Writing in the Cold

So how is this for an opener: Here is my blog post called Writing in the Cold about my video called Writing in the Cold, which is about an essay by Ted Solotaroff called “Writing in the Cold”, which was published in Granta in 1985. The essay was something one of my MFA mentors (Leonard Chang, www.leonardchang.com) wisely gave to us as we prepared to go out into the scary world outside of the MFA bubble.

This essay is more than a quarter century old and not one word of it feels dated (not a single reference to Journey or Boy George or Rubik’s cubes, for example). It’s tricky, being a writer. There are many aspects to this trickiness, but the aspect that I find most interesting (and that Solotaroff focuses on) is the need to possess a durability throughout all the rejection, uncertainty, and disappointment you will undoubtedly encounter. It’s more than just an ability to tolerate these things, it’s also an ability to take advantage of them, use them to learn something new. This essay is a great reminder not to give up on the whole writing process. I’ve known so many writers better and smarter than me that have quit. I keep wondering why I’m still around. I mean, I’m still an unknown writer, but I’m also still standing. It’s not brilliance, it’s not an innate talent, it’s not speed, it’s not confidence. I consider myself a slow learner, a slow reader, and I’m about as insecure as they come. But maybe there’s a durability in there too.

I’ll be honest with you, my piddly little video doesn’t even scrape the surface of this great essay. (Plus, I apologize for comparing the writing life to a game of Frogger.)

Unfortunately, the essay is hard to find. At least I can’t find any legal ways to point you to it online. You can buy the issue from Granta’s website. And how about this: I’ll send my extra copy of this issue of Granta (for free!) to a random commenter a week from when this post goes live. (Don’t post your address– I’ll get in touch with you…) Why? Just because I think it’s a kick-ass essay.

Regardless of whether or not you read the essay or watch my second-rate homage to this essay, the basic message can be summed up in his last sentence: “The life of published… writers is most often the exchange of one level of rejection, uncertainty and disappointment for another, and throughout, they need the same durable, patient conviction that got them published in the first place.”

What about you? Why are you still standing?


About Yuvi Zalkow

Yuvi Zalkow writes and worries in Portland, Oregon. His stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, Carve Magazine, and others. His first neurotic novel is now available. He is working on a second novel (about one Jew obsessed with napkins and another Jew in the Klan). He recently received an MFA from Antioch University, which makes him feel official.


  1. says

    Durability is both a writer’s skill and a life skill. So many things in life require being able to handle rejection and uncertainty. But I probably face it most often when dealing with my writing. I am grateful for the internet, which gives me access to other writers and great posts like this one, that remind me that publication is not a magical fix to what is wrong with my life nor will writing be any easier once I am published. (Note: Optimism is a form of durability — I say when, not if.)

    I think your video is great. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.

  2. says

    I’m pretty sure my stupidity is cute . . . not Shirley Temple cute or baby duck cute . . . more the kind of cute that appears once you get to know someone really well. The kind of cute that has to grow on you for a while, maybe a decade, before the cuteness is even semi apparent.

    Gosh, I love this post. Thank you. I was just reading an article about how happiness is not the opposite of depression; resiliency is the opposite of depression. Your post reminds me of this idea. Durability, like resiliency, is an essential life skill (I agree, Kit!) and without it, we writers (we parents, we teachers, we humans) will last about ten minutes.

    This is great inspiration. Thanks, Yuvi.

  3. says

    Stubborness. I believe stubborness is perseverance with attitude, and sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me going when the seeds of self-doubt creep in. I love the idea of growing from the struggle, though!

    It’s always a relief to be able to connect to another writer who experiences the same struggles. Thanks!

  4. says

    As a masters student in library science, I took your assertion that finding this essay was difficult as a personal challenge :D

    This essay was published in a compilation by Solotaroff called “A few good voices in my head: Occasional pieces on writing, editing, and reading my contemporaries.” Here is a perfectly legal way to find it:

    1) Go to this page on WorldCat: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/15519676. If WorldCat hasn’t grabbed your ZIP automatically, enter it to find libraries near you that have the title. Call, drive, or use the online catalogs of said libraries to obtain the book.

    2) Call or drive to your /local/ library, whether they have it or not. Ask at the Reference Desk about getting this book on interlibrary loan.

    It’s not quite as easy as clicking a button to read the whole thing online, but you’ve already /bought/ a copy with your taxes :D

  5. says

    Thank you all for the feedback so far! And thank you, Tamara, for finding a great way to get this essay!!! (In this era of Google search, my research skills have gotten shamefully lame…)

  6. says

    Wow. This was amazing! I’m so curious about the essay now, but I think you did a wonderful post. I don’t know how much of the essay you captured, but your video was inspiring in its own way. Thank you.

