And you think, well, OK. I can do that. If Dylan Thomas did that and then came up with “Do Not Go Gentle…” then I guess it maybe works. One word. How hard is one word? But then you’re thinking, which word? It has to be magical if it’s only going to be the one. You go through words that sound delicious or silly or mysterious: lush, wish, dust, dish and so on. So now the word itself becomes anxiety-producing.
Leave it to fate. That’s what you should do. You say, I will look at this section of the New York Times right here and just write the first word that comes into focus. And so the word is “fiscal.” Fiscal. Hmmm. That is a word you wouldn’t have picked on your own. Maybe it’s a sign. So you write “fiscal.” And then you think, well, that was easy.Let me riff on fiscal and see what comes of this. Because it feels pretty good to write down “fiscal." It has that soft beginning, the fissss like pouring a glass of 7-UP, a secret, the promise of something better on the horizon, but then, too, the word carries that ominous threat, doesn’t it? The rough kuh sound that follows so fast after the soda fizz. And so you write it a few times and what comes next seems inescapable: fist. But for some reason, it’s not just the fist. It’s the other f-word that goes with the fist. So you write it. And it feels even better to get that on the page. Wild and daring. You’re not afraid to write like this. You’ll be the new author that “writes like this.” They’ll say, she sets it down for us, all those things we think but we’re afraid to talk about.
Next thing you know, you’ve got an entire story devoted to these strange little words. You write it all in one sitting. It’s marvelous. This is what people talk about when they talk about the zone. About stories writing themselves. About characters taking over the story and saying, “No, I’m not going to the beach to make up with Astrid. I am going to the industrial park and I am sneaking behind the building to dig a grave in preparation for the murder I will commit, so do your thing. Get it down in words for me.” You never believed it when people said, “My characters told me where my story was going.” But now you are starting to see how that might be possible.
Time to submit this, friends. You open up your Submittable account. You ignore the pages of red denials: declined, complete, no thank you. You find the perfect journal. You usually don’t like to be the one paying for your writing, but this journal would be so worth it. It’s only $15. What is that – the cost of a t-shirt, a glass of wine? You go through more than that in one Starbucks trip. You send it. And then you wait.
The wait lasts for days. So many days, you almost forget about it, but not quite. You’re at a stoplight; you check your email. You’re talking to a client on the phone; you check your email. You wake up at 6; you check your email. You go to bed at midnight; you check your email.
You know what comes next. You get what has become, in your experience, the inevitable rejection letter. It says, “Thank you for submitting ‘Fiscal Fiscal Fist Fuck.’ Unfortunately, it is not for us. We wish you luck and so on. “
At first, you think, wait a minute. Is this a mistake? This was my thing. This isn’t supposed to get rejected. It’s my superpower. I’ve been waiting years for this. How could they not see the brilliance, the new ground being broken? And you cry yourself to sleep and whatever.
Then the next day, you’re taking stock of your horrible life and you’re like, fiscal fiscal fist fuck? That’s what I was waiting decades to write? What was I thinking? I suck. You feel as if you’ll never write again, but that presupposes that you ever actually wrote in the first place. You’re miserable.
And here is the thing you forget: the hour, which was really more than two hours, when you wrote that story. Your daughter laughed at her book as she sat in her favorite chair with her cat in her lap. Your son came home from day camp to tell you about a front flip he almost did, but didn’t, but tomorrow he will. And you sat at your table in the middle of your house, with a Dylan Thomas poem next to you, the New York Times next to that, and some coffee waiting in the kitchen. You sat there typing, typing, the tapping sounding out a rhythm, filling the quiet, happy house like a song.
Written by: Jeanne Jones
Photograph by: Florian Klauer