On How Getting a Novel Published Isn’t Just About Persistence

Eli Glasman - The Boys Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew
A guest post by Eli Glasman, author of The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was seventeen and was unwell for a number of years. I had an operation when I was twenty-four, which finally awarded me some control over the illness.

With my new found health, I felt like I wanted to ‘start my life’ and decided to start sending my writing off for publication. I had been writing since I was eight years old and had an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from Melbourne University. But, at this point I’d had no publications.

Things moved fairly quickly for me and within a year, I had three short stories published and was speaking to a publisher about my novel. Although, that specific book wasn’t accepted, the attention from the publisher gave me the confidence to write another one, The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew, which was accepted by Sleepers Publishing and was released on July 1st.

I’m not mentioning this to show off – seriously. I’m just hoping to show that, at least the way I see it, I had a pretty easy run in terms publication. I didn’t have to push through challenges and keep going despite all odds. I didn’t play out some filmic success story. I just did what I loved and the publishers have done the rest.

I honestly don’t think I have the resilience to handle years of rejection. The only thing that would have gotten me through being constantly rejected would have been a ‘dream’, in that when I get published I wouldn’t have to worry about making friends, or gaining respect, or earning money.

Often when I hear others speak about what the dream of being a writer is – it’s that they get to stay at home, tap away at whatever they’re writing whenever they feel like it, and do whatever they want for the rest of the day.

This isn’t what it’s like to be a writer, it’s what it’s like to not have to work. When I was a younger, I did see being a writer in this way – as an escape from a life of office work. I guess I thought I’d be rich from my writing and receive a lot of validation, so, even if I didn’t ‘do’ anything all day, I could still feel productive and valued.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a large part of the reason I pursued writing was to feel like I’d ‘done’ something with my life. I certainly did and still do feel the pressure to achieve.

Social pressures are very real. So much of our sense of self is built through socializing, to think of ourselves as complete, unattached individuals is a little far fetched.

Personally, I don’t think I would have been okay without addressing these pressures – without pursuing what I love, without trying, without ‘doing something’ with my life.

I’ve met people who don’t seemed fussed about what they do. And I’ve met some who feel uncomfortable being single, while for me, I have no problem with it. There is never a blanket way we need to live, but I think it’s important we address our personal anxieties and wants in life, even if we can acknowledge that these pressures and wants are social constructions.

Being a writer was something I really wanted and I felt it was crucial I accept that, rather than pretending it’s not something I cared about and growing up to regret never making an effort to build this career.

But, there’s a nasty flip side to this train of thought. In following ‘dreams’, we can become demoralized if we don’t ‘achieve’ them. It also belittles ‘regular’ jobs. To strive for a dream as a writer and then work in an office is considered a failure.

I work in an office and have for a while and will for probably all my life – despite the fact that I’ve published a novel. And I see no shame in it. Yet, every time I got to a literary event, it’s like an unspoken shame to admit that you don’t make any money off your writing. There’s a feeling of embarrassment about it – at least the way I sense it. But, you know, maybe I’m projecting and I’m not as comfortable with my office job as I tell myself.

Anyway, back to it – honestly, if I’d continuously had my stories knocked back, I wouldn’t have kept on trying. I would have stopped sending work for publication, written for myself and become a teacher – something I still think of doing, alongside being a writer.

Sometimes, ‘giving up’ isn’t failing, it’s getting on with our lives and realizing we don’t need the affirmation of the world to feel worthy, we might just need the love of a few. I sometimes think that never giving up is a sign of confidence, while, at least the way I’ve experienced it, whenever I’ve locked myself into a goal with blind determination it’s because I’ve been so desperate to feel accepted.

As I’ve mentioned previously on my blog, a lot of the emotional needs I was seeking through writing, such as affirmation, acceptance and love, I was far better off seeking from the people close to me.

It seems on the surface that to quash someone’s dream and tell them to be practical, is mean. It’s as if I’m standing on some elevated platform where I’ve ‘made it’, and I’m gloating while telling others not to try. I understand why others would go for it. It really is fun and rewarding being a writer. It isn’t necessarily overrated and, sure, it’s worth a crack. And, yes, some may get published and make a lot of money and earn a lot of respect.

But, to trap ourselves in an endless loop of rejection seems unfair. I know to stop trying when we don’t succeed with something can seem like ‘conformist’ thinking, while pursuing our ‘dream’ against all odds is some sort of liberation and true freedom, a show of strength and confidence in being who we are. But this ‘dream’ business is just a marketing technique, it’s an ideology like any other.

Writing is such a beautiful and inspiring activity. I only feel truly awake when I’m in the midst of a story. Going about my everyday business with constant company of beloved characters, is – not to be too romantic – euphoric. I love the craft of writing – the structure of a story, syntax, character development, metaphor, pacing – it’s all so enveloping and rewarding.

