Dear Modern Love Editor: I Want to Be 1 in 100
November 13, 2019 § 33 Comments
By M. Betsy Smith
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.