Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rejection emails

On the first day of summer 2016 I received a rejection email from a literary journal. The publication, which will go nameless, sent me a boilerplate message. I was thanked for my submission, was told that what I submitted would not be used, and was wished the best of luck on all my future writing endeavors. On the longest day of the year I received the shortest of emails. I must confess that there is no magical way to deal with rejection emails. A writer can do one of the following when he or she experiences a rejection of their finished work: give up or write once more. If I am asked for my opinion, I strongly suggest writing once more.
I have been writing in earnest, creatively, for years. I am the guy that waxed floors at Wal-Mart and wrote short stories in a three subject college ruled notebook at two in the morning during my lunch break. When I had a route job delivering magazines and books to various businesses, I arrived long before grocery stores opened their doors to vendors and struggled with a poem’s line breaks in the cab of a truck before sunrise. The passion that I have for writing has been met largely in part with rejections. I know that the life of a writer involves being told that one’s submission “shows promise,” or that publishing is “subjective.” Rejections from agents and editors are a lot gentler than they once were. The kind comments mixed with an outright rejection is confusing. I miss the days when I received a rejection slip from The Paris Review. At least the Review editors let me know with as few words as possible that my work had no place in their publication.
Whenever I face a rejection a process begins. I accept the news of rejection and then I take a moment to question why I write. During a streak of repeated failure to see my name in print, I wonder honestly if I am wasting my time with writing. I also debate with myself if I should continue writing. Let’s face it, at this point of my career, if I was to stop writing NPR would not devote a segment of their morning or evening news program asking where I was and if I was still writing.
Ultimately, the power that a rejection email has over my life ends the moment I write again. If I were to write only after having a poem published I would own a lot of blank sheets of paper. I wish I can possess some Zen perspective about rejections like “a story lives even if no one reads it,” or “in rejection I found my literary voice.” I am not Zen about rejections. I only possess an honest evaluation of rejections: rejections are painful.
Over the years, after every rejection, I find myself writing again. I do not write with a new sense of purpose after a rejection. I do not gain a new perspective after rejections. I simply sit before my laptop or typewriter and fill the page. When a draft is complete, I find the nearest working pen, or sharpest pencil, and begin revising a draft of a work for another submission. The more I write, the less the rejection emails matter. When I write and a first draft is completed, I do not think about the editor that told me no. When I write and a first draft is completed, I think about the creative force that told me yes.

Devan Burton’s chapbook In Quiet Hours will be published on Amazon this December.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Reasons for Writing

I recently had a friend that gave me a writing assignment (yes, I have those types of friends). She wanted me to explain why I write. Of course a writer writing about their writing tends to lead to pretentious comments such as, “I write because I feel greatness on my fingertips,” or “I write because my fans need me to.” My personal favorite response is, “Writing reminds me of how superior I am to other people.” Give me a break.

Since I am venturing into the world of self-publishing, now will be a good time to give a voice to that which is often voiceless. In this moment I want to take something that routinely remains abstract and turn it into something concrete: the reasons for why I write. I write because it is a family business. During the summers of my youth, my grandmother had a routine. When the Tennessee thunderstorms rolled in, my grandmother would direct my brother and me outside. The three of us sat on our front porch and listened as she told us stories. I had heard the stories so many times that I could tell them myself, but I could never recite the tales like she did. Years later, after her death, I found journals where she wrote her most inner thoughts: prayers to Jesus Christ, how she missed her mother, and the regrets she had raising her grandchildren.

My mother wrote a lot when she was alive. When I was nine or ten, I found a journal she had written in after she walked out on me. The content of her writings would have been disturbing for many sons—the articulation of womanhood—but my mother had such a command for language, she wrote with such clarity and honesty, that while I read her entries it felt like I was reading stories. When my grandmother took my mother’s journal away from me, it felt like she left me again.

I write because I have this need to respond to events I have experienced: the birth of a child, the end of a marriage, the car wreck that took place on Christmas night, the woman that sits in the cafe and reads The New York Times. Inspiration is a peculiar transaction; a rush of creative energy given from the world unseen to an artist. I write because I have questions I need answered. Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What should I do with my life? Whenever I sit before my Smith Corona, I insert a blank sheet of paper, and I type. Of course the answers to these questions will not come all at once, but with every line that I write and every faint ding of the typewriter’s bell I know I am advancing closer to the revelation that I need.

While working on my chapbook of poetry, I am also working on two manuscripts I hope to turn into novels someday. Some days I write a lot and some days I do well just to ink out two hundred and fifty words, but I write. The work of writing is never simple. Even writers who have written for years still struggle with the craft. “If writing is so tough then why keep doing it?” When I have a good answer for that question I will write about it.

