The Arrogance of Writers
I have a friend who I know writes, but she has never tried to get any of her stories published. She tells a good story, has a good memory for detail and a minor in English so she has all the tools that make a good writer, except the confidence. I have tried to get her to post a story on this blog. She says she’ll think about it, but as of now she hasn’t. I think she has the desire, but is afraid of failure. How does the song go? “It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes a chance.”
Someone once said—I think it was John Steinbeck, but it has been so long ago I’m not sure—“The most arrogant thing a person can do is to write a story and believe someone would want to read it.” I can’t argue with that. However, once you send the story off and get a couple dozen rejection notices, that arrogance disappears quickly. I remember the first story I ever sent to a magazine. My confidence that the editor would read the story and be overwhelmed by the nuances in dialogue and the ironic symbolism knew no bounds. A few weeks later I received a form rejection letter and my inflated confidence came crashing to Earth like the Hindenburg. The magazine was a very high end national magazine that I am sure never even seriously considers unknown writers, but I never sent that story out to another magazine–one and done. I still think it is a good story. This was before computers were widely used. I typed it on an old electric typewriter, and I do not have a copy of it. When your ego is crushed you tend to want to destroy the evidence of the crime. Today I would send it out to multiple publications and fully expect to get rejected by most of them.
When I first started trying to get published, I received a lot of rejection notices. Back then I took encouragement from little things. I once received a form rejection letter with the words, “Try us again,” written at the bottom and underlined in pencil. It seems like such a little thing now, but at the time I couldn’t have been happier if I had won the Pulitzer Prize. One manuscript I received back exactly one year after I had sent it off. The envelope did not even have a form rejection letter in it, and the manuscript had a few corrections made to it with red pencil. I still don’t know the story behind that, I like to think that they considered publishing it long and hard with a heated battle between two editors, one editor wanting to publish my story and the other one wanting to publish some trash by Joyce Carol Oates. After a year Ms. Oates finally won, and the long letter of explanation from the editor championing my cause somehow never made it inside the envelope. If the truth were known, the manuscript probably fell behind some office file and a year later a cleaning woman found it and put it on some editor’s desk. The red corrections? Who knows? Maybe the cleaning lady was doodling.
The first story of mine that a magazine accepted for publication is a thrill I will never forget. It was a small magazine that paid in contributor’s copies, but it made me a published writer. Then I had the first national magazine accept a story and paid me real money. Now I was a paid author. Now I have had my second novel accepted for publication. The thrill is just as big as ever. I imagine when the aforementioned Ms. Oates finishes a novel, her question is not if it will be accepted for publication, but who will publish it. Perhaps there is no thrill. If so I hope I never reach that level.