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Friday, August 24, 2007

Waiting is so hard

I peeled my essay like an artichoke. Layer after tasty layer was removed. While I managed to scrape tiny amounts of goodness off of each bit before it was discarded, there wasn't much left when I was done. I cut a mere 3,100 words from my 4,000-word essay. While it is still kick-ass, I know that fruitful prose were removed, elegant descriptions were clipped, colorful anecdotes were trashed. It was emotionally painful, but it had to be done. I decided it is best to try and get the thing published. Period.

And while I chopped it down to conform to the needs of other publications, I did not lower my standards. I did not settle. I refuse (for now) to send it off to a publication I never read for the sake of publishing. So I submitted it to Newsweek. Every week they run a personal essay called "My Turn," and I think it's a great fit. So off it went and now I'll wait and wait and wait. And if that doesn't work out, I'll try another high-profile magazine. Then another. And another. And another. I don't want to settle.

I don't know how freelancers do it. Perhaps they simply don't write articles or essays on spec. Otherwise, you spend a bunch of time writing. Then you submit it to Publication A and cross your fingers. If that doesn't work out. Then you rewrite it and submit it to Publication B and cross your fingers. Each time this happens, you're waiting six or eight weeks for a response. If you're lucky, you're piece gets picked up on the first try every time. But more realistically, your work is sitting in a stack or in someone's inbox and you're hoping that it will rise above the other 800 submissions. All the while, you're wasting months of your time waiting for find out who wants what.

The scary thing is, if this was my full-time paying gig, I'd be lucky if I were able to afford ramen noodles. It reminds me of something I read recently in Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott. It was something along the lines of: "People who write novels often live in hovels." I think that saying can be extended to include freelance writers of all kind. There are the lucky few who break through and make the connections to have regular and fruitful work. But mostly, when it comes to writing personal essays, the paying options are slim.

That was one of the many reasons my gig at Oxygen Media as a professional blogger was so great. If only they hadn't given up on the project so quickly. And I guess that is what I've been trying to do on a smaller scale--not give up on my projects too quickly, even though rejection is so hard. So I'll wait and I'll wonder and hopefully I won't lose any sleep in the process. In the meantime, I'll try to figure out what to do with the 3,100 abandoned words.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A moment of bitterness

If they don't want me, then I don't want them.

At least that was how I felt for a brief moment when an email appeared telling me that my subscription to Brain, Child magazine was going to expire. Then my rational side kicked in and I remembered how much I enjoy the magazine.

So I will renew my subscription. And I will continue to write and submit essays to them in the hopes that eventually they will want me as much as I want them.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Essay dilemma

I am the daughter of a belly dancer. The way I see myself, the way I parent, the way I handle stressful situations, and how my childhood memories of music and dance affect my children is the essence of my essay that was recently rejected by Brain, Child magazine.

I've been trying to figure out what to do with it. Since I wrote that piece with Brain, Child in mind, it is written for the readers of that smart and thought-provoking magazine. For instance, it is 4,000 words long, and it focuses more on the parent than on the child. There are very few magazines that publish personal essays of that magnitude with that kind of slant.

I hate to cut it apart to make it fit into other magazines. Most seem to want 1,000 words or less. Many want 500- to 600 words. I could easily trim 500 words, but trimming 75 percent or more is just killing me. I've been trying to trim it for Mothering Magazine. I've been trying to trim it for the Christian Science Monitor. I've been trying to trim it for Redbook. None seem exactly right. But with the right amount of editing, I can make it work. I'm good at finessing. But it is so hard to trim because I really love it the way it is. I'm sure part of that is because I'm so close to the subject. That I'm sure is one of the hardest parts of writing personal essays. How can it not be taken, well, so personally?

Photographer Friend recently blogged about the hardships and frustrations of being an artist who is trying to earn some money practicing her craft. She wrote: "Its a tough business because every lead is a potential blow to your ego, every possibility can take with it a little piece of you soul."

Her struggles apply whether you're a photographer and writer. And as I attempt to tailor my work so that the masses can enjoy it, with every word, every paragraph, every scene removed, I feel like I'm scooping out its innards and it hurts. I need to stop taking it so personally. But that is what is happens when your craft is very personal. The rejection. The disappointment. The tailoring of your work to fit different publications needs. That was partially while Bethany decided to self-publish her short story Postpartum Euphoria last year.

Still, publishing in its entirety would be my favorite exit strategy. But then again, if that doesn't pan out, I need to decide what it more important: keeping the essay as is, or chopping it so that it can be enjoyed. Ultimately, maybe the most important thing is to get it out there and to move on.