It's very simple, and I'm going to give you the answer to this pesky problem for free.
Here it is: Decide to have fun.
That's it. Your attitude has everything to do with whether or not your life is good or bad. It's a value judgment. There are people out there with cancer who are having the time of their lives. There are people who have it all who are miserable. It's a choice. The same is true for your writing. If you think of it as a burden, if you think you feel pressured to write, if you tell yourself you feel guilty for not writing, if you think you have nothing to say and will never write again, it's because you're thinking in the negative. And negative only breeds more negative.
If you decide writing is a blast, then it will be. If you write something awful, laugh at it and try harder to write something awful. What difference does it make? You showed up to the page or the computer screen and you wrote. Today your writing is a 2, tomorrow it's an 11. You never know. It's the act of writing that's a gift, not the finished product. If you treat something that should be a joy like it's a chore, that's what the writing will sound like in the end.
Writing is hard work, yes. But it's also fun and exciting and thrilling. You and your attitude are what can make it anything less.
The email (followed by a hard copy letter) stated what we usually say at a time like this: It's not you, it's me. And it is.
I've been with my agent for three years. He's very experienced, supportive, knowledgeable, and successful. He's told me on numerous occasions that he thinks I'm a great writer (note: that's one of the basics of what you look for in an agent...), but that doesn't mean we're the right fit for each other.
Why? It's simple: he hasn't sold my book. He's sent it to his contacts at both the big publishing houses and some of the smaller presses and they also like my writing, but don't have a home for the book (my first novel) at this time. My agent and I were not in agreement about my second novel and he preferred not to send it around. He likes my third, but from what I gather, we may have the same problem as the first.
I've thought a lot about this (okay, I've agonized, because it just plain feels better to have an agent), and I've decided to end our contract. I've come to realize that, though he likes my writing, he's looking for a particular kind of book and so are his particular set of publishing contacts. And that's not my work, which means, as I said, it's me. An agent should not only think you're a great writer, but should be looking to represent exactly the book you're writing. There are alot of agents, a lot of editors, a lot of books and styles of writing, and a lot of readers. No one agent or editor is cornering the market, or has his/her finger on the exact pulse of what will or won't work out there.
If that were the case there'd be one agent and one editor and we'd all be waiting in a very, very very long line.
Despite being sorry to end our professional association (I really do think my ex-agent is a wonderful person who has been very kind and supportive), I'm very hopeful. My book(s) have been in a holding pattern and now they're free for new and better things. I've already got two agent possibilities - one very 'hot' NYC agent who is a friend of a friend and agreed to see my work years ago but I went with my now ex-agent instead, the other local, but with excellent contacts and a can-do attitude (always good). When the waiting period is up (there's often a waiting period once a contract ends), I'm confident that one of them, or someone else I'm not aware of yet, will sign me and we'll be off and running.
So what's the moral of this story? Don't hang on to any relationship (professional or otherwise!) that doesn't serve you or take you where you want to go. Give it a good shot, be patient, but know when to call a spade a spade and move on. It's up to you to take care of yourself and your work. Agents don't all have the same contacts, and editors come and go and switch houses all the time.
I want to share a piece I read in the City Paper, online, from years ago. I was trolling for some piece of information - what I can't remember now, and happened - happily - upon this letter to the editors. It is dead-on accurate about the sorry state of poetry today and the argument is made articulately and eloquently. The writer of the letter is Jenny Keith. I want to thank her for writing this and hope she doesn't mind me posting it here!
"To me, the reason for small press' woes is simple: It's the so-called poets who don't care about poetry. We tell ourselves that it's the public that doesn't appreciate good writing, and that's why there's no market. That's simply not true; Lucille Clifton reads to rooms that are packed to capacity. Publishers do not have to ask Anthony Hecht to stuff envelopes.
A few local poets care deeply about poetry, and it shows in their work. But why is it so hard to find new stuff by these few, including David Beaudouin, Richard Sober, or Eleanor Lewis? Perhaps, like the small-press editors, they are discouraged by the tidal wave of bad poetry around.
Why is it that so many folks sending their works to journals have never heard of nationally published and acclaimed locals like Joe Harrison, Matt Brenneman, or Greg Williamson? These poets' work shows what you can do if you are just bug-nuts talented, and then work, practice, study, and read like mad. These poets are not just lucky--they are good. Maybe even great.
Good art requires talent and hard work, and, unfortunately--heartbreakingly--most of us who write poems don't have it or won't do it. But we try and get published anyway, because we mistakenly think our name is more important than poetry itself.
That's why it's kind of unfair to hound the public to "support" small-press poetry. Readers get sick of trying to pick a diamond or two from a mound of broken glass--and having to pay for the experience. When the poetry is good enough, eventually it will get read and respected.
When more poets themselves start to care about poetry--really and truly care--we will understand the hard fact that not everyone is talented, and a few of us will have the courage to sit down. Or we will try harder to do the most with what talent we have. We will buy, read, and study the work of poets who are much better than we are and try to get closer to making something of beauty and value. Real poets are the servants of poetry; it's not the other way around."
I call to the poets with talent, and who care, to start making your voices heard, and to literary magazines to have higher standards and be more discriminating. If you don't - poetry is a lost art we may never be able to save.
I was recently invited to tape a reading from the novel I'm currently working on (Inventory) for The Signal, a local radio magazine show airing on Baltimore's NPR station, WYPR. Very exciting! On a lovely, surprisingly warm evening in late-October I drove to the station after work and was met by Aaron Henkin, one of the show's producers, in the dimly lit lobby. Following him down silent, empty gray hallways, we ended up in a small square, equally gray room where the taping was to take place.
Aaron laid out the plan, I clamped on the headphones, and he left for the adjoining booth where he directed the reading, asking me for intro information and then cueing me to start. Within two seconds I realized: I really like having a giant microphone that deepens and amplifies my voice. Where can I get one? Would I look weird walking around with it all day? Yes, but I'd sound really really good! The only drawback - my breath sounded like a monsoon so I found myself holding it sometimes, which is a big no-no in reading. I wasn't nervous, just didn't want anyone saying to me later, "Hey, great reading, but didn't know you were such a mouth breather!" Blech. The result - I was a little lightheaded during most of the reading.
Though it wasn't live, I felt that I was reading for one listener, which is how I write also, and wanted the reading to be as silent as the room I was sitting in. As if it was just the two of us. When I finished - in one take I might add - Aaron said into my headphones, "Outstanding!" which was nice to hear.
We went upstairs where he made me a copy in about 3 minutes - the program he used was very impressive - odd to see the jagged mountain ranges of one's own voice on a computer screen; it's a bit like your voice is an earthquake and you're seeing the printout of the event on the Richter scale. Then we walked out through a different part of the station, down some very 70's, but still elegant stairs, talking about something I can't remember now, but I'm sure we were both terribly witty, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until I missed the last step and fell down the rest of the stairs!
Aaron, who is charming and very much the gentleman, was apologetic, but I started laughing like an idiot, because it was entirely my fault. I have a gift for falling down - and up - stairs. I've been told that if Newton were using me in an experiment to establish his theory of gravity, that I would fall faster than whatever object he was using for comparison. I'm there one moment and down the next. I've accepted this quirk of mine and now can laugh about it. It reminds me that I'm human, not the Writing Goddess so many of you see me as...
And Aaron often hosts CityLit Project readings, so if I'm on the roster for the next one, now we'll have an amusing little anecdote to tell.
If there really is a stairway to heaven, though, I'm in big trouble.