This collection of mine has already had quite a life. Before WVU Press agreed to publish it, I had been sending it around for more than two years to first book contests and open reading periods. I found myself accumulating a list of near misses–a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award, a semi-finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award. Those misses often came with great feedback. Some kind soul had just read my entire book and almost agreed to put it on next year’s list. It was both innervating and heartbreaking, imagining what could have been, what almost was. So what I’m asking: Is it possible for a person to celebrate near misses?
I learned, eventually and begrudgingly, to take those almost successes at face value: Someone read my work; someone liked my work. We writers often spend a lot of time crafting plots involving signs and portents, yet we have become so accustomed to rejection that we don’t allow ourselves to revel in such visions. The more I became runner up, the more I allowed myself to believe, for a month or a week or a day, that there were good things on the horizon. And in that month or week or day, I had given myself permission to write the next story or to cut a new draft of an old one. I had, essentially, given myself permission not to quit.
My experience with publishing–and let’s saywriting in general–has been predicated on taking the long view. When I was in third grade, one of my teachers noticed that I had a talent at putting words together. She put me in a corner and set me up with a computer. I wrote my very first story that year. It was about a pine tree named Evergreen. He lived in a deciduous forest and every winter he became an outcast as all of the other trees lost their leaves. The story had a happy ending. There was something about celebrating the unique ability to not shed one’s foliage.
And that is, I think, what we need to remember. It’s very easy to shed the things we love and the things we love to do. It’s not so easy to hold onto them, even when the pain of doing so is great.