“Whirled in the cyclone, I
am helpless against the storm
until it leaves me to recover
barefoot on the beach.”
I wrote those words 34 years ago as the opening of a book of poems that I never published. Finding the typewritten pages recently in a dusty black binder, I decided to type them into the computer. What I’d do after that, I didn’t know, but it has proven to be a wonderful exercise, connecting the poet and young woman I was with the poet and older woman I am now.
At the time I wrote those poems, I was going through a divorce and living alone for the first time in my life in an apartment a block from the beach in Pacifica, California. I had a different last name. I worked as a reporter for the Pacifica Tribune, drove a yellow VW Rabbit that spent more time in the shop than on the road, and dated several different men. I wrote poems, songs, stories and articles. I submitted them, too, receiving lots of rejections, but not all. One poem won first place in a contest. My prize was a thick book of poetry by William Butler Yeats and a reading in Daly City, California.
Despite my fulltime job, I was constantly asking for advances on my paychecks to make it to the end of the month. Even in 1981, $1,200 a month wasn’t enough. I had long hair, short skirts, thick glasses, and a heart full of dreams. In other words, a younger me. I had not met Fred, never published any books. My parents and grandparents were still alive. But now, widowed, living alone by another beach, I find the parallels striking.
I don’t mention all this just to take a trip down memory lane. I have a point. Writing these poems, most of which were not published, had value. Even at age 29, I was not a new writer. Not only was I a professional journalist, but I had been writing poetry since I was 7 years old. I had won some prizes, gotten some published, taken many classes in creative writing, and had aspirations beyond the weekly newspaper.
Those poems were good practice. I wrote and rewrote and became a better poet. Some of the poems are still good enough to submit.
They serve as a scrapbook that captures that time and the feelings I had then. I didn’t remember a lot of what I wrote in those poems until I read them again. Then the emotions, the scenes, and the experiences came rushing back.
They are source material for future writing. I can use it all for new poems, fiction, essays, or articles.
I find comfort in reading the voice of the younger me, validation that I was a good writer, and a tying of the strings that connect who I was then with who I am now.
What I’m saying is that even the words we never publish have value, so write. Write often in whatever form feels most natural, and save your writing in a format that you will still be able to read in 30 years (flash drive?) and say, “Oh, that’s who you were.” Think of it as a gift to your future self.
If you become famous, maybe those works will be published in a thick book of your “complete works.” You, me, and William Butler Yeats.
Let’s go write!
I have been looking for places to send my essays. Marketing never ends in this business. There are several challenges: I want to submit to publications where the chances of acceptance are good; I want my stuff published in places where both regular people and important people in publishing will read it, and I would love to get paid. Also, I don’t want to write junk. Compared to finding homes for my stories, writing them is the easy part.
Sending out essays is a lot easier than it used to be because most publications take submissions online. No more packaging perfect copies, letters and self-addressed stamped envelopes in 9 x 12 envelopes and taking them to the post office. But that easiness should not fool anyone into thinking marketing still doesn’t take some serious work.
It is vital to find the right publications, read them to make sure what you’re sending is a good fit, and follow their guidelines down to the last keystroke. And proofread. I almost sent out a letter today with the name of the magazine spelled wrong. Yikes.
But what do they want? Most publication guidelines are pretty vague about content. I was thrilled to find the guidelines for the New York Times Magazine “Lives” section. It’s the best advice I’ve ever seen for writing an essay. Among the tips: “More action, more details, less rumination” and “don’t try to fit your whole life into one Lives essay.” Click here for the whole list in “How to Write a ‘Lives’ Essay.”
After reading those suggestions, I’m going to take another look at what I’m sending out. You should, too.
Then, as always, go write.