Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Wanted to check in from my den during the Covid-19 lockdown/isolation/quarantine. I’m blessed in that I’m able to work from home and have my closest family under the same roof and am generally doing well. And even then I went pretty silent over the last two weeks because, let’s face it, it’s a lot to process.
I think it’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel how you’ve been feeling. This entry is the first time I took to my writing. Even though I don’t have a commute and so technically would have more access to free time, my writing requires a certain headspace and all the space in my head has been filled with news of the pandemic, as I’m sure it has for all of you.
So forgive yourself if you think you have all this newfound “free time” that you’re wasting. There’s nothing “free” about this time. It comes at a great cost, both globally in terms of those directly affected by the virus, and personally for all your anxiety you have for the world, your loved ones and yourself. I think accepting the fact that you may not be yourself could even help settling your mind and your mood so that you may be more productive in ways that you hoped you could be.
You may also find, like I have at times over the last couple of weeks, that nothing outside of the pandemic matters anymore. It certainly feels like it has smothered the world to be the singular thing of importance. My home conversations are often about Covid-19, my group chats are almost exclusively about Covid-19, all the social media that used to talk about sports, and politics and writing is pretty much all devoted to discussions of Covid-19. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to watch the world unite on a single topic, but at the same times it threatens to eclipse everything else.
Here is where you need to remember that writers are artists, and great art often arises out of dire circumstances as a beacon of hope for the world. Not only that, but we are also storytellers, and humans have sought comfort in stories since times immemorial. Now is not the time to put writing on the backburner because something bigger came along. Now is the time to channel your fears, anxieties and frustrations into something that could help others deal with this.
Write for yourself, to help get your mind off things. Write for others, to help them do the same. Sow hope and happiness and sunshine as much as you can, and forgive yourself if the burden of current events prevent you from doing what you love.
Most of this also applies to those of you out there who are not writers. Be kind to yourself and how you’re dealing with something humanity hasn’t really dealt with in over a century. You each might find your own method of coping, whether it’s dark humour, apathy, aloofness, despair. Don’t judge yourself, or others, with how you’re reacting and what you’re doing during your days. As long as we’re doing what we need to do to protect others from the pandemic, what you do with the rest of your time is mostly your business. We could be hunkering down for a long time, and we’ll face a lot of adversity, and as long as you don’t act like your own adversary, it would be that much easier to get through.
Best of luck everyone, and stay safe.
If I can’t talk about acceptances, which I have been starved for, receiving my last bit of good news almost two years, then I will talk about rejections. Specifically, rejections that include a few kind words that make me think I might not be so bad at this and should keep trying.
A couple of days ago, I received a standard Submittable rejection for one of my genre stories (fantasy? Magic realism? I’ve no clue, but I would put in the same bucket as my previously published “Ursa Major”). In any case, the editor of this particular journal decided to add a post scriptum to the email calling the main conflict in the story a bit vague, and suggesting that some rich world building was being crammed into story that yearns to be something else.
On the face of it, a rejection is still a rejection – there’s no success and no publication at the end of the day. But this is a silly and bleak way of looking at things, and I refuse to do that.
What I found here is two things to be happy about. The first is feedback. Almost any feedback is good feedback, and especially so for feedback that comes from an editor – someone who is steeped in the literary world and likely reading dozens if not more of these stories per week. It’s understandable that individual comments on each manuscript read are impossible, so consider that there was something about the story that caught their eye and motivated them to spend a bit of extra time to offer their opinion. Presumably the editor thought that it worth the effort to offer a helping hand to improve my writing. I choose to believe that it means the editor thought that my writing was worth improving. I think it’s great to walk away with this from a rejection – whether I use this to improve this specific story or the next one I write, I come away richer for it.
The second thing to hold onto is the encouragement hidden in the critique. In about 3,500 words I was able to create a world that seems to be yearning to grow. While perhaps this particular narrative doesn’t work, there is an idea in it that would pique someone’s interest. Great writing is a marriage of skill and idea, and the idea side of things is where I believe my current weakness lies. So hearing someone allude to the fact that I’ve had an idea here that may flourish better in wider pastures makes me think that I might not be completely hopeless on that front.
It may not quite have been the news I wanted to get, but this rejection letter is as important to my writing journey as meeting arbitrary daily writing goals or whatever other kinds of measure of success we place on ourselves as writers.
So here’s a big thank you to this particular editor, and any other editor that had taken a few moments to write some feedback and criticism. You folks make sure the creative world keeps running.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.