I want to let you in on something that I’ve learned the hard way: writing is a crap-shoot.
Case in point: Elizabeth Gilbert is the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love. I have not read anything she’s written, but I’m sure she’s a fine writer. Fine enough to impress the editors at Esquire magazine, where one of her unsolicited manuscripts was pulled from the slush pile and published–a dream that most writers can only hope to achieve. That one event catapulted her into a career as a writer.
It does not mean that she is a remarkably better writer than all the tens of thousands who silently toil with no success. Let’s all admit that she got lucky.
And about editors–they are human too. They have feelings, they have biases, and they make mistakes. They can be arrogant, misguided, and sometimes they cheat, steal, and lie. But they are the guardians of the gate, and they will exercise their power to either make someone’s career or make sure that a writer is never heard from again.
Recently, I submitted a short essay to the Washington Post Magazine. For a few years, they have been running a regular feature where the essayist describes a small, seemingly unimportant object that has significant meaning for them. After six months (editors are soooo busy), I finally received a response from an editor. He declined my essay, giving the reason that, while it was a “powerful” story about my grandfather, “there’s not a particular narrative about the object in question–which enters late in the piece.” (I subsequently self-published the essay here.)
Quietly, I accepted his explanation, believing that my essay just didn’t meet the magazine’s standards. I don’t know what constraints exist in the magazine’s editorial processes, and figured that if I studied other published essays, I’d understand what he meant.
Yet, in a recent issue, an essay was published that included everything that this editor said was wrong with mine.
When editors contradict themselves so blatantly, it’s hard for me to take any of them seriously.
If anyone tells you that there is a writing community–a network of support where writers find strength–then they are lying. Writers and editors eat their own, and secretly (or not so secretly) rejoice in the failure of other writers.
A few years ago, I realized that I
wanted needed writing to be a significant part of my life. The need is there, the drive and desire. Maybe it is just that I don’t have the talent. Or maybe that I’ve started too late, that I have too many other competing interests in my life, that I don’t have the time and the space necessary for proper reflection.
I continue to roll the dice, hoping that I may get that magic combination that will take me to the next level. But it’s possible that I will never find out.