Mark Evanier, one of the biggest writing talents in TV, comic books, and blogging has been writing a series of articles on the subject of rejection as faced by all creative people.
A few months back, we introduced you to it via Part 23 in the series. Here’s another intro and, of course, a link, to the most recent installment:
by Mark Evanier
Around 49.5 years ago, I launched my career as a professional writer. At the time, I didn’t imagine that nearly half a century later, I would still be doing it. I didn’t imagine that I wouldn’t not be doing it, either. I had a fairly good imagination but I’ve never imagined too far ahead of myself.
Writing was the only thing I wanted to do and I clearly had more aptitude for it than anything else except maybe Hostage or Human Sacrifice. So it was kind of like, “Well, I’ll try this and if (or more likely, when) it doesn’t work out, I’ll figure out a Plan B for my life.” So far, it hasn’t been necessary but I sometimes think, “Well, maybe next week…”
As I’ve mentioned here: When I started out, I did a lot of writing for magazines. For one, I had to write a profile of a famous singer, which I did largely by paraphrasing and rearranging hunks of various press releases that the singer’s publicist had supplied to my publisher. After the piece was printed, the publicist hired me to write press releases and also to write articles about his clients. He gave the articles for free to the magazines which ran them, each time with no indication that the author worked not for them but for the subject’s publicist. Two of those magazines later offered me assignments. It was a more benevolent version of how Washington, D.C. operates.
So it was generally a matter of one job leading to another. The publicist also had me writing jokes and fake anecdotes for his clients to tell when they went on talk shows. Then when his second-in-command went off and started his own publicity firm, that guy hired me to work for him, too.
Amidst all of this, I met other writers and we’d tell each other about jobs we knew that were open or buyers of writing who were in need. I even began to get calls where someone I’d never met before would say something like, “I’m putting together a new magazine and I need a 5000-word article about such-and-such by Monday. Phil says you’re the guy who can get it done for me.”
Maybe ten years ago, I addressed a group of wanna-be writers and I told them what I’m telling you. There was one gent in the first row who had a great deal of trouble grasping certain aspects of this lecture. He kept saying, “You’re telling us everyone thought you were a brilliant writer” and I definitely was not telling them that. If you think I’m telling you that, read more carefully. I am not making any sort of claim or evaluation of the work except one. I am telling you that they found it useful.
To be honest, I never knew if they found it excellent or mediocre or what. There are those who hire writers who will say “Great job” about just about everything they accept because, I suppose, they think praise will keep you willing to do more work for them without asking for more money. There are also those who think the opposite: That if they tell you it’s great, you’ll demand more money. A lot of people deliver compliments the way we applaud performers even if we didn’t like what they did — as a kind of polite obligation.
As nice as some of it may be, never take that kind of thing seriously. A great old pulp magazine writer named Frank Gruber once told me, “There are really only two compliments you can ever get from your editor that are meaningful and certainly honest. One is ‘Can you do another job for me next week?’ and the other is ‘I’m giving you a raise.'”
But let’s get back to the key word for today’s lesson: Useful. The buyers found my work useful. The reason they shelled out money for my writing was that they found it useful….