  7. says


    As always, I love the particular way you talk about writing, your voice, your drawings, and the messages all keep me watching (and waiting for the next).

    This topic is one I ponder often. I keep writing (even though I sometimes say I’m thinking of walking away from it) because when I don’t write there is a huge pressure in my chest and stomach, a kind of missing, that only writing soothes. The minute I sit down to write, without attachment to publication or praise, the ache goes away.

    I watch my ego get attached and let go of the external rewards and rejections. I realized awhile back that to get too hooked on the publication part would ruin it all for me, as would being hurt by the rejections. So I see the publication part as business (theirs and mine) and keep pursuing it, but don’t define myself by it…. And the bar is raised with each reward. So I love those rewards but I love writing more and I try not to give the rewards any more weight than the rejections.

    I look forward to having your novel in hand and to more of your blogs.

  8. says

    The video was wonderful! I hate watching talking head videos or powerpoint re-hashes, so this was a refreshing and visually interesting way of getting your post across. Loved it!

    And it’s funny that this comes up — Nathan Bransford just put up a post asking what people felt was a writer’s most important quality was. Durability makes sense and fits perfectly.

  9. says

    If you have managed to be ‘still around’ and move through all the ‘rejection’, ’uncertainty’, and ‘disappointment’, definitely you could be ‘talented’ and ‘smart’.

    Thanks for the encouraging post. .

  10. says

    Yuvi! That video was excellent. I can’t imagine a writer who doesn’t go through these feelings. . . except maybe the “geniuses” described by Joe in yesterday’s WU post. I’d do anything to play an hour of Frogger right now.

  11. says

    I definitely have some of the writer stupidity in me too — but I keep trying. Very entertaining video & I’ll definitely check out the essay!

  12. says

    I’m still standing because I’m just too stubborn and contrary to quit. :) Drove my mother half crazy when I was growing up, but it definitely serves me now. Thank you for this.

  13. says

    Such thoughtful and interesting responses. And very supportive words about the video too. Makes it hard for me to focus on the rejection and disappointment! :) thanks all for chiming in. And to Therese for letting me drop in to the fabulous Writer Unboxed.

  14. says

    Oh how I love this post, and not because I have the stupidity gene in spades. Which isn’t to say I love this post because I’m stupid (as that would be infinitely insulting). But more because I can rejoice in understanding how my own obsessive stupidity has gotten me here and keeps me on track. Thank you, Yuvi!!! Your posts never fail to leave me feeling jolly and definitely wiser :-)

  15. says

    What I found interesting was the comment about the confusion between the need to write and the need to be published. I used to be pushed by the publish bug – I still am, but it’s not my *reason* for writing. I submit because hey, it’d be awesome if someone could read my creations, but if they don’t? I’ll keep writing. And hence the writer-supid sneaks in… ;) But it makes me happy. (And when Mom’s happy, the entire family can breathe easy!)

    Thanks for sharing the video. :)

  16. says

    Yuvi thank you for clearing that up for me. I would have thought that having a stupid gene was a bad thing. But now I long for it. Can a ‘disappearing writer’ gene mutate into a stupid-gene. I’m working at it really hard.

  17. says

    Once again, Yuvi, you have given me something worthwhile to think about for (ever)… in my writing journey. Why am I still standing? Because I refuse to give up. Because I want someone other than me to read what I’ve written. Because I want a reader to feel through my writing what I’m trying to convey. Because I love to write. Because I’m stubborn. Because I think writing is worthwhile for me in my journey through life. Because maybe one day I’ll be published… or not.

  18. says

    Why are you still standing, you ask?

    I admit it: though all evidence points to the opposite conclusion, I believe deep down that I will succeed.

    I know this is foolish. I know the odds. I’ve written countless poems, stories, half-scenes and pages of notes that will never see the light of a lamp on a publisher’s desk. I’ve also completed works I’m proud of and so…I hope/believe. Maybe that’s the stupid gene, doing its work.

