I never heard back from that publisher. Not a rejection. Not an acceptance. My self-addressed and stamped envelope was not returned to me. My manuscript inspired complete apathy, and somewhere around four months of waiting I felt sorry for myself. At five months I was angry at the publisher and myself for following the rules and not submitting simultaneously. At six months I realized that this is not a process I choose to repeat. Like most major realizations, the sorts that end in divorce, dropping out of graduate school, or fleeing the country, my decision left me without a plan. Should I keep writing? Was it possible for me to stop, to be a “normal” person who manages to be just fine, thanks, without getting up before dawn and making up entire worlds? Should I continue to submit to traditional publishers, and know that I’d be over forty when I finally finish the rude rounds of silence? Should I curse my muse, whom I call Cerridwen, scream into the cold winds that stream from behind her doorway to the North? Was it my fault that the winter was harsh and cold, was it my angst that brought Cerridwen’s icy attentions far South?
I realize I don’t control the weather, well, mostly I admit that I don’t.
Still, there was a symmetry between the harsh winter and my state of mind. I was freezing in the rejection of my call. I stopped writing in the fourth month of my self-pity. I wasn’t happier, although I did enjoy sleeping later. I picked up where I left off with my novel, but it was too difficult, and I spent the fifth month trying to understand what happens next. I dragged out everything I’d ever written. Stacks of short stories, a couple of longer (but not quite novella) pieces, the ream of paper that is the novel the publisher couldn’t be bothered to reject. I was shocked at how prolific I had been, despite having a full time job and only grabbing an hour here or there throughout most of the work week. I started reading those old works.
And something better than a self-addressed, stamped envelope was returned to me: my willingness to live my gift.
I became willing to return to the craft that my God chose for me. I regained acceptance of my role as conduit for the words my terrifying, inspiring Muse sends. I rejected the soul-death of refusing the call.
One of my earlier stories playfully investigated the theme of art as communication, and posited that without an audience (even just one person), that no work of art was truly complete. It was written in 2008, years before I ever thought of publishing. I read it, and fell in love with the faith I’d once had in the power of art. I read it and was surprised at how much my writing has improved in the intervening years and writing workshops, but that’s fodder for a whole other post. I read it and realized I wanted to publish it.
I’m happy to announce that the story is with my editor, Jacinda Little. Over the next three years, I will release everything in my gigantic stack of proliferate scribbling that is worthy of readers. This includes the novels.
I realize that this post is a complete flip-flop on my last one. I changed my mind. I learn and I grow and I’m being honest with you about where I am now, and why.
While I’m admitting my flip-floppery, I’m also not planning to do that writers retreat. I loved the idea of it, but I loved it for the wrong reason; I loved it because it would be a way to make myself feel legitimate as a writer. REAL writers have big publishers and books in stores! REAL writers go on retreats! I wanted to be a REAL writer, just as much as I wanted an excuse to run away and take naps and eat a lot of bread and sit on a porch and watch the sunlight sift through leaves and tap out inspired words when the spirit took me. I’m calling myself on my own BS. The spirit is always with me. I don’t need a rental house to find it. I just need the willingness to accept what is given. I need to stop focusing on comparing myself to other writers who are more successful in ways that are not a part of my path. I need to stop feeling like I’m somehow less REAL as a writer because of who publishes the work or how exotic the locale of the places wherein my words are written. Humility is what I need. Humility, and the help of people who don’t even know they’ve helped me. Thomas Merton, Mari Biella, and Dan Holloway: these people are you. This, too, is another post, but know that each of you carried a message I needed at exactly the moment I needed it. Thank you for sharing your words and your thoughts, for they are what helped me rehabilitate my warped ideas of what it means to be a REAL writer.
Edit – 04.03.14 Three days after I posted this, I received my SASE. It contained a form rejection, and no comments. The story of the SASE is stronger without this addition, but this post isn’t a story, and I can’t honor your time to read and comment if I don’t also honor the truth.
I remain very, very happy with the path I’ve chosen, and note that it is actually delightful to get a letter addressed by me in the mail. 🙂 I think my handwriting is friendly. It had to catch me by surprise before I could see it objectively, but I’m glad I did.