Return to sender . . .

"Returned Manuscript" Photo by Ev Bishop

“Returned Manuscript” Photo by Ev Bishop

My recent weeks have been full of emptying—first one house, then another. As I sorted through closets and cupboards, some of which, honestly, that hadn’t been gone through in 20 odd years, quite a few items gave me pause. Why on earth had he (my dad) kept that? Or, conversely, at my old house, why on earth did I hold onto that?

One such item, tucked away in the back of a cupboard above my bedroom closet, was a sealed box. A manuscript box. Marked “Requested Material.” Besmirched with a black X through the intended recipient’s address and a sticker instructing you to turn the box over.

Doing as bidden, another sticker greets you, one with five options: Insufficient address, Attempted not known (whatever that means!), No such number/street, Not deliverable as addressed – unable to forward, and Other. “Other” is selected with another X and a red, slightly smeary stamped imprint shouts “Unclaimed.”

More injuriously, another stamped mark says 1st Notice, 2nd Notice, Return—and there are handwritten month and day notes beside category.

I remembered, only upon seeing the box again, the initial request for the full manuscript—how excited I’d been.

I also remembered how disappointed, and irritated, I’d been when it came back. I carefully follow all submission guidelines. In this instance, I’d spoken with the agent in person, received the request to submit in person, been given the address to send to in her handwriting.

I didn’t send the parcel priority post, or in some other manner that requires a signature or a special trip into a postal outlet for pick up. It should’ve been delivered right to their office . . . so maybe they don’t have a big enough mailbox for manuscript boxes? (If that’s the case, how bizarre!) Or maybe she’d never really wanted to consider my novel in the first place? (Ouch, but please, I’d rather she’d just said so!)

I suspect the reality is nothing like any of my above suppositions. It’s just something that occasionally happens with mail. And when you’re busy, and the object you’re receiving notices about is off your radar, you don’t get around to picking it up. Nothing personal. No big deal.

But what is a big deal: Why didn’t I follow up, or resend it, or . . . do something? Why did I tuck it away, out of sight, out of mind . . . Imagine if I didn’t move for another 20 years or more, what a find it would be then!

I haven’t decided what to do with the unopened box. But I am taking it to heart, as it strikes me as a powerful (if painful!) message about my writing in general.

This novel, packaged up with such care, only to be stuck away, hidden from all, is symbolic of what I do with a lot of my writing.

I love to write (as I think any of you who read my blog know!); I don’t love the submission process. I would like to share my stories, perhaps connect with someone out there, make them laugh, or cry or just . . . relate—but that desire is always a bit peripheral to the actual act of writing.

The result of this . . . laziness, fear, slight disinterest, whatever . . . is that I have many stories and quite a few novels that have yet to see the light of day.

I don’t want to become one of those writers for whom publishing is the primary goal and content is secondary—but I also know that if I don’t start to put out a body of work fairly soon, my years to be able to do so will diminish, my chance to share my stories will shrink, and my hope to someday support myself with my words will become a more and more unlikely daydream.

And so, for now at least, the box sits on the floor by my desk, in a terribly inconvenient spot, where I keep tripping over it—a constant reminder that I need to be bolder, to more actively seek to share my words (and worlds!) with others. Wish me luck!

And tell me, what would you do with the unopened manuscript box?

10 thoughts on “Return to sender . . .

  1. Boy, can I relate! I have a “return to sender” letter I sent to Donald Maass ten years ago, after he had relocated his office… But it’s okay, his agency has since (nicely) rejected me.
    How could we all enjoy each other’s novels without having to wait for traditional publishing? Wonder if SiWC could have a website just for former attendees to read each others works and form a community. One of my writing partners is ready to go indie, with her boxes of waiting manuscripts…
    Such a good post, thank you, I think I need to go and work on my novel now!


  2. Dear Susan,

    LOL re: “the Donald Maass agency has since (nicely) rejected me.”

    I too have been nicely rejected by him! We should have t-shirts made; they’d be a great SiWC fundraiser: “I’ve been rejected (nicely) by Donald Maass.” 😀

    >>>One of my writing partners is ready to go indie, with her boxes of waiting manuscripts…<<>>Such a good post, thank you,<<>> I think I need to go and work on my novel now!<<<

    Yay and me too!


  3. As I clean out our basement, I’ve run across a number of incredibly massive and important projects that I once put my heart and soul into, projects that could have been of earth-shattering importance at the time – and now have faded into increasing insignificance as the world looped again and again around the sun.

    They were – still are – ‘good stuff’. No longer relevant to what I’m doing. I’m a bit wistful, if anything.

    I think I’ll focus on today’s projects.


  4. Rejections are hard. They feel personal to the core. But they’re the only way we can make it out there – traditionally. Wishing lots of luck and encouragement! Keep that box where you can see it. May repackage to someone else?!


  5. Ah, Vello–that’s it exactly, isn’t it? Those projects we set aside are (most likely) still good stuff, but we (and our world, maybe) grow past them. I feel wistful about so many things too . . .

    But yes, focusing on today’s projects–that’s the best strategy/approach to life. We can’t live in the shadow of what we didn’t do yesterday. 🙂


  6. Thanks for the encouragement, Rebecca. Some rejections definitely have a bigger sting than others. This one . . . Well, it was just confusing (and still is because I don’t know what my plan was with the box!). I may repackage it. I may just continue to use it as a motivator. 😉


  7. What a positive commitment to make from what was a painful experience, Ev! And I love the idea of the D. Maas t-shirts too!

    Honestly, what I would actually do with the unopened manuscript box (as long as I had an electronic copy plus backup of the original work) is I’d use the same paper to create a new work. The next time you’re making a hard copy edit, put it back in your printer so it will print your new work on the unused side. It’s both a symbolic way and a physical way to turn that experience into something to benefit your current creations (and it saves money on paper too)!


  8. LOL, thanks, Angela. I figured I might as well try to make something positive out of my dunder-headedness!

    Your idea is great–and what I end up doing with a lot of printed out hard copies. 🙂


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