Tunnel: Fourteen Thoughts On Writing
1) This is a tunnel I walk nearly every day. It connects via underground one office building (where I work) with another office building (where I bring things). I’m not sure how long the tunnel is, but I imagine about a football field or Walmart parking lot in length. There’s a narrowness and low ceiling height that’s suffocating. I’ve imagined the tunnel dug by a giant beaver consisting mostly of gnashing yellow teeth, the beaver’s body large enough to eat its way through the space I walk daily. Someone you probably know and want to slap would call the tunnel, “Lynchian.”
2) When I walk the tunnel I think about writing and submitting writing because there’s something about the tunnel that leads to a metaphor I don’t want to talk about directly.
A few other things about the tunnel:
• In no less than two spots it’s always leaking water from the ceiling. Usually there’s a large white trash-gondola placed under the leak. I don’t understand why it’s always leaking because above the ceiling is just dirt and I don’t understand why men in suits don’t see that the large white trash-gondola is for the water, nothing else, not their Dunkin Donuts coffee cups.
• During the winter months when the dirt above is cold and frozen an extremely tall man walks laps, back-and-forth, in the tunnel, and when he reaches one end of the tunnel he yells out the lap number. Once I heard him yell “Ten!” from the opposite end of the tunnel. I realize this seems totally “Lynchian” and completely unbelievable, but it’s true.
• Everyone walks fast when they are inside the tunnel, as if something is pushing them along. Voices echo. Packs of men in suits all rushing along, not quite running, just walking really fast.
• The lights never go out inside the tunnel.
• The temperature never changes.
3) When you’re in the tunnel by yourself it’s the good kind of alone. But there’s also a push to get to the end and enter the building with all the people. The trick is to stay in the tunnel as long as possible, working hard, being the beaver with the gnashing teeth, and then you put your work out there for a reaction. If you’re moving too fast it’s because you have a back-thought shoving you along toward putting your words up on facebook. This is inherently fucked and creates sloppy work where everyone is slinging their sloppy work online when they should have stayed alone in the tunnel for the week, the month, the year, forever. There’s no rush here. There’s no pizza party at the end of the tunnel just some strangers clicking ‘like’ or ‘fav’ on some code you posted.
4) Editors and agents live in the tunnel. They are sprinters and can be impossible to catch. Let them run. When the time is right you’ll catch the great editor, the great agent, and you can work together on something much bigger than the tunnel can hold.
5) But again, there’s no rush. I was in my early twenties (I just turned 34) and I always felt this pressure to produce something big when I wasn’t ready. But why? What was the goal? I always thought the goal was a published book and maybe some money and press in nice magazines, but once I got there (mostly by luck) it felt hollow and weird. The goal, I now realize, was stretched out over the course of those years working. The goal was just to work a little, or a lot, each day. You have to enjoy the tunnel. You have to enjoy and relish the attack without getting to the end too quickly because once you get there you’ll just have to start over again.
6) I have two regrets concerning editors and agents. The first is not being patient. Let these people work, don’t email them all the time. Don’t check in unless it’s absolutely necessary and even then it’s probably not necessary. Let them do their job. Believe that editors and agents are good at their job because they probably are. The other regret is thinking certain editors and agents were my friends. What I mean by this is being way too informal in emails, sending too many emails, being too jokey, etc, and just all around not thinking that many editors and agents are business people, especially those making a salary at larger magazines and publishing houses. Just because you got your shit up at VICE or Granta or The Paris Review, doesn’t mean the editor of the piece wants to hear what you had for lunch. When I first met my editor at Penguin in a small coffee shop on the lower east side of New York city I gave him a big hug and I can still feel the awkwardness from it.
7) One time I ran the entire length of the tunnel while wearing a suit and the walls blurred to a sickly yellow and the air made a sound like the air shouldn’t make, like the tunnel itself was trying to breathe but it had the wind knocked from its stomach.
8) Don’t let other writers retweeting and posting their stuff constantly make you visit the tunnel when you don’t want to. Take each piece and try and make it the best thing you possibly can. I’ve felt guilty in the past reading what everyone else is doing and then forcing myself to write something and publish it when I just wasn’t feeling it. Even the best basketball players go through slumps when they just aren’t “on” and these best players do other things (assists, set screens) when their shot isn’t falling. Not sure there’s an equal metaphor for a writer besides reading a ton, but even that’s too connected. So let yourself watch House of Cards or some bullshit. Buy a box of Wheat Thins and eat the whole fucking box and do nothing for a day. Let yourself motivate yourself and believe that yourself will come back to yourself with new words.
9) I’ve been rejected so many times that if I saw the full ten year plus number it would build a planet of “I’m sorry but this doesn’t work for us at this time,” and it would swallow me. The rejections come when you leave the tunnel, when you enter the buildings with all the screaming people. You just can’t let the rejections get to you, you can’t let them destroy what you created. A lot of the time editors are right. Listen to them. Work harder. Besides, getting your story published will result in a few minutes of joy and then you’ll just be back to the tunnel again. Here are my rejections from the past five years from DIAGRAM, a journal I just recently got accepted into. I didn’t feel joy when I got accepted, just relief followed by nothingness.
10) It’s really all about rejection. Until you know what it feels like to get your poetry rejected from a press called “Kitty Litter” (I was in 2002) you haven’t bleed right. It’s okay. Just keep going. No one is watching even if you think they are.
11) Writing advice like this is ridiculous, I’m a Dad, but that doesn’t mean it can’t push people or spark them to do their own work, to dig their own tunnels and go.
12) I am very far inside the tunnel right now.
13) A lot of the time it feels like you’re sending work out into a void. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important. That doesn’t mean you have to give up, or do something else that isn’t writing or art. Plenty of people worship cars. Plenty of people eat lunch at Dunkin Donuts. I’ve struggled with this for years, as if my need to work on a novel is akin to having some uncontrollably bizarre behavior like eating Doritos while masturbating in a park. I rarely feel proud or confident about what I’m doing when it comes to the question “What do you do?” in social situations. I tell them I work an office job and think about the tunnel.
14) There really is no conclusion. The tunnel never really ends. I’ve been following lit related stuff for sixteen years and I’ve seen enough to see publications come and go, groups emerge and dissolve, new blood replace the old blood, the internet rise and spread, and it all comes back to me, to you, to the books we create and hold. It’s really all so simple yet so difficult to live by.