Sébastien Doubinsky and I corresponded briefly through Facebook after I noticed his multilingual literary magazine, Le Zaporogue. He agreed to be a guest blogger. I asked if he could offer creative writers a few suggestions for coping with the disappointments, the fierce-but-unspoken competitiveness, and other downsides of their chosen profession. I didn’t know what he’d say, but I was sure he’d have a bigger picture, a somewhat clearer perspective, because he wears many hats. Here you have it, my friends, and it’s worth printing and posting beside your keyboard.
My name is Sébastien Doubinsky, I am almost 47 years old, I have published 13 novels and four poetry collections, and you have probably never heard of me. OK, most of my novels and poetry were published in France and I live in Denmark, which can explain a lot, but I am not so well known in France either, don’t worry. I have published my first novel at the age of 31 in 1994 and my latest this year. I know what you’re thinking: “So many books and no worldwide recognition—he must be a bitter man.”
Actually—not at all.
Bitterness is the worst feeling a writer can have. Why? Because it isn’t the writer who is really bitter, it is the man or woman behind the writer. It is not you. It is who you think you are.
Writing is a tough decision to make and a tough life to lead. It is a decision that will neither lead to major changes in your life, nor make you rich and famous overnight. You will probably never hit the mother lode and annoy your boyfriend or girlfriend to the point of breaking up. But OK, I guess most of us can live with that. As if we had any choice.
The hardest part of writing today is actually to get rid of the “successful writer’s image.” Yes, they exist and yes, they are lucky. Precisely—and yet, very often, most of the “successful writers” have had all the right connections or support from the start—not to mention those who have understood how the market works and are carefully designing books that precisely match the marketing needs. Bestsellers are designer books. They have (mostly) nothing to do with the “experience” of writing.
Abandon the fake and mediatized image of the “writer” and put the value of your writing in its place. You are telling stories, you are trying to make a difference, you are trying to test the envelope of literature. You are honest. Focus on that and the fact that honesty is not always rewarded. Actually, it very seldom is. If you can accept that, then you are already a writer and nobody can take it from you.
Another illusion is the “publishing” syndrome. To publish is not the end—it is actually, usually, the beginning of the end. A first book is rarely followed by a second one. Publishers won’t really care for you unless you create a selling miracle around you. All they are doing is giving you a chance. It’ll work out well for some of you, but most of you will drown a couple of times. I have drowned many times and am still often half-drowned. The only life buoy you will have is yourself. Nobody else. And yes, it’s okay to be depressed or discouraged.
But you should never be bitter.
You must know that somewhere you will meet a publisher that will take a chance on your book. Yes, somewhere. But he might not be very big, he might not offer you any money, he might not even be nice or even handsome, but he or she will take the chance. It’s important to know that. It’s the red circle in the middle of the target. But it’s also important to know that to publish is just a moment. It’s an event in your life, like a first date, an anniversary, or a job promotion. Nothing less, but nothing more. Enjoy it to the fullest and move on. Write some more. Maybe get rejected some more. C’est la vie.
There is no shame in keeping your day job. Franz Kafka was an insurance clerk.
At the same time, you should never give up. Trust yourself, without any illusions on the commercial world. Find agents or publishing houses you can relate to. Dump the rest.
If you don’t care for the money, can laugh at yourself and live in a state of permanent revolt, then you’re OK by me. You’re a natural. You’re a writer alright.
Le Zaporogue is a nonprofit multilingual press publishing the work of writers all over the world who do not fit neatly into categories or do not have access to a wide readership. The press was founded by Sébastien Doubinsky, novelist, poet, translator, and professor of French and French literature at Aarhus Universitet in Denmark.
Doubinsky’s newest books are a novel based on the legend of Billy the Kid, Quién es? (Joëlle Losfeld, 2010), and a trio of novellas in the new weird vein, The Babylonian Trilogy (PS Publishing, 2009).
Come back tomorrow to read Doubinsky’s answers to two questions about idealism and perspective.