29 Apr Writing: Shimmying Down the Page
If you are a still-not-famous-writer, you will agree with me that this writing … profession? activity? career? passion? (choose your preferred word) comes with a hefty side of frustration.
You’ve read the stories of acting icons’ innumerable auditions and humiliations. Writers go through a similar journey, only almost none reaps millions once they “make it.” Making it, for an author, may mean getting a book published, selling around a thousand units, and struggling to get a second book in print. The royalties will not cover the cost of the workshops, classes, retreats, editors, copy editors, beta readers, and publicists they invested in, not to speak of the countless hours of income lost to their craft.
On the road to (potential) publication, a writer’s life is papered in rejections. Looking at Duotrope’s writing markets stats is sobering. The 100 slowest journals—those everyone yearns to see their name in—take between 129 and 398 days to respond when you submit a piece. Some don’t accept simultaneous submissions. You wait a year, get rebuffed, and start all over again.
If you received rejections by mail you would tack them to the wall to spur you forward, like Stephen King before his big break, but they arrive by email, so you don’t do anything heroic. You delete them, take note on your spreadsheet, and swear not to think about them again. Alas…you fail. You spend hours (… days… weeks…) telling yourself you’ll never get anywhere and wondering why you’re wasting your time … then you truly don’t think about them again.
Personalized rejections provoke a different kind of vexation. When you get your first one from a prestigious magazine, you rejoice. The last 156 reports about Agni in Duotrope state a zero-acceptance rate (!) over twelve months but only 8.6% of rejected writers received a personalized note, and you did. If Agni says you are a good writer, it must mean your essay will soon be accepted by another illustrious publication. You take a photo of the most flattering lines, post it in Instagram, and preach about how you will keep on keeping on.
After nineteen equally acclaimed magazines reject this very essay while extolling your “unique perspective,” “precise, captivating, vivid writing,” “positive feedback from readers,” and the (doubtful) distinction of the piece having gone through “multiple screenings,” your faith flags. Perhaps this essay will never get published. Or it will get published in a third-rate magazine that no one reads (although how many people read first-rate magazines?).
You’re tempted to give up—again. You retreat to the couch with chocolate, gummies and the latest Netflix binge. Eventually, you pick up the pieces of your battered self and sit in front of your laptop.
Why do you persist in banging the keys and juicing your brain?
I don’t know what your answer is, but here is mine.
When I don’t write I drift glum and purposeless, as if I had lost the rudder that steers my boat home.
The writing itself can be challenging—my ineptitude a wreck—, but amnesia sets in when alchemy transforms a passage into gold: a shiny matter built of keen observation, words smooth as sea glass, and a jumble of events tamed into meaning. Submerged in flow, I come back for air, awed at my own contentment.
Writing essays satisfies my hunger for learning—about politics, art, or whatever subject has piqued my curiosity—and my passion for teaching. As a memoirist, writing uncovers the currents that have shaped the direction of my life and therefore makes it richer.
When lines shimmy seductively, in the pocket, dopamine flares up in my brain. And as a non-native English speaker, rummaging for the right word challenges me, amuses me and excites me. Perhaps I cannot bring it to mind readily, but I recognize it instantly when I see it among a long list of synonyms in the dictionary—what a luscious jolt.
Getting an email from a reader who tells me they felt seen in one of my pieces forms an instant bond. As someone who becomes deaf while immersed in a book, I want to give others the same ramp to delight, emotion, reflection, and communion I enjoy.
The power of words to foster connections across time and space and unwrap the world’s infinite layers is a gift. Although at times I despair over the many challenges of the life I’ve chosen, as far as it pushes me, engages me, and makes me and others wiser, I will never stop writing.
Perhaps more important than anything else, having grown female in Spain during a dictatorship, under a strict Catholicism, and within a macho culture, writing has given me back my voice. As memoirist Jill Kandell said, “Writing gave me this gift. I stopped hiding. But even more than that. I started telling.”
I hope you have a space in your life where you can pour yourself openly, be that conversations with trusted friends, some type of artistic expression, or an inner confidence that allows you to show yourself courageously. Living as if you had something to hide is not only exhausting, but also disempowering.