This is going to be my thing: sharing work that’s been previously rejected.
The following is a true story. The idea for the piece came from a writing exercise while on a writing retreat at Ragdale, an artist community on Chicago’s North Shore. Oh, and the title is courtesy of Dani Shapiro.
I submitted it twice and received two rejections: one with a personal note that they’d just published something similar; one with some suggestions for changes.
Writing is revision, and I’m arm-pit deep in revising my novel. So I’m not suggesting that we all run out and post our crappy stuff that couldn’t hack it elsewhere.
But I loved this piece. I loved that it happened. I loved writing it. I cried writing it. I’m glad it’s out of me, and I don’t want to work on it any more. I want to share it for whatever it’s worth.
The writing of it was the point. Not the publishing of it. Sometimes that’s enough.
Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil
My newly formed writing practice is fueled by a medium iced tea and a shortbread cookie at the local Panera coffee shop. In these two hours carved out of a busy weekend, I aim to add 500 words to the first draft of my novel, and I vow to stay off the Internet. But first, I reinforce my commitment with writing tips and encouragement from my favorite authors.
I begin with a chapter from Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. In its pages, I see shades of myself in a description of her mother, a frustrated, middle-aged woman, clickety clacking away furiously on a typewriter.
My eyes fill with tears and my stuffy nose blocks the yeasty aroma of the café’s freshly baked bread. These hours with my laptop in the corner booth are my attempt to finally pursue a passion long denied. I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer.
I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer
Maybe the catalyst was an emptying nest, age spots on my hands, or preparing to celebrate my own mother’s 70th birthday. Whatever the cause, a few months ago, I realized I had to give writing everything I had, or regret it for the rest of my life.
Still Writing was a reward for meeting my word count goals. It joins Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and other sources of inspiration on my shelves.
For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers; living vicariously through Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland, William Zinsser and many others.
For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers
Long ago, after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I filled countless yellow pads with morning pages. There were flashes of stories in those pages I didn’t yet have the skill or courage to tell.
Back then, I marveled at King’s brazen recounting of his rejection slip collection. What nerve to believe he had something to say, and how fortunate for his “dear readers” that he never gave up.
I’m part of the tribe because I write
In a later chapter of Still Writing, Shapiro recalls sending an early manuscript to author Tim O’Brien, one of her literary heroes. His unexpected and encouraging endorsement symbolically welcomed her into the tribe of writers.
A chill passes over me. Maybe it’s the air conditioning on this hot summer afternoon, or maybe it’s that this morning my son handed me a copy of his favorite reading assignment for the semester: O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
I close Dani Shapiro’s book and open my slim silver computer, prepared to add pages to my rough draft knowing I’m part of the tribe because I write. I allow myself one foray into social media to message the author who inspired my writing session today.
I click on Shapiro’s Facebook page not knowing who manages her account or if she’ll see it. I thank her for Still Writing and confess that reading her words and pursuing my passion has unleashed a flash flood of tears in this very public place.
Hours later, my laptop timer and the condensation on my watery iced tea signal it’s time to head home and make dinner. I’m satisfied with 873 words added to my manuscript. Before packing up, I check Facebook and see the message waiting icon. It’s from Dani Shapiro.
I wipe away new tears and take a screen shot of her generous, encouraging comments. As to my crying in the coffee shop, she empathizes and says she once thought of writing a book based on similar experiences. She’d call it Crying in Restaurants.