One of the things I teach other writers and chant in my own head is this: write for yourself. Tell the story you want to tell – the one you want to read. Writing something that fits current best seller trends or might have mass market appeal may, in the end, stifle your creativity and your honesty. Readers and editors can smell writing-to-impress from across the street.
But we all do secretly want to publish our work. We want to see our name in print and know that we connect with just one reader out there. Okay, and the fame-and-fortune part – I’ll admit – that looks good, too. But I still write for me.
And here’s something you may not know about me; I play both sides of the field. I consider myself a writer first and foremost but I also work as an editor for a magazine. Articles, poems, short stories – it all comes across my desk. Sending out rejection notices? Yeah, also me.
When we first started the magazine, I asked my writer-self what kind of rejection letter would I like the most? It was a bit like asking a convict on death row how he’d like to die. Firing squad? Shark tank? Angry squirrels? I decided I would prefer a simple form letter rejection. Quick, to-the-point. Rip that bandaid off and move on.
But I had another reason for the form letter. Editor-me is overwhelmed and rarely has time to sit down and offer an in-depth response to a piece. Harsh, I know, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day and if I can’t do a terrific, caring job with a piece, I’d rather just toss it in the shark tank and move on. Editor-me is a horrible person.
When I first began submitting work, someone told me a story about how editors are real people and writers tend to forget that. It’s easy to do – we’re sending our heartfelt work off to a cold, faceless website – it’s easy to forget that editors have lives with crabby children, selfish ex-husbands, and dead dogs. You can write the most incredible, perfect poem about your dead dog, you’ve chosen every word carefully, formatted and spell-checked, even made the deadline for submission – and if it shows up on my desk on the same day my dog has died? Most likely, you are getting your poem back with a form letter covered in my tears.
I’ve built a great case for both sides of this argument, but as I said, I’m a writer first. That’s where my heart is, that’s the side I understand best. Now let’s talk about a short story I wrote several years ago. In my opinion, it’s like that dog poem: clever, unique, highly-polished. It’s also incredibly personal. I love it very much. Two years ago, after having it critiqued by two writers’ groups, I submitted my precious story to that faceless website. It was a magazine that I’d researched, read copies of, adored. My story and that publication are a perfect match.
And I heard nothing. Not a peep.
They tell you to submit and then forget about it, so I did. All of a sudden, eighteen months had passed and I remembered that my lovely story was parked on this evil magazine’s hidden submission database. Fine, I thought. I logged in, took it back, erased my details and deleted my account. Fine.
I realize I sounded like a teenage girl grounded for the weekend. I tucked my story away and haven’t submitted any work since. Tantrum? Absolutely. Editor-me might be mean but writer-me is fragile.
Today, I got an email from this magazine’s brand new editor. She explained how overwhelmed they are with short stories, how the old editor was so overworked that things got set aside and forgotten, how they were going to do so much better now with their upcoming issue. Writer-me thought, whatever. Editor-me fully understands and admires this individual for admitting the world is complicated.
Then this new editor asked for my short story back, asked for it by name. And all I could think was: nothing on the internet is ever truly gone, is it?