THEN AND NOW: (the writer’s life)



     Over my Saturday morning treat of biscuits ‘n gravy and coffee at Carl’s Jr, I happened to be reading a short story by William Saroyan.  The story is called Seventy Thousand Assyrians, and typical of Saroyan, it has a humongous title with very simple content that seems to go nowhere but goes everywhere, if you know what I mean.

     He writes about a young man (the writer, William) needing a haircut; having little money, he goes to a barber college where he can get one for 15 cents.  While he is waiting for his turn he strikes up a conversation with a sixteen-year-old lad, also down on his luck, and waiting for a haircut.  The young man tells him he is heading to Portland, Oregon since there is no work in the lettuce fields of Salinas, which is in California.  And, that brings me to Saroyan’s narrative.  And, I quote:

     “I wanted to tell him how it was with me: rejected story from Scribner’s, rejected essay from The Yale Review, no money for decent cigarettes, worn shoes, old shirts, but I was afraid to make something of my own troubles.  A writer’s troubles are always boring, a bit unreal.  People are apt to feel, Well, who asked you to write in the first place?  A man must pretend not to be a writer.  I said, ‘Good luck North.'”

     A fine short story, worth every writer’s perusal.  But, it was just the reading of that one paragraph that set me to thinking about the life of the writer then (1933) and now.  And, it got me thinking philosophically about the writer then and now.  About their psyches.  About the subtle deeper layers, then and now.  And, I’m way out of my own depth here, I know that.  But has that ever stopped me before?

     Thinking about it, and including it in my blog, are two different things, though.  The decision maker was that my Kindle Fire alerted me I need to charge it now!  I had just enough juice left to type out the above quote before the screen went gray.

     The electronic age — how apt is that?

     “I wanted to tell him how it was with me: rejected story from Scribner’s, rejected essay from The Yale Review.”  rejectionI’ll go back and pick up the rest of the quote later, but right now the keynote difference between the two parts of the quote is not the results of rejection but how one is rejected.  And, the very important impact that time has on rejection.  Very important!

     Many writers are not old enough to have experienced the submission/rejection phase of which Saroyan speaks.  I am, and some of you are.  What Saroyan  had to do was write, edit and put in its final polished form the manuscript he wanted to submit.  He knew there was protocol.  The editor, or his lackey, would be looking for a reason not to have to finish a piece to its end.  There were hundreds that had to be waded through before closing time.  The writer couldn’t fold it and slip it in a regular size envelope.  Folding not allowed.  So, he had to purchase manila envelopes. He needed two for each manuscript — one in which to put the Ms along with the second, folded, stamped manila envelope — alas! for the returned Ms. With the returned Ms would be the rejection slip, suitable for framing, wallpapering or wadding up.  If Mr. Saroyan were fortunate there would be no coffee stains or other tale-tale signs on it, so he would be able to use the almost virgin Ms to send to the next on the list.

     Each submission represented about a month out of the writer’s life.  Thirty days.  Maybe even longer.  And, each successive, unsuccessful month meant a little more abrasion to his soul.  But, I promised not to talk about the effects of rejection just now.  Only the process, the how, of rejection.

     Effort.  Money.  Time.  These always have been and always will be the constants.  How they are allocated will differ over the years.

     Mr. Saroyan had a typewriter.  While he created, he had to x-out the offending words, writing the corrected ones above or below the lines.  But, for his finished Ms he needed perfection (back in an age without white-out or correcto-tape) and if that meant tossing an otherwise perfectly good page because in the last line he wrote to instead of too … so be it!  Effort.  Time.

     Then came the computer age!

     Just having the ability to make all the editing changes on the screen (with spell-check, insert and delete, cut and paste) before the Ms is printed, the computer presented an enormous saving in time and effort.  And, then, withcomputer love the advent of the internet, all of a sudden Scribner’s, The Yale Review and a hundred-thousand other magazine and many book publishers have moved right next door.  So to speak.  There goes the neighborhood! — again, so to speak.

     Now the writer whips his Ms into near perfection, pulls the publisher up on-line, pastes or attaches the Ms, pushes the submit button and, voila!, he is about ten days, instead of thirty from rejection — or acceptance, lets not forget that, with the payment sent to his Pay-pal account.

