After more than a decade of revising and retooling, an essay I wrote will finally be published in a literary journal this winter. I wrote the first iteration of this essay for a grad school workshop–and I graduated in 2007–that gives you an idea of how long I’ve been working on it. Probably fifteen years. Originally, the essay was called “Vodka on the Rocks,” and it followed the adventures of me and my mother during and after her second divorce.
The essay had several chronological sections, and the first section was picked up by Creative Nonfiction in a much later version titled The Lesson. The kind editor told me that the first section fit well in within their theme of Intoxication and they’d like to publish only that. She said the remaining sections of the essay didn’t speak as much to their theme as it did to the theme of addiction, and addiction was not the focus of their issue. They wanted the writing in their Intoxication issue to focus on the exhilarating, initial stage of inebriation. She asked if I would be okay with them only publishing the first two pages or so. I agreed immediately because holy shit, this was Creative Nonfiction. They shaved off all the symbolic toilets I heaved into and published the first two pages, which retold my childhood experience of drinking vodka with my mother for the first time.
I didn’t want to scrap the remaining pieces of that essay, which as a whole combined to become a much longer version of “The Lesson.” So I decided to find a new thematic focus for the rest of the essay.
I start this new story chronologically in time a couple of years after “The Lesson” took place. I finished the new version by ending the narrative forward in time, and I reflected on how my formative experiences shaped me now that I am a mother. I titled this new version “The Performance.” I have been sending it out for the past two years, and it will finally see the light of day in Hayden’s Ferry Review this upcoming winter.
Just like that, fifteen years in the making, the whole essay will appear in two different, amazing literary journals. And that’s exciting news because publication is a long term goal of mine, but as I progress as a writer and send out my work, I realize more and more that publication is not any legitimate way to assess my own art. It’s taken me a long time to come to that realization.
For years, I have been looking for validation outside of myself that I am an artist, and I have felt genuine sadness about not achieving my own goals within a timeline I believed was reasonable. I see now that my reaction to being rejected has held me back. My expectations of what success looks like have held me back. I’ve been measuring myself against some other person’s criteria. Who is that person? Little voice in my head? Universal human experience of the self-critic? Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Satan? Get Thee Back, Satan!
Little has changed in my writing over the years in terms of voice and story, but what has changed is my perspective. I know how to include more reflection and understanding, and that shows how I’ve grown as a writer. But I also think fifteen years ago, stories like mine weren’t published in literary journals. In my essay, there are Latinx ladies behaving badly. Plus, I use the words fuck, ass, and pussy. There’s no sugarcoating. There’s projectile vomiting, which is a different kind of coating.
I think now is the time for stories like mine to be out in the world. In a LitHub article, Cassidy Foust describes some of the inequity in publishing. She writes, “Though Latinx people make up nearly 20 percent of the United States population, Latinx authors continue to be ridiculously and frustratingly underrepresented in literature.” However, I do think the times are changing. From my first rejections to now, there is my own proof.
When my newest essay comes out, I will share more details here on my blog and on social media, but I also want to say to every struggling writer out there, having your work published means nothing to the validity of your art; unfortunately, it means very much to your livelihood as a writer, if you would like to one day make your livelihood through writing. Publications gives you an immediate and hard-won audience for your work.
Sending my work out into the world has helped me expand my work and consider new perspectives from readers, and this is a valuable experience for every writer. Publishing my work gives me an opportunity to challenge my assumptions, to read feedback from detractors, and to grow from these challenges. The publication process is an exquisite pain, a perfect balm for writer types. I think it’s equitable to share that pain.