Some time ago, I wrote a deservedly unpublished piece about men I have known who use the diminutive of their name -- Jimmy, for instance -- way past the best-before date. I thought it was a clever cultural comment. Turned out, it wasn't. For at least three reasons that made themselves clear to me.
First, there are some cultures where it is commonplace and, believe me, very acceptable. To have called Jimmy "Jim" would have been the equivalent of calling him "George" or "Hey you", or worse.
Second, for some it is a mark of warm affection bestowed by others. As in, "What a great guy Johnny is."
Third, some men give themselves a "y" name. Our neighbour, "Ulysses William, was always called "Billy" by his family and himself.
The piece I worked hard on over many drafts (Discipline) was received by two Writing Groups with some respect for its structure and wording and so forth (Mastery) but it just didn't connect (Chemistry). They fulfilled their Community membership by letting me know their supportive but lukewarm reception, and I fulfilled mine by sharing the piece with them, listening to them, and weighing what they had to say.
On the other hand, and example of the good stuff that can happen when a developing writer such as myself ventures outside the boundaries of what "everyone agrees" is likely or even feasible.
After considerable effort (see previous post) I was able to shorten the "Wrestling" piece to 450 words. In the seemingly endless process (Discipline), I discovered I was writing more about my father and my relationship with him than about the actual wrestling match. This required some finagling (if that's a word) to be true to the lighthearted nature of the piece, and my father, and myself. (Mastery).
The piece was a combination of brief introductory prose and light verse. There are no boxes to tick on any publishers submission form for such a combination. This publishing fact was reinforced by both Writing Groups (Community). I listened but decided to forge ahead anyway because it felt write. (Delusion isn't a category, but often should be).
I ended up writing a 450 word Guest Column accepted by a local newspaper, The Sarnia Journal. The editor informed me that he was accepting it even though they almost never accept verse. But he liked it. And, ta da, there was a Letter to the Editor (my second ever) from a woman who said she didn't like wrestling but she admired the piece (Chemistry) enough to go to the trouble of writing a letter.
So, from all this I think I have learned that:
- Technical proficiency, while often the prominent reason our work connects with readers, isn't always the only reason.
- Pieces written outside established categories ( for example, prose plus verse) is risky if the goal is to be published by someone else. At the same time, it may be the right thing to do from the sole vantage of the work itself
- We often uncover our hearts in the process of writing something, even light verse about professional wrestling. Even if we thought we knew what we meant to write about.