  19. says

    My durability comes from life experience. As a child, I underwent the rigors of auditioning for stage plays and feature film/television shows because of my love for theater arts. I can’t imagine a more drastic form of being kicked in the shins than being an unknown actress looking to score a gig, not at any age. As an adult, I’ve survived four cancers, had my belly cut open four times, was run over by a car, had three major car accidents, live with chronic arthritis, celiac disease, a blown left knee, degenerative disc disease and was told three and a half years ago that I’d be dead in two years because I have stage 4 lung disease. While it’s true that I live on oxygen twenty-four hours a day, and that alone can be discouraging, I’m not even close to being dead yet. I have no intention of dying because someone tells me I’m dying. Nor do I intend on giving up my writing because I haven’t been able to break through the nifty little book business. Please, don’t make me laugh! I won’t stop writing because a book agent or publisher says no to me, it’s just not in my make up. No may mean no, and I’ve got boxes of rejection letters to prove it, but I’ll never give up, for one basic reason: I love to write.

  20. says

    I honestly don’t know why I’m still standing. Maybe it’s the delusion that I have something to say. That people might possibly, someday in some alternate universe, long after I’m dead, want to hear what I thought was a decent story. Sometimes I even think my ideas are pretty awesome, but my endless volumes of notebooks filled with opening lines that don’t go anywhere prove that I seriously lack durablilty. I’m a serial starter. Dr. Spencer Reid would have a field day analyzing me after reading my notebooks.

  21. says

    Still standing, even after 20 years in the theatre (if you think publishing is rough, try writing for the theatre), determined to outlast them all. Was it the composer John Cage who said if you want your work to survive, just “outlive the b#st#@ds”?

  22. says

    Such great talk of why y’all are still standing…. from “outlive the bastards” to “I just refuse to give up” to “I’m too stubborn” to “obsessive stupidity” to “I’m a masochist” to Susie’s incredible story that boils down to “I love to write.” Wow. Worth a video just accounting for all these perspectives.

  23. says

    I enjoyed this article and the video.

    I keep writing because I still enjoy it. I don’t put my work out enough to feel the sting of rejection because it opens so many doors for criticism. I feel more comfortable sharing with groups.

  24. says

    Yuvi, this was my favorite video yet! Thanks. :)
    In the triumvirate of uncertainty, rejection and disappointment, it’s the uncertainty that kills me. I am a planner, not really fond of surprises (poor husband of mine), and a tiny bit OCD (okay, maybe a little more). I struggle with the middle, messy parts of life, in writing, parenting and (lately) puppy raising. Life is mostly middle, messy parts. We don’t tend to get along.
    Why do I keep standing? I think that, like several people above, I’m stubborn. Willful. I also enjoy the process — the writing, versus the publishing — when I let myself. There definitely is “value in the trying”. And I love what you say about learning from those moments when we are “stumbling around in the dark.” Still, I often catch myself reaching for the flashlight and cursing when it’s out of reach.
    Thanks for inspiration, humor, and a lot to think about — plus an essay to track down.

  25. says

    Darn you Yuvi for putting my cheapness and my desire to read the whole essay at odds with one another…

    Still way far away from considering myself anything close to a writer, but am intimately familiar with feeling out in the cold.

  26. Michelle Le Blanc says

    Yuvi –
    Leonard forwarded your link to his current mentees, of which I’m one. I found your video helpful and entertaining. I compare things to Frogger all of the time.

    Why I’m surviving is that it’s too painful to do anything else for any longer. I’m a writer, so that’s what I’m doing, seemingly at all costs, but at the preservation of my soul and, yes, body. If my soul isn’t right, my body has no hope at all of surviving, being healthy. I obviously internalize a lot, but if I can write it, I can let it go. If I can write it well, I can live and thrive. A beautiful, crazy existence. Perseverance, audacity, focus, work and rest, and exercise keep me writing.

    Also, everyone who commented here share great resources. Thanks all.

  27. says

    Hi Writer Unboxers. I just used random.org to generate a random number based on all the unique comments to this post. And the winner is: Petrea Burchard!

    So I’ll be contacting you, Petrea, to see if you want a copy of this essay (in a cool, classic Granta issue)!

    Thanks everyone for joining in on the conversation…


  28. says

    Why am I still standing? Some days, I don’t know. I’m fairly insecure about my writing despite the number of people who tell me that they enjoy it. I suppose I must have that “durable” quality. I write because I’m meant to write, and I’ll do so regardless of my confidence in my abilities as a writer or lack of it.

    I recently read some of C.K. Williams’ essays. One of them was written in the ‘eighties and was in regard to the writer’s responsibility to society. Despite the timestamp on the essay, the thoughts contained in it are still applicable to today. Some writing simply is timeless.

  29. says

    The subsequent time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I do know it was my option to read, but I really thought youd have something attention-grabbing to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you might repair in case you werent too busy in search of attention.