, keeping everyone alive, and four nights out of the week my wife works so it is just me and the kids. 3rd shift is my time - usually starts around 9:30 or 10:00 and goes until I've reached my quota of 1,500 words a night. It is a grind - but it is something I want to succeed at, something I have to put the hours in and work towards; with no guarantees or promises of publication.
So, besides the poet examples mentioned earlier, I can't point you towards a 60-hour work week poet who is a middle-aged single parent - mainly because those are pretty particular requirements to meet....and I read much more fiction that poetry. I know Richard Adams, author of the great Watership Down didn't break into the writing scene until he was in his fifties. Bram Stroker was 50 by the time Dracula made it. Laura Ingalls Wilder was 64 when Little House on the Prairie was published. Anna Sewell published Black Beauty at 57.
It isn't about the situation of the wordsmith; readers don't care and for the most part don't know an author or poet's personal circumstances - certainly not at the get go. Initially, all the reader gets to see is the work - which is what the author should be judged upon. And the work is a result of putting in the grind to better their craft, putting in the hours, sending in submissions, getting the rejections, and not stopping.
Thanks for checking out the blog and thanks again for the comment.
The publishing industry is a hard one to get into, certainly now-a-days, but us aspiring writers need not jab at one another along the way as we work towards our goals. Sure, having a writing focused resume with mfa programs, workshops, teaching credentials and the like does nudge your work to the top of an editor's slush pile (as it should) - but if the work sucks....it sucks. You can have every single merit badge there is to earn, but if you cant start a fire or shoot a bow and arrow, you aren't a very good boy scout.
Writer's need always to support one another - there is enough rejection to go around in the industry, that's for true.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Chelsea Wagenaar's upcoming book of poems, Mercy Spurs the Bone. Should be out in November!
Thanks for reading.
Play nice and write well.