How to Write the Real World

I’ve been thinking about nonfiction a lot lately, as both a reader and a writer. In an effort to expand my horizons, I’m trying to read more nonfiction, supplementing every novel or short story collection with a history of Sino-Western relations as seen through the lens of the Opium Wars or a biography of Jung and Freud’s student turned colleague Sabina Spielrein. I often remind myself as a writer that I need to pay attention to the world around me, whether it be reading the news in the morning or reading a book to more deeply learn about one topic. Lately, I have been compelled to think I should also write nonfiction.

My reasoning behind this: the longer I work in publishing, the more I notice certain patterns. As soon as an author has a book coming out, suddenly they pop up on all the websites I normally read. It seems like a package deal: you publish a book then you release a series of essays, criticisms, or guest blog posts. I’ve noticed it with Roxane Gay. She was already a prolific writer, but around the time her novel An Untamed State and her essay collection Bad Feminist were released, she became even more prolific–from essays on literary sites to TV reviews on pop culture sites. The same thing happened to a smaller degree when newcomer Katie Heaney released her memoir Never Have I Ever. Seemingly overnight, I saw her pop up everywhere from New York Magazine to The Atlantic.

I don't want to write; I want to dance.
I don’t want to write; I want to dance.

One thing I’ve learned as a publicist is that the book deal and the abundance of writing opportunities seem to go hand in hand. Working with debut authors at my publishing house, I’ve seen writers who’ve had their work published in very few places suddenly having their work placed in the top literary journals in the country. It often seems like a chicken and egg situation: you have to get your work out there, from literary journals to websites, to get an agent, but it’s often having an agent that gives you the means to get your work out (I’ll refrain from a blanket statement, but it seems like a lot of places are quicker to consider your work if it comes from your agent rather than you directly).

So, partially because I’m trying to hustle and find an agent for my young adult trilogy and literary fiction novel and partially because the real world keeps slipping into my writing, I’ve been working on more nonfiction than I maybe ever have before. Earlier this year I exchanged emails with a journalist I was hoping would review one of my house’s books. He lamented that the state of journalism has changed so much this last decade: it used to be that journalists were paid to write long form pieces that involved serious research and months of work, but now everyone is trying to scrape a niche for themselves online and most young writers are thankful to have their personal essay published for free on the newest hip millennial-centric website. I have to admit I fall into the latter category. I would thankfully publish my work with an established site for free simply for that exposure. This field becomes harder to work in everyday, with more content competing for readers’ attention and traditional publishers cutting staff at horrifying numbers (take for instance The New York Times recently cutting 100 staffers from their editorial and other departments).

Yet, we writers, always the masochists, continue to submit and continue to pitch. The rejection and the heartbreak is all part of the process. Not only do I have literary journals to reject my short stories and agents to reject my manuscripts, I decided to go for a third and invite websites to reject my essays. It’s the holy trinity of writerly pain, and boy am I a glutton for pain.

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