Anesa Miller

Drawer No More!

What does the image of a drawer bring to mind? A disarray of socks and underwear with no connection to literature or new technologies? True, but before computers became the storage unit of choice for years’ worth of old text files, a drawer jammed with manuscripts represented a serious backlog of unpublished material.

In Russian (one of my former professions), there was a saying in the days of universal censorship: “This one’s for the drawer.” Or, “He writes strictly for the drawer”—i.e., with no hope of publication. Even in the era of samizdat, a practice of illegal home-based publishing, writing for the drawer meant that an author was brave enough to put unflattering ideas about the Soviet system down on paper. Sadly, his or her readership remained limited to a circle of trusted friends.

In an American context, where being ignored is far more likely than being censored, writing “for the drawer” suggests the author has lost the will to keep seeking the golden fleece of publication. Given up on sharing his or her work with anyone, anywhere. In my case, some 2000 rejection slips from magazines and agents all over America (plus a few in other countries) accumulated in my desk drawers before I called it quits.

My skin was thick as a rhino’s. Several times I did savor the thrill of seeing my stories and poems in print. But there was little satisfaction to be had. No one ever said, “I saw your piece in the Texas Review—that’s great!” Never a “Like” or a +1 in those days. Even the editors who accepted my work rarely doled out compliments; with one or two exceptions, it was all form letters. And the lag time between acceptance, publication, and anyone actually reading the magazine was measured in light years. Not conducive to building a sense of connection, much less community.

(I can hear high-minded protesters defending the volunteer editors who devote themselves to literary publications. Certainly, they work hard and face many challenges. Now that I’ve sworn off submitting, I give sincere thanks and praise for the lovely journals they produce. But the disaffected writer finds it hard to keep the editor’s perspective in mind.)

Moreover, I was paying two-way postage for all those rejection slips, not to mention envelopes, cover letters, and manuscripts, at least a dozen of which got pulped for every acceptance. Sure, I bought supplies with recycled content, but even so, my non-profit writing career came to feel like a deforestation project with a steep price tag. No longer a sacred vocation, creativity devolved into my own private vanity press—and still no book to show for it! I reached a point where the thought of sending out one more submission made my stomach queasy.

Tell me what you think: Should artists overcome the desire for an audience and just be satisfied with the creative process? And if so, how? How can we do that?

Electronic magazines make publication simpler and speedier than in the old world of print. But is this a mixed blessing for literary journals? There are more submissions than ever, but it’s still a tough job choosing “the best.” And how about prestige—have online journals caught up?

Please feel free to comment on these and other matters.

12 thoughts on “Drawer No More!”

  1. The urge to create is, in some ways, its own reward, but few can resist the parallel urge to communicate — to “Yawp”! The internet helps, but this really only touches a handful. In most cases, it’s a handful that, in the pre-internet days, would not likely have seen my/your efforts, so the internet is a net gain.

    I once knew a guy who worked in an auto factory and wrote poetry as a hobby. A mutual friend, one of the very, very few who had ever seen the poetry, thought it was really outstanding. But there was never any effort to publish. And there were strict instructions to burn all of it if he died! Not many of us feel that way!

    1. I’m grateful for your perspective, Ryan. Indeed, “few can resist the urge to ‘Yawp'”! That’s very well put. Which makes it all the more haunting when a poet like the autoworker you mention does resist and withholds his creativity from the world. The classic example of this stance might be Emily Dickinson, although her sister couldn’t bear to burn everything in the end. I don’t think it’s demeaning to want to share one’s work, but it does seem somehow ennobling that a special few refuse to do so.

      Thank you!

  2. Katina Vaselopulos

    Anesa, thank you for sharing this heartfelt post. I understand what you say and how you feel. It’s truly disapointing to know that you have poured your heart on a …page and to want to share, only to find closed doors wherever you knock. It does not have to be that way though, not today. Very few writers publish the traditional way. There are many other ways to get your words out, and if your were inspired to write them, it is your responsibility to share.

    Writing is supposed to be shared. Everyone has a story to tell, in any form or shape she wants to do it. There are many who need this story for different reasons; to feel encouraged, to see through another person’s eyes and soul, to connect, to understand themselves, to learn, to laugh and cry….

    I was always good in writing and even presented research papers in symposiums while in school. Never thought to write a book. A while ago, after a major hip revision kept me in a wheel chair for over two months, I felt the need to journal…to heal my body and soul. One thing and another…coincidences and synchronisities…made me believe that I had to share my journal, not only with my family but anyone else who would want to read.

    As if not to change my mind I signed up with a self publishing company and wrote, rewrote, edited and re-edited and soon, I will be …an author. For me, to touch even a handful of people, will be worth of all the struggles of writing and publishing. My heart tells me that it will happen, not because I am a great writer but because the Universe inspired every word that flowed on my pages.

    Here is my site, if you find time to visit:

    Just by reading this post, I can see that you have a wonderful voice and possess great writing skills and talent. For me, it hasn’t been very easy to communicate in my second language. But I did not give up and solutions to my problems always surface when I needed them.

    Wishing blessings and light for you so that you go where you are supposed to be!


    1. So glad you could stop by and share your comments, Katina! You address the great benefits of expressive (or “therapeutic”) writing. I have benefitted from this practice most of my life–several more drawers in my house are jammed full of old journals! It is, as you say, a health-giving, even a life-saving, way of ordering one’s life and thoughts, of exploring one’s heart and opening up to new directions. It’s a way of making sense from a senseless situation, as a friend put it, such as after trauma or amid depression.

