Sunday, July 15, 2007

Put a Pen in Your Lemonade

Writing on Writing:

An English professor at Emory once told me that starting a writing career is like starting a small business: you'll work your ass off and you won't make much money . "It takes five to ten years," he said, "and your ego will suffer." While my friends who chose law school will move on to big jobs and baby blue sportscars, I'll still be honing and hustling my stories. And driving a Kia.

If my writing's a business, right now it's a lemonade stand on the sidewalk. Family, friends, and kindly neighbors drink my juice, but outside that circle nobody's taken more than a sip. I gaze down the road, wondering if there's anybody beyond the neighborhood who's thirsty. I gaze until my eyes hurt. It's enough to drive a sane man loopy.

But metaphor only gets you so far. There comes a point when writing is just writing, with all its requisite possibilities, opportunities, rejections, and ridiculousness. The reality of your skills often means less than how those skills are perceived. George Orwell's "Animal Farm"? A publisher once denied it because, "It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A." Sorry, Bambi.

Meanwhile, Paris Hilton's "Confessions of an Heiress" had no problem landing a publisher. Do a search for the sex-tape savant on the Simon & Schuster website and you'll find her name under "Author/Contributor." Oy.

I'm not George Orwell. I'm not Paris Hilton. In the waves of wannabees, could-be's, maybe's, and definitely's, I'm somewhere in the middle. Who knows? I've received my share of rejections, but I'm only twenty-two years old. It's not so easy to call it all a rite of passage if you haven't yet experienced, well, all of it. I'm still riding the wave.

And that wave is rocky. As easy as it is to ignore a chain letter about Virgin Mary imprints on cinnamon toast, it's even easier for a magazine like Cosmo to forget my submission ever happened. The glossy that publishes articles like "How to Sound Sexy in the Sack" was shockingly uninterested in a piece about TJ Maxx shopping trips with my mom. I didn't receive any word back, and I realized that treating a column like a chain letter, one to fire off indiscriminately, was not a good idea. It's all about fit. A story about my friendship with an Ethiopian Jew? Probably not a good fit for Cat Fancy, even if you'd allege that Sammy has feline features.

I'm learning how to better tend my lemonade stand, but I still alienate some customers. I thought I had a good one in American Jewish Life after they published a piece of mine, but they greeted my next submission with silence.

I gave the editor a one-week deadline to respond to my third query. This showed my no-nonsense professionalism, I thought, but my mom argued that it made me look like a "little shit." She was absolutely right. "We'll pass on this," he quickly told me.

And so it goes. I write new pieces, polish them, and send them to the right markets. And then? I wait. For Slate. For Radar. For The Stranger. For Memphis Downtowner. For Memphis Business Journal. And on and on. Maybe they'll get back to me tomorrow. Maybe it'll be next week. Maybe in a year or two, I'll land an agent. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But for now, this "little shit" has got to make some lemonade.


Michael said...

Don't worry buddy, my little blue sports car is a ways off too.

Hang tough!

We'll start a little blue sports car gang and raise all hell.

Anonymous said...

Whats the intersection of the lemonade stand? Don't measure your worth by the possessions your job allows you to obtain.