Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Words of Wisdom: Burying Your Books

"I wrote six unpublished novels, and too many unwanted short stories to count, before All About Lulu was published.  I physically dug holes and buried three of my novels in the ground—salted the earth so nothing would ever grow there again.  And I loved every minute of it!  I never bothered doubting the occupation, because nothing was going to deter me from doing the thing I loved more than anything else in this world (besides drink beer).  Throughout my 20-year apprenticeship, I did virtually every conceivable menial job you can think of, from roadkill hacker-upper to “hot talk” radio jock (the former being infinitely more rewarding).  And I’m still drawing from all of these experiences, which is more than I can say about the time I spent sitting in classrooms.  Having my work rejected time and again was a minor annoyance, at most.  I had the work.  I just kept licking envelopes and collecting form rejections as a form of due diligence. If nobody ever published any of my work, and I died in complete obscurity, surrounded by feral cats, I’d be writing novels up until the end."
          --Jonathan Evison in an interview with The Rumpus

Thanks to All About Lulu and West of Here, Evison should sleep soundly at night--even if he's surrounded by feral cats--because he won't slip into obscurity.  He has the "right stuff" and he'll be gracing our bookshelves for years to come.

I don't know about you, but there's something damned intriguing about the thought of going to the backyard, digging a hole and burying your failed novels in the soil.  It takes a certain kind of fearlessness (and a couple of stiff drinks) to turn your back on your writing with such finality.

I speak from experience, having once taken a match to one of my own misguided manuscripts.  As I dropped the flaming paper into the woodburning stove in our kitchen, I felt both relief (sort of like a colonic cleansing the bowels) and regret (since this was my only copy of the novel, I could never undo this incendiary action).  That was many years and several convictions* ago--back when I painstakingly typed reams of paper hunched over my Smith-Corona in the low-ceilinged upper floor of our first house in rural Oregon.  I was an impetuous young writer and saw the world in black-and-white terms.  Like Evison, I licked a lot of envelopes in the face of rejection.  Sometimes, rejection started with me holding a match in one hand and typewritten pages in the other.  Like a Buddhist monk with a can of gasoline, I was prepared to make a statement (if only to myself).

These days, it would just be too painful to take a sledgehammer to my laptop computer.  Though that would certainly make a statement.

*Spiritual convictions, not criminal ones.


  1. Sorry. I would never ever bury a manuscript. Stop work on one yes. Destroy, no. Must be a guy thing.


  3. I love the idea of burying the novel. There is a great scene in McMurtry's All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers, where the writer Danny Deck drowns his manuscript!

    Caroline Leavitt

  4. ‎. . . it really was truly was cathartic, david--burying my failures, that is . .. along the same lines, i also torched upward of 300 form rejections . . . i kid you not, within a week i had my first story accepted, and within a month i'd had three accepted--all of them had been form rejected dozens of times before i torched the form letters . . . there are demonstrable laws of attraction at work in the universe (and no, i haven't been reading the secret) . . . it can't be could holding onto all that failure . . .
    36 minutes ago · Like

  5. . . . that is, it can't be GOOD holding onto all that rejection!

  6. I tried to stay friends with all my exes too. I just can't kick anything I love to the curb. I agree about the laws of attraction though and that you have to start from the ground up on old ideas sometimes.