Transparency: A Stance

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about transparency in the writing world.  Most of my friends are writers, and even though we’re all at various stages of our careers, we still have the same questions: what next?  Am I doing this right?  How do I get over there, where the books get published and the people get paid–at least a little bit–to write?

First, let me take something off the table for this discussion: the idea that writing is done as a thing in and of itself, with only the writer herself as the audience.  For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that the most important thing for a writer to do is write, but also that writers want to publish.  This post does not privilege one way of being a writer over another, but for the sake of this discussion, this post will hold the aforementioned assumptions.

As a person who is interested in pursuing writing as a career, I am inclined toward the idea of publishing.  It seems that many writers follow this trajectory: submit, get rejected; submit, get rejected, get your first acceptance.  Submit, continue to get rejected, get some personal rejections, get published occasionally.  And then…what?  How does one cross over from the occasional publication to having the holy grail, a full blown PUBLISHED BOOK?  My train of knowledge breaks down here.

In a world so subjective as the arts, I know there is no clear-cut answer as to how one gets a book published; presumably one writes constantly, queries agents and/or publishers, and eventually gets a book accepted. Recently, though, I’ve been irked by what I perceive to be a lack of transparency in the field.  It sometimes seems that a writer becomes an Author with an Agent and a Book overnight.  If you visit a writer’s website, the writer might list “selected publications,” presumably a cultivated sample of the writer’s best, published, available work.  What happens to the earlier publications?  Did the other stories appear in magazines now defunct?  Are authors contractually obligated to take them down?  Are they swept under a rug?  Am I truly meant to believe that a writer’s first publication was in McSweeney’s or The New Yorker?  Though the topic of a writer’s origins might come up in interviews, the specifics have disappeared; what remains is not the data, but rather the narrative arc.

I know there is no single path to any destination, but I also know that I’m a type of person who benefits from the presence of maps, compasses, and signposts.  To become a writer, I majored in English and Creative Writing; when I graduated, I saved my money to attend an MFA program, which to me seemed a logical next step.  When I graduated with an MFA, I entered uncharted waters and became this thing called a “working writer,” whatever that means.

I don’t know the answer to the question of how one moves into the professional writing world.  I’m sure to make a lot of missteps, if I ever “make it” at all.  But in order to rectify what I perceive to be a lack of transparency in the field, I am making a commitment to transparency.  I plan to make available every work I’ve ever had published, rather than providing only a list of selected publications.  I also plan to provide my submission statistics and information about stories I’ve retired, as well as to write posts about my thought process and rationale for any writing-related decisions I ultimately make.  I hope to also include a sort of timeline: I’ll present my origins and trajectory to you, knowing full well that I’m not yet where I want to go, I may not be heading where you want to go, and that I may not achieve my goals.

I’m making this information available not as a way to provide validation to any life choices, or to claim there is any one path to becoming a writer; rather, I wish to share this data in the hopes that others might find this information useful or interesting, and perhaps consider the ways their trajectories have been formed.

Write, submit, and deal with rejections (and the occasional acceptance!).  We all know this part, but it seems like there is so much more information that writers could mine.  Why not make something of all this uncollected, unexamined data?  If we as writers incorporate transparency and information sharing into our philosophy, maybe those of us trying to make our way in the writing world will find the process to be less opaque.  While I doubt this information will create a quantitative how-to guide for writing and publishing, I do believe this data can present interesting narratives and trends we’ve not yet attended to or discovered.  And, if you’re so moved, consider joining your voice and data to the cause of promoting transparency in the writing process.

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