Alone and Adrift in the Unpublished Sea

My forehead rests on the cool counter. I’ve curled up like a frightened armadillo bound and determined to protect her vulnerable underbelly. Is that judgement I feel radiating from my laptop? Definitely. Dejectedly, I sneak a hand over to close the screen.

There’s nothing like empty application spaces to put me in a sinking spell.

“Check all media where your work has appeared.”

Yes, I can click on “magazine.” But everything else…well, that screen is an ocean of white dotted with tiny islands I don’t inhabit. Books, newspapers, journals, radio, TV, film. Nada. Zippo. Blank boxes. Uncharted territory. I’m stranded, alone in an unpublished sea, practically naked. Certainly afraid. Definitely demoralized.

Who wants to publish me if I haven’t already been published? A conundrum, for sure. There are dozens and dozens of magazine articles out there with my byline (and a lot without — no editor wants any reader to know just how small that staff really is). My blog is home to 500+ pieces, a lot of them better than many of those print and online magazine articles. And yet, it seems, I have so little to show.

One box. One check.

My Publishing Fantasy

Out there, somewhere, is an eager employee of a well-respected publication. This benevolent person, The Editor, is looking for just the right writer. And one day, that mutual acquaintance (or, if I’m really dreaming big, a complete stranger who’s read my blog) says, “Oh, I know the perfect person — let me send you a link.”

My dream goes all A Christmas Story here (you know, Miss Shields in her ecstasy over Ralph’s A++ composition). I receive an email/tweet/dare-I-say-phone-call from The Editor. We develop an immediate connection. I’ve found a mentor; The Editor has found a protege. My writing has found a publishing home.

The years pass in a blur of mutual inspiration and creative fruitfulness. The Editor sows encouragement; I write and write and write. We are proliferate. We publish.

When I’m 102, I keel over, dead, an unfinished sentence static on the screen, my latest work. The Editor, such a dear and longtime friend, delivers a tearful eulogy and then pulls together a posthumous anthology of my work. Our work.

All the boxes are checked.

How Do I Get To The Write People?

Wendi Aarons, a notably funny and well-established Austin-based writer, was telling a little bit about herself at her recent workshop, “How to Write Funny Even If You’re Not,” and I was struck by how often acquaintances from one sphere provided a lifeline to the next. Not handouts — she worked her ass off all the time — but every now and then, someone met her in the ocean with a life preserver (and probably a cocktail, because floating with a slightly tipsy Wendi Aarons would, I think, be loads of fun).

Successful writers like Wendi have that certain, special something. But what is “it”? And what gets them found?

Tay Hohoff found Harper Lee. Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman found each other (OK: they’re each others’ editors and spouses, so this would only be remotely applicable if my husband underwent a drastic metamorphosis). I’d like someone in publishing who believes in me. Someone who believes in me enough to commit to a regular column somewhere, please and thank you, one that produces a book.

I know I could pitch more; I know I should pitch more. I think I would pitch more if I got some feedback (hey, a rejection would be nice). The silence is so hard. After awhile, even the most optimistic castaway gives up on tossing those message bottles into an unresponsive surf.

Next week, I’m taking a plunge into BlogHer, a huge online “content-creator conference” that promises opportunity+inspiration=transformation. The sheer amount of pre-event social media activity has me a bit under water and somewhat overwhelmed. I’m excited to go but worried I’ll drown in the hoopla — or simply bob along, invivisble and untethered, alone in a sea of more deserving writers.

I wonder…will this be where I get off the island? Are you out there, Editor?