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.