Last night I was on a panel discussing writing and editing stories about sex, something I’ve been doing for the last (holy shit!) almost 20 years for every women’s magazine in creation and some for men, too.
Ten hours later, this morning, I was applying topical wart medicine to one of my daughter’s weird little bumps on her knees. “Does it sting?” she asked me, as she does every day when I do this, squinting and bracing herself for the pain that always turns out to be not as bad as she thinks it’s going to be. “A little,” I answered.
Her question made me think of a topic in the previous night’s panel, which was Â in honor of Valentine’s Day and the publication of Behind the Bedroom Door, a book of essays by women writers, including one by yours truly, about–you guessed it–sex. Over the years I’ve written sex pieces of the “173 Satisfying Sex Secrets You Must Try Right This Very Second” variety (I’ve forgotten more sex secrets than most people ever learn) as well as stories on sexual health and thinkier articles about the red light district of our psyches where we cordon off sex in all its pain and pleasure in until we’re prepared to visit the topic. On the Hershey’s Kiss-strewn dais with me were writing-editing-publishing veterans, fielding questions from aspirants about how one goes about getting their salacious prose published.
The moderator, a writer who also teaches at the New School, lead a lively chat that eventually wended its way to the subject of rejection. (Rejection of your manuscript or idea, not sexual rejection, which is much more fun to talk about, especially when you’re feeling drunk and maudlin.) She solicited and offered mucho sage advice on how to handle the inevitable dings every writer experiences. Even Snoopy, a clearly superior beagle, regularly got his work returned with an “Your manuscript does not suit our present needs” letter. It sucked, but he handled it, usually with the support of Woodstock and a trip into fantasy land pretending to be a WWI flying ace. Some of us prefer chocolate.
Occasionally a writer gets the big no because your work is so avant garde that the editor doesn’t recognize it for the genius it will someday be known. Other times, the publication has something similar in the hopper. Most often, however, it gets rejected because it’s just not very good.
And therein lies the Formerly moment. When I was in my 20s, like most of the audience at last night’s panel, I awaited an editor’s reaction to my query or submission on tenderhooks, like his or her opinion would make or break my self-definition, which was, of course, Writer with a Captial W. Nowadays, if I someone says no to something I’ve proposed, I rarely even feel the sting.
Why? Partly because I’ve been doing this so long that I know what folks want and so hit my target and rarely get rejected anymore. I am able write off the occasional no as a fluke or poor judgment on the part of the reader (in fact, my last rejection in memory, which did hurt, come to think of it, is the essay that is now in Behind the Bedroom Door.)
But it’s also because I have managed to divest from being a Writer with a Capital W, something that I think is more about being young than about any particular pursuit. You can be an Actor with a captial A, or an actor. A Snowboarder with a captial S, and so on. I am now a writer with a lower case w, one who makes her money writing. That’s cool, because I enjoy it and people seem to enjoy reading what I write, but the money is no greener than if I were a social worker or a lawyer or a salesperson at the Athlete’s Foot, like I was in high school. Oh, and I have kids and I need the money.
Say what you will about passion and youth and art and suffering and dedication and all that, but I’ll take being whatever I am with a lower case letter, sans sting, any day. In the case of writing, it makes it much easier to sit down and put words on paper (or on screen, as the case may be.)
And by the way, medicine goes down a lot easier these days, too. Which is a good thing because I seem to be taking a lot more of it into my 40s in the literal, if not the figurative sense.