Silence, a Worthy Adversary (And How I am Dealing with It)
Three months, 26 days, and 18 hours into my freelance freshman year and allies are formed: text message support groups, Staghorn Home & Garden Cafe (better known as my office once a week), and a Yeti Rambler. It keeps my coffee toasty so my sipping tendencies can thrive with no pressure to speed up. Despite the continued support and consistent above room temperature coffee, an opponent has developed. Silence. It is a worthy adversary.
Current fact: I experience more emotional highs and lows in one week than in a month at previously held, more traditional jobs (sorry Ben). These moments happen in an instant too. There is no time to prepare. A ping sounds an incoming email and who knows what is on the other end. Does the sound bring promise, disappointment or the unsubscribe winner of the day? One time it revealed a short essay was accepted for a publication. This led to coffee being thrown in elation. It was lukewarm (this was B.Y. - before-Yeti) so my skin was not burned. Another time, the ping brought a "thank you for your submission..." Dear John letter. This led to my hands catching and cradling my head. My head possessing the weight of my ambition.
Then there is the worst outcome. I would rather the high-pitched ping bring me rejection, then no response at all. Most of my inquiries and submissions are sent, but not acknowledged. It's like a non-reciprocated high five. Once you realize there is no palm on the other end, you result to running your hand, awkwardly (yet oh so smooth), over your hair. The more I read seasoned author advice and talk with other writers, the more I learn Silence is business as usual. I better get used to it.
You know the person who calls an employer, after not receiving the job, and asks how he/she could improve? I like to think I am this person. The reality is I never had to ask the question. Every interview led to a job, that is, until the transition to writing. I credited hard work for this job-securing streak. There was right-place, right-time luck and privilege mixed in there too. Writing is different. Sending out submissions and networking (or attempting to network) with editors can feel like an unrequited love. There is much time spent in the output with no sign of receipt. It is excruciating. I am no longer face-to-face with my interviewers. No impact of my personality and presence in a room is felt. There is little showmanship or selling, qualities I consider strengths. There are words and the why this publication needs them. It is a raw audition making Silence all that more difficult to accept. Is my writing alone not enough? When I sell my writing in person, is it more easily accepted, but left to defend for itself, does it fall flat and leave the reader wanting? My head may fall into my hands when rejected, but my mind wondering from Silence is worse. Self-doubt kicks in and a downward spiral is certain. Damn you, dead air!
Silence is not business as usual for me yet. I want a response. Of course, I want to hear "YES! We love you, ya know, this would make a great book." But, when my writing is not a fit or isn't good enough, I want to see/hear "No, thank you." I will accept "No." I will take "Hell no!" The submission is crossed off my list and I move on. Like a breakup, I want some freakin' closure.
Freelance is not in the business of closure, it is fluid. It is all trial and mostly error. And, the error, or rejection in this case, is often acknowledged by yourself. No one can tell you when to move on from a submission or what a nonresponse means. This is why Silence is my adversary. In its astute way, Silence reminds me I, alone, am responsible for setting the expiration date. I am forced to be a realist. I am not good at being a realist.
But, I can improve, starting with...
Setting a timer.
Each submission will have four weeks of life in my Sent folder. No Exceptions. Done.
Find someone who can explain your why, and keep it close.
After writing this piece, I went through submissions in my email. Those submitted prior to mid-December with no answer, I archived. There were a lot. It was disheartening. To balance this defeat, I turned to a reason of why I write. Season Two, Episode 15 of Sex and the City, "Shortcomings" follows Carrie as she dates a short story writer, Vaughn Wysel (played by Justin Theroux - stick with me). Carrie falls in love with Vaugh's family (not Vaugh), particularly his mother, Wallis Wysel, a documentarian nominated for an Oscar. During a conversation over lunch with Carrie, Wallis so effortlessly describes the reason I write:
Carrie: I can't get over it. You've had five lives. I can barely make one happen.
Wallis: Don't pull that self-effacing shit with me. I see you. I know what you've got going.
Carrie: What? What do I do? I write this little column.
Wallis: It's a contribution. You are putting it out there. You're part of a dialogue...
When Silence strikes, I vow to listen to my why, repeatedly if needed.
A realist isn't an synonym for a Debbie Downer.
Being a realist isn't binary. I am not giving up hope by accepting life's truths. Editors are busy. If they weren't busy, you wouldn't want to write for them. Publications receive countless submissions. There are a lot of writers with a voice deserving to be heard. Breaking through to a publication is not easy. I need to continue to submit my ideas, articles, essays more than ever. Keeping the quality is essential, but quantity does increase the chances for consideration.
There are other avenues for pushing my work into the world - self-publishing, networking, knowing someone who knows someone - and I engage in them all. Well, I don't know someone who knows someone (yet), why do you? Writing submissions, currently, assume the majority of my energy. As I continue to learn from seasoned writers and authors, my approach may change. My words, alone, are enough. An accepted submission is proof. Silence is not always proof of rejection. A rejection is proof of rejection. Just keep submitting... and remember what Nora Ephron said, "Everything is copy."
Joke is on you, Silence. You just became copy.