I received my first fan letter about a month or two ago. It totally caught me off guard as it was regarding a story that had been published several years ago in a small university journal. The reader found my old blog address in the author’s bio and took the time to write to me. It was a lovely note. He had really read the story and had specific reasons why he liked it. I was delighted and disconcerted at the same time. Delighted for obvious reasons. Disconcerted for more nebulous ones. I still partake in the publishing-as-validation dance. I look at an editor accepting my work as a form of validation that yes, I am a real Writer. Does a rejection then invalidate me? No, of course not. I continue to write. I understand how subjective this process can be. I understand how many submissions I am up against. There is definitely a supply and demand element. I know these things, in my head. In that soft, vulnerable part of my heart, however, things are not so black and white. Instead, there are endless shades of gray.
On a deeper level, the letter left me feeling exposed somehow. And vulnerable. Which got me thinking about why I put my stuff out there in the first place. I write because I have to. But I don’t have to submit that work for the world to see and to like or not like. I tell myself I try to publish in order to make a connection, to touch someone the same way I have been touched by stories I have read over the years. Then, when I get acknowledgment that I have indeed touched someone with my words, I retreat. The note could just as easily have been nasty. And we all know how much easier it is to believe the bad stuff rather than the good stuff about ourselves. The ideal place to come from shouldn’t take the praise to heart, nor the criticism. I don’t know about you, but I rarely live up to the ideal version of myself. I know that if I ever receive a nasty response to my work, it will clobber me. Sure, I’ll get back up, but it will be that much harder to send out my work the next time.
In the end, it’s not about validation or rejection but of reaching out. What comes after that is out of my hands. As John Cheever said, “”I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss – you can’t do it alone.”