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Roxane Gay on Writing, Expectations and Rejection
Written by
She Writes
May 2018
Written by
She Writes
May 2018

The recent release of Roxane Gay’s latest book, Not That Bad, currently has her doing a lot of traveling for promotions and speaking events. Her personal calendar is booked through the end of the year and with each new appearance, her fans are left feeling empowered and inspired. Roxane is also known for supporting her fellow authors, providing invaluable tips on things she’s learned while becoming an “overnight success.”

On authenticity

When speaking with CNBC, Roxane shared one of the best pieces of career advice she had ever received which has resonated through her writing.

"When I was going on the academic job market, worrying about the campus interview, my friend Matt Seigel told me to just be myself because otherwise, if I got hired as the person I was pretending to be, I would have to keep up that pretense for the rest of my career," she says. "He was absolutely right about being myself, for better and worse."

On putting in the work

Roxane’s Twitter account is filled with a myriad of advice and encouragement. She openly discusses her frustrations in the hopes of being completely transparent and giving hopeful authors realistic expectations.

“Ok. I am no overnight sensation. The media loves to spin things like that, but I’ve been publishing for more than 20 years.”

On rejection

“When I was young, a kid even I would buy the Writer’s Market every year and submit my work to The Paris Review and The New Yorker”

“I have a whole body of work under different names. I kept writing and, I realize now, getting better. I started revisiting literary magazines in 2008 and my first publication was in Word Riot.”

On having realistic expectations

It can be hard not to compare ourselves and our journey to those of others, but it’s important to remember we may all be in different phases of work.

“In 2007, 2008, I was real salty about all these book deals I read about. I kept thinking, ‘When is it my turn?’ And I mentioned it one day to someone, I can’t remember whom, and they said, but have you written a book? And I had not.”

She shared a similar sentiment on her Tumblr page.

“Perspective is everything. Someone getting a book deal is not taking yours away. Success is not as finite as it seems–it’s a matter of luck, timing, and hard work. (Or sometimes, yes, who you know).”

On figuring out the secret to getting published

“So there was no magic to it. I just wrote constantly and kept trying to get better and nurtured delusions, it's totally normal. I've never lived in NYC so I was never connected to publishing, I was always in small towns, in the midwest.”

“Writers are always looking for the secret And sometimes someone knows someone or whatever but mostly you just need to write. And it may be scary to face that the biggest thing you can do to make it as a writer is to write.”

On taking advice

Late last year, Roxane shared more personal insights with Young Writers Program NaNoWriMo

“Finally, there came a time when I decided to ignore all the advice I had read and do the only thing I know how to do, which is write. I wrote what I felt like writing, when I felt like writing, how I felt like writing. I jumped all over the place. None of my chapters had numbers. I didn’t take notes, or create a timeline, or plot anything out.”

“Like most writers, I was able to write a novel without explicit instruction, and that’s probably for the best. There are some things we should figure out for ourselves. As you embark on NaNoWriMo this year, know that even though it is a challenge to write a novel in a month, you can do this. You will figure this out for yourself and the choices you make will be the right choices. This is your novel and only you know how to write it.”

On not giving up

Roxane encourages her fans and other authors to never give up what brings them joy. When she spoke with Bustle, she shared:

“You have to be really, really relentless and ambitious. You shouldn’t hide it. There’s no shame in being ambitious and wanting a fierce career.”

Whenever you are looking for inspiration, Roxane Gay will always be there to encourage you. Whether it is within stories of her personal failures or an inspirational Tweet, she always has genuine encouragement to offer.

(Photo courtesy of @TheCut)

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