Navel-gazing. Sentimentality. Triumphs of despair. Autobiography.
Wild words, no?
I thought of them, this past weekend, after enjoying an interesting conversation with a writer and former professor in the Harvard writing program. We discussed, among other readerly/writerly things, the stories we wrote last year or years ago–the stuff we cannot seem to place. She mentioned a story that was rejected two dozen times before it was accepted. I brought up shapeshifting, the way old stories seem to take on new and different forms each time I revisit them–how I have already moved on to new projects, ideas, creative paths, by the time this reunion with past work takes place.
She, for the most part, agreed.
Thank you for submitting a piece for the upcoming issue of [______]. We enjoyed some of the whimsical aspects of your piece. Unfortunately, we regret to inform you that we are unable to publish [______] at this time.
Please excuse my absence last week. I was processing.
Recently, I received a number of declinations in which the editor, after praising certain aspects of a given story, provided detailed feedback about what works and does not work, in their valued opinion.
In terms of feedback, the readers’ comments were all fairly consistent. Everyone agreed that it was excellently written but that it was difficult to engage with. I hope this feedback is helpful.
This got me to thinking about all the personalized rejections, or rejections with feedback, I have received over the past few years. Plenty has been written about the different types of rejection a writer will receive, the benefits of rejection, and how to respond to rejection. Yet, rejection notices that include specific feedback are peculiar things, quite rare.
What to make of them?
There is a two-word term out there in the Readerly/Writerly world, an ethereal and challenging thing: revision strategy. Jennifer Porter, co-founder and fiction editor at The Tishman Review, suggests leaning a keen eye toward “hangers-on” and “riff raff” that do not serve the story in any way–narrative, character development, or otherwise.
I try to keep this sound advice at the core of my own revision strategy.
Curing a hangover is simple: 1 part homemade sauerkraut soup + 1 part hair of the dog + 3 parts excessive sleep. What follows are some additional ingredients for we writers who tend to reach for writing implements while lubricating our brains with witch’s brew.
Today we talk booze and writing.
“Write drunk, edit sober”
This quote is thrown around quite a bit, from Ketchum to the Red Planet and everywhere in between, and while it does make for an easy har-har-we’re-drinkers passage to pass around–a flag under which the tipsy among us can gather–we have to ask ourselves why we idolize this wobbly approach to a craft that, at least in this writer’s opinion, makes for a far superior idol.