      These are important attributes of writing that I don’t mean to overlook when I focus on my negative moments in these posts. I appreciate the reminder of the positive sides of the vocation. Your experience, finding an important story through journaling in aid of recovery, is an inspiration and a blessing. And not to worry–I am moving forward. This weblog is one of my steps in that direction!

      I applaud your journey and will make a point to stop by your site. Thanks very much!

      1. Katina Vaselopulos

        We all go through dark moods and doubts, Anesa. The point is not to give in to them! You so beautifully summarized the importance of writing.
        Wishing you a great journey!

  3. I’ve actually thought a lot about this. I personally don’t know any artist who creates and is satisfied with just the creative process, without any desire to share it, ever. I don’t know if the desire to share comes from a need for affirmation, or because the very nature of creating involves bringing into existence something that has the capacity to be experienced by others. But that doesn’t make it easy to share, does it.

    I paint and I write, and personally, I find it much easier to share my watercolors (that’s right, I don’t file them away, I hang them on walls to be seen!) and have always found it so much harder to have others read my stories. I don’t know if it’s because I realize there is considerably more investment of time with reading—perhaps 5-10 seconds to determine if a painting is to their liking as opposed to hours of reading. I hate to have anyone feel as though they’ve invested their time poorly. Not to mention that reading my thoughts gives away far more about who I am, how I feel and what I’m thinking—very dangerous indeed for a relatively private person!

    I’ve had hundreds of rejections, and at first it was really devastating, though I had been warned, but that helped very little. Nevertheless, I persisted, and yes, out of that I did receive a publishing contract, but better than that, I found some clarity about my expectations, and for me, that has been key. I know what I personally want out of writing—I’ve discovered that it’s not a whole lot different than my paintings—none of them hang on a gallery wall or in any museum. But they do hang on the walls of my house and on my not-so-frequently-visited website. And I’m happy with that. Same with my stories. They are not bestsellers, and although many strangers have read them, I’m happiest that when friend and family are curious about my writing, I can direct them to a website and they can order their own copy, and I don’t have to print out a manuscript for them!

    Maybe because I have set more realistic expectations about my visibility, I feel more satisfied with a smaller audience and fear doesn’t immobilize me the way it once did. I enjoy my writing process a whole lot more … (but you know, I never enjoyed writing more than I did when I was clueless and thought I’d share it with only my husband! Does that negate everything I just said?)

    By the way–loved the bit on the Russian saying, “This one’s for the drawer.” I think I’ll start using that!

    1. These are very helpful insights, J.B. Your point is well taken that the desire to share may not reflect a need for affirmation so much as it is inherent in acts of self-expression. Why express at all, if not to risk the chance that someone will at least perceive and–maybe!–even respond in some way?

      At the same time, I can empathize with the feeling that the poem or painting or whatever is most beautiful at inception, before we become a bit jaded with the process, and the thought of sharing with just one special person brings a brand new joy! That is a bit like the childhood of an artist, I think–not because it’s a naive reaction but because it’s a phase that will pass no matter how much we love it. I suppose some are more adept at keeping it alive than I was.

      I also like your observation that meaningful expectations have helped make your writing practice more satisfying. That is very good to hear! I will be happy to take a peek. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

      1. I appreciate your response, Anesa.

        I think as artists–writers, dancers, singers, musicians, painters–we all wonder, probably throughout most of our creative life, if we are good enough! Of course, that begs the question, good enough for what? I think the answer to that question changes as we grow, but the sooner we get a grip on what “good enough” means to us personally, the more satisfaction we’ll find. And I still struggle every time I sit down to write or paint… Maybe we’re all doomed to discontent!

        1. Brilliant, J.B.–“good enough for what”! That is an excellent point, and finding what it means for us personally, as you say, is surely a journey of wisdom.

          Warding off discontent, that sense of failure, plays a big role in the tendency toward depression that we discussed the other week. I will keep trying to shed light on this subject with your help and that of others who stop by “The Drawer.”

  4. Hi Anesa:

    Enjoyed the essay & the artful way you side-stepped into it & my compliments as well to all who posted the thoughtful comments your essay evoked.

    I agree, JB, The question “good enough for what” is the question all of us must ask & answer @ some point. Defining our objective(s) is almost as important as the process of achieving them in nearly everything we choose to do. How else do we know when to stop tormenting ourselves over our shortcomings real & imagined? 😉 All the discontent & angst aside (& I agree, it’s definitely part of the process) it is Growth. (Caps intended).

    With regard to the validity (& validation) of online literary journals. Does it not depend on the journal? Which returns us to JB’s perceptive question…”good enough for what?” Both fulfillment & that gnawing discontent are I believe, flip sides of a life well-lived. Embrace both, IMHO!

    1. Your philosophical observation adds a welcome voice to this conversation, Dirk. “Embrace both fulfillment and discontent” reminds me of some of the Buddhist teachers I admire. Pema Chodron, for example, urges us not to flee from discontentment, turning to addictions and such, but rather to get it in perspective–one feeling among many that all come and go: “Flip sides of a life well lived,” as you say. It’s a practice I need to embrace more fully! Thanks very much for visiting my blog. I hope you’ll stop by again soon.

  5. Your style is really unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff from.
    Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I’ll book mark
    this web site.

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