Devan Burton’s chapbook In Quiet Hours will be available in December on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Submission Today

For a writer there is the world of writing and the world of publication. Most of us who write know quite well that these two worlds often do not meet. In our writing community, most of us know writers who possess file cabinets and hard drives filled with writings that will never meet the light of day and see its way in print. Many writers write and what they write remains unpublished. There is a bridge however that connects writing and publication and that link is the submission process.

If a writer expresses a passion for submitting his or her work one of two things are taking place: A.) The writer is lying or B.) The writer is going about the process all wrong. It is a nerve racking and patience testing endeavor submitting poems or prose to a literary journal or magazine for consideration and publication. There are as many different guidelines for submission as there are places to submit work. Some of the publications are so selective a writer feels that there is a rejection slip just wanting for their self-addressed stamp envelope. There are many writers that could write books just with their experiences with the submission process alone. There are also the long odds that each writer faces when he or she submits their writing for publication.

Literary journals and magazines, depending on how popular and influential they are, receive hundreds of submissions each week. While a work is good and solid, it still will more than likely face rejection. The reasons for rejection varies: the work is similar to what has already been published, the author's voice is too experimental for the publication, the content of the work does not match the theme of the soon to be published volume, or the editors ate bad Chinese food for lunch. What is considered publishable and why one work is selected over another is not too entirely transparent. There are lot of chances to face rejection after submitting a work. Knowing all of this it is quite an appropriate question to ask then why do writers submit work?

The answer to this question can fill volumes.

There is an excitement and joy that comes with every publication. In my own writing career I have noticed a cycle. I received the news of a publication and that fuels my desire to write. I then receive several rejections. I receive so many rejections that I often wonder if my devotion to the world of writing is a joke and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I receive another publication.

During the month of April, I saved my tips from the work I do as a barista to enter four original poems into a contest. The American Poetry Review advertised their contest in a previous edition: The Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize. The deadline was in mid-May. My submission undoubtedly was one of thousands. Many years ago I submitted writings into contests and expected to win. I would like to think that I am a far more humbled person than I once was. Whenever I submit my work to a contest, I realize that what I can control is not how well the editors and judges will receive my work, but rather how well the work is that I submitted.  The task of submission will always be an important part of the writing process and the development of the writer because it requires the writer to judge each and every line and each and every word as if it matter--because it does matter. I am convinced that the submission process, as painful as it is, will always benefit the writer.

Devan Burton’s first chapbook, In Quiet Hours, will be available on Amazon in December 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

Self Publishing Today

As a writer I long to have my work —poetry and prose— published.

We live in a world in which the work that writers write is often published. Bookstores are filled with books that once existed solely in the mind of authors and on laptops of agents and literary publishing companies. The more I submitted work, the more I noticed a trend: rejection. At first, I realized the lack of publication was my fault; some of my writing was simply not ready for marketing, and some work suffered due to editing problems and careless typos. As the years advanced, I did my due diligence. I made sure that all my submissions were free from grammar issues. I even had published writers to read what I have written to make sure that my work was a "good enough" to be published. I was on my way. While I have managed a few publications in recent years, I have had far more manuscripts rejected. With every rejection letter or rejection email I noticed a certain word that agents and editors used to describe years of hard work and time spent on what I have written: subjective. “Mr. Burton, as you well know, publication is subjective.”  Maybe I was not on my way after all.

I hear the word “subjective” and I hear the echoes of rejection letters from years past; not only as it pertains to my writing, but the writing of numerous other aspiring writers who were told that their work was not good enough to be seen in print. Maybe I have heard the word subjective too often in my life, but I believe in what I have to say and that the narratives I have crafted are good enough to be published. If the keys of the kingdom will not be given to me, then I will take them.

In December of this year, I will publish my first chapbook of poetry, In Quiet Hours, on Amazon. A small book of thirty poems will be available to purchase, download, and read. I am taking the plunge into the world of self-publishing and I am not looking back. I am not going into this next phrase of my writing career with rose-colored glasses. I know the pressure of self-publishing will be quite intense. I have heard the horror stories in which a self-published author had become the victim of vicious attacks of commentary that surfaced from online responses to their work. A rose does not grow without thorns; neither does success come without tireless work ethic. Self-publishing, like similar initial startups, requires a person to have supreme self-confidence. Self-publishing also requires the support of good and faithful readers who appreciate and celebrate distinct and diverse literary voices. I believe I am in possession of a healthy amount of both.

I forging a new path. I am stepping past the middle man and woman and supplying the world directly with work that I believe in: my own. I know that with entering the world of self-publishing influential publications like Poets and Writers, The New York Times, The Paris Review will more than likely not cover or review my work in their pages. I want to be a published writer and now more than ever accomplishing this task will require a little elbow grease and some self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes a person has to call into being something that has not been created and I am up for the challenge.

Now is the time. The poetry and stories that I have written serves me very little good resting on the hard drive of my MacBook Pro. Self publishing is my shot and I will take it.

Devan Burton’s first chapbook, In Quiet Hours, will be available on Amazon in December 2016.