by Chila Woychik
I had just had the second of two back surgeries. At the same time, a close friend was struggling with difficult life circumstances. She asked for my help and for the life of me, I tried. I gave her all I had to offer at the time; to this day she’s still a dear friend. In the meantime, for some reason I felt I needed to get the principles down on paper, the principles we had hashed over and tried to implement together.
I remember sitting in my car in a parking lot, alone, scribbling down thoughts on a bank deposit slip. I felt a tiny bit like the Bronte sisters must have felt as I wrote progressively smaller and smaller to get every single word down on that dwindling white space. They often only had miniscule scraps of paper on which to compose.
That was 1995. A few days later, I remember thinking, “If this is so important to me, maybe it will be important to someone else.” I picked up a copy of Sally Stuart’s Writer’s Guide and sent off my very first non-fiction article. “To Be Pure” was published soon after. And reprinted numerous times since then. That was all it took to make me realize I could do this writing thing.
From then to now, when the words come, I write them down, revise them hard after letting them rest for awhile, then send them off. I’ve had close to a hundred articles and poems published in 25 or so different (mostly print) magazines, all on a very part-time basis.
Rejections? Sure. But the thing I’ve always had going for me is a fierce competitiveness that won’t let me quit, whether in sports or board games or writing. Even in life, I play to win. So when a rejection letter would come, I’d scour it for a reason (if the editor happened to give a reason), take the advice to heart, and try to make the piece better. If I kept getting rejection after rejection on a certain piece, I usually scrapped it or rewrote it from a different perspective altogether. Often that was all it took. I never considered not writing once I began. Ever. But I often had to change, either my view of what works in writing or the article or both.
And sometimes what did the trick was finding a few fresh markets. When online submissions and publications became more common, I expanded into that sphere as well, but still primarily focused on the print mags, which at the time showed a little more impressive on a resume.
I paid attention to details: submission guidelines, which genres or topics the specific magazine or market dealt with, editors’ names and tastes. I became confident friends with more than one editor that way and could almost always count on them to publish what I sent them, or at least work with me on revisions.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, plowing through as many non-fiction books as fiction ones. I assume I picked up a lot of writing how-to’s through that process. I still have only a few writing manuals on my bookshelves; the ones I do, I take very seriously, and attempt to read them through regularly. Details stick with me better that way, on a second or third read. I’ve devoured Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life numerous times; I still come away filled and satisfied after each new reading.
Writing has been an integral part of my life and who I am. I can’t imagine not writing. I want my legacy of “writer” to succeed me. Even more than that, I’d like to be remembered as a good writer and friend.
Diane asked me to share a poem with you. So in the spirit of a captain who cares about her crew, scurvy sea-dogs that they be, here’s one about the sea. My challenge in writing this was to transition from 3 lines in the first stanza up to 6 in the fourth, then back down to three, while rhyming the last word in each stanza. This is a free verse poem with only that bit of rhyme throughout. And in the second stanza, “hies” is an English word meaning “hurries.”
Thank you NAF for this opportunity to share with your readers.
Or, The Sea in My Sea-Grey Eyes
I stand at the water’s edge
awash in the wet sea-spray,
when the tide begins to rise.
From the ocean depths, in the deep sea’s core,
where Light hies away,
a cry goes out, and the shimmering tide
is cast in my sea-grey eyes.
The warm salt-waves engulf my feet;
my legs are bound as one –
and the sea-green weed weaves itself about,
the fishes’ scales bind themselves about,
and I pay, to my demise.
Free, I fall, I plunge
in the thick of the wine-grey sea;
twine up the closest floating mass,
loop the end and throw the lead
as a seahorse marvels past –
and I ride toward the darkening skies.
Into the blackness, brackish sea,
we seek a sheltered cave –
away from the roaring midnight storm –
where treasures rest in jeweled chests;
but the heart in mine still sighs.
I’m used to storms on the open main,
I’ve lived so long in the surge;
and I swim each day to my soul’s delight
with the tide in my sea-grey eyes.
But to stand again at the water’s edge
and be washed in the wet sea-spray
would quell this mermaid’s cries.