The Not-So-Glamorous Writer, Failing the Stereotype / by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling

Do these places actually exist? Do people write here?

Do these places actually exist? Do people write here?

I often feel guilty about my submission-reading habits. I imagine the stereotypical Fancy Writer, somewhere in Tel Aviv or Tokyo, stirring her gourmet chai latte as she carefully sends her poems to Adroit. She imagines the ideal Adroit reader: a college student lounging in the hippest Brooklyn café, stirring a gourmet chai latte of her own. In her spare time, this Adroit reader is an American Apparel model, and every time she opens a poetry submission on her iPad, she flips her silky, glamorous hair. Everyone in the café stares, awestruck—who knew Adroit had such sex appeal?

I don’t know about my fellow staff members, but I’m definitely not living up to those expectations. This is how it works: It’s about 1 AM, and I’m lying in bed, hair and glasses askew, reading poetry submissions over the idle buzz of That 70s Show re-runs. It’s not that I don’t read submissions carefully—I always evaluate poems to the best of my ability [winks conspicuously at poetry editors]—but when I read submissions from Paris-dwelling Pushcart winners while I clean smudges off my glasses, I can’t help but feel like I’m an insult to Fancy Writer stereotypes everywhere.

All of my non-writer friends romanticize my literary life. They picture me at summer workshops, lying under the stars as my friends recite Shakespearean sonnets. But at a workshop last summer, my friends and I had a High School Musical movie marathon. Almost two years ago, I received a beautifully-bound leather notebook with a shiny golden trim as a contest prize. I still haven’t used it.

This is definitely Photoshopped.

This is definitely Photoshopped.

I don’t think I’m alone, though. I’ve found famous editors’ Twitter accounts, expecting to unlock the secrets of their top-tier publications, only to read 140-character musings about their Pokémon games and whether or not Wal-Mart is open past midnight. I’ve never even encountered one of these Fancy Café Writers in the flesh—about a year ago, I befriended an elderly man at Starbucks with Kurt Vonnegut and Ready for Hillary stickers on his laptop, but he turned out to be a retired lawyer playing Candy Crush. My favorite barista has a very artsy aura, but the other day I heard him talking with a customer in great detail about World of Warcraft quests. I think I would have preferred to assume that I was in the presence of a famous Vonnegut scholar and a well-known photographer who uses the tip jar to buy Fancy camera lenses.

My submission-reading process is very similar to my writing process, except my writing process is even less glamorous. Call me naïve, but I’m pretty sure that writing a poem is basically the same thing as giving birth. I always feel like I’m pulling something out of my body and expelling it onto the page. I mean that in the least romantic way possible.

What's inside here? Probably a preteen's confessional poetry. 

What's inside here? Probably a preteen's confessional poetry. 

I’ve attended writing workshops where my classmates take out their favorite overpriced pens and write the titles of their poems in elegant cursive lettering. And then there’s me, chewing my pen from the dentist’s office, reminding myself that my dentist would not approve of this pen biting habit. I can’t help but think about my sixth grade journal—I decorated the covers with inspirational writing quotes that would motivate me to become a best-selling novelist at age eleven, and of course, I never actually ended up writing in the journal.

For a group of people who dedicate so much of our lives to thinking about the aesthetic of our imagery, the flow of our language, and that dream residency in Europe, most of us aren’t very glamorous—or at least the good ones, I try to tell myself. Here’s my new philosophy: the less picturesque your writing habits, the better your writing. That Fancy Writer from Tel Aviv or Tokyo? She ain’t got nothin’ on you, gurl.

If you ever meet a writer who tells you that they write every poem on a vintage typewriter and fill the pages of their leather moleskins at underground cafés, well—they’re probably not very good. You’re better. I never really liked chai lattes anyway.