On Writing: Submission and Rejection

Over the weekend, I cranked out a short (about 600 words) pieces and submitted it to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. I submitted via email last night and this morning received a quick “no.”

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve submitted or pitched anything and so mostly I’m just proud of myself for jumping back into the game of attempting to write for a known audience. To be honest, I’ve never really pitched and submitted that much: a few contests here and there, a couple of on-line venues, and the alt-weekly where I used to work. But I thought a lot about submitting and pitching. Here’s a thing about the whole process: it can be exhausting. For me, what sometimes happens is that I attempt to cantilever my writing into fitting the guidelines or theme or the voice of the publication (or at least how I perceive the publication). I would see a submission guideline or a contest and think, “well, I can write an essay that would fit that” and then spend a bit of time messing around with an essay I already had or an idea for an essay I already had. For example, I used to receive the This American Life pitch solicitation emails in which they would announce the theme for upcoming episodes and outline what they were looking for. So I’d spend some time mulling it over and considering whether I had some stories or essay ideas. The farthest I ever got was to pitch someone else’s previously published essay. More often than not, with all of these publications, I would end up talking myself out of finishing and submitting or pitching.

It’s hard to live in that headspace of constantly trying to shoehorn your stories and writing into these guidelines and contests. I decided to not do it anymore, to not even think about submitting anywhere. And it was freeing.

After a good, long break from writing in general (not just for publication), I eventually decided that I should write again. I have done so both here on my blog but also, and perhaps more importantly, privately. I say that it is important because I think that it is in the privacy of my own pages that my writing has been most successful. It is in that space where I’m not worried about an audience and publication that I have been able to play with and tease out language and meaning and ideas. When I say that my writing has been “successful” in those spaces, I don’t mean that I have improved or even that my writing as really substantially changed. I have, however, re-gained a certain confidence that I was both in writing for classes in grad school and during my brief foray into the world of submitting and pitching. In my private writing, I have been able to remind myself that I do, in fact, have something, many things to say and that those things are worthy, not because they fit the submission guidelines but because they are unique and authentic. And to a certain extent, this way of being and thinking and writing has carried over into this blog and perhaps, one day, to other places and publication spaces. And if not? Well, that’s ok too.

The piece that I submitted to McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies was an open letter from the Beltway (the interstate highway that encircles DC) to the “People’s Convoy”, which was attempting to shut down the capitol city (which I live just outside of and where I was born and raised) by stopping traffic. They are still around here, staying out here in Maryland at the Hagerstown Speedway.

Here is a small piece of my open letter submission:

“I trade in neither rhyme nor reason. I am multitudinous. I am legion! I am 495 but I am also 95, 295, 395. Are you coming or going? No one knows. And soon neither will you. Are you trying to exit northbound or south? Why are you exiting at all? The exit-stential questions you will ask are only the beginning. I am smoke and mirrors. Soon, you too will find signs for places that only exist in the morning traffic report: the Occoquan Bridge which cannot be spelled much less traversed. This confusion is the nature of my game. I am particularly proud of one of my snarly creations. Like car commuters across US metropolitan regions, they assign it a charming nickname: the ‘mixing bowl’, as if they are trying to convince themselves they are whipping up a batch of cookies rather than fighting for their very humanity.”

I knew that any piece like this would have potentially too many inside references that perhaps only people in this region would understand. It’s a tricky needle to thread (for me anyway) from explaining the context to explaining the joke, which inevitably makes everything fall flat. I remember as a kid hearing the traffic report and it seemed like every single morning cars were backed up to the Occoquan Bridge such that the location (mentioned only against the backbeat thump of traffic helicopter blades and through the hollow almost nasal quality of the reporter speaking through whatever headset they were using in those days) took up mythic proportions. Where was the Occoquan Bridge even? (For the curious, it’s in Virginia and I grew up on the Maryland-side of DC.)

Aside from these issues of the topic and format that I was attempting to write and submit, was the problem that this so-called People’s Convoy is still in this area, they are still protesting. Some threatened to remove the Black Lives Matter paint in downtown DC. Gas prices are rising along with climate change and they were still driving around the beltway. In same ways, the stakes have started to rise in ways that I don’t feel are particularly funny. My heart wasn’t in writing a humor piece about this situation in a way that would be sustainable beyond a tweet or two, much less a whole 600 plus words.

Still, I’m glad I wrote it (or attempted to) and I’m glad I submitted it. (Heck, I’m even glad that they rejected it as the situation with these protestors seems to have grown more tense and less amusing.) Mostly, I’m just glad to be back writing.

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