I started off this week feeling like I was going to tackle the world. Is it too early to admit that my to-do list is defeating me?
To be a little more specific, there is this thing that I have to do for work that I really honestly have no idea how to handle. It involves writing an essay about myself. “But I don’t WANT to write an essay about myself!” my brain screams at me each time I try. “Give me another subject!” But no, that is the assignment, and there is no other. I can’t get out of it.
I can procrastinate with the best of them, however. Right now, I’m doing it by reading up on the VIDA Count 2013, and all of the subsequent media reactions to it. (In case you’re not familiar with it, since 2009 VIDA has done an annual round-up of the number of men and women published and reviewed in various magazines and literary journals, aiming to see if there is gender parity in the mags.) As a longtime writer and a sometimes submitter, I was pleased to see that several lit mags I enjoy very much did well, and unsurprised but still annoyed to see how many of the top mags utterly failed yet again. The difficulties of being a working writer, of submitting or pitching a story when you know that you have a very high likelihood of being rejected, are such that it matters tremendously that the playing field is as level as possible going in. Obviously it can never be completely equal because people’s unconscious biases have a way of creeping in. But as I’ve said before, it should be possible to judge writing and ideas on their merits and not based on gender.
As a writer, you strive not to take rejection personally. After all, the people you’re submitting to almost never know you. You have to learn to be okay with getting rejected because your work didn’t meet the current needs of the publication, because someone deemed it not good enough for their personal taste, because (as I was once told) they already have a cancer story for that issue. All of that is somewhat amorphous, when it comes right down to it, but it’s part and parcel of being a writer. It’s part of what makes it difficult, and the writers I know who are actively trying to get published have all accepted that precarious perch as one that can lead to an extremely rewarding career and/or some sense of artistic fulfillment.
With all of those other difficulties already in play, one would hope that your gender isn’t adding to the hurdles you face in building a viable career. It’s such a long slog anyway that no one needs it to be even more lengthy and discouraging. For myself, I have a stubborn streak that used to protect me. I guess I thought I could be the exception to the rule, if you will – not that I was going to be some sudden breakout literary star without any effort, but that the institutionalized biases wouldn’t touch me because I’d ignore them into oblivion. Or something like that. Of course, that simply isn’t possible. Sure, you can ignore things all you want if it helps you focus on your end goal, but first you have to acknowledge that these things exist, they are real, and they might be working against you. Then you can nod at them as you maneuver around them.
This is what the VIDA Count has done for me: it has forced me to really look and do my own counting. It has meant accepting the truth of what’s out there, even if I choose to ignore it in order to submit, submit, submit, to go back again and again, as I’ve read that male writers do much more frequently than female. It has meant ending my years-long subscription to the New Yorker. It has meant buying Tin House instead, or AGNI, or The Missouri Review. It has made me more informed and more determined, and I appreciate that.
Now if only they could teach me how to write an essay about myself. Guess it’s time to get back to work….