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The Book on Writing

There is great pleasure in expression, but pleasing an editor is no short story.


Published in the Nashville Eye Column of The Tennessean, November, 1991.

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed writing.  Whether writing letters to loved ones or creating a short story, I found great pleasure in finding the perfect words to express my feelings. 

That all changed, however, the day I made the bold statement, “I want to be a writer.”  Until that time, I could write to whomever I pleased, knowing they would appreciate the kindness.  I had no guidelines to follow.  I only wrote what was on my heart.

But now, I want to be a writer.  In front of me are stacks of books on that subject. How to Write, How Not to Write, How to Sell What You’ve Written, and my personal favorite, How to Fill a Filing Cabinet with Things No One Will Ever Read.

There is another complete section of “how to” books concerning editors.  How to Think Like and Editor, How to Dress and Eat Like and Editor, and finally, How to Become an Editor So that You, Too, Can Destroy the Dreams of Those Unfortunate Fools Who Have Said, “I Want to be a Writer.” 

I’ve learned a lot from reading those books. For instance, I now know that I can no longer write what’s in my heart.  I have to write what they, the Editors, wish to read.

Not only do they tell me what to write about, but they tell me how many words to use, what kind of paper to use, when and where to send my writings, and even the type of envelope in which to send them.  Then, only after I’ve followed all the rules, I have about a 1% chance of my work ever being read.

Writing is a long and tedious process.  There are many stages a writer must go through before reaching this submission stage.  It begins with brainstorming.  Then comes the writing, followed by the frustrating stages of scribbling and rewriting, beating my head against my typewriter, and finally, polishing my work.  Only then can I think of submitting it to anyone.

Let’s assume I want to share my opinion on something.  I decide on a topic, a title, and a basic outline.

I start writing “Recycling vs. Land Filling.”  One thousand words later, I have proven my point that I think recycling is the only solution the landfill problem.  This is the first draft.  I rewrite it, trimming it down to 979 words.  So, now, I have the second draft.  I rearrange, reword, retype, and regurgitate until I have the new and improved version.  This process continues until, nineteen copies later, I have my finished product. 

In no way does it resemble my original manuscript.  It is entitled, “Why Forest Fires Really Burn Me Up.”  I decide to submit it to The California Fireman.  I type it perfectly.  My margins are straight, my envelope is stamped.  I send it on its way.  There is nothing to do but wait.

My future is now in the hands of the editors, those faceless creatures from beyond.  Not only do they sit with pen in hand ready to create havoc with my work, they find some cruel satisfaction in delaying their response as long as possible.

While I wait, encamped beside my mailbox, I am writing a letter to my grandmother.  I choose not to use correct punctuation.  I go outside the margins.  I refuse to count my words.  I enjoy that sense of pleasure from days of long ago because I know she wants to hear what I have to say, the way I want to say it.  I don’t have the fear of my letter being returned with the word “Reject” stamped on it in big red letters.  And I know I don’t have to wait six months or longer for a response. 

Yet, in spite of it all, I still hear a voice from deep down inside me that says, “I want to be a writer.”

So, wish me luck.


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