Chair Glue for Writers

Lawrence Hill, a good friend and hugely successful writer, wrote to me recently to congratulate me on the success of my recent novel, OUR DAILY BREAD, which has been named to the Boston Globe and and The Globe & Mail as one of the best books of the year.  (Yea!) Published by Wordcraft of Oregon, a independent press in the United States, it is also soon to be published by Harper Collins Canada.  (Who originally turned the book down — but hey, mistakes happen, no hard feelings, I’m just delighted to be back ‘home’ with them.)

Ernest Hemingway practising Sitzfleisch.

Larry, bless him, has been a wonderful support through difficult times, when the book was rejected by one publisher after another.  In his email to me he wrote I had “pluck and drive in the face of disappointments.”  He said that marked me as a real writer.

I couldn’t help but recall that very first episode of The Mary Tyler Moor Show, when when Mr. Grant looks at Mary and says, “You know what you’ve got? You’ve got spunk.”  When she thanks him, most bashfully, he says, “I hate spunk.” Snort.

What I think I might have is called, in Yiddish, Sitzfleisch.  According to Anu Garg at the A.Word.A.Day website, this refers to “what’s commonly called chair glue: the ability to sit still and get through the task at hand. It’s often the difference between, for example, an aspiring writer and a writer. Sometimes the word is used in the sense of the ability to sit out a problem — ignore it long enough in the hope it will go away.”

Eudora Welty practicing Sitzfleisch

I tell my students this all the time: if you want to be a writer, you have to write.  By this I don’t mean you should write only when you feel like it, or when you’ve finally found the perfect writing spot, or when you’ve nothing better to do.  No, I mean you have to write every day.  You have to write whether you want to or not. You have to write when you’re sure what you’re saying is garbage — it probably is, that’s what editing is for. You have to write even if you think you’ll never publish — you might not, write anyway.  You have to write when you’ve been rejected — we all have.  You have to write when your heart has been broken by bad reviews — Herman Melville did, or yet another pithy rejection letter from that agent who promised you a six figure deal when you had lunch last week or one more rejection letter (not so pithy) from the editor who you were so sure would love you book.  Write anyway.  Write, write, write.

Mark Twain practising his own special kind of Sitzfleisch.

Our Daily Bread sat in my drawer for years before anyone was agreed to publish it.  In the meantime, I’ve written a great deal of stuff — another whole book in fact — and that’s been rejected, too.  So yes, even after great reviews and “Best of” lists and so forth, writers still deal with rejection.  And yet, what am I doing this very moment?  I’m writing.  And what will I do when I finish this blog?  I will write.  I have yet another book I’m working on and just like every book I’ve ever written, the damn thing refuses to write itself.

Why do I bother, you might ask, in the face of so much rejection and such little return?  Because I’m a writer.  I can’t sing or dance.  And writers write.  Even when no one wants to publish us.  Perhaps especially then.

Amy Tan practicing Sitzfleisch.

I wrote for decades before I published my first book, back in 1999.  Today it hardly ever happens that someone will write and write and write for years before publishing — not with all the self-publishing out there and the weird desire so many people have for instant fame.  But I’m glad I did, because with each lousy piece of unpublishable prose I learned a few things.  First, I learned how to be a better writer, but I also learned how to keep going and how to sink down into the work so that the act of writing itself fed me.  I needed that later, when for a time I erroneously thought publishing would fill up all the hollows in my soul.  It won’t.  Publishing is lovely, don’t get me wrong, and so are good reviews and all that — it helps, no doubt about it — but you can’t NEED it.  The only thing a writer needs is to write.  Every day.  Even today when you don’t want to.

And now — join me — get writing!

 

12 Comments

  1. Shannon M. Allain on January 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks, Lauren! I really needed to read this today. And congratulations on yet another honor with the Boston Globe!

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      Thank YOU, Shannon. Now, get back to writing, you!

