I stare at the screen as my work appears with a Ripper-style number of strike-throughs. Red staining what was a solid page of white and black. I grit my teeth as it sinks in the amount of hemorrhaging that’s happened.
This is the 4th journal this week I submitted work to. The 4th and that’s not including the countless number of submissions over the last month. This particular submission is a piece of work nearly 3,000 words in length that I had written originally for a course from years ago but had no emotional attachment to. I submitted it with the thought that if it was heavily edited I would be fine. I would be calm and rational.
I don’t think I prepared myself properly.
Through email correspondence, the co-editor of the journal lulled me into a false sense of security.
“I really like this piece! I think it needs few tweaks but overall I really think this is something we would publish…” She writes in her first email.
I accepted this at face value and got on with my week of work. The journal is a new publication based online with an ambition of creating a platform for women in the creative field. A safe space for debate and expression, or so they said.
Yet as I stare at my murdered manuscript, I can’t help but laugh at that ridiculous notion. My fingers twitch before they hit the keyboard with the velocity of a rabid dog then I stop. I write a couple of lines but I know I should start over. I lean back from my laptop, pressing into the pillows on the bed.
I take a breath.
The breath swims into my lungs and races out again. I examine the flakes of paint sticking out of the ceiling as the playstation whirs in the background. Jed is whispering into his headset as I lean over to plant a kiss on his forehead. Momentarily distracted, he pulls his headphones off of one ear.
“You okay?” He asks as he looks at the laptop screen.
“Yeah, just this stupid submission. I need to write a response, once I’m finished can you make sure I don’t come across like a crazy person?” I ask wrapping my arms around his broad shoulders. His brown eyes smile at me as he nods.
I get back in gear and lean over my glowing screen. Focusing on the issues with the edit rather than the edit itself, like how the motive of the piece has been painted over or key segments didn’t make sense now or how the main character was erased. Of course, I say it in a way that doesn’t come across aggressive. I try to quench the need to act like that wolf.
When I finish, I read aloud my words and notice small flaws that are easy to change as I go. I turn to Jed and wait for the damage.
“Let me see the edit,” He says as he takes off his headphones entirely which disturbs the sleek river of hair into the bun at the back of his head. Bumps of stray hair protrude at awkward angles. I turn the laptop to him as I bring up the edit. He skims it and squints at the screen when the red blocks of removed text appear.
“Your email is completely justified, don’t worry about it,” He says leaning back. “It’s not like you’re being all ‘don’t touch my precious work’, you’re just pointing out some issues which is allowed.” I smile as he puts back on his headphones.
I give the email a last read over and hit send. I flop back into the bed. I breathe out, blowing the words away.
It’s a couple of days before I receive a response. On Saturday, she writes:
We’re going to a final edit tonight taking into consideration your comments and the overall motive of the piece. We’ll hopefully send you a final draft tonight and get it published before Monday.
Thanks so much,
I pause as I read and think of how well Vanessa comes across. She seems like a pretty alright person. She doesn’t make me want to strangle her via email.
The relief washes through me that she didn’t take my need to express concerns as an overbearing woman who thinks her work is the best thing to happen to literature. My work is certainly not that.
At 11.34pm, I receive another email. I sit up in bed and eagerly read the email on my phone. I can’t wait to see the final edit – I want to see this improved piece of work. The TV casts a soft blue glow on me as my face changes from happy to confused in the space of 30 seconds. Jed sits up next to me. He pushes my red hair back off my face as he kisses my cheek.
“What is it?”He asks looking over my shoulder at my phone. I read him out the email:
After much discussion, we’ve decided to ask you to edit your work. We both feel that something is missing from the piece. Here are the couple of points we want to bring up:
- Why is there more than 3 characters in this piece? For a short story, it’s a maximum of 3 characters as a general rule….
The email goes on to list any possible flaws that can be found in the story. Suddenly the dialogue seems to have turned into a put down session; The writer of the email brings out more rules of writing I should know and tries to incite some shame in me. I sit astounded. It’s a piece I didn’t even care about that much and I feel like I have watched a roasting session of my most treasured work.
I scan the rest of the obituary to find the author who penned the attack.
Ahhh, I think. This is the other editor. Every dialogue so far has been with Vanessa – who seems nice.
Jed reads the email then turns to me and says,”What the hell?”
“Yeah, I know, what the hell, right?” I snuggle into him hoping his muscles just become a fortress.
“That’s so harsh,” Jed whispers into my hair. “You would think she just doesn’t like it.”
“Aye,” I whisper back. I sit back up and stare at the screen.
I start typing a response and turn to Jed.
“It’s cool I’ll look over it,” Jed says as he slips back under the blanket.
I put on my armor and forge ahead. My typing is separated with intervals of heavy sighing as I scramble for the words and try to stay as objective as possible. My words sweep from my thumbs into the screen quicker than expected. I feel anger as a thought pops into my head that I should just shut up and take it – after all they’re offering to publish me, that’s what I want isn’t it?
For the first time as an adult woman, I tell that voice no. I tell that voice to go screw itself somewhere else. I write an email that is both authoritative and honest while not worrying about how it comes across – squishing the thoughts of ‘I don’t want to seem… [insert negative adjective for a female]’.
I hand the phone to Jed and he hits send after giving it a quick read. I lay down in the dark, suddenly consumed by the immense guilt that I am a overly-proud bitch who is just so self-absorbed that I don’t see reason and logic; I am another woman about to be locked into an mental health institution of the 1800s for hysteria. I’m being hysterical, I tell myself as my breath becomes labored.
Jed wraps his arms around pulling me back from the rapture.
“You’re going to be fine, stop worrying,” He whispers.
At 9am, I open the email that it says was sent at 4.45am.
I roll my eyes at Samantha’s need to exert some sort of academic and theoretical superiority. She mentions names of authors and playwrights who are also experimental, and probably are unheard of outside the literary circle she used to treasure during her English literature course. I don’t know them and I don’t even know why I should.
She writes, “Your work comes across dim-witted and foreign. Readers won’t understand what you’re trying to say.”
I respond, detailing that I still think she’s wrong (in polite words) and I can submit something else.
I put down the phone after hitting send and anticipate nothing.
Still a week later, there is no response.
DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.