The way the ink flows

by DRM

Namiki Plum Flower Pen with Moleskine notebook

This must be the week that small presses, indie journals and agents plow through their in-boxes. I’ve gotten a slew of rejections this week — no interests on a short novel I’ve been sending around, no thanks you’s on a couple of stories that are circulating and flat out nopes on an essay I had a notion to write.

Most of the notes are form letters. I get that — these are busy people and they see a lot of stuff. A couple were personal notes. One editor suggested that I try to draw out more religious undertones in a story. This was a place where I’d paid a $10 reading fee for an accelerated turnaround on the submission. I can’t be sure if the personal response was a business strategy intended to keep me submitting for pay, or whether there was sincere interest in the story and my writing, but since I didn’t agree with the entire religious subtext I’m studiously ignoring the suggestion.

Rejection is the name of the game. There’s a marketplace out there, there’s a creative imagination in your head, and there’s the relative excellence of your craft, so it’s a stroke of good fortune when all three line up to provide you with an outlet and an audience.

What’s struck me about this cycle of rejections is what it’s showing me about the engineering of my creative foundation.

It’s shaky.

My internal voice registers each of the rejections and mutters something like, “See. What did you expect?” Then the little conduit that my imagination flows through gets choked.

The ink stops flowing.

I love that image for creativity — ink flowing from a pen. It’s magical: a tube of liquid encased in a hard shell, drawn out through a narrow point by gravity and energy, absorbed by paper and transformed by some inexplicable mystery into an image that lives in places that can’t ever be found…my imagination, yours.

So when my little voice mutters “See?” and turns away from those rejection letters, it unleashes a spell that clots the ink, clogs the workings of the pen.

I’m not going to bore you with everything that happens as a result. I won’t tell you how my heart sinks when I read something that uses a word in a great way. Or how I type a few dozen words of the story I’m working on and feel physical disgust. Or how I try to figure out why I ever thought that the story would be interesting. Or how fast the excited feeling of a new idea is extinguished when I start writing it down.

I just wanted to write a true thing that came to an end.

That’s the only way to break the magic spell, quell the muttering voice, shore up the shaky foundation and unclog the clotted pen.