Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Persistent fever


More thoughts on the old journals, and then I promise I’ll stop. After all, if I don’t journal anymore, I do blog. It’s similar.

I used my journals through the ‘80s and ’90s mainly as records of my writing progress, so most of the pages are dedicated to working out stories and novels, reshaping things as I go, planning new work, and bemoaning the fact that nothing is getting accepted by magazines and agents. Story of my life.

But after reviewing these things, I can see how fricking committed I’ve been to this vocation. Easily thirty-five years of intensity, though I feel it backing off at this late date. I wondered to myself when I was about thirty-one or -two, “Will I be a sixty-year-old geezer pecking away at my Apple, or will I find something more worthwhile to do?”

Well, here I sit, pecking away at my Apple. The worthwhile part is up for interpretation.

Seeing all the old story titles I slaved over was poignant. I had a million of ‘em, but only a handful were ever picked up by little mags. Enough to keep me going motivation-wise, but I was always aware that the odds were terrible. One editor said at a seminar I attended that she and her staff were overwhelmed with hundreds of submissions per week, so. Yet I kept at it. You gotta believe, and I did. I submitted stories all over the place, back when you had to actually mail them (with an SASE). I went to see writers I admired, such as Stanley Elkin, Donald Barthelme, Bob Shacochis, Ann Beattie. I recounted the many close calls I had with agents, including a couple of top-notch ones like Liz Darhansoff and Sandra Dijkstra, who almost took books from me. Then I recount the several agents who did sign me, who did try to sell to the big houses, and did wind up letting me go with the old sendoff, “It’s a tough business. Best of luck.”

Yet I kept at it. You gotta believe.

The funny thing is, at one point in the ‘90s I seem to have grasped that the task was getting to be more and more futile and success less and less likely. I wrote, “After everything I’ve tried, I think I’d be happy making a modest living with a few books under my belt and living in a house surrounded by trees with my wife.”

Success after all. I got my wish.

It’s a weird feeling to go over the entire arc of your life in just a few sittings. You see it’s the pursuit that defines you. Even if you don’t achieve what you thought you were reaching for, you are the writer, musician, dancer, painter, actor, sculptor, filmmaker, or poet who tried. The trying is the crux of you.

As wistful and sometimes broody as I got while reading this stuff, I see now how much worse I’d feel if I’d just read a bunch of journals that told the story of someone who gave up. Defeat isn’t a good story.

The good story ends with “he believed.”


7 comments on “Persistent fever

  1. 1WriteWay
    January 5, 2017

    Bittersweet, but, indeed, a good story …

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 5, 2017

      Well, on this end of the journey I see some problems with the narrative … 😉

      • 1WriteWay
        January 5, 2017

        You’re in good company, I’m sure. Cold comfort but I think there’s more good writers not being published these days than there are bad writers not being published … I think that makes sense ?

  2. S.K. Nicholls
    January 5, 2017

    You’re not done yet. There are so many success stories of writers who actually became best-sellers after age fifty. I’m not about to think that can’t happen. We are the vast majority now. And highly educated and skilled with technologies our forefathers never guessed.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 5, 2017

      True. You never know. Another reason why I haven’t hung it up yet …

  3. John W. Howell
    January 5, 2017

    Great inspiration Kevin. We can all look back at the triumphs and defeats and yet we are still here. You should write your stories cause they are damn good. Too bad the big boys and girls don’t grab you up. It’s their loss. Me, I’m content to be able to get a story together that people find enjoyable.

  4. Audrey Driscoll
    January 5, 2017

    I am so thankful that technology has given writers another option besides quietly slinking away after giving up on submissions. (What a sad picture that is, tail between legs and all). Now we can test the quality of our creations in the world of potential readers. You could say it’s just one more way to fail, but if one’s work is available to anyone, there’s always a chance of success to greater or lesser extent.

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This entry was posted on January 5, 2017 by in Writing and tagged , , .
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