The literary journal, “Rattle,” is doing a special tribute to law enforcement in their summer issue 2012. Cops stick together, and cops who are poets are a rare breed indeed. The first week in January I received a letter from a sister poet cop who asked me to submit some of my work for this issue. I did. It wasn’t that easy, of course. Having just published A Little Lazarus, I had used a couple of my best cop poems. The submitted work needed to be previously unpublished, so I got busy and wrote something new. As if simply making a short deadline wasn’t challenge enough, I decided to write an essay. I’m working on writing creative non-fiction and this seemed the perfect opportunity to try my hand at a cop piece. Woe is me. I mean that in the best way.
I’ve spent January writing and revising an essay that had a Feb. 1 deadline. I knew nothing about the issue until quite late in the day. Plus, I had a friend coming to visit the third week in January, so I had to make time to do both. Thank goodness my visitor, Jane, is a visual artist and was totally supportive of the two hours we spent on art every day, her sketching and painting while I wrote. These are the kind of friends you need. When you find them, treat them with great honor and respect. Feed them lots of good things and take them on adventures when you aren’t working on your art. You’ll want to keep them around for life.
When an author or editor who knows you, or has heard of you through a mutual acquaintance, invites you personally to submit to their journal, you do it. Don’t ask questions. Do your research. Check out the publication if you aren’t familiar, read the submission guidelines, and get busy. Believe me, direct invitations to submit are rare.
Writing about my policing years is tricky emotional territory. No doubt it’s really good for me, and all my friends, too. Instead of having to listen to my stories for the umpteenth time, I can simply send them a copy of the essay and they can read it (or not) at their leisure. War stories are like fishing tales and can get boring to all but the one telling the story, or other cops, veterans or fishermen. VFW’s and cop bars serve an important function in this regard.
Normal people try not to bore others with this sort of thing, possibly because they have not been shot at or nearly killed in the everyday performance of their jobs. They will find some other way to bore us. But believe me, weird things happen to everyone and I think folks should write about their weirdnesses. It’s great exercise for our memories.
It was easy to write when I began because I love a blank page and a first draft. But, those revisions were killer. I have one of the world’s toughest editors. My partner’s editorial nickname is “Cut-Cut.” She will literally slice your essay to ribbons. It will be a thousand words shorter when she hands it back. Whole paragraphs will have changed places. Some will simply have ceased to exist.
She tells me these are simply suggestions, but they are strong suggestions. The hard part is that she is almost always right. That leaves a ton more work to do. She’s the best editor I know for long work. I use a lot of words. After years of practice, we have learned to do this without divorcing. She is heartless and knows that I will curse and stomp around and argue, then consider her edits, and cut away. I need someone like her to review my work. I love words, lots of words. She would cut these blogs to pieces, but I consider this sacred space and don’t ask her to edit. Perhaps you are thinking I should. Forget it. My first word was “mine” and I have to have some place where I can do exactly as I please.
I’m grateful to Leigh for the time and effort she puts into editing my work. She is the best. She loves structure, order, putting together puzzles. I am the chaos kid. So, as you can see, you need at least two (more if you can get them–like my writing group) readers and they should be different. One should be your “believing mirror,” like Jane (see Julia Cameron for more on this topic). The other should be your toughest critic, who also is willing to let you do what you want with the raggedy little pieces she hands back to you. Between Leigh, Jane and my Hens’ Teeth, I am a lucky writer to have so many great readers.
The main gist of my post today, although I have strayed, is to get the work out there once you’ve been invited to do so. However you do it, with or without help, an invitation to submit is a message from the universe. Someone likes your work enough to ask for it. Please accommodate them. You won’t be sorry and neither will they. Allow your sense of accomplishment to come after you made the deadline. Don’t wait to celebrate until you know if they are accepting it. You did your part and writing, after all, is the most important part of what you do.