Like all writers who don’t pay the mortgage with the written word, I am a master procrastinator. It manifests itself in many ways. Does the sink need cleaning? Answer: Yes, but why now? Is this piece of writing whole, perfect and complete? Answer: No, but it never will be. Even though I know they are just excuses, I cling on to these reasons to write less and less, in more and more detail, and to keep my work close to my chest.
I wasn’t always like this. I am a neophyte at the writing game. I wrote my first story, a non-fiction narrative of a family legend in July 2012, I think. Not long ago, you must admit. I had a marvellous history of procrastination behind me at that stage; 38 years to produce a single work. However, it was done now. My first story. What to do?
I knew from listening to friends that it would take about 18 months to see my first published story, and that journals and magazines would reject me out of hand for no reason other than spite and malice. An odd way to do business? Well, who was I to judge.
I took my precious infant story and I sent it winging across the ether into the maws of these evil, malevolent Journal editors and began my year-long wait for rejection. Three days later I received an email from www.writing.ie to inform me that my piece was live on their Mining Memories section. The following day brought an email from Georgia, USA to say that The Chattahoochee Review wanted my story, but unfortunately had found it available online, and could it be removed, post-haste, otherwise they would not be in a position to publish nor to SEND ME MY CHEQUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wey Hey!!!!! What’s all this nonsense about slush piles, percentages and crap-shoots? I thought. Editors are obviously people of great beauty, sense, intelligence and kindness, desperate to fill the lives of hungry writers with joy. All one needs to do is write the stuff, click the mouse and wait for the cheques to come rolling in. Right? Right? Unfortunately wrong.
If I bothered to print them out, I could now paper the walls of “the smallest room” with rejections. Soon, I will move onto the living-room.
For every acceptance, I got ten rejections and then suddenly they stopped. I no longer had the unenviable task of clearing rejections out of my mail, because they stopped coming. And why did they stop coming? Because I stopped submitting. It’s not nice to have your work rejected, not even when the communication starts with “Dear Orla,” instead of “Dear submitting author.” Not even when you suspect that your piece has actually been read by a human being before rejection.
No, it’s so much nicer to just hoard up your work, polish it at home in privacy and gloat over it in solitude like a computer-literate Gollum.
And then I found and read Michelle Seaton in www.thereviewreview.net a site stuffed full of publishing tips and advice for nascent scribblers. You could do worse than to look at her piece below.
Last week, Hektoen International accepted a short article for their online Journal of the Medical Humanities, The Prism Review informed me that I didn’t win $1,000 dollars in their short story contest and Penguin Ireland kindly advised me that my short story collection does not fit their needs at this time. I am averaging one rejection per week at the moment. The Stinging Fly out-did itself recently by rejecting two separate pieces within days of each other. About once a month, or less often, someone, somewhere accepts my writing, and I realise now that the Editors accept it with a sigh of relief. “Thank God,” they say, “A piece that suits our needs, is topical, well-written, the correct length and has arrived at the right place at the right time.”
Is submitting a crap-shoot? Yes, it is. Can you win if you’re not in? No, you can’t.
Thanks to Michelle Seaton for the advice.
And by the way, a huge thanks to Penguin Ireland, for accepting and considering work from a total newbie, unagented and unrepresented. Few large publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts, so kudos to those who do.
(c) Orla McAlinden
Orla McAlinden is an emerging writer of fiction and short memoir. Her stories have been published in The Chattahoochee Review, Ragnarok, The Fish anthology, A New Ulster, Wordlegs and Number Eleven Magazine. Her work has won or been shortlisted for several prizes including the Fish Short Memoir, the Valhalla Press short prose, the Wasafiri New Writing and several on-line contests.
Her prose often draws upon her experiences of a Catholic childhood in Portadown, birthplace of the Orange Order and scene of the infamous Drumcree standoff.
Last year she read at the West Cork Literary Festival, and facilitated life-writing workshops at the Babble Festival in Cavan and at the Shore Festival in Sligo.