There’s an old episode of Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, wherein Maron is interviewing actor Bob Odenkirk and, at a certain point, they start talking about what it means to be a person versus an artist. Odenkirk says something like: “I don’t care how much fame or acclaim you get. I don’t care if you're Picasso. At the end of the day, you still have to be a person, someone who might create masterpieces but who doesn’t simply rest in that self-absorbed mastery. No matter how great you are, you can’t fully reside in your artistry, and doing so is dangerous to one’s actual living, breathing self.” Picasso often, maybe always, failed that “person versus artist” test. But I think there are a lot of other artists—and I suppose I’m referencing writers specifically here—who sometimes forget that one’s work isn’t one’s self. There’s a divide there, and there should be a divide.
I think my biggest recommendation to any writer or aspiring writer is to remember that rejections are very rarely personal and that for any one writer who “makes it,” there are ninety-nine fully deserving writers standing right in line behind him/her/them. Chance and luck can play as big a role—if not bigger—than talent. Geographical location can, sadly, impact this as well. Persistence also really matters, and the writer who gets a big book deal right out of the gate might not be writing in ten or fifteen years. As the British literary critic Cyril Connolly famously decreed, “Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.”
My final recommendation revolves around being suspicious of one’s taste. What is the absolute best to one reader is utterly boring to another, and vice versa. As both a reader and an editor I have wide-ranging tastes, and I personally am never sure of what I’m looking for. I read most things until the end and rarely toss books aside after the first poem or page—because I don’t know what’s next and I want to trust the writer enough to take me there, wherever there is. Also: Close reading a bad book can oftentimes be ten times more instructive than close reading a good book. And I would argue that it’s far more important to know what you don’t want to do than to know what you do.
—Jeff Alessandrelli, editor and executive director, Fonograf Editions