And That Is What Literary Writing Is All About

(June ’09)

In my last post, I explored how I felt about misunderstanding the guidelines for a particular submission. The very day I posted this, I returned home from the library, my husband returned home, he brought in the mail, and presented me with a large envelope that I recognized immediately as my SASE in yet another submission. And knew immediately that as said SASE was coming back to me that meant another rejection.

How about the synchronicity of that? Two suckers in one day, in one four hour period.

Ouch.

This rejection, though, fell with a soft landing because the extremely nice editor I’d sent the story to enclosed an encouraging, handwritten note with the rejection, and urged me to send another manuscript.

Thank you so much! I am impressed with, and grateful for, the sensitivity of this wonderful editor!

Now despite the cushioning of the blow, I was disappointed and a bit perplexed because I’d thought–as we do, right?–that my manuscript was a good match for the journal. But alas, on that point, I was not in agreement with the editor.

So how did I respond to this heaping double scoop of rejection? Did I become blue, sink into depression, rant?

No, indeed. Well, for a bit, yes.

For a short while, I sank into all three indulgent responses. But shrugging off my mood, I drove to one of my favorite places and, J beside me, walked along the beach. There it occurred to me, thinking aloud, that it makes no sense whatsoever to become blue with the submission game because–guess what, fellow and sister suffering writers?–there is no method to the madness.

Zilch, nada, zip, zero.

There is only this, all I can say with any certainty about writing (and I challenge anyone to add to the list):

–Literary writing produces little or no external rewards. If you want external recognition or reward for your labor, find another line of work.

–Literary writing is cerebral, introspective, and solitary. It’s wise to pursue it while engaged in some other kind of work–professional, paid, volunteer, whatever–that is grounding, helps keep one connected and (reasonably) sane, and that produces a modicum of measurable reward.

–Rejection–actual or threatened–permeates writing. Try hard to make friends with rejection, because if you take your writing at all seriously, you and rejection are going to become very intimate.

–The act of submitting work is paradoxical. The writer must believe in his or her work enough to think it is worth the time of the reader, while simultaneously keeping a realistic view of one’s work and its place in the flood of manuscripts zipping through mail channels.

–Finally, once past a low level of writing proficiency, the evaluation of literary writing is subjective. This is true of all criticism of the arts–dance, film, theatre, set design, painting, etc. There is no right and no wrong. There is only effectiveness, and effectiveness is a personal, subjective response on the part of the reader.

I know you’re thinking, “But what about all those volumes of criticism, all those learned, thoughtful pronouncements on…? Surely some standards must exist?

Not in the long haul. One reader’s poison is another’s passion, one professor’s love is another’s yawn, one agent’s latest new find is another agent’s same old, same old, one audience boos, another audience, two years later, gives a standing ovation.

And on it goes.

So how did I feel after (re)learning all this? Really good; looser and more excited about writing than I have in some time.

Ready to write.  And that’s where we want to be.

And that is what literary writing is all about.

(Written June ’09)

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  1. Pingback: The Nine Rights Of Writers | WellCraftedToo

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