But, the ‘dream’ promise that comes with getting a story published is a whole other thing from the craft. It isn’t real.

Personally, I think we should keep trying to get published for as long as we are enjoying it, remind ourselves that it’s fun and not something that we have to do, take long breaks from it, pursue other interests, pursue relationships and face up to and accept many of the anxieties we may be trying to suppress by focusing blindly on ‘succeeding’, such as, the fact that most of us will need to have a job for the majority of our lives.

I think if I’d kept on trying to get published while being constantly knocked back, I would have become bitter, jaded, reclusive and resentful. And saddest of all, I probably would have learned to hate writing. And, knowing myself, it’s just something I wouldn’t have put myself through.

Eli Glasman is a Melbourne based, Jewish author. His writing has appeared in Voiceworks magazine, the Sleepers Almanac and in 2013 he placed second in the Josephine Ulrick short story competition. His debut novel, The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew (Sleepers Publishing), about a homosexual boy in the Melbourne orthodox Jewish community, is available now from all good Australian bookstores or online 


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8 Comments

  1. 2 July 2014 / 11:34 pm

    Eli was giving some great advice and confirming a lot of things. I used to get emotional and bent out of shape about my writing as well. Well, at least, not being able to make a living doing it. But, that is okay. Eli, I love the way that you embrace your challenges through life, you give a lot of people hope. Great post!

  2. 3 July 2014 / 12:13 am

    I LOVED reading this, particularly the points he has talked about from a writer’s perspective:

    THIS >>> I work in an office and have for a while and will for probably all my life – despite the fact that I’ve published a novel. And I see no shame in it. Yet, every time I got to a literary event, it’s like an unspoken shame to admit that you don’t make any money off your writing. There’s a feeling of embarrassment about it – at least the way I sense it. But, you know, maybe I’m projecting and I’m not as comfortable with my office job as I tell myself.

    AND THIS >>> Writing is such a beautiful and inspiring activity. I only feel truly awake when I’m in the midst of a story. Going about my everyday business with constant company of beloved characters, is – not to be too romantic – euphoric. I love the craft of writing – the structure of a story, syntax, character development, metaphor, pacing – it’s all so enveloping and rewarding.

    LOVED IT! Would like to tell this writer that I DEFINITELY want to read more of his writings – I can really connect to his thoughts and those are very RARE thoughts indeed!

  3. 3 July 2014 / 7:47 am

    I guess I needed to read that today. Thanks for sharing. (Definitely going to look into his book!)

  4. 4 July 2014 / 10:51 pm

    Hi Eli,
    this was a nice piece to read.
    “It’s as if I’m standing on some elevated platform where I’ve ‘made it’, and I’m gloating while telling others not to try.” — Cruel, maybe. Mean? I wouldn’t say so. But is it not also the right thing to do?

    When you mentioned that admitting at literary events that you don’t make any money off your writing is a kind of shame, it made me wondering: is this not the case of most authors, independent from whether they’re published or not?
    I’ve always thought that only the best of the best (and also lucky!) earn their living with writing. And I’m not talking about Hank Moody here.

    • F. Armstrong Green
      5 July 2014 / 12:31 am

      Chantal, the two ingredients to success are perseverance and luck. Write till you get really good. Research agents and editors (90%+ of rejections are due to inappropriate submissions). Collect your rejection letters until a stroke of luck strikes. During the latter process attend as many writers’ conferences as you can and if you encounter a kindred soul cultivate a friendship.

  5. Thanks everyone!

    Chantalle, yes certainly it includes unpublished authors. I find literary events to be a mix of both 🙂

    It certainly is the case that majority of authors don’t earn a living off it. Thanks for adding this point.

    Keep in touch guys!

  6. Rich
    5 September 2014 / 12:22 am

    I’ve spent a lot of years writing in a vacuum, too scared to try to publish anything, constantly questioning my work. When I did send a story out, it was published. That made things worse. I began to blame myself for “wasting” so much time, not trying to publish in my 20’s. Now, I’m trying to get back to a place where writing is fun again, where I’m doing it because I love it, not because I’m obsessed with publishing. This article was a comfort to me today. Thank you! I look forward to reading your book.

  7. cindy
    10 October 2014 / 2:12 am

    Soft and easy is the tone of this article. As if you are saying, “Take it easy on yourself and just write.” I totally agree. While the performance of writing works for some, I thank you for “allowing” this groove as well. After all, at the end of the day, what matters most is that you enjoy what you have accomplished. If that is as simple as an idea, a glint of an idea, a title, a quote, one or two sentences, or heavens! some chapters, it is all good, my friends.

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