On Playing with the Big Kids
April 21, 2016 § 3 Comments
An end-of-the-semester reflection from Brevity‘s excellent undergraduate intern, Celia Tice. Thanks for the help, Celia, and best of luck as you graduate:
When I first learned I’d be interning for Brevity this semester, I was absolutely ecstatic. I knew that reading so many different writing styles and hearing the opinions of the other readers could only benefit my own writing. Having a chance to add something substantial to my cobweb-covered resume certainly didn’t suck either.
After the initial glee wore off, however, the anxiety set in. How did I get this opportunity? How can I possibly contribute effectively as a submission reader when I can’t even call myself a writer? I have to say, however, that having concrete experience with Brevity made things feel real. Suddenly, I could call myself a writer. I felt I’d even perhaps gained enough agency to write email salutations like, “best regards,” or even, “best.”
What power I had in my fingertips, crushing the dreams of someone’s personal essay. The one they surely struggled with, threw at a wall, debated giving up on, then got drunk/stoned/took Advil and continued trekking on with. How easy it was to move my fingers to the mouse and lightly push that “no” or “maybe” button. It was overwhelming. Be wary of power, ladies and gents, it can go to your head.
How much influence I truly had over what was published is debatable. I’m not sure how much weight my votes were given. Regardless, it was fun maintaining an illusion of power for a little while.
Something I found to be true while reading is something I’d been told once or twice in a nonfiction workshop that I took from Kelly Sundberg, Brevity’s Managing Editor: titles matter.
Kelly always said that a title should add something to the essay, and not just be something thoughtlessly tacked on at the end. I hate to say it, but I pre-judged many a submission based solely on the title, ranging from, “wow, what a cliché,” to “oh jeez, this is going to be sappy,” to “hmm, this might be good.” I can’t vouch for the other readers, but personally, I began reading many essays already having an idea in my head of how good that essay might be. And what am I, really, but a culmination of my perceptions of the world around me? So my point is, titles matter, people.
The other thing I learned, and maybe will draw encouragement from in the future, is that widely published people get rejected all the time. Being published doesn’t give a blanket of security. We are all going to fail (are you happy you’re still reading this?), but it is crucial that we keep going. Not every essay is going to be “good enough.” Many essays are going to be rejected. But we keep writing because we have to, because we think too much, because everything about the world around us is fascinating and important. We need to understand; we need to inform. So we grit our teeth and press on.
I’m beginning to embrace my impending adulthood. I’ve started getting ready for bed around 8 pm. I make myself a hot chocolate,(with two packets of cocoa powder if I’m feeling crazy,) and snuggle up with some nonfiction essays. I’ve even started listening to NPR in the mornings, becoming my father.
So with unfinished Spanish assignments piling up, I say “Adiós” to senior year and blindly jump in to the land of disappointment and writing/ employment/graduate school rejection letters, which will someday be sprinkled with the cottony mold of a valuable experience.
So thank you Brevity, thank you readers, thank you random people who have devoted your life to the love of the nonfiction essay, and thank you Kelly Sundberg for giving me a chance to play with the big kids.
Celia Tice is about to become a recent graduate of Ohio University with a degree in English. She currently lives in beautiful Appalachia with her cat, Louise. You can find her personal blog at: celiatice.wordpress.com