by Olivia Van Wey
It is no secret that an English major’s biggest fear and greatest aspiration is to enter the world of publishing. We spend our whole college careers reading original works by accomplished authors and then deconstructing them with mounds of literary criticism. These people have so much to say, and let’s be frank, they do a darn good job of articulating their ideas. Within the encouraging bounds of our English classes we hope to join the conversation on literature, but we do so with the acknowledgement that having one professor we adore makes it easier to write what we think and send it off to their caring hands. What about the literary world outside UP? We know it exists, but few try to engage with such a well-versed literary culture and even fewer succeed; or so we think. I had the opportunity to speak to Senior Sarah Weaver to discuss her most recent success in entering the outside world of publishing with her non-fiction pieces. I enjoyed our chat on her success because her attitude is very similar to ours if we were in the same place. She rejects the title of “Writer,” and admits that her knowledge on writing is from her own experience. To publish for her is done through the process of continually reading and discovering her place in the publishing world of non-fiction.
Sarah began her engagement with non-fiction writing last spring in Fr. Hannon’s class. She says,
I was introduced to this type of writing for the first time. I have always liked [reading] this writing and I’m really not that good at fiction because I can’t think of a plot or it’s a stupid plot, or its run-of-the-mill boring. So I discovered I could do this because I could write about things that actually happened to me or to other people. It was interesting because it was actually real.
This literary genre she already knew brought on a whole new mode of expression for Sarah as she began reading more and finding authors she respected being published online. What she observed is that others with a similar writing skill and the things she was interested in, greatly intersected with the things she was reading online. Sarah says, “within these online journals, there are different levels of prestige and skill. Some of them I was like, “Hey! I think I could write those. Now I think I have improved a little and have started to submit to the better ones.” It is then a process of finding one’s interest and skill level within the tiered system of publishing. Sarah is definitely not at a loss for interests as her pieces cover universal truths such as the trials and triumphs of motherhood, the internal and external change that takes place in moving across the country, and the realization that knowledge is a lifelong quest. Publishing then is just the next step of asserting one’s ideas on paper and putting them out into the world to reach someone.
The act of publishing becomes a two-fold process: First, setting one’s work out to be read by publishing companies, blogs, and other forms of media. The other is in turn accepting one’s place in the chain of reading and writing. In her experience of publishing, Sarah says that what she learned throughout this process is to redefine one’s perception of rejection. As she recounts,
I had this one piece that got rejected four times and this one print journal that paid, accepted it and emailed me telling me how much they loved it. It’s really encouraging and it really depends on the market because people just don’t accept things they do not think they are a right fit for a vision for their journal. It does not mean it’s not valuable. To have been rejected like three or four times and then to be accepted proves that.
Sarah’s insight should serve as a reminder to all students of the written word that just because a piece is rejected, doesn’t mean the content lacks substance. Everything is about fitting themes and content into a cohesive collaboration and one piece did not work at a certain time. If nothing works at the moment, one should be able to still proudly pronounce himself or herself, a writer. Even Sarah who, despite having four pieces (with more on the way) published, still struggles with describing herself as a writer.
I’m one of those people who is really uncomfortable calling myself a writer. I say like, ‘I like to write stuff,’ or ‘sometimes I write things.’ But this is forcing me to say it because my family started saying it, “Oh my God, you’re like a real writer now.” I don’t even feel like I can say that. That is something Father Pat talked about in class too. We are all writers. If you write anything then you are a writer. You do not need to be published or anything like that. It’s something I’m still trying to struggle with. I guess I’m small-time published.
As our interview was winding down and we were having informal chitchat, Sarah suddenly told me that she had wisdom to share with her fellow English peers on writing,
You don’t have to wait until you have your Master’s degree, PhD, or anything. No one has to give you permission to write stuff. You can go ahead and write it and submit if that’s what you want to do. Everyone has words to say and it’s not necessarily just years and years of school that make your words valuable so you can just go for it whenever you want to, and have fun doing it.
To see more of Sarah’s work check out her website: