May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


FEBRUARY 3, 2009 8:07AM

Thoughts on Mailing a Manuscript

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I want to talk, once again, about the writing process. And about finishing a manuscript and sending it off in hopes that it will find love when someone opens it.

This is the third book-length manuscript I have written. The first was a novel. I call this my practice novel, as it came out to just over 400 pages and in the course of it, I got divorced, was briefly homeless, ate in soup kitchens, found a job teaching, and started to figure out who the fuck I was after 38 years. Parts of the novel could be salvaged, I'm convinced, but I don't really want to. It would be like going back to a snapshot of myself 10 years ago and trying to fix my hair. I wrote what I wrote. And I learned a hell of a lot in the process.

The second was a memoir. It started with the death of Yves on November 11, 2006, and I tried to structure it as if it was a Spirograph drawing. The non-linear shape of it, the doglegs, the beautiful arcing essays that sprung from a single memory that I taped onto the rest of the story, they all made sense to my spirit, which was trying to make sense of a 43-year old man whom I barely knew dying in my arms. It didn't however, make sense to those who would publish it. Their comments were similar: "gorgeous writing, but the structure doesn't work."

The third is a derivative of the second. It is a book of discrete essays—around 55 in all—that reflect on various events in my life: childhood, detox, death, sex, nature, finding love, travel, fear, addiction, happiness—put together in a way that feels right.

It was that manuscript that I mailed off yesterday.

Like many here, I collect rejection notices. I should correct myself. I don't collect them: I read them and then I throw them away. Unless they're personal—showing me that an editor actually took the time to tell me what worked or didn't work in what I had sent—I really have no use for the standard, "sorry, this doesn't fit our needs at the present moment."

Those rejection notices used to send me into funks that would last for days. How could someone not like my work? How could they not like me? They didn't even know me and here they were making judgments about me? All so self-centered, so solipsistic, so caught up my inability to distinguish my writing from my self.

Of course there's a part of me in my writing. How could there not be? But I've learned, finally, to separate the two. Even as I'm writing this, for example, it doesn't feel like my best work. Something feels off between what I'm trying to say and what's flowing through my fingers.

Other times, however, it feels like I've laid myself bare upon the page. Let everyone see the vulnerable, tender parts of myself that I might only ever show a trusted friend, my lover, or, perhaps, even myself, late at night in front of the mirror.

The truth is, that writing is still in every piece of writing I send out. Oh, it's carefully masked. There's something about constructing a piece of writing that allows you to reveal something tender but then carefully plane over it so the rough parts are smooth and no one ever needs to know that you spilled tears while writing it.

That's the trick of writing, I think. Being as honest as you will be asked to be, to hold nothing back, but to also be a prestidigitator who briefly shows you the truth and then carefully tucks it back inside a sleeve.

Will this manuscript that I sent off yesterday be accepted? I have no control over that. Never have. Never will. But as I put it in the mail yesterday, I thought, damn, I'm proud of this. And the secrets contained therein, secrets that have torn at me before, have been tamed.

And that, finally, is why I write.

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You speak for many, if not all of us, as we tuck our manuscript babies away into envelopes to send out into the publishing world. It's like mailing off an arm or a leg; no less a part of us. May the publishing gods smile on you. You can always continue to write here on days when you need to feel that love.
Thank you, Lisa. It's funny. Now that I've sent off my baby, I'm looking around at the things I missed the past few days. Lots to write about.
But yeah. I'd like that baby to do well out in the world.
Thank you.
That is exactly what I feel every time I push the "publish " button here.
I have my fingers and toes crossed for you and the manuscript.
Congrats on getting the piece off. Never an easy process. Terrifying to be sure. You captured that. What a curse, this need to write...I often think so. But the release is a reward, cathartic, the runner's high perhaps. Good luck! I'll be anxious to know of your success!
Wanderer, keep us posted. It's like sending a kid off to kindergarten every time one leaves our hands, isn't it. As Lisa said, you speak for many of us.

Luckily, you are not your writing. Check out Elizabeth McDonald's HuSSY post. If we were all our writing, we'd be joining you.
Thanks for steering me to that post Seattle K8. Wow.
I meant to put in a direct link to the HuSSY post. Maybe this time I'll get the code right.

And you're welcome. :)
Good luck, wish I could help. I'm quite sure you will get LOTS of great feedback on this.

(rated) to keep it alive for you, hopefully. :-)
You are all so generous and kind. How nice of you to be so damn supportive. I'm moved to tears. Honest.
The Brits would say that I'm all at "sixes and sevens." That's the way I feel today. On one hand, totally caught up in the "publish me" desire, and on the other, looking around and seeing that even on my own campus, death has come in like thunder.
I am so glad you write here, flw. Your description of how you write is so perfect. And so much why we love your writing.
I found this site a wealth of valuable information for those interested in publishing. It also has a ton of other links, including agents. He's quite honest. And funny.

Good luck with the manuscript. Never, ever give up!
I don't dare hope to have enough talent to write a MS, but I send good wishes your way praying that someone falls in love with the one you sent yesterday.
Congratulations on this milestone! I don't really understand what it's like to write, but I can picture the tears on the page. And I want to let you know that I admire you for putting it out there. In my creative venue, the criticism is always up close--design review boards, committees, clients, and letters to the editor. But eventually I get through it, and as often as not the endeavor becomes part of the respected landscape--on the cover of a chamber of commerce brochure to show how progressive the community is, or even taking on it's own history, completely independent of its birth on my drawing board. I know that the work I do isn't for everyone, but it only has to appeal to that one in a thousand to make me happy, to give me that connection that I'm always looking for. I know so many people, talented people, who simply are afraid to put their work out there--"it's too private; I only do this for myself; what would people think..." I'm sure you've heard those rationales.

But reading your posts and the responses, it's obvious you're not alone. I have no doubt your writing will see many more tears, but they won't be yours. They'll be for the secrets of others which you've also tamed.
I think you capture the fullness of what it means to be human. To share what for most is unsharable. To do so proudly, bravely, knowing full well that you risk rejection, or worse...slient indifference. Writers (I am not one) it seems are, and always have been at the vanguard, willing to tear those thoughts, emotions, experiences from the depths, and share for others who cannot or will not. Thank you for that...all good thoughts to you, and good luck.
Have you ever read the novel, Windowlight, by Ann Nietze? When I was working on a book I remembered a character in that novel, a mural painter who worked tirelessly to create a beautiful mural on a building. Then it became clear that the building was going to be torn down. The protagonist of the novel asks him if he's devasted by this news and the artist replies, "At least I did it." That's a thought to keep beside you. No matter what happens to your ms., at least you did it. You made something beautiful. No one can take that away from you.

Good luck. I'll be watching for it.
ah, this is very familiar! I've been known to try to put a little blessing on the envelope when I send manuscripts out. Wishing it bon voyage and safe travels and hope it doesn't come home again...
Also wanted to say that your "spirograph" memoir sounds amazing! I'm sorry that the publishing gods are so narrow-minded. They'd reject James Joyce these days....
I'm feeling anxious right along with you. Good luck.
Thank you for those honest words. That reminds me that I have a "baby" that I need to tend to and send out into the harsh world. I wish you every creative blessing!
Thank you all for your good thoughts and wishes and "me toos". (Otherwise known as commiseration).
Thanks for all the kind words.
Yeah. It's hard not to think of manuscripts as babies, but I'm trying to let go of that so that when someone tells me my baby's ugly, I don't have to hit them. :)