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.