The ones that matter, the ones that don’t

In Drafts, Poetry, proto drafts, Querying, Revision, The Crab Walker on May 25, 2014 at 7:50 am

I didn’t see any point in holding on to the sheaf of rejections. I  pasted my list of crossed-out agents and comments on the inside of the bookshelf instead, and  kept only one rejection. The only one that mattered. Why it mattered? Because I felt as if I must have done something wrong for this specific agent to turn down my writing.

I’m speaking here of a novel I mailed out to prospective agents beginning in April 2007. This rejection came in on June 27th. What left me in a mourning mood wasn’t the fact this agent represents writers I admire (all right, that too). What had moved me to send the novel her way was an address she gave to students at Bennington – a noble institution I’ve never attended and never will. What attracted her to a manuscript, she said, what kept her reading as if she’s known the writer all her life: a sense that she would “want to follow (the characters) to the ends of the earth”. That’s how I felt about my characters. I couldn’t see why she wouldn’t agree.  (If so interested, you can find “The Successful Writer’s Personality” on the website of the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency.)

I’m culling through masses of paper again. Turning a lot of those papers over to use as scribbling material. Struggled some twenty kilo-worth of paper down the steps yesterday. More to follow, once the next bag of dog food is empty.

I read before trashing. I had to agree with every one of the rejections I chucked out. The agents were right: I was playing it safe, in ways I didn’t even notice at the time – trotting out medical information, for instance, so nobody might wonder where the hell I’d picked up my creds. Hemming  and hawing where none such need apply.

I attended a regional event yesterday – the prize ceremony in a short story writing contest. I didn’t compete , but helped a few people in the writing of their own stories. I read some of the winning entries when I came home. Then, I went on reading and culling my piles of paper. Sat down with the failed novel, and started stripping it down to its component parts – those places where nobody’s pretending they know the first thing about why everything’s so screwy. Places where nobody’s apologizing about anything; they’re too busy being who they are, period.

Words that matter. Words that don’t. A good story only has the first kind.


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