September 2023 . . . .


You know what I’ve noticed? We expect a lot from our writing. That which was once in our heads, pinballing around to get out, put to paper with precision and emotion and complexity and clarity. Scribbling the best we know how. We expect more from our creation than we do from ourselves.

And, therefore, it isn’t easy to be happy with what we’ve accomplished. There is always some other bridge we have to cross. Some other hurdle. Draft finished? Needs revising. Do it. Do it. And having revised as much as you are able or willing, it’s time to find someone else to read your work. Someone who you know (hope against hope!) will tell you honestly (really?) what their thoughts are about it. Not just the jots-and-tittles of grammar and punctuation — don’t get me wrong, these are imperative — but the blunt truth of plot and narrative and style and so on. Where does it ride off the rails? What still remains in your head, yet needs to be on the page?

Was that asking too much to just want to be happy about it for a minute? Feel the warm green grass beyond the finish line under your bare feet? Looking in the mirror and smiling at what you’ve accomplished. Something tangible, and real. Not perfect — no. But still . . . . Just to appreciate it.

Apparently, yes. It is too much to be happy. No, I don’t know why this is so. There’s something a little bit off about being a writer, a poet, a playwright.

We can argue about that last statement until the cows come home, and someday we will, but not right now. I want to talk about the happiness thing.

Anyhow, we shared our thing with someone else. In search of a particular and peculiar validation we are unable to give ourselves.

And then we submit.

I think I’m not saying anything new here. I’m not offering one idea you haven’t already heard from someone else or told yourself. That submission is part of a goal. That acceptance through submission is the endgame. Yes, it is difficult to be self-satisfied. Important to value being in the moment, rather than keeping up the momentum. Only natural to let someone judge your work based on simple merit — something resembling an equation of completeness plus our own effort to do well divided by the right time and place equaling, what? And to let this new thing, or even this old thing, be . . . criticized by someone else, is enormous. Full of trauma, or at least drama. (Are these words etymologically entwined? I wonder.)

There are not very fine lines between “he’s a smart fellow” and “hey, smart guy” and, finally, “you’re a real smart-ass.” Wise man and wiseguy. Knowledgeable and know-it-all. Or is it a slippery slope? No, a slippery slope implies that you are falling, or at least at risk of falling. Some kind of inadvertent action, tumbling out of control from one painful-looking bump to another. The fine line, on the other hand, is just there. Like if you reached out your hand, you could almost touch it, anytime you want. And then you’re past it. And there’s another, perhaps even finer line there, somewhere. Fine lines are like razors — you can touch them, step on them, wander over them, but should you?

My frequent not-so-very-fine line is that crack in the pavement between what I said and what I meant to say. (In other words, I apologize a lot.) So, smart guy, what did you mean to say? To not give in to the social insistence on immediately revealing everything, how much it means to us, what a sacrifice it was to bring into the world. Just be happy about it. Enjoy just being creative.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s a lot to ask of ourselves. Readership is an artificially created reef for us to founder on. Which is an odd position for an editor to take, yes?