  2. Nita Fielding on January 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I do think the option for self publishing is a good one especially if someone has a great story to tell. On the other hand, I do agree with you on the art of writing being an important aspect of a good, a really good read.
    Congrats again!
    Punita

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Thanks, Punita. Frankly, I’m increasingly torn about the self-publishing thing. The problem, apart from no distribution, is you get no decent editing and a writer needs an editor. But for back-list stuff, if a book has already been published through a reputable house and earned some decent reviews, I don’t see why an author shouldn’t put the work out as a e-book. I do know of some agents who are so frustrated in their inability to get their author’s works published that they’ve started their own e-book business. Virginia Woolf started her own cooperative model of publishing. There are reasonable avenue, but I think the industry is too undeveloped yet. Thus, the market is glutted with very bad self-published books, which taint the whole pond. I did write about this in an earlier post that might interest you: http://laurenbdavis.com/2009/06/to-self-publish-or-not-to-self-publish/
      Great to see you here! L.

  3. Susan Ronn on January 7, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Okay, okay, okaaaaaayyyyyyy! 🙂 You are one of the primary voices in my head, dear Lauren. Only I am holding myself back. 2012 may (FINALLY????) be the year I do what I need to do — (with my “one wild and precious life” — ???)

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 7, 2012 at 8:22 am

      You can do it, Susan! We already know you have the talent, so only one thing’s missing right? Give yourself 90 days of writing a page a day and it will become a new habit. Happy new year to you and Bernard!

  4. Lucky8 on January 7, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Lauren, great insights and superb inspiration. You exemplify the upsides and downsides of the writer’s life, but what I admire the most is your resilience and ability to let your distinctive talent shine through. Congratulations on your well-earned success!

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 7, 2012 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Mr. 8.

  5. Wendy on January 8, 2012 at 2:00 am

    Hi Lauren,
    Several months and books ago, I finished ‘Our Daily Bread.’ It was a bedtime read, evening after evening, there i was with the mountain folk and with the tale of the ‘in-between’ space that held for me so much emotionality.

    The story felt like an slow motion unfolding of real degradation. The true colours of the paradox of isolated pride of characters within the hidden horrors of abuse. The book exposes how the supposed prejudices against ‘others’ exist with the whispered wonderings of what really goes on ‘there’ and how the suppositions were mild compared to the reality.

    I felt the strength of the characters, but it was a strength holding much discomfort and I recognized it somehow. Every evening as I read page after page, it was with a feeling of distaste for much that wasn’t being said. It was like the ‘elephant in the room,’ where secrets hide other secrets. This book was so much about what wasn’t written.

    Our Daily Bread reinforced a reality in life, where ugly and evil does exist and can permeate a small community. Where rescue just didn’t happen.

    When I finished this book, I actually felt a sense of sympathy for you, Lauren, because you were the person to walk that difficult journey as it was created.

    I thank you again for your talents and another fabulous book.

    And to comment about writing, I am attempting to be the disciplined writer more than a recreational writer. That seems to one of the secrets to creativity. Do you agree?

    All the best for 2012 to you and your family.

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 8, 2012 at 9:12 am

      Thanks for your comments, Wendy. You understood my intentions for the book, and that’s such a gift to a writer. And you’re correct, it wasn’t an easy book to write, but I felt I had a responsibility to do so. You might be interested in this review of the book, which says much of what you said: http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/sin_and_sustenance_20120105/

      You’re also correct in saying that discipline is one of the secrets to creativity. I always say that the muse is much more likely to find you if you’re sitting in your writing chair than anywhere else. Keep writing and Happy New Year to you and yours as well.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

  6. Melissa C. Yi on April 26, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Thank you, thank you
    This article came in so handy. It’s just what I needed to hear today and now. Will keep it close to come back to it over and over.

    Thank you,
    Melissa C Yi

    • Lauren B. Davis on April 26, 2015 at 11:53 am

      So glad you found something useful in it, Melissa. Keep writing! And thanks for taking the time to comment.

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