It’s Not About Me, After All

Work in progress

Work in progress

Last week I was thrilled to have a story accepted to the Communal Table online quarterly (http://communaltable.com/cast-iron-memories/). It was especially poignant because it is a memory of my late mother, via the cast iron dutch oven I inherited, and the story landed on the website right before Mother’s Day. Also, Communal Table is an adventurous and exciting new venture. Working without advertisers, they crowd fund each issue in order to pay their writers and artists (and for those of you like me who are generally offered little more than thanks and a couple copies of the journal, this is huge) offering lots of tasty rewards in their kickstarter campaigns, including selling seats at the table for a meal that is themed around the current issue. The embodiment of the communal table ethos that is the heart and soul of the website! So awesome. It’s a site well-worth visiting. (No, not just because I’m in it.)

In the same week I received some effusive praise and appreciation for a (freelance writing) profile from the person I interviewed. I consider it high praise, as I especially like the writing on her website. And it is important to me to be able to get someone else’s story “right.” To tell it truly.

This is not to over-boast, by any means – these accomplishments are flanked by an ever-growing stack of rejections. Some writers I know squirm at the idea of submitting their work, fearing the rejections. Others throw themselves into the fray at an astonishing pace, regularly sending work out in multiples every week. I fall somewhere between these two extremes. I am by no means up to the full throttle of producing and submitting that I hope to be, eventually. Because my feeling is that writers write, and writers submit. Lots of both.

I have sent out work that I personally am in love with. I have sent out pieces that I was pretty sure could use more work, but I did it anyway because: 1)The submission deadline loomed and I was disciplining myself to not wait for “perfect” before submitting. 2) To test the water, see if the particular piece could actually stand on its own and maybe I was just being too much of a perfectionist. 3)To just keep doing the work – in the same way as putting my butt in the chair every day (or nearly so) to write – in the continuous stream of working there is a rhythm and a flow where the process is what’s important, where the results naturally evolve over time.

A few pieces have been published, more have been rejected (in some cases multiple times). Does it make me doubt my own view of my abilities as a writer? Depends on the day and the prevailing mood, honestly. But less so, these days.

There will always be those luminous bits of writing that I know deep in my bones are good, and the thrill of having work accepted and published is truly that – a thrill. But in the greater stream they flow and intertwine with the pieces that don’t quite ever sing, with the rejections, into that richly textured fabric that is The Writing Life.

The thing is, the more I submit, the more I keep the flow of work moving out there in the world, the less attached I am to the outcome. Am I disappointed by rejection? Of course. Does it make me want to stop writing, or submitting my work? Hell no. Quite the contrary, I’m discovering. 

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

Oh seriously, you’re saying about now. How are you going to feel after nothing but rejections for a year? For three years? I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does I’ll let you know then how I feel. Maybe it’s why I don’t just work on the novel. No eggs all in one basket. Short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction. Maybe even poetry, one of these days. Lots more opportunities. Many more venues for submitting. We can choke on excessive preciousness over our work, but it’s especially vulnerable to that when the pieces are singular, rather than multiple. 

What? You think I don’t care what people think? Oh no, I’m not there yet, by any means! I want people to like me, and especially to love my writing. But if they don’t, well, it was just their response to what they read, so carry on. (There are probably more subjective variables in this submitting/publishing process than I have teeth.)  But it’s important to not just glower, but to look back at the piece and see if it really could be improved. Sometimes my conclusion is well, no, I still think it’s good as it stands. Other times, feedback has given me some good insights. I have received some of the most wonderful, helpful critique from people who didn’t accept my submission. What I call the Lovely Rejections. I am very grateful to these folks, for this roller coaster is just a learning curve in disguise.

Maybe I now have the gift of perspective that comes with age: I turned sixty earlier this month, and at some point, other people’s opinions are simply that. Having less and less to do with me. Nothing like hearing more clearly the ticking of the Eternal Clock to make one decide that some of the nattering that goes on does not need my attention or my energy.

So yes, I have indulgently basked in the recent accolades, without an ounce of apology. But this too, is just one reader’s opinion and reaction to my writing. It’s the one I want, certainly, the one I hope for. But what it really means is that I got the right connection between my work and the reader.

Of course, I’d still like to think the writing is damn good, too.

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I read two different posts by fellow writers today that are so fabulous about this mercurial process of writing, submitting, aspiring:

Brenna Layne writes about that misunderstood (but important) notion of Ambition.

And Marisa Glaser Goudy considers the quality of being Devoted to your story.