Uncharacteristically, I have felt less than motivated to write for the blog today. I have been engaged in the business of submission to lit journals, a couple of short stories. And I admit to being a little worn out.
Those formatting requirements take a lot of effort from me to complete without error. It may not be so for others who are speedy typists, who feel comfortable with all aspects of computer cues as well as various lit magazine idiosyncrasies. But for me, the requirements smack of applying for a passport. Such journals may not demand my birth certificate (I could hide behind a pen name and it matters little), but they want so much more than I expect or feel is truly reasonable when I am just a writer who wants to put my writing out there. But there is that pesky word count which changes as I see one more thing to excise or rearrange. There is certain spacing between title and first paragraph, there is a type of margin needed re: justification versus alignment. There is the font. Which of three is best?–and always use 12-point unless it states otherwise. I cannot seem to number pages beginning on the second; the first one always grabs number “1” even if I try and try and yell at it.
The cover letter if required, well. It’s like a grade making/breaking thesis assignment from the honors English teacher you couldn’t bear to listen to much less look at, she was so smartly arrogant–but who you knew you absolutely needed. And the paper was preparatory to something bigger and finer. Right? So the poetry or short story cover letter takes me days, possibly weeks. If it is a novel I am pitching to an agent, it takes months. May take years, in fact. I have gone to workshops for queries and cover letters and emerged refreshed with a dash of comfort while remaining puzzled. And afraid.
The road embarked upon each time I decide to submit a piece appears to have no tangible end. It is perforated with potholes. I cannot slip into autopilot. There is a proliferation of steps though one proceeds the others. It should be simple. My story started out fine but now it is being jostled and tugged and squashed as I follow directions of the online site. There are still paper routes to follow and those are even trickier. You have to sweat to propel a tale or two to their destinations where they may be deigned lovely and fit or ill-suited and irrelevant.
Because I also procrastinate this writer’s task, a deadline is noted in hours, then minutes and seconds, much like it was when taking exams as a student. I sigh, massage my forehead and get up and sit down. I eyeball each sentence to root out errant typos which proliferate like moss in the Northwest. I am the rock foolish enough to believe it won’t happen again on each crucial page if I am just watchful. And spell check is…let’s say it’s less than the finest proofreader but the best my money can buy for now.
I have a few bookshelves that hold in questionable order many volumes on writing. Do I read with earnestness those books that expound on how writing is an endeavor of mind, spirit and heart so I just need to be true to myself? Not so much; I know that already even if I need reminding at times. Like today, perhaps. But no, I read the manuscript formatting books, the writers’ handbooks that contain all the arcane info I need to succeed in clean, righteous submissions. For example, The Chicago Manual of Style, which intimidates me as much as my English teacher did. I mark pages in highlighter, circle most pertinent bits, draw arrows and stars, yes. The pages are soiled and wavy. They will save my story from the slush pile at first glance. Because I know any decent editor will not even read past the initial word of a manuscript that does not first follow the rules.
Luckily, I was well-trained to do that very thing. In my family home and in school knowing the rules and following them is what we were instructed to do. Must do. In point of fact, civilization was likely built upon several basic rules and they were meant to help us out, we were oft reminded. If I heard from my parents that I was “not acting civilized”, I knew what that meant immediately and self-corrected. But that didn’t mean, of course, I always liked or even followed them entirely. I just wanted to stick my foot outside the line of kids and shake it about.
However, I’ve tried to do as directed when it comes to submission protocols. I respect the command. I want to do right.
Online submissions are, happily, somewhat easier than the days when everything had to be typed and mailed. I appreciated the heft and clickety-clack of typewriters but hated that mistakes couldn’t be easily removed. I enjoy the tactile experience of paper, that feel and shape of a manuscript in my hand but disliked the postage it cost and length of time it took to get it there. And to hear back. Although it was thrilling to find a letter in the mail saying “yes, we love it.” Also disheartening to see the SASE envelope I had included in the first mailing that now enclosed my work, sure sign of no acceptance. There might be editorial comments, a bonus, a hope that I could try again. I recall one poetry magazine editor that initiated a correspondence about my poem which continued for a few months. She did not, in the end, accept it because I was not rewriting it any further. Maybe I’ll look it over and resubmit now that it has rested for thirty-odd years. Or maybe it wasn’t so good; hard to know until resurrected, then sent out again.
So it is still taking me time to master the business part of writing even though I am older than I imagined I’d be and here I am, still at it. I can sit at the computer working on a project for hours while the sun goes down and I don’t even think to turn on the lights. Until my husband speaks too loudly in my ear that dinner is ready now and it will get cold but it’s up to me. I rather sail away for long periods until it is either too hard to sit longer or I am finally as done as I can be–for the time being. It’s heaven, really.
But submitting the story I worked on all those moments–that is a hard thing to do. I’m not even noting the emotional part of it–because, really, it is not that devastating to be sent a rejection. It means work on it more or try another one. In the publishing world, stories and such are commodities. I don’t first write for an agent or editor. It’s not that I don’t know ethical, kind people who are both (and some are also writers, thank goodness). They are just not the ones I am writing for or with, most of the time. No one honestly understands the ways of a writer’s life other than those who do it day in, day out–or whenever they make time to do it. Family and friends–well-meaning, well-read and good folks– keep waiting for me to publish more, to become an author who might even sell. If only they knew about the submission process and how it can test one’s patience. And how it eats up my time. It’s perhaps not my main priority yet. Not holding my breath, either.
I write out of joy. A desire to let words gather surprises, to reap benefits for me–and I hope for you. I care for writing so much that it cannot use up or contain my love. There is always more to be discovered, to learn from, and to be shared. And the submissions happen in between the beautiful grind of it, my devotion to creation and craft.
I sent it off, that short story. This time it was one posted on this very blog, Tales for Life. You enjoyed it. Maybe others will, too. If not, I won’t be fussing over it. I’ll be working on a few longer stories teasing my mind. And another something will be sent out when the time (when there is some left over) feels right.