TW: Covid death, teen suicide
It's been an incredibly tough beginning to the year. We started this semester off losing our uncle to Covid (our fourth family member to pass from it in the last six months alone). Our upstairs bathroom decided to try to come through our living room ceiling (oh, the joys of a very old house) the costs of which to repair are just…astronomical. And then this past week, a former student of mine and one of my daughter’s best friends committed suicide. It came out of nowhere, although I suppose it must feel like that most of the time. But to lose a child like that is especially awful.
So, it has not been the start I had hoped for.
While typically I feel hopeful about new years – a clean slate! A chance to make things better! Do things I’ve always meant to do! - I generally dislike beginnings. It comes from a place of perfectionism. I hate not knowing how to do a thing The Best Way, and that period of time between starting a new endeavor and being introduced to new processes and struggling through them to find your own groove and understanding is difficult for me. So it was unsurprising to me that I was anxious about this internship and all that I might be expected to learn and navigate with it. So far, though, it hasn’t been particularly stressful, though it has been time consuming.
Part of this is that Andrew appears to be very, very busy during this time and therefore unable to give me much attention. I feel as though I’ve barely interacted with him, which I don’t fault him for. In some ways, that has made it easier because it has allowed me space to grow without observation.
My responsibilities thus far for SFWP have been being a reader for the contest. To do this, I received access to the SFWP Submittable and a sheet that described how I should approach reading. Most of it was simple enough – dismiss entries with overt issues such as racism, sexism, etc., stop reading after 25 pages - but two bits stuck out to me. The first was that lots would be unreadable or bad within the first few pages. The second was that I should be able to complete reading 20 to 30 entries per hour. Holy shit, I thought! That was a lot of entries to complete in an hour. However, I thought, if lots really were unreadable within the first few pages, maybe it was possible.
Alas, while that number might be reasonable for a seasoned reader, it has not been my experience. There have been precious few that I felt could be thrown out within the first few pages, and I generally have to read around ten to confidently decide whether or not an entry should progress to the next level. After reading, I must comment on the story so that Andrew can have a basis for responding to the entry. Although I read at what I’ve believed to be a pretty good pace previously, it’s still taken me about an hour to finish ten entries and sometimes longer.
Being on this side of the submissions process has been illuminating. Although I understood intellectually before this that literary magazines, publishers, and websites receive such a large volume of work that it is extremely difficult for your submission to just happen to hit all the right buttons it needs to get accepted (be of excellent quality, be the correct length, be a topic that fits in with the flow of the magazine, etc.), it is different to be on the receiving end and actually sifting through all of these entries.
There are so, so, so many incredibly accomplished writers sending beautiful work out. It’s stunning, really, just how much talent there is out there. Of all of those I read, I probably progressed fifty to the next level, and of those, a solid twenty would all be so excellent (from what I’ve read) that if any of them won, I would have to nod and agree that yes, they deserved it. So that really helps put things into perspective, to not just know something because you’ve read it and been told it but to really experience it firsthand and see just how chancy the whole process is.
A side effect of that is that it’s also made me feel good about the choices that I’ve made since early 2020. When the pandemic hit, I couldn’t create anything. I couldn’t enjoy reading. It was like my entire writerly spirit had been drained from me. But I had just at the beginning of 2019 declared that I was going to pursue being a writer, and 2019 had been good to me. I didn’t want to lose that momentum, so I considered that from everything I could tell, success in being a writer depended on three things: talent, education, and platform. You couldn’t just be talented; talent plus is necessary.
So I decided to invest in those things as much as I could during that period of being unable to write, and now, nearly two years later, I believe it’s really paid off. I’m coming closer to the end of my studies through which I feel I’ve learned an incredible amount that I’ve been able to put back into my writing, and I have a platform that I can be proud of and might just be enough leverage that I could one day get a reasonable book deal. It’s good to have that positive to look to right now. The past two years haven’t only held tragedy; they’ve held good stuff, too, and it may just pay off someday.