When I went into the editing business by founding YARN, I was very excited at the prospect of offering publishing opportunities to young and (ahem!) old writers alike–a mission that’s been at YARN’s core since the beginning. Focusing as I did on opportunity, I never thought I’d be faced with the request of one writer a few months ago, to take his/her piece down from YARN.
(S)He’d had a change of heart–or something. (S)He didn’t actually offer many reasons, only that (s)he now felt differently about the subject.
After some consultation with staff, I decided to implore him/her not to make us take it down, but instead to write a reply to his/her earlier self, which we’d gladly publish. I pointed out that had YARN been print journal, the take-down wouldn’t even be possible, and that since we’re published online, even if I deleted the piece from our archives, it would still be out there, cached, cookied, perhaps even screen shot, on computers all over the world. It wouldn’t be gone.
(S)He appreciated the offer, but declined, repeating his/her request to take it down. Ultimately, I felt I had to honor this request.
But it made me sad, even mad, to do it, and doing it got me thinking about writing and commitment.
Writers are always talking about committing to the process of writing–getting up at 4am, buying a planner to schedule one’s “poetry time,” signing up for NaNoWriMo, etc. Especially before we get published, we don’t think nearly as much about the repercussions of being published as we do about the dream of publishing something, anything.
It takes real guts to put your name on a piece of writing, to own it and say “This is what I think,” especially if what you’re writing is an essay and ostensibly true. (And maybe that’s why we get so few essay submissions here at YARN? Is that kind of writing too close to the bone for YA? I hope not. And listen up, writers, submitting an essay is a great way to get published here and elsewhere!)
The first essay I ever published was in an academic journal for English teachers, and it was a personal essay called “In Defense of the Five-Paragraph Essay.” I was so proud that my essay had been accepted to the journal’s small opinion column, and I believed every word I wrote.
Then, years later, I learned that the same journal had published an excoriating reply to my essay.
I could not ask to have my original essay taken down. I didn’t even want to, exactly–I mean, I still stood behind what I wrote. But the attack on my essay was, well, mortifying. I wished I could have rubbed a giant magic eraser and made both essays go away.
But when you’re a writer, and you’re committed to your writing, and to staying on the long road of the writing life, you can’t do that. I’m not going to get all goodie-two-shoes on you and say that I learned to take the attention as a compliment; because I didn’t. Instead, I learned that to be a writer, I had to find the strength and resolve to commit to my writing … always, and often under trying circumstances. It can be scary, and not always immediately rewarding. But it seems to me the only way to move forward.
I’m also going to take my own editorial advice: I’m going to reply, belatedly, to the folks who wrote their reply to my essay. I’m going to send them my book “This is Not a Writing Manual” in the hopes of showing them, if not all the people they influenced with their own essay, that my ideas about writing are not limited to what I said about the five-paragraph essay when I was twenty-six.
Doing this is a great solace, because there really are second acts in American lives (and PS, F. Scott Fitzgerald thought so, too)–especially in the lives of writers, who always have the power of words to reshape, revise, and revisit.