“You have to submit something,” Helen, a school friend, pleaded. “Listen, I’m on the board of a start-up literary journal, Southern Women’s Review. We’re collecting submissions for our first issue. And I know you can write.“
“Um, I’m not from the south,” I noted, pointing out the obvious flaw with her invitation.
“Eh, the piece can be set in the south, the voice can be southern, or, like, you lived in Atlanta once right?”
“You qualify! Deadline is June first.”
The next day I rifled through my collection of stories until I found one set in the south. It needed work but I had plenty of time, an entire month to be exact. Except tomorrow turned into next week and suddenly it was a six days shy of the deadline. That’s when I finally buckled down. Every night after work, I strengthened the characters and tightened the language. I adjusted details and tweaked sections. And an hour before May came to a close, tickled with the progress I had made, I submitted my story. Then I retreated to my sofa and perused the site.
Ooh, cool people are launching this journal.
Wow, fun header.
Shit, there’s a word limit?
I returned to my desk and loaded my story. In what felt like slow motion, I checked the word count.Then I checked it again, you know, to make sure I was in fact three thousand words over the limit. I quickly sent a follow up email admitting I’d mistakenly missed the submission guidelines and to ignore what I just sent. I also noted that no, I had not eaten glue as a child though I wish I had as it would be a lovely excuse for my stupidity. Then I poured more wine and started hacking my story.
It really doesn’t matter that she has lunch with her mom – delete.
The best friend living in Boston, he isn’t essential – delete.
The flashback to the tennis court can be summed up with one sentence - delete.
Bit by bit, I trimmed it down. Some revisions were easy. Others weren’t. But I kept going, refreshing the word count every few minutes to confirm I was making progress. As the clock ticked toward two, I officially had the word count reduced from 4909 to 1990.
I read my new story, slowly, aloud, listening for the rhythm of the sentences, the sound of the words. Then I read it again, this time confirming continuity. Miraculously, the piece still worked. Or maybe it simply worked well enough. In my blurry eyed state, I was in no position to judge the quality of anything. Nonetheless, I opened an email, attached the document and clicked send. I placed my drained goblet in the sink, turned off the lights and went to bed. And when I awoke, I had an email from Helen asking me to call her.
“Hey,” I said when she answered, my voice excited but my stomach tight. I hoped for the best but expected the worst.
“So we got your submission.”
“You mean submissions,” I corrected. “But you’re a gem to ignore my fumble. No really, I think I just figured out why I suck at standardized tests. Something about reading instructions and --”
“Paige, we love it - you’re in!”
And that’s how this Yank proved reading directions after completing the assigned task can still result in success (cough, page twenty-eight).