Some Dour Thoughts About Writing


Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that we writers are all in this together.  We all have roughly the same dream.  We are all going about it roughly the same way.  We’re all putting in our hours, honing our craft, putting our stuff out there on our blogs for others to read, paying our dues.

But there’s a few things I want to get off my chest about this writing thing.

I have been reading some books lately on the best way to get a short story published.  Almost all of them suggest reading some of the literary magazines you hope to get published in.  Sounds reasonable.  It’s certainly sound advice that we should know our target market.

So, I went to the book store and bought some of these short, thick, stubby little magazines printed on thick paper.

First off, these things are outrageously expensive.  I can buy virtually any magazine on the stand for four or five or six dollars.  But not THESE magazines.  Get out your credit card, you poor, starving writer you, and be prepared to fork over the price of a fine steak dinner at a five-dollar-mark restaurant.  These things are twelve, sixteen, twenty dollars a whack.  That is why they can afford to pay you in contributor’s copies.  Or maybe just a byline.  Or maybe nothing at all.

But hey, we’re not in this for the money.  (Are we?)

But that’s not what I’m here to complain about.  Hey, I understand economics.  Their circulation is small.  Printing and shipping costs are high.  Most of their staff are volunteers.  This has nothing to do with the price of the magazines.  It is what it is.  It is what the market will bear.

No, what I want to complain about is the dreck that I’ve been wading through since I paid good, hard-earned, legal tender for these well-bound collections of future recycling.

Hey, I get it.  We all have different tastes.  The literary world is a big tent, and there’s room for everyone (theoretically).  One writer’s trash is another writer’s treasure.  And vice-versa.  One writer’s meat is another writer’s potatoes.  We don’t all like the same things.  Some of us can eat no fat; other can eat no lean.  And that’s a good thing.

But after wading through a couple of these literary magazines, I was left wondering, to paraphrase the old Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the literature?!”

I’ve never been so discouraged in all my born days as I was after reading these things.  If I hadn’t just paid about 16 dollars apiece for these things, I’d have sworn I was reading a high school literary magazine.   (Not to cast aspersions on high school literary magazines.  I think they are wonderful things.)

So here are some things I don’t understand (apparently):

  1. What is up with the obsession with bodily functions?  Seriously … are we all stuck in a perpetual state of being in middle school?
  2. Why must everything in a lit mag make the reader want to put a noose around their neck and kick the chair out from underneath themselves?  What is so wrong about writing things that make people happy or feel good?  Whither humor?  Where are the Benchleys, the Perelmans, the Twains, the O. Henrys, the Wodehouses, the Bensons, the Thurbers?  Come on, man!  Not everything about life is dour, humorless, depressing, and dark.
  3. Why the obsession with drug and/or alcohol abuse?  Or abuse in general.  It borders on reader-abuse!  I know, I know … it makes for compelling reason to read about someone struggling with an addiction.  But not … every … single … story needs to have a drug/alcohol angle in it.   Perhaps characters just find that it is too hard to make it through the average-length short story without the use of narcotics.  Hell, I started thinking that myself after reading a few of them.
  4. You know what’s getting old?   Anti-heroes.  I have had it up to here with anti-heroes.  They’re not brooding and complex.  They’re just jerks.
  5. Why must everything be so abstruse?  I hate reading the last word of a short story and thinking to myself, “What the $*&# did I just read?”  I’m not sure who the characters were … or what they did … or why.  Was that allegory?  Metaphor?  Symbolism?  Or just really bad writing?  Was there a climax?  A point?  Whatever happened to the old practice of having a beginning, a middle, and an end?  Which brings me to my next point.
  6. Why don’t stories have endings any more?  They just sort of  … peter out.  The story builds and builds and then … it just ends.  I keep flipping the pages of the magazine back and forth.  Did a page get ripped out?   Is it continued on page 37?  Continued in the next issue?  What in blue blazes is going on here?


What makes me mad is that I have spent the last 40-some-odd years of my life thinking that my writing was not good enough to even submit to a magazine, let alone get published.  I wrote and wrote in solitude for years, thinking I needed to get just a little bit better before I submitted anything.

Well, I no longer feel that way.  What I feel like now is that I waited so long to submit something that I missed the era in which my writing might have stood a chance of being published.

Am I bitter?  Yeah … a little bit.

But this, too, shall pass.  I shall take up pen in hand again someday and begin to write again.

But now I’m not going to do it with the hopes of getting published.  I’m just going to do it because I enjoy it.

Free Tip For Writer’s Who Think Blogging Is Good For Your Writing Career

I have found, in the course of looking into getting published, that 99.999% of all magazines out there will not accept anything that has been previously printed or published.  And, guess what?  That means anything you posted on your blog.

So if you have some writing you hope to get published someday, don’t post it on your blog!

The more you know!

