08 May 2005

the perfect rejection letter.

a Great deal of unsolicited submissions i have read are memoirs. many many (sigh...Many!) people see their lives as memorable enough to expound on at great length and send to strangers.

as do i, right here and right now, in fact!. and you poor dear things who have happened upon this blog might well have to linger on these words (gods pray you have high speed!) until your anxious clickity click redirects you to more fruitful and informative webpages.

theoretically, i like this pretension; that so many aspiring writers are So thrilled with their own personal narratives and history, with the little things in life,that they feel it worthy of pen and paper (so to speak) and public consumption.
but still. the task of selecting for publication is an inevitable one. not everyone is gonna make it between the dustcovers.

how Wonderful it would be to be able to come up with the Perfect words to describe a submission as worthy, but not appropriate for publication.

i am hereby making it my new goal to come up with the perfect rejection letter!

this sounds, perhaps, immensely nihilistic and downright rude. but think of it; think of how progressive we would be in communicating with each other if we could make it apparent that all things/people are Important, and Loved, and Significant, whilst at the same time saying that their correct place is "some other publication"?
HOW HOW HOW? i think towards the small compassion debate a few postings down; that compassion involves ferocity, and i feel sometimes that that is true.

perhaps people need a distinct sense of what belongs in the world at large and what belongs in their heads and only in their heads. for the good of the World instead of their Egos.

the next consistent submission topic, the one which makes me feel weighty and ponderous, is the people who have lost a loved one. so many people who have lost loved ones turn to writing to attempt to understand their grief, come to terms with their grief, understand how it has affected their lives. if i ever needed any more proof of the Magic that is the craft of writing, it is reading peoples' submissions about their lost partner, parent, or loved one to cancer or myriad other mortal ailments.

the same worry occurs, how to make people realize how Truly Truly important their stories are, whose publication would be the most obvious way of acknowledging that worth.

but this is what worries me, dear reader(s). is this some strange plague? that the only outlet for so many peoples' grief is putting it to paper and sending it to strangers? or, as is fast definitely becoming a plague (at least in my synapses) posting some blog somewhere in cyberspace in the hopes that someone will read and sympathize?

what exactly is the therapeutic aspect of having someone share your grief? there is one, i have NO doubt in my mind, i know for a Fact. and i believe that it is Grossly underestimated in the world, and not condoned or encouraged in the way it should be. but what is it? what does it accomplish, sharing the darker sides of one's psyche with others? and when is it "no longer suitable for publication"?


prettyslippers said...

the best rejection letter I ever received was a form letter with a note that said: "We think you could benefit from a good editor."
This caused me grief. I'm over it though (I think).
I share it with you now in hopes that if you, dear stef, or your dear reader(s) have ever experienced a rejection letter, you know you are not alone in your feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, self-righteousness (if you felt these things that I do every time I perceive myself to be rejected in one way or another).
I heard recently that a good storyteller tells a story when she/he tells it as an offering to others, not to make themselves feel better.

steflenk said...

i think i would be quite initially devastated by that comment, but, in my case it is Very VERY true that i would benefit from a good editor, so i think it's an okay thing. perhaps not phrased so bluntly. we're delicate sorts, putting our hard-won brain children out into the playground in the hopes that they'll make friends.
the thing is, so many people whose submissions i've read of late are so married to their subject matter that they haven't a sense of how to distill it. which is both a Beautiful thing and a difficult thing.
i say this about my work as well. i go back and read postings to this humble blog of only a week ago and am embarrassed by how often i get tangled in my own love of big words, and my own tendencies to digress and ramble. what's my bloody point, i wonder sometimes. i'm not interested in wasting peoples' time, but still i do it. sometimes.

this idea of storytelling as offering is SO true. one must be mindful of what one says and why one says it. motivation is a big deal. in general, people don't want to be condescended to, or used as one's therapist ear mechanism.

prettyslippers said...

Well, I should say that the first part of the phrase (in the rejection letter) was 'we liked what we read, but...' and so I wasn't quite so devastated. I was, in very small part, pleased that someone took the time to actually hand write something onto the form letter. sigh.

but let's face it, the piece hadn't been edited. And it's true of all writers, I believe, that they can benefit from a good editor. I probably say that in part because I have more confidence in my ability to make someone's writing better (aside from improving spelling errors) than in my own writing.

I do think motivation is a big deal in story telling, but I also think it's such a tricky negotiation. There has to be some personal motivation to write, whether that's to amuse oneself, cathart, purge, give birth, whatever. So it's not a selfless act, really, is it?

steflenk said...

i should point out that, though i'm not sure who you submitted to or how big they were/are, publication-wise, getting something hand-written back is Pretty Fantastic. i've been making Quite the effort to write something personal to acknowledge the reading of peoples' submissions, (and still it's not all up to me, as an intern i pass my views on to the managing editor and she peruses the work as well, etc etc.) but it's rather overwhelming.

re: editors. yes yes Yes, i find it SO much easier to help other people with their writing (or any other artistic projects, for that matter) than my own. part of me has to reign that in at times, since involving myself in other peoples' projects can be a philanthropic disguise for escaping my own tasks.

but this was/is the glory of the artistic collective, non? the ideal of Paris, of Miller, Nin, Gertrude Stein is another one of my Uberfavourites. collectives are difficult to establish, i feel, but even the most unsuccessful ones become a social gift for like-minded people. and the successful ones, well, the objective opinion of people with similiar skills and aspirations is SO SO Helpful.
but it all does start with work. for which, i've been thinking of late, some sort of personal discipline is obligatory. which is the one thing, alas, we can't provide for others. (this has been a hard lesson for me to learn.)
i like discipline. it must be the kraut in me. discipline can be more liberating than the ultimate "Freedom".

re: storytelling...i often find stories are the best way to help people and be helped. that is, this recounting of shared experiences incites empathy, advice, and downright human contact that is crucial.

i think the motivation to write is incontestable, and it becomes a Responsibility, that is, to Do it, to share it, and to Balance the selfish and self-less aspects of it.
in this sense, i like it when things i love become Obligations. i've been thinking lots about this lately. i sit down to do illustrations for Passe Muraille, and i think, WOW. i LOVE doing this work. and i sit down to write little snippits for the SheBytches site, and i LOVE it, putting words together, trying to self-edit, trying to be clear.
it's no secret though, that i'm easily pleased.

prettyslippers said...

God bless you Stef, for your hand written notes.

Re: collectives, I couldn't agree more.

Re: discipline being more liberating than the ultimate freedom -- maybe it's in discipline that freedom becomes a tangible experience? And maybe discipline comes exactly when it becomes more personally important to do one thing (like art, writing, meditation, whatever) than doing something else. Or when it becomes so natural to do something that it is no longer a struggle to motivate oneself to do it. there's commitment in discipline, I think, and there's a certain freedom in commitment...

steflenk said...

i Truly agree (albeit tardily) that discipline in freedom becomes a tangible experience. well put.
i think discipline comes from dispelling fear, personally. that's been my experience of it, anyhow. doing things i enjoy makes them important to me, sometimes too important, and then they become loaded and i get anxious about them, which overrides a natural, unpushy discipline and makes it an agressive, "must get over fear" type thing.
if that makes any sense.
in some sense discipline to me means habit or ritual, which i think is an essential part of being human.