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New goals, new directions

I’ve sort of half taken a break from writing essays for this Website. Some of you have missed me. I’m sorry but will try to get back on track in the coming days.

You see, my days are filled. Class—my job—takes time and energy. I usually spend two or three days a week putting together memoir, comment, and observation in essay form for you. Family, of course, is always a main concern. I spent much time with Nick doing his school stuff—from picking him up after Robotics Club and Junior Classical League to helping him study for his Latin quizzes and other homework. Then, there’s dogs and dishes and dinner and laundry.

I have written 383 essays for this Website, most of them in the last three years. I average about eight new essays a month, a brisk pace. Sadly, I’m not Roger Ebert, who was known to write two movie review essays a day. In his later years, he put together social and political commentary and became one of the most thoughtful social critics America has ever seen. He combined his essay writing with mountains of correspondence and responded to almost all his Facebook posts and E-mails.

I wish I had Ebert’s production and staying power. I do what I can. The difference between Ebert and me was he had things to write about—movies. And he did it well. I spend most of my writing day plumbing the interior of memory. Lately, I’ve begun to think, well, maybe I don’t have any memories left.

This is nonsense, of course. I have plenty of memories yet unrevealed. Their exploration helps me know myself. This lifelong project began years ago when I was just coming to after a life of dissolution. I’ve pilloried and punished myself, taken responsibility for numerous wrongs and slights. A friend of mine commented recently that, man, forgive yourself and let’s see some happy essays. I have tried the last few months to do just that: Find the good and relate it as articulately as I do the bad.

Here’s what’s taken my focus from the Website: Recently, a literary magazine editor solicited an essay I wrote about a year ago. I’m happy my piece will appear in New Letters, UMKC’s literary journal. It’s a big fish in the literary magazine and letters ocean. I’m very glad to the magazine will publish my work.

This set me to thinking. Hey, I have all these essays. There must be some worth publishing. I should send them to literary journals, magazines, and in online publications.

I’ve been working since the middle of September to sift through this pile of essays and find the ones worth my time, and yours. I want to rewrite them and make them strong. I love the work of rewriting, particularly when I can reach beyond past sentiment and love of my own language, and approach the work objectively. Then, nothing is sacred. I can change, delete, and revise it all.

As I look through this Website, a unique lens into the past, I want essays that speak to universals. I reject the navel-gazers and the self-indulgent ones. I avoid the poorly written ones—and, yes, those float around in here. I disregard out the repetitive ones and the ones that are just broken. Those that are so specific as to be uninteresting also wind up on the cutting floor.

I figure if I’m not going to make any money writing, I might as well get published. My friend Jose recommends I become a “man of letters.” I like that. Publication will be the avenue.

Publication also helps with publication. The more I boost my resume, the more I will be able to navigate the hallways and back alleys of the literary world. If journals to open my stuff to the world, I will be more likely to get my book proposal and manuscript to the editors who may find them of interest.

And publishing more books is the end goal of all of this.

My question to me is why didn’t I see this before? I’ve been writing in the dark for years. The last couple, I forced myself to my writing table just because a writer writes. I had no goal in mind, no endpoint or direction. The New Letters solicitation produced an epiphany. A new goal presented itself. Writing, editing, and submitting material fills my day, and I become resentful when I can’t put my whole effort or all my time into it. I find myself writing in the morning, afternoon, and often into the night.

Direction is a fine thing for a writer. To be a man of letters, a published writer will take work. Publishing is a numbers game. If I have well-written pieces, then the editors I send them must decide if my work fits with the general thrust of the journals they steer. I know rejection is my lot. Likely, I will make 100 submissions of various pieces (not 100 different pieces) to achieve just one or two publications.

Right now, 31 pieces float out there in the literary universe. Every time I receive a rejection, I put another one out there. My goal is to have about 25 pieces in submission all the time. If more, then good for me. But minimum 25.

And I know if I keep enough out there, a magazine or journal somewhere will publish my work.

In my first attempts at this new endeavor, I made mistakes. I sent some pieces out that weren’t quite ready for public view—I see them now and feel embarrassed. I muffed cover letters and formatting. My cover letter said too much for one publication and not enough for the next. I didn’t pay attention to the little details. And since these magazines receive hundreds of submissions, editors are often looking for a reason not to publish a piece. One little mistake is enough.

It’s a difficult job. Every journal wants something different. Some blind-read, meaning that the piece can’t contain my name or identifying marks anywhere. Others desire a writer’s name be on every page. Some demand PDF files, others want .docx files. I’ve sent away files in .rtf, .pages, .doc (without the x), and simple text files, etc.

Keeping track of details is a failure of mine. I will have to work hard. I must do things that don’t come naturally to me. I can’t skimp or take shortcuts.

But I’m determined. Nothing can stand in my way but myself.

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