You’re welcome.




  1. “Whither humor? Where are the Benchleys, the Perelmans, the Twains, the O. Henrys, the Wodehouses, the Bensons, the Thurbers? Come on, man! Not everything about life is dour, humorless, depressing, and dark.”

    Well said! Great piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep … the deck is stacked against us poor schlubs just trying to break into writing.

      The irony is that every “how to get published” book and website I’ve read all say the same thing. “You must have a web presence” to promote your brand. But guess what? We’re not ever going to print anything you ever publish on your “web presence”.

      Luckily, we all just do this for fun. 😀

      [Exit soap box, whistling]

      I hope all is well with you, my friend. I wish all my blogging buddies weren’t spread out so darn far apart! We could go have a beer and watch a game or something.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve got it on, too and kinda-sorta watching it while I catch up on my comments. Go Pats! I’ve never really been a fan of the NY Football Giants, though I don’t bear them any particular ill will. I’m a Packers fan.

          Liked by 1 person

            • I don’t dislike dem Boys, but it is hard to get excited about a team that has been mediocre (at best) for the past 25 years. They cannot ever seem to get out of their own way and there is something defective in their team culture that encourages mediocrity. I wish them the best, but I’m pretty sure they will implode long before the playoffs.

              Liked by 1 person

            • True. I don’t know why, but there seems to be a very intense rivalry between the Cowboys and the Texans. I think it is purposefully whipped up by the owners of the two teams to try and sell more merchandise. I have no animosity against the Texans and always wish them well. Texans must stick together, after all!

              Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the New Yorker would be a fine place to try. Or The Atlantic. Go out seeking rejections from the finest magazines you can think of. You might get a bite! If not, you can always wend your way down to the thick, spendy mags. I can just see an A&A story in The New Yorker. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well said. In the realm of management, there are such terms as ‘production-orientation’ and ‘market-orientation’. I guess a vast majority of us happen to be riveted with the idea of finding an audience for what we dish out. The lucky few who are able to whip up narratives which click with the target audience get better known. The fact remains that if an aspiring author were to come up with only the narratives which would suit ‘market tastes’, his own personality and thought process might get lost in the process. Which brings us back to the question as to why we write! Well, to feel that inner glow of satisfaction and contentment one feels after one has articulated one’s thoughts to the best of one’s ability.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right! I often struggle with the conflict of writing what I love to write, versus what might be marketable. Much modern fiction does not appeal to me, nor does my fiction appeal to most modern readers. Alas, I’m afraid I have become an anachronism. I shall just have to be content to write what I enjoy and shelve my dreams of having what I write get published.


  4. Don’t give up hope! Do the math. Almost no-one reads “literary” magazines. And, as you have pointed out, almost no-one reads your Alastair and Alexis stories. Doesn’t that mean they are made for each other?

    (Insert cheap joke here about how I did find a use for A & A in my birdcage, but I can’t afford to keep wrecking my tablet, If it was in magazine form it would work better.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Lorne. I think I had somehow gotten the mistaken notion that the literary magazines were widely read. I think, however, that they are just a case of everyone wanting to be published in one of them, but no one actually wants to read them. Sort of a tree falling in the forest thing.

      And I’ll get right on that A&A birdcage liner. I’d hate for you to have to run through any more tablets!


  5. I’m in complete agreement with you, Biff. I’m astounded at some of the stuff that gets published, when I personally know struggling writers who are head and shoulders above that quality.

    I take issue with the darkness of people’s writing, too. If I’m reading horror or dark fiction purposely, that’s one thing, but it seems harder and harder to find anything that doesn’t include dark elements. Sometimes, I just want happy, light, positive stuff, even in a book that’s not necessarily humorous. I’ve heard complaints from writers in the New Adult categories that they’re tired of being told they “must” have sex and swearing in their books so as to fit that genre. And YA books are so much darker these days, with barely any positive messages. It’s almost as if, in the quest to show a more realistic view of teen life, the authors focus on the darkest aspects of it, giving the impression that this type of stuff is true for the majority of teens.

    I’m not even sure how to categorize how I feel about these things. Yes, awareness needs to happen, but sheesh. There are good things going on in the world, and writing positive stories isn’t an unrealistic portrayal of life.

    Are you on Medium? You’d do well with your humor articles there, and most of the publications within it don’t mind if you’ve already published something on your personal blog. Yes, there’s a mixture of great writing and crappy writing, but you can quickly find some of the better writers to follow . . . and you can make a little bit of money when people like your stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right, Lynda! I almost hate reading modern fiction just because it is very seldom lighthearted or uplifting. It is either pounding me over the head with a Message, or it is depressing the hell out of me with some tragic ending. There are certainly genres that specialize in those things, so I don’t understand why it has bled out into every other form of fiction.

      Oh well, maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way someday.