     This first segment of “THEN AND NOW: (the Writer’s life)” focused on the submission/rejection process of Magazine Fiction and Non-fiction writing.  For this blog,  it is a stand-alone piece.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I also hope you will be inclined to sign up for my free newsletter where the series will continue with a close look at the results of rejection on the writer;  after that, the third in the series will branch off to what I hope is a fresh exploration of brick ‘n mortar vs. E-book publication You may sign up on the upper right sidebar.  I hope you take that journey with me!

23 thoughts on “THEN AND NOW: (the writer’s life)

  1. Jay, my friends and I were recently discussing this exact issue. It’s like taking pictures – you used to have to pick and choose what pictures you wanted to take since you had to pay for film and then processing. Now, everyone takes unlimited pictures and then posts them for the world to see – not even with cameras, but with phones – boy, do I feel like a dinosaur! But you had to have the same commitment to your manuscript – you spent months on end writing and revising (meaning, re-typing) to get it perfect, then spent an arm and a leg on round-trip postage! And I wrote a lot of plays and screenplays that I was submitting, so believe me, the postage added up quickly! I love your writing and the things you write about.

  2. Nancy, you’ve said some nice things here, Nancy, not the least of which is that the blog is relevant to your and your friends conversation. Unless you plucked a picture from your high school year book, you can’t be old enough to remember submitting typed Mss–unless I’m younger than I thought I was. Wait! I’d rather do that! Seriously, though, you couldn’t get off cheaply being unfamous and crazy enough to think there was fame and big bucks waiting as some future moment, if you just keep buying those sheets of stamps and ten-packs of manila envelopes. I used to paperclip the stamps to the folded and inserted second envelope so they could send the stamps in the same envelope as the check. How confident was that?

    Hey, thanks for taking the time to give my readers your input. The second and the third in this series will be only read on my newsletter. Aren’t you glad you already subscribed?

    1. I was thrilled to see the recipient of “Blogger of the Year” award RE-BLOG this post ! You make me giddy. Unfortunately giddiness gives me gas! Thanks, Seumas.

  3. A very thoughtful and insightful post. I too, have had these thoughts. We are definitely a very lucky, privileged (and sometimes spoiled and lazy) generation. It’s akin to my Granny having seven children and no washing machine or microwave. Shudder. ;0)

    1. Very good analogy about your Granny, Hazy. Your words about this post are very kind. Thank you for making them. And I especially thank you for dropping by. I hope you had a chance to sign up for my free newsletter. This post will be the main subject of the one coming out tomorrow, but parts 2 and 3 will not be on my blog — only my newsletter. So, if you want to read 2 & 3, please sign up. Thanks again for your support.

  4. Loved this & it really struck a nerve with me. Alas I am old enough to know about rejection (only just though). Faith

    1. I am so happy you read and enjoyed my post and then found the time to give me feedback on it. I hope, when you were here you also subscribed to my free newsletter. I’m only saying this because the next two posts on THEN & NOW will only be on my Jay’s Journey Newsletter. Either way, I hope you come back to visit me here.

    2. Hi again, Faith. Boy am I confused! I got an email notification that you made a new comment on THEN & NOW. But, I can’t find it– either here or on my blog. Sorry, girl. Can you shed any light on it?


      On Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 9:51 AM, Jay Squires’ Septuagenarian Journey wrote:

      > ** > faitheb commented: “Loved this & it really struck a nerve with me. Alas > I am old enough to know about rejection (only just though). Faith” >

  5. I truly enjoyed this post. I do remember the underwood typewriter…graduating to the elite IBM selectric and fortunately went back to college in the late 80’s so was able to do half of my degree with a computer. What a difference!! Taking a writing course in the summer of the 70’s at a distance and waiting one month before my tutor sent back the corrections. I look forward to reading more…Whispering Insights

    1. Yes, oh yes! The youngsters of today, my grandchildren for example, have no concept of how difficult and time-consuming it was to write before the advent of the computer. Do you ever remember creating away on the typewriter only to discover, three or four sentences or a paragraph later, that your fingers were on the wrong keys? Truly, I wouldn’t trade my computer for the good ol’ days! EVER!

      1. And neither would I…EVER. And none of that sticky messy white liquid paper:( I worked for a lawyer who was extremely fussy with “words”. I might blog on that actually…yep, surely someone may relate to the not so good old days…MadMen brings me back to what we thought was progress…{sigh!}

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