Friday, March 29, 2013

The Sorting and Folding of Writing

When I started writing picture book manuscripts in the late 1980s, I was fortunate enough to meet Florence Parry Heide, who authored over 100 children's books before her death in 2011.  She insisted I join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.  Desperate to see myself in print, I submitted this essay that appeared in the March/April 1992 issue, back before they'd added "Illustrators" to their banner.  Now it's a glossy magazine, but back then it was printed on colored paper, folded, and taped.  I was so very proud to be in their pages. 

Writing is like doing laundry.

I love to open my closet door and see a row of neatly buttoned, nicely ironed blouses.  I easily forget, however, that this starch-scented miracle requires trudging to the basement to sort colors, measure soap, and set timers.  And that these steps must be followed by my diligent efforts at the ironing board in order to create the perfect closet.

Writing or laundry.  I just keep doing it.

Even when the repetition is maddening.

In my beginning days at the typewriter, I imagined myself (wearing, of course,  a crisp white blosuse) sitting confidently in mahogany-paneled publishing offices in New York, holding remarkable conversations with attentive editors, having gala atutographing parties for my first book.  As I sat at my desk, fussing over the placement of a comma in an opening sentence that would surely capture the sharpest literary eye, I could hear my heels on the sophisticated cemenet of Fifth Avenue.

Little did I know.

The heels that have come to sound the loudest and surest are those of my mailman, delivering all too frequently, rejection letters.  This discovery about the down side of writing was as inspiring as the bottomless stack of dirty clothes piling up in my basement.

My husband, whose only reply when I announced my writing intentions was, "It's abut time," arrived home one evening to find me sad-eyed and sniffling, a generic "No" dangling from my hand.  Realizing a traumatic alas-and-alack monologue would emerge from my trembling lips, he said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Or turn off the iron, I guess.

That's mostly the size of it.

There is a fine pleasure in weaving a story from an unlikely set of characters or in tapping out a lovely sentence, but the startling truth that never occurs to the beginner is the chore of waiting.

And waiting.

Only to be rejected.

As an unpublished writer, I discovered all too quickly that no one on Fifth Avenue wanted to know me.

But that doesn't mean I stopped.  Anyone can stop.

I started attending area writing workshops and sat in disbelieving silence as a successsful author offered encouragement for my manuscript that had been repeatedly returned.

At writers' gatherings I listen to speech after speech about the fine authors who were turned down for years, and I know that rejection wasn't invented just for me.

Fortunately my husband continues to decline invitations to my occasional pity parties.  He smiles in the face of my doubt, handing me a new box of envelopes and another roll of stamps.

And finally the personalized "No's" have begun arriving.  A world of hope sits in the margins of those letters asking to see more of my work.

In the meantime I write and rewrite, piling up a presentable stack of carefully sorted and folded, starched and ironed stories.

Writing or laundry.  I just keep doing it.

It's that easy.

It's that hard.

Whether I ever get published or not.

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