John Kennedy Toole wrote two books, one good, the other a masterpiece. The masterpiece was A Confederacy of Dunces.
He sent he manuscript out, but it was rejected. Suffering from depression, Toole ended his life at 31. The novel was published after his death, and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.
I don’t know how long Toole agonized over the writing of Dunces, but judging from its quality, I’m sure it was a long time. Here was this one, gleaming thing, and when he sent it out into the world, the world just wasn’t ready for it. Robert Gottlieb, the editor at Simon and Schuster, found it pointless, and another editor, Hodding Carter Jr., rejected it as well. So it was that because two major editors just didn’t like his work, Toole’s chances for publication were doomed.
No doubt the rejection played only a part in Toole’s tragic fate. Still, the fact remains: he had this one thing that some argue was a perfect novel, and in spite of its quality, he couldn’t find an eager reader until Walker Percy, more than ten years after Toole’s death, ushered the book into print.
I can’t imagine being like this. To work on one project for years and then ship it out from publisher to publisher, pinning all hopes on this one solitary thing…no. I just can’t do that.
What I do is create things that are far from perfect, many of them, and fling them out into the world. Perhaps they don’t fly as straight and true as such higher quality creations as Toole’s. At the same time, though, there is the advantage of many more of them traveling through the world, and possibility that one of them may find the right person in the right place at the right time.
I’ve written over fifty children’s stories, and once a week, I send them to Austin Macaulay Publishers, who are good enough to accept unsolicited manuscripts. Perhaps they are not masterpieces, but they are quality works, if I say so myself. No doubt they will reject many of them, if not all of them; I will keep sending more.
I’m lucky, I realize, as I think about this way that I write. As opposed to one big thing, I write about many, many little things. It’s not a silver bullet, not one precious, perfect thing that I hope to send out in the world, flying true and straight, but capable of missing the target, like any other projectile. I can’t imagine the agony of being this sort of writer, spending years and years on an epic work, and sending it out into the world, facing rejection after rejection. When you fire any projectile, no matter how well crafted that projectile, and no matter how well you aim, there are always things that can affect that projectile’s trajectory that are beyond your control, such as a gust of wind.
And so it is when we send a creative product out into the world. Current tastes may not be in sync with it. The person who evaluates it, and holds the key to that work receiving recognition may not be a fan, not matter how good it is. Or that person may just be having a bad day.
Consider instead, shotgun pellets. Each pellet is a base metal, and they fly in a general direction, scattering this way and that. Yet there are more of them that can hit the target.
So it is with what I write. None of it is fantastic, yet most of it is, if feedback is any indication, pretty good. I send it out into the world, and if it falls with a thud, I send something else out. And something else. And something else.
It allows me to keep my hope up, as there is always something new that I am sending out. I can’t even imagine how it would grind me down to keep sending this one thing to publisher after publisher after publisher. No, for me, for the time being, far better to send many things, one after another to the same publisher, to keep knocking on that one door, callouses growing on my knuckles, the door gradually wearing away, until at last, I wear down the door entirely, and they have no choice but to let me in.
I do not write masterpieces. But I write a lot of stuff. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hope you enjoyed this. If you did, great. If you didn’t, rest assured, there will be more tomorrow.