Yes, folks, it’s pity party time again. Just got notice that I was not shortlisted for a story competition I really thought I had a good shot at. The magazine sent out the same form letter that I’ve gotten from them before, stating that my piece “really stood out from the rest” and that I’m “obviously a talented writer” and they felt “honored to read my work”, but it was still a pass. The first time I got this letter I felt really encouraged, but this time I realized it’s more likely just they’re “no thanks, but please don’t slit your wrists” letter. To be honest, I actually prefer the blunt “not for us, but good luck” letters to these touchy feely ones. Not that I blame editors. Talk about a mostly (unpaid and) thankless job, and on top of that they have to deal with the fragile egos of god knows how many writers. Can’t be much fun at times.
The good news is that I don’t have a fragile ego. Yes, I am absolutely aware the reason I never get published may very well be because I suck, but why dwell on this? I believe in what I write. I work hard at it and edit mercilessly and am always open to constructive criticism. Basically no one in the world cares about my writing and maybe never will. At least I’m on my own side.
(Me: I got your back, Rebeccah.
Myself: Why thank you, Rebeccah. Good to know that I can count on you at least!
And I: Hip hip hooray! Three cheers for Beck! She’s the best!)
Sometimes I blame the whole thing on turning 15. When I was a kid, I was crazy interested in science. For years, I wanted to be a naturalist (didn’t realize this more or less has not been a career path since the Victorian Age, and even then it was really more something for rich people who needed a past time). Other options I considered were to become a Marine Biologist, an Entomologist or an Ichthyologist. I’m still the person people call if they need a spider removed and I get genuinely excited if I see an interesting looking beetle. For years, I went to the aquarium here in Berlin on my birthday because staring at fish calms me.
But then I had to turn 15 and get all arty and literary and into music. 15 was also the age I was when I found out science is closely linked to math and numbers are, and always have been, my mortal enemy. So I went the music and writing route, and what has it gotten me?
Nothing but grief.
Ok, so I’m being a little bit melodramatic. I’m actually in a (fairly) good place with music. It’s an active part of my life and I perform sometimes, although I would like to do it more. But writing?
What is it about writing? Why do I even do it?
Part of the reason is easy enough: I love the writing process, love getting lost in a story. Sometimes I think about characters in stories that never quite worked and I feel kind of guilty, like they’re an old friend I haven’t called in a long time. The worlds I create bring richness to my life. I stopped writing for six years but never will again. For better or for worse, I need to write.
But no one ever reads my stories because no one ever seems to want to publish them.
So here’s the next question:
Why does being published matter?
Is it the money?
Sure, making even an extremely modest living as a writer would be fantastic, especially since the freelance work I do these days is rife with dumping prices which are likely to get worse rather than better. My husband and I don’t have much of a retirement set up, so there’s also that. Still, moolah is pretty much beside the point in my literary pursuits.
Is it the recognition?
Well, yeah. Who doesn’t like to be showered with praise? Rebeccah Dean, hot new literary talent! Over fifteen pages of Google search results! Interviews galore! A page on Wikipedia I actually didn’t write myself! My ego could deal with that.
But that’s still not really it.
I just want to be read. To get a chance at that unspoken intimacy between a writer and reader, the anonymous sharing that I so treasure as a reader. I want to be on the active side, to be the one who’s telling the stories, knowing anyone can read them at any time, even long after I’m dead. When it comes down to it, writing that no one reads is nothing more than letters on a page.
As of this moment, I have 32 submissions of various stories to various magazines. When they get rejected one by one—and I assume at this point that they will—maybe I’ll start publishing them here. If I do, very few people will find them and those who do will likely click away. But maybe one person, just one stranger, will find them and read them and they will make him/her laugh or feel something or, so help me god, tear up a little.
Would that be success? Yes, in the smallest of ways it would.