Dear Modern Love Editor: I Want to Be 1 in 100

November 13, 2019 § 33 Comments

M. Betsy SmithBy M. Betsy Smith

Dear Editor:

I read the Modern Love submission tips and followed them as best I could – well, except maybe I already screwed up because I’m giving away the storyline too early. Points off for premature disclosure.

I am a new writer so I will make mistakes – this is the second one. Not good form to mention I am new at this. My writing might clue you in to that anyway. Wait, should I delete that “that”?

My favorite tip advises me to just write because if I do I will get better. I’m old, at least life makes me feel old, so I have to hurry up. I need to get all the stories pent up in me out.

I have been asked where I will submit my essays and my response is always the New York Times Modern Love column. I figure it’s go big or go home. Writing is my current version of modern love, really.

My essays are difficult and don’t have happy endings but I think you are right when you advise that’s okay. I do learn things, mostly about myself. Nailing the ending is like winning the prize – I get that.

I know when I move off a topic it’s good to follow the random thoughts to see what happens, and I’ve granted myself forgiveness and permission to start again. I’ve learned how incredible it is to just write for myself first. No censure. I can be critical, irreverent, corny, profane, sickeningly sentimental, gut-wrenchingly honest and not care a flying fig about opinions – other than yours because I want to be a 1 in 100. Is that too many adverbs?

I am wise enough to know I don’t know anything about writing so I write and rewrite and then do it all again. I know when it works – at least for me  – is when I read aloud and hear my voice outside my head and the story flows. If I lose focus it’s a bad sign.

I went to a writers’ conference and there was a session on first lines. Most of what I heard was god awful. Clearly the writers did not read your tips. It’s not good to start with, “I met him in….”

I didn’t think I cared about being published but I do. I want to be published in your column. I want to be the 1 in 100. My stories probably relate to one of every hundred mothers– which is tragic and sad and heartbreaking and a whole lot more.

Alcoholism is relevant. Mental illness is devastating but treatable if you have insurance or lots of money. They aren’t dirty words – just grossly misunderstood and not popular. Conversations usually end when I share the fact that my brilliant son is drunk and homeless. It’s a showstopper statement.

It is hard to know when to drop that bomb in my essays, just as it is hard to know when to drop it when speaking with someone. It is not something you lead with – or maybe it is. But because I am consumed with the topic I can’t avoid sharing it. I write my essays as a heartbroken mother.

This is not really my submission, it’s my audition. I wanted to let you know I did do my homework. I didn’t go to college, so my writing is without the benefit of a more formal education. If I were you I would edit this disclosure out.

Staying within the word count limits is a challenge. Once I write it I want to keep it. I learned the value of an editor when my first essay was published. Many of my pearls were axed.

I did not attempt to fully edit this communication for fear my good-natured message of gratitude for the big list of the most helpful and amazing tips would be lost in translation. Why is it bad to use “amazing”? Or adverbs? Do we have to be minimalists of written words?

I like embellishments. Concise is for work and poetry. Why is less better except for limited space in publications? If I say I am quickly writing that (another that) I should remove “quickly” but then I risk losing that I want to convey a sense of urgency.

Some guides say use quotation marks, others say don’t. Some say use an em dash, others say don’t. I guess it’s best to leave it up to you, the editor, and trust that (delete) you know what you are doing.

I have written five essays. The problem is they aren’t reaching enough people. Modern Love is like the Ivy League of publications. I will keep trying to get it right for you. I don’t get discouraged when a story is rejected. I won’t give up trying just like I won’t give up on my son.


M. Betsy Smith


M. Betsy Smith retired three years ago after working twenty-six years as an insurance underwriter and started a new career as a writer. Her first essay about her journey as the mother of a brilliant, alcoholic son was published by Refinery29. She has also had essays published by The Write Launch, Entropy and Chaleur Magazine. Betsy was awarded a five-day writing residency by Straw Dog Writers Guild based in Northampton, MA.


§ 33 Responses to Dear Modern Love Editor: I Want to Be 1 in 100

  • Karen says:

    Beatiful! Tenacity! I look forward to reading your essay to be in Modern Love!

  • edwardsdldm2 says:

    Loved this. Many can relate to being a new writer and having a powerful story to tell. Keep writing!

  • Oh M. Betsy. You go.

  • Totally relate! [In workshop, I listened to two people wrangle about “he whispered” for a half hour. How was “he said in a low voice” an improvement?]

