The table around my laptop is a nest of magazines I want to submit essays to and books about editing and finding agents. The digital bookmarks on my laptop are peppered with “submission guidelines” and “editorial submissions” and “writing contest entries.” Every day after I drop Lola and Eve at school and find myself with at least four empty hours stretched out before me, I race home to…to…
Write? Not exactly. You see, I’ve done a lot of that. And I hesitate to do more without some direction. I have a small pile of rejection letters to show for my completed manuscript, none of which add up to one piece of advice on how to make it better. Despite email responses to each of the people who read it asking them if there were specific things they didn’t like about it, I have no feedback. I got no answers.
A few months ago I got excited about writing an essay for an anthology. The idea for the essay had actually occurred to me independent of any publication – it was just a story I wanted to tell and I thought it was compelling. So I kicked it around in my head for a few days and then stumbled upon an anthology seeking submissions that were Right In Line with my idea. I took it as a sign. I wrote the piece, polished it, let it sit for a few days or a week, and then worked it over again. I sent it in with one day to spare and waited. Last week I got a lovely, apologetic email from the editor saying that they had had so many submissions…not enough room in the book…went with a particular theme that my essay didn’t quite fit…if they found some extra room, they would be sure to let me know….
Last week I spent some time soul-searching about whether or not my manuscript ought to be published. So many people I talk to about it are enthusiastic and encouraging. They seem to want to read it. But I have to go back to the reasons I wrote it. And every time I do, I get that same old fire in my belly. That electric sensation in the soles of my feet that spur me on. Yes, I still have passion for this project.
Ultimately, it’s that part of me that needs boundaries and expectations that is holding me back. The part of me that thrived under my Marine-Corps-father’s clear-cut rules because I knew, knew, knew what was Right. That little girl is casting about for an authority figure. An agent or editor or publisher to say, “Here is how this needs to go. This many pages, this is your thesis, we need it by Wednesday.” I could do that. Instead, I send out sample chapters and query letters and CVs in hopes that I can convey to someone, anyone, what this book is really about. And, in the meantime, I’m losing my perspective. I find myself slowly beginning to wonder whether the manuscript is really crap and people are just afraid to tell me honestly. And I wish for someone to say that, if only so I could rise up and fight. Or go back and make it better.
What I think I know is that I won’t be able to put the manuscript away and never think about it again. Not because of the time invested in it, but because the reasons I wrote it were so important. Throughout my life, this one thread runs strong and clear, of understanding others from the inside out, an attempt to shine light on our human-ness and our similarities and the importance of connection. A new way of talking to each other, engaging with each other, comprehending each other – that is what this project is about, and I can’t abandon it. But I honestly don’t know what direction to take it in, so it sits. Occasionally I will rework the query letter and send it off to someone else. Each time I get fired up again and think, “This is the agent/publisher/editor. This is the one and once he/she accepts the project, I’ll know why it couldn’t be any of the others.” And I think that’s how it is supposed to be, but the question keeps coming up: then what? Am I expecting some nirvana moment where the clouds part to allow the sunshine in and the birds sing in perfect harmony and butterflies erupt from the daphne bush next to me?
What I know I know is that I can’t not write. Regardless of whether or not anything of mine ever gets published in a traditional sense, I won’t stop writing. I believe that each of us has a unique way of relating to the world and ourselves. Writing is mine. It is what smoothes the wrinkles in the cloth of my psyche and illuminates my understanding of the people and events around me. It is what connects me to my own roots in time and space and allows me to reach ever higher and stretch forward into a hopeful future. And maybe that is where the problem lies. It is writing that I enjoy, that stokes my inner fire. The marketing bit only stirs my stomach acids. I am convinced of my message; its importance and relevance. But I felt that way about Thin Mints, too, and I was never really all that comfortable knocking on my neighbors’ doors to proclaim their virtues. I was not that elementary student who won prizes for selling the most magazine subscriptions. I was the one who begged her father to take the order form to work and put it in the lunchroom for a week and wasn’t surprised when he brought it home completely devoid of any writing at all.
I am coming to the conclusion, however, that unless I dig deep and find some way to convey my passion about this project, it is not likely to be published. I need to stop being the Girl Scout selling someone else’s cookies and become the recipe-master, chest-bustingly proud of herself for this unique invention, off to share it with the world. In that way, it becomes less about foisting it on some hapless neighbor who answers the door to a child and more about offering a new perspective, a gift of writing. Somehow, I need to stop apologizing for what might be wrong about the book and start singing its praises. I need to come to a place where I’m not justifying or defending my work, simply holding it up to the light and proclaiming that I like what I see.