      I will definitely check out “Medium” I’m not familiar with it, but there is so much out there that I’m not familiar with!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m sure I’ve shared this post with you before. If not, enjoy it, and the lessons it contains. They’ve proven themselves over time, for a lot of people. If I have shared it, no matter. I read it every few months, with appreciation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Linda! I had not read that before, but I just did and there is a lot of truth in what you say (and what the other writers you referenced said). I guess deep down inside I know that the pathway to success lies in hard work and consistency and persistence, but unfortunately “real job” saps my energy and creativity so much that by the time I get home and can turn on the laptop, I am a spent force.

      I know that is just an excuse, and I do try to rally myself sometimes, and the results are a blog post or a short story and it fills me with a sense of satisfaction.

      I just need to keep at it.

      Thanks for the inspiration!


  7. Agreed, agreed, agreed. They do cost big bucks and short fiction stories in general are not usually upbeat.I’ve checked on Amazon and haven’t been so impressed, either. As for “anti-heroes”, I’d gladly see an end to cops who beat up on people, petty crooks who play Robin Hood, etc.

    I did find one book Stories to Remember, by Dr Pedro Garcia, that was delightfully upbeat. An immigrant from Cuba in his teens, he actually appreciates the US and has good things to say about his adopted land — which is rare in the political climate down there these days. He’s been an educator who has great ideas, schemes that were successful in inner-city schools, which does give one hope that the whole country isn’t going down the tubes.

    I wonder how many copies he’ll sell? Why are we in a society where everyone wants to feel rotten and under-privileged?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I hear you loud and clear!! That’s why I love writing for my blog. Nobody else has to approve of it. Yes where are the Benchley’s and the Wodehouse’s and Max Shulmans (the guy who wrote the Dobie Gillis stories. I found a book by him at the thrift store. He is sooo good!) The only place I want to get published is on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. I must not want it too bad though because I only submitted two things. They also won’t take stuff you’ve blogged so I submitted it to them first and then when it’s rejected I put it on my blog. I’ve been writing since 1989 and I have had some things published and frankly I get a much bigger kick out of posting a blog. And a blog matches up minds. People who follow your blog are like-minded individuals. You don’t get that by being published in some pretentious lit magazine. I really enjoy reading your blog. I learned a long time ago (I’m really old) That humor is much appreciated. And you have a flair for it. The real joy I get out of it is in the writing and the instant gratification ain’t bad either!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Linda! I appreciate your compliments and your encouragement. I just need to pull myself up out of my little pity party and get back to what I enjoy doing the most: writing. Would I love to be published? Of course! But I also get a lot of satisfaction publishing something on my blog and knowing that people read it and (hopefully) enjoy it.

      I too love Max Shulman! I have several of his books and he never fails to make me laugh. He is one of my all time favorite humorists.

      I’m going to check out McSweeney’s. I’ve heard several people mention it, but I know nothing about it at this point. Hopefully it will be a good fit for me.

      Thanks for your comments!


    • I was the editor of my college literary magazine and, yes, you’re quite right in that it nearly put me off writing. Some of the things people submitted to be published were gag-worthy. But we had pages to fill and our charter was to be egalitarian. Anyone who was a student was almost guaranteed to get their stuff published, which is both good and bad.

      I am all for submitting to humor pubs! Do you know of any? My Writer’s Market is, sadly, nearly silent on the subject of humor publications. So, I’m all ears if you know of secret, clandestine publications that still publish humor! 😀


  9. My dear old Biff, you are perfectly right of course. But think about this matter the other way around — none of the writers you name (all are my favourites, too) sought publication through the lit mags. None, zero, zilch, nada. The closest anyone got to a lit mag was the New Yorker but back when it was just another struggling mag it wasn’t a lit mag. That came later and it’s none the better for it. Wodehouse’s big break came when he sold a serial to the Saturday Evening Post. You mightn’t be old enough to remember the Post but I do — it used to find its way Down Under by sailing ship — and it was determinedly popular. Best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy, Noel! You’re quite right. When I first started writing this post, I thought I should draw a distinction between literary magazines and more general, commercial magazines. But I don’t think commercial magazines publish fiction any more, do they? I’m not sure. When I was a teenager, I dreamed (literally) of someday getting something published in Esquire or even Playboy. They published quality fiction by then by the likes of Salinger and Capote and others. But I don’t think they do that any more. I do believe the fiction market has dried up to only the “lit mags”. Sad, really. But I also need to remind myself that, even back then, the chances of getting published in a quality magazine were next to zero. One needed an agent or a friend or relative in the business.

      And, yes, I do remember the Saturday Evening Post, though it was nearly out of business by the time my writing consciousness had awakened. I thought it was a quality magazine, and I really wish there were something like it around today.

      Thank you for the wishes of luck! I wish the same for you. We’re all in this together.


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