THE HOW OF REJECTION
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.” I’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, with 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!