This week I sent off an essay to the New York Times Magazine’s Lives page. It’s arguably the most prestigious forum for an essayist, a goal I set for myself many years ago after reading Jay Allison’s story one bleary-eyed morning. This piece crystallized the purpose of writing for me. It’s a perfect essay, if such a thing exists. All these years later, I continue to be haunted by it. It’s made me want to write one equally flawless.
Technically, his wasn’t for the Lives page, About Men I think. Semantics. He reached for and grabbed the brass ring. That’s what I’m doing, reaching. My submission will almost certainly be rejected, a month’s silence will be the only notice I receive. But it feels good to stretch, doesn’t it?
Years ago, I told my husband, a newspaperman, I wanted to be a writer. I submitted my first essay to the Boston Globe; this was before I understood the benefits of simultaneous submissions. Having been in the business a while, he knew better than to expect me to do well. Think of it as a hobby, he said. Though he meant those words to somehow shield me from rejection, instead they galvanized me. So days later when an editor from the Globe called to say they were running my essay, my husband was the first person I told. Since then I’ve had many other essays published, freelanced news stories and features, a regular column in the Globe, I even had a couple of radio essays produced by Jay Allison himself.
There are still people in my life who don’t believe in me, who perhaps think I’m too much like them to be a writer, not quite the type who could get a novel published. But what’s relevant is I don’t feel that way. I’m pushing myself up against everyone’s expectations, stretching, reaching for goals beyond my skills of today to be a better writer tomorrow.
A few months back I was at a reading, chatting up an author whose reviews you’ve undoubtedly read in recent months, he and his adored book are everywhere, and we were talking about Lives. He has several books published, the most recent I expect will win major awards, but he said his goal is to get a Lives column. It’s that constant striving, the desire to be better, that improves and informs each successive book of his.
So my advice is to reach far and wide, higher than you’ve ever imagined possible for someone such as yourself. Not as a matter of being a malcontent, but to stretch beyond whatever box you or someone else has confined you to.
Then someday perhaps you’ll snatch that brass ring and say, What next?
Tuesday, March 06, 2007