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Dani Shapiro on the writer's life

February 7, 2010 | 11:24 am


In her new memoir, "Devotion," Dani Shaprio tackles the question of religion and faith from the perspective of one who left it behind long before. In our pages on Sunday, she writes about another kind of faith -- the faith writers must have to persevere through the "uncertainty, rejection and disappointment" of the profession and craft.

The writer's apprenticeship -- or perhaps, the writer's lot -- is this miserable trifecta: uncertainty, rejection, disappointment. In the 20 years that I've been publishing books, I have fared better than most. I sold my first novel while still in graduate school and published six more books, pretty much one every three years, like clockwork. I have made my living as a writer, living off my advances while supplementing my income by teaching and writing for newspapers and magazines....

The 5,000 students graduating each year from creative writing programs (not to mention the thousands more who attend literary festivals and conferences) do not include insecurity, rejection and disappointment in their plans. I see it in their faces: the almost evangelical belief in the possibility of the instant score. And why not? They are, after all, the product of a moment that doesn't reward persistence, that doesn't see the value in delaying recognition, that doesn't trust in the process but only the outcome. As an acquaintance recently said to me: "So many crappy novels get published. Why not mine?"

Why this emphasis on the product, rather than the process? Maybe because 20 years ago, Shapiro writes, her editor told here "there were 4,000 serious readers in America, and if I reached them, I was doing a good job." These days, that wouldn't fly.

Yet, she still recommends working and risking uncertainty and rejection; find out why in Dani Shapiro's essay.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Dani Shapiro. Credit: Lorin Klaris / Harper Collins