Elbow Grease

 A little over a week ago, Flyway Journal of Writing and Environment published my essay Stealing Sand, and I couldn’t be happier.  (You can tap the title to read the piece.)  Stealing Sand is about my grandmother, nature, and Maine.  I’d love to pretend that this happened by magic or was easy.  It didn’t, and it wasn’t.  That one essay is 3629 words and represents years of work.  I’m a bit floored when I see the word count because of the hours it took me to get those words in just the right order and then published.  It’s also the first real essay with a capital E I’ve ever written.

It started because of a Readers Write prompt in The Sun Magazine.  The topic was breaking the law.  I started playing with the questions: what laws, what does broken mean, what laws have I broken?  I attempted to write it as a flash essay and keeping it to about 700 words.  That didn’t work.  At around 1000 words, I ran it through my amazing writing group got their feedback.  Then I kept working.

In the summer of 2018, I took it with me to the Disquiet Writers Residency in the Azores and worked away on it while sitting at a round white table on a small white chair in the middle of a botanical garden.  Maybe a year and a half after their first reading, my writing group read an expanded version of it.  They gave it another go-around of critiques.  Each time I thought I’d finished, I submitted it — rejection city.

Last summer, 2019, I wanted to know what I was missing because I’d never written anything like this before.  I workshopped it at the Disquiet Literary Program in Lisbon.  They allowed us to send in up to 30 pages, so I submitted two pieces and used up my page quota.  You never know when a chance like that will come along again, so I went for it.  I was the last person in my talented writers’ workshop to be critiqued, and I was freaking out.  Once we workshopped my piece, I was blown away by the positive feedback I received.  The advice offered was so helpful and gave me the ability to see the holes and fill them in and to cut the fat. 

I submitted an earlier version of Stealing Sand to Flyway and hadn’t heard back, so I assumed it was a no, but in my heart, I felt like their journal was a good fit for this essay.  When they did get back to me with an acceptance six months after I submitted, I was elated.  I let them know I had done a complete rewrite in the meantime.  They reviewed it and offered very few changed to my final version.  All the work it took to get to where the piece is now was worth it.

The heart of the essay didn’t change much.  What I worked on the most was taking what was in my head and making it clearer for the reader.  Based on the responses I’ve been receiving; I achieved my goal.  I love that every reader brings their own experience and something different jumps out at them.  Talking about it with people has sparked some wicked joy in me.   Thank you to Flyway, Disquiet, and my amazing writing group for helping me see my vision into the real world.

I wanted to share a couple of essayists I admire: David Sedaris, E.B. White, Annie Dillard.

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