“Has this ever been published?”



An editor who reads this blog wants to publish one of the entries from much earlier this year. This is not normal. Anything “published” is generally not considered for publication by someone else unless it is an anthology of some sort. Material published in blogs—really anything online, including Facebook—is considered published. Period. This is why for the most part when I am writing something if I decide it has journal/magazine/newspaper worthiness, I don’t publish it here.

In fact, I have several categories of writing. There is the “blog” file, which includes material more akin to a diary entry than any essay I would attempt to convince an editor to consider. Usually the material is too provincial or “me” driven for wide appeal. I try and make most work relevant to more than my ego-driven world, but when they really remain little more than observations and digressions, I file them for the blog.

Then there is the “reading” file. These may include publishable work that is not yet ready to be published, but more often includes “bar” driven work which hopefully never will be published. The latter is crowd-driven and doesn’t always translate well to the page, despite the popularity at a reading. One example is a piece I wrote about a language mishap with my mother at the airport. On paper it doesn’t work because you can see the punchline coming.

The “in progress” files are those that I have every intention of combing through and sending to journals, magazines, and newspapers. They don’t all get finished, let alone accepted, but these are the ones with potential. This is why you’ll rarely see me write about Siberia or Spain on this blog—that material is still in the “in progress” file for future publication elsewhere. Maybe. Hopefully. 

I have a “great line” file, filled with notes of, well, observations and digressions, which may or may not end up in any of the above publications. This often also includes lost grocery lists and to-do lists from my office. I found my license in this file once. 

Sometimes crossovers occur. One morning last May I sat at Panera and blogged about my trip to Arlington National Cemetery. Within minutes of hitting “publish” I reread it and thought it might be good enough for a newspaper and sent it to the Washington Post. About ten minutes later they accepted it and asked if it had ever been published. I went back to this blog, deleted it, went to Facebook and LinkedIn and deleted any reference from those sites, and wrote back and said “of course not.” Luckily their acceptance was only minutes after it appeared on here so only a few people might have read it. And recently, I heard a story about one young woman who was accepted in the New Yorker, a game-changer for any writer. Unfortunately, her mother or someone she knows was so excited she published it on Facebook, and the New Yorker pulled the piece. That makes my stomach hurt and it wasn’t even me. Stories like that are why writers are a bit protective of where the work goes. The definition of “published” now seems to be anywhere that is beyond a writer’s own computer.

Still, this is the first time for me that a publisher read the blog and wanted to put it in a journal.

Hopefully none of these distinctions reflects quality. The real file breakdown for me is more content driven. If something has content with broad appeal, I’ll work it for “other” publication, so that isn’t an issue. Still, content often tells me which file it goes to.

I like to think this blog is akin to a few of us sitting around a table at a pub long after most people have left, and the conversation moves from hysterical to ridiculous to some philosophical point, where we are savoring the last drink and take whatever we were talking about and, well, digress. This makes the writing more personal and, hopefully, more universal at the same time. In the end, the best stories cannot be recorded. They must be lived. It can be a hard balance for this writer between “living” my life and “writing” about my life. I tend to bend in favor of “living.” There is no file for that, so some stuff just won’t end up anywhere.

Sometimes my son and I will be out taking pictures and note how the absolute beauty we see just isn’t being translated in pictures at that particular time. With the eye it is indescribably brilliant, but the shutter speed and F-stop just didn’t do the job. Writing is like that. Some subjects cross my mind when I’m out for a walk and I can’t wait to write about them. But when I do, they fall embarrassingly short. Like how grateful I am to be able to spend so much time outside; or how much I miss having Scotch on Tuesdays with my dad, or how much I want to pick up a phone and call my friend Cole, or Dave, or Trish, but they’re gone, and I can never correctly capture the emotion which falls between grabbing the phone and putting it back down.



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