After Years of Failure, What Did Robert Olen Butler Realize He Needed to Do?

I love Robert Olen Butler’s story to success. He started out wanting to be an actor, but switched to play-writing.  He wrote a dozen full-length plays without success.  Later, he switched to short stories.  Forty-four short stories later, no golden ring.  Then he wrote five novels that, in his words, “not only didn’t get published but—by standards I did not understand but innately strove for—didn’t deserve to get published.”  His first published novel was rejected by twenty-one publishers.

He eventually published that novel, The Alleys of Eden, and went on to publish eleven more, along with six volumes of short stories, one of which won the pulitzer prize.

So after all that failure, why didn’t he give up?  What did he realize and change that made him successful?  Butler explores these questions in Narrative Magazine’sLetters to a Young Writer” feature.


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