  • omarella says:

    This is so encouraging. Keep up the good work.

  • Tom Stewart says:

    Good morning M. Betsy. You ARE a good writer. What you wrote moved me, which is the whole point of writing. And you can take THAT to the bank.

  • eileenmckeon says:

    M. Betsy. I’m also not a writer, who writes.
    Your heart and voice is felt and heard here. I’m now going to seek out your published essays and await that ML essay someday soon. Everyday, I write the book.

  • Kaye Curren says:

    Well, I don’t know about that that. But I do know you are a writer and have a great future-such as it is. I’m old too. Doing what you are doing. You’ve inspired me.

  • DavidWBerner says:

    This is a wonderful piece. Keep writing. Don’t give up on any of it.

  • CandaceDeal says:


  • Heather says:

    This really speaks to me as a “new” writer hoping to be published somewhere, someday. Love your honesty, your voice, and your tenacity. Best of luck to you!


    Oh, Betsy, in the middle of heartbreak, you laugh–often. Do not delete that…..!

    • M. Betsy Smith says:

      Patricia, I am so blessed to have you in my corner –and my life. You inspired and encouraged me to write. I am grateful. XO

  • Erica Herd says:

    Go, Betsy! Here’s to embracing our shadows and darkness, as well as the light. I, too, have a tragic tale to tell.

  • Kay Mary says:

    Heartbreak is so often the term conjured from the realm of teen angst, failure in some romance. It’s an interesting word choice since most moms would simply feel like bad moms for having children who grow up to neglect themselves, practice no self care or have no goals other than to avoid responsibility. I’d for sure read a memoir about a motherhood that deviates from the ideal yet still commands the respect of a community. Definitely keep going with this.

  • Bonnie Long says:

    You nailed the ending. Keep doing that. (BTW, you are already 1 in 100.)

  • Marilyn Kriete says:

    Love this! You captured the late-to-writing catch-up journey so well, and managed to weave in tantalizing bits of your personal story with Not Too Many words!

  • Kim Hinson says:

    Love, love, love this M. Betsy :-). You’re a talent, no doubt about it. Keep on writing, young lady!

  • ginaaoliva says:

    I love “Modern Love!” Didn’t think anyone else in the world read it. I subscribe to the PRINT version of Sunday NYT. It makes me feel nostalgic and good. Like I am keeping up with the best.

  • Leslie Fuquinay Miller says:

    This is really beautiful and reminds me of my favorite Mark Strand poem. Because it reminds me SO much of that poem, I want to share it with you. I hope you will see why.

    The Poem
    Mark Strand

    1. The Poet to the Reader

    Dear Reader, though I spend my days and nights in hiding, wanting your attention and fearing it will be no more than the sad interest success finds in failure, my faith in you has never been shaken, for only in your genius do my poems have life. I gather the fragments of the night, and only in you do they shine. There is no limit to what you make possible. That is why, for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to speak in you. Accept the enclosed poem as an attempt to present the self I have so long hidden.

    2. The Reader to the Poet

    Dear Poet, thank you for the poem. I like the part about the bird and the part about the tree. Even your letter was nice. I’m not sure I’m all you think I am, but my wife says that there’s more to most of us than meets the eye. I wouldn’t know. Pleasing anyone is hard enough. These are difficult times and no one is safe. Lately, I have been plagued by uncertainty over our son. We live in an unfinished house. Every time I reach down there is a nail sticking up. As a poet, you will understand.

  • lgood67334 says:

    Reblogged this on B. Lynn Goodwin and commented:
    Wonderful honesty. Both entertaining and insightful.

  • lgood67334 says:

    Shared with Wonderful IMHO!

  • cescemmanuel says:

    Is interesting I’m really enjoying your post

  • ChristisLife209 says:

    That was an awesome piece and it was insperational this Sunday morning. And as a simple gesture of my own heart let me agree your son’s vices of alcohol been set free. Amen this Sunday and keep being that one the light comes from and stay in belief. I like you simply am Striving for Souls not for reward of any worldly thing. TTYL D.G.

  • cannabisonlineshop4 says:

    Of course this is possible

  • Loved the article. I have some show stoppers of my own and I share your frustration in never knowing how to talk about them. I guess that’s why we write, right?

    • M. Betsy Smith says:

      Yes, it is! The next hurdle is getting what we write in publications that are widely read. I will persist. Thank you.

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