Yesterday, I sent about 2500 words of my nonfiction project to be considered for a day-long workshop on personal narrative writing.
“Which piece should I send?” I asked an experienced writer who has heard many segments of the project. “Which works best as a stand-alone?”
“Doesn’t matter,” they replied. “You won’t get in.”
I was surprised, but not offended. I knew he wasn’t saying my work isn’t good. He likes my work (or he’s been doing a really good job of faking it.) He’s just of the opinion that my style doesn’t match what they are looking for, based on his perception of the people and publication behind the workshop.
I decided to give it a try anyway. Going through my binder, I considered and rejected many segments. From what I had heard, I had an impulse to choose one that included my time at MIT or some other attention-getting intellectual thing. But many of the segments don’t work well as a stand-alone, because they’re far along in the book.
In the end, I chose an early chapter. The protagonist is not at MIT, or studying to be a therapist, or having an edgy time in rehab. She’s a preadolescent torturing her toys. It’s often funny, sometimes sad, and very authentic. I like it. Don’t know if they will.
We have our finalists: the four poems for my submission. I’m determined to stick with those four, the product of much thought and second-guessing. Now, for the first time, I get to have the experience of doing a final revision of poems that have been around for a little while.
Revising this way is different from revising and polishing a new work. Experienced writers advise giving a work space and time before coming back to it with fresher eyes, and I have tried to do this sometimes. Preparing poems for submission, however, is causing me to do it with a new intensity.
I made my choice of the four about two weeks ago, and I’m aware of them marinating in my brain. It’s kind of like when a poem is simmering in its preliminary stages, but different. They hang around, whispering to me when I’m bored. Bits of them recur, telling me that they want to be altered in some small way. I want them to be their best, yet I want to be careful not to strip them of their energy.
It’s wonderful, and strange, and it feels so, so narcissistic at times.
At long last, I’ve chosen a place to send my very first submission.
I’ve recently found a small magazine I like very much, and I’ve subscribed to it.
I’ve looked up and read its submission guidelines.
I am fully prepared to be rejected; I shall buy a frame to display that rejection letter.
It shall be a sign of this milestone in my writing.
I’d be lying if I said there is not a tiny part of me that fantasizes about being accepted.
That believes my work will fit very well on those pages.
I acknowledge this part of me, while willing it to remain of manageable size.
The guidelines say to submit up to four poems.
Now comes the fun part: Which four?
No, really. It is fun. Maddening, but fun too.
Considering poems, and combinations of poems.
Considering final tweaking I might want to do.
I hope to do more submissions soon, now that the ice will be broken.
But only four will live in my memory as being the first!
I’ve made a resolution to go through with a procedure I’ve been putting off–and given myself a deadline: June 1.
The procedure involves opening my skin, removing a piece of what I keep buried in there and mailing it to a stranger.
The glistening piece of tissue will sit, in an envelope, stacked in some editorial person’s office. Perhaps, in time, the envelope will be opened and discerning eyes will gaze upon the raw flesh.
Perhaps he or she will find something in its cellular structure or colors intriguing. But it is more likely, given the realities of this field, that the biopsy I cringed to share will be thrown out hastily lest it begin to stink.
But I am determined to go through with it, if for no other reason than to treasure the fact that I did. To push through my perfectionism: which journal to submit to? Which poems?
To push through my second-guessing: I should wait until I’ve been able to look at them more in a real workshop setting. (No money for this, and there isn’t going to be for a long time.)
To get that first time out of the way. To just pick a publication, choose a submission according to its guidelines, do a little polishing revision and send it on its way.
Now all I need to do is buy a frame for my very first rejection letter. I’m truly excited about that. I’m not just saying it–a rejection letter will mean I met my goal.