Reading the By-line

The librarian here in Aiken lowered her glasses and pursed her lips (in typical draconian/librarian style) as I jigged through the lobby, hopping on one foot, leaping into the air to complete graceful ballet turns, and waltzing all by myself. I waved a magazine like a banner as I pranced outside. Why? Because my first feature article was published on December 1st. If you don’t live in the CSRA area, you can check it out here. Page 19, not that I memorized that or anything.

I will know be able to boast as a professional poet (since I’ve had poetry published) and a working journalist. Now, just to get that novel published. Speaking of which, I sent loads of query letters lately. Spoken to many, many agencies. Statistically, I’m sure that if I have sent my novel to over 200 people, one will be bound to like it. Just one is all I need.

The feature story I published for Verge concerned NaNoWriMo. I felt a certain elated pride in seeing my name on the byline. It gave me a peculiar feeling; there is an other-worldliness with having your work out there. While I know people read this blog, I don’t feel that it’s quite a same. Though I’m extremely obsessive about checking view counts, I think of  a feature article in a different way.

You see, there’s not me there. In a blog, I inject myself into each post so that it froths over with my personality. Like when you put Mentos in a diet coke bottle.

But a magazine type story, that breeds a different readability. You are being read by many, many people, most of whom you’ve never met. Not many of them will give you feedback on what they thought. There is no comment section for a newspaper. Not really. So instead you’re consumed by the anonymous masses. Unless it’s a column, it’s not you, either. You can’t convince people to like you based on personality. The writer needs to be able to write. Except for that byline, a newspaper article can’t really represent you. The reader can’t see the writer behind the work, as much as they can when they read a poem or memoir.

The best way to relay this is to give the explaining away to a higher authority. By that, I mean, Chuck Palahniuk. This is a story he tells in his essay (13 tips): http://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/stocking-stuffers-13-writing-tips-from-chuck-palahniuk

Almost every morning, I eat breakfast in the same diner, and this morning a man was painting the windows with Christmas designs.  Snowmen.  Snowflakes.  Bells.  Santa Claus.  He stood outside on the sidewalk, painting in the freezing cold, his breath steaming, alternating brushes and rollers with different colors of paint.  Inside the diner, the customers and servers watched as he layered red and white and blue paint on the outside of the big windows.  Behind him the rain changed to snow, falling sideways in the wind.

The painter’s hair was all different colors of gray, and his face was slack and wrinkled as the empty ass of his jeans.  Between colors, he’d stop to drink something out of a paper cup.

Watching him from inside, eating eggs and toast, somebody said it was sad.  This customer said the man was probably a failed artist.  It was probably whiskey in the cup.  He probably had a studio full of failed paintings and now made his living decorating cheesy restaurant and grocery store windows.  Just sad, sad, sad.

This painter guy kept putting up the colors.  All the white “snow,” first.  Then some fields of red and green.  Then some black outlines that made the color shapes into Xmas stockings and trees.

A server walked around, pouring coffee for people, and said, “That’s so neat.  I wish I could do that…”

And whether we envied or pitied this guy in the cold, he kept painting.  Adding details and layers of color.  And I’m not sure when it happened, but at some moment he wasn’t there.  The pictures themselves were so rich, they filled the windows so well, the colors so bright, that the painter had left.  Whether he was a failure or a hero.  He’d disappeared, gone off to wherever, and all we were seeing was his work.

I hope you can glean some perspective from that story. Blogs give us unrealistic expectation of reader feedback. One day, I’ll just open a newspaper to read a review and there would be any option to “accept” or “deny.” It shall just be.

When you’re writing a story for a magazine or newspaper, you have only that by-line to represent you. That’s you in three words:

By Derek Berry

About derekberry

Derek Berry is a novelist, poet, and student located in Charleston, SC.

Posted on December 3, 2011, in Blogging, career, library, News, novel, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Congratulations! That’s awesome. I’m happy for you!

  2. Bravo, Derek! I knew you would be doing great things. You’re on the fast track!

    And I know what you mean about blogs being different than print media. If people don’t like a post, most often they just don’t comment and don’t come back. The feedback you receive is biased toward “You’re Awesome!” While that feels great, it’s not like getting a piece of writing accepted by an editor or juried journal/contest.

  3. Congrats! Well done!

    That feeling when you see the finished product never gets old.

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