Every so often when my writing gets stuck, or when a piece I wish to publish gets its 3rd, 4th,10th rejection letter - I begin to wonder why I am spending so much energy and time on these endeavours and what am I really getting out of it? Maybe it's time to wave the white flag and call it quits.
I'm well aware that the type of writing I create will never end up on any best sellers list. Most likely, copies of my books or journals my work appears in will end up in used book stores, and/or collecting dust on the bookshelves of future ex-girlfriends. The small press publishers that would be interested in my work have little means for publicity and narrow distribution. Sometimes it feels that my writing isn't doing any better in print than it is as a file on my laptop or as scribblings on old receipts, to-do lists, and Post-it notes.
What have I gained from writing? Financially, from 2005 to present day I have earned the equivalent of one bi-weekly pay cheque of a minimum wage job. Now and then I will receive a small sum of money in form of a cheque for a published work. Most of the time, payment is nothing more than a contributor copy. Then there are pieces I have had published online and not received anything. Maybe just a virtual pat on the back.
Meeting a new person and telling them I'm a writer, sometimes they will ask me things like: So, what do you write about? ...Poetry? Like Bukowski or something? ...Why can't I find your book at Chapters/Barnes & Noble? ...Ever read Kerouac? I remember flying home from Ecuador and having a layover in Houston, Texas. Going through customs at the airport I got the usual questions a young ruffian travelling alone would get, along with “What do you do for a living?” When I answered that I was a writer, the customs agent went on to ask “ Ya, but what`s your real job?” This made me wonder if what I do is considered just a hobby. Is writing something to do on a Sunday afternoon, in my pyjamas, there's nothing on tv, and I don't feel like leaving the house. Might as well play with my electric train set, do the word search in the newspaper, put a ship in a bottle, paint competition stripes on that plastic Ford Mustang model, finish the jigsaw puzzle of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe write a poem.
I'm having a hard time believing I worked a job I absolutely hated to save funds in order to take classes at University for a hobby. That I sit in 24hour cafes until sunrise, chugging dark roast and redbull, pounding away on my laptop, forgetting to eat and nearly allowing my bladder to burst all over my pants just so I can transform the image in my brain into text on my computer. I have put more time and effort into writing projects and feel more dedication to writing than I have with any type of employment I've had with steady paycheques.
Possibly, I have earned some kind of credibility. Meaning, some people have seen my name in print and “know” me. These people are a very select few, seeing as the small audience who might be interested, and the formats and resources I have to reach them in order to get my name out there. (where ever that there is)
What am I doing with poetry? Nothing quite unique or innovative. I'm sure my influences are obvious. I can't say that I am really contributing any ideas that would be seen as new or outstanding. Some time ago I was involved with editing a literary journal. After awhile I began to question if I was right for the job. I found a lot of the submissions the journal received were boring, painful to read or made me roll my eyes. I would say Yes to maybe 2% of the writing that the journal received. I thought I was being a hard ass or too picky. I quit the journal after realizing editing wasn't for me and I don`t wish to be part of a literary community. I didn't want to be the one giving a stamp of approval on someone's work, or the jerk that rejects their piece. I would just concentrate on my own stuff and cross my fingers to get it published.
So, why do I bother, what's really the point of it all? Why spend my days off from my real job in front of my computer trying to piece together some flash in my brain? Why do I roll around in my bed, answering daemon whispers at 3 in the morning, with my alarm clock set to go off at 7 a.m.? Why do I make sure I don`t leave the house with out a pen of something to jot things down?
I want to give an answer like I dunno, I just work here. Or say that I don`t really know what I'm doing or why. That if I ever find out, then I`d probably stop doing it altogether. I know that I don`t want to say that it's some creative impulse, that writing is something I just HAVE to do. It's insulting to call it a hobby, and it doesn't pay bills or buy food so it's not gainful employment either.
I write out of self interest. I write what I'd want to read myself. What I wish I could find in bookstores. It's more about physically doing the work than the actual outcome. That I am able to project something I have in my skull, through my fingertips, and manipulate into legible texts. I don't find it to be a fun way to occupy my free time at all. It's as if there's a rambunctious child trapped inside my brain and I'm the cranky grandparent trying to get them to shut up and sit still so I can relax in a recliner, drink cheap liquor and chain smoke in peace. Maybe it's more like trying to get rid of a bad cold. Sitting at a desk for hours tapping away on the keyboard, all jittery and over caffeinated. Laying in bed, feverish and snotty. I suppose it feels the same.
Why do you bother?
Author of re: verbs (Bareback editions), Signature Move (forthcoming) and a chapbook ionlylikeitwhenitrhymes (100tetes), Robert Swereda has served as a member of the Filling Station collective. He studied creative writing at Capilano University in Vancouver. Other work has been published by The Puritan, ditch, West Coast Line, The Incongruous Quarterly, steel bananas, The Capilano Review, dusie, Enpipe Line, Poetry Is Dead and Touch the Donkey.