When I was 17 or 18, I started to regularly send submissions to The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic. Stories, humor, op-ed columns, personal essays. I was always rejected, often with dispatch. Most of the stuff I sent in wasn’t good, and even then, in the arrogance of youth, I knew I was aiming too high. But I didn’t lower my sights. I just kept trying to lob more stuff over the wall.
As years went by, I wrote better, submitted less and more appropriately, and still got rejected. Always and everywhere. The close to good and no good ended up in the same place, which was nowhere. I expanded the futility to screenwriting. It was futile. The gatekeepers – editors and agents, in New York and Los Angeles – were wise and skeptical and righteous and usually right, and they didn’t want to publish or represent what I had written, or most of what most others had written, either.
In a long second act, I’ve had some success. Some. I have an agent and she will speak to me. I work as a television writer. I’ve been published in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s. The neighbor’s cat no longer looks on me with pity and shame. It’s better now.
How to account for this change? I think I’m undoubtedly a better writer than I once was. So there’s that. I also think there’s a tremendous amount of luck in these affairs – and misfortune, on the other side. There’s been some of that, too. Also, credibility matters. A lot. It creates what Joe Lieberman once called “Joementum” – of which he had none. Still, right idea. Once someone believes in you, vouches for you, supports you, publishes you, pays you, it’s easier for others to get on board. That sounds crass, but it’s human nature. Which is crass.
I decided to create this site because I wanted to make available more of my writing than I could ever hope to do through more traditional outlets. I still want to be published in The New Yorker as much as I did when I was 17 – and I probably have a better shot at it now – but it’s no longer all or nothing. There are things that I write that I think are perfect for The New Yorker, and I will be wrong, but now, instead of shredding them, or putting them in a sad little box in the garage that I fantasize will be found soon after my death and earn me great posthumous glory, I can put them here. Of course, you may read them and think, “That lady at The New Yorker got it right, Paul” and you will be right, mom, but maybe you will enjoy them a little anyway, and then the small hosting fee I am paying for this site will be worth it.
More importantly, there are many things that I have written, or am writing, or want to write, that I do not think are perfect for The New Yorker, or maybe anywhere. Things that don’t quite fit – by tone, or size, or subject. In the past, I would have submitted them somewhere anyway, because, well, what was the choice? The choice was to put them in the box. Or not write them at all. But now I can put them here.
If all of this sounds like I just have a huge boner for the internet, I suppose I do. The possibility of something like this simply didn’t exist when I was young. It was all or nothing – and for me it was nothing. The wall was too high. The gate was closed. There is power in failure. In rejection. I know that. It made me stronger, and better. It still does. But the wall is gone. There’s no denying that. No one is manning the gate. Is this scary? Yes, it is scary. For both of us. But this is where we are. So come on in. Or over? I’m not sure. Just keep coming this way. That’s it. Yep. Little more. Uh-huh. There you are.
Next: About me