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Life in Retirement: A writer’s lament

After last week’s column when I talked about my past fixation to be as accomplished as Margaret Atwood, I’ve had some people ask me about my writing journey. Well, many journalists and publicists have a similar goal, but I can certainly personally attest to the ruthless life of a writer.
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After last week’s column when I talked about my past fixation to be as accomplished as Margaret Atwood, I’ve had some people ask me about my writing journey. Well, many journalists and publicists have a similar goal, but I can certainly personally attest to the ruthless life of a writer.

As with any art form, there are marathons of hoops to jump through and lots of reasons for lost hope along the way. Writing, for me, has always been the easy part – the joyful part. But then comes the time to try and find an agent to represent you or a publisher that will take un-agented work. For writers of fiction, this means searching any given publisher’s website by typing the words submission guidelines into the search bar. Submission is a verb I don’t otherwise practice one iota in any other aspect of my life! But prostrating oneself to the good graces of the gatekeepers of the written word can feel just like submission.

There is always hope that someone might eventually cast a glance in your direction. Doesn’t even have to be a kind glance – just a flicker of eye movement that proves they might notice deep within you a certain life force. Like a single celled organism that may come to evolve into something substantial like, say, Margaret Atwood!

Undoubtedly all those years of pursuing a book contract have tainted me somewhat, as I sound pretty unglued when it comes to my relationship with writing fiction. There is a saying that you’re not a ‘real writer’ until you can paper all the walls in your home with rejection letters. Well, I would have ample paper to even share with neighbours for their own walls. In the beginning there was no internet, so I received paper rejections by mail. The exchange was a cover letter, synopsis and sample chapters that I sent by post, followed by several months wait to receive the rejection by return post. Life was passing me by.

At times it would come in the form of an insult. Like, ‘Why would you think we would want to publish something like this.’ Then came more efficient form letters, wherein they declared their careful scrutiny of the rejected manuscript that had interrupted their otherwise pleasant day. Then came minimalist postcard notifications – I’m not kidding, there was a list of possible reasons for rejection printed on the back with little boxes beside each one for publishers to easily checkoff the most fitting reason for their rejection. This included such things as: ‘This doesn’t fit our catalogue of books’, or ‘We only publish a dozen books each year and this can’t possibly be one of them’, or ‘It doesn’t quite grab me.’ I once received such a card where no one had even bothered to put a simple X beside any of the reasons. Couldn’t find a single reason not to publish it, I guess, or else they had so many they didn’t know where to start. How does that grab you?

Then came the internet and more expedient responses by email. I once had a reply rejection before my finger had even risen completely from the send button. That said, there were some who were nice enough and even encouraging. Like the fairly large publisher who shared, ‘I really like your writing and your story is engaging, I’m just not confident there’s a large enough market for it.’ Fair enough.

It takes great perseverance to be a published author and I applaud – heartily – all those who keep the faith. As Gloria Steinem wrote, ‘… spiders should be the totem of writers. Both go into a space alone and spin out of their own bodies a reality that has never existed before.’

Sandy Bexon is stepping into retirement after over 35 years as a communications professional, reporter and writer. She lives in Red Deer.