By Mandira Pattnaik
When I signed up to be a Columnist for Reckon Review, it was a leap of faith for me. I’ve written fiction and poetry, but columns? It was a November day like this, exactly a year ago, and whoops! I had committed to it! I guess I’d trusted my instincts. Several columns later, this role is like a character I thought I was not. A columnist is, by far, the remotest version of anything I thought I’d be. But then, did I even know I’d be writing at all, say, five years ago? No!
There are weird mechanisms at work. These are at odds with the grandest plans laid out, and for me, this writing life is grander than anything I could ever plan: An outsider warmly welcomed by the global literary community, reading and rating submissions at magazines, selected to represent some of the best in business, and read and published by creative writing University students I had no hope of having anything to do with. This is a dream—this isn’t me! But, she’s the heroine of my story, and I’ll let her live it how she pleases!
Following from where I left my last column in June, characters who are not like me “have an enthralling quality about them because I do not know how they’ll react”, and therefore, I like to explore. I often experiment wildly to arrive at new results. Examining the outsider-in-me, and finding new trends in literature, shape my writing. I have learnt that subtle variations in voice, POVs, structure, style and narrative arc make huge differences. Though struggling to fit in, I feel extremely comfortable where I am with my writing.
That is to say, every writer creates that outsider-in-me for themselves, for, in the end, it is all about the words on paper, how it resonates with another human being. The universality of emotions and circumstances cannot be overemphasized. It is marvelous to read someone from, say, the Philippines or Nigeria, essentially saying the same thing, voicing the same narratives through their work. As a reader who reads submissions fresh out of the queue, it is a personal connection I’m sure I’m in an envious position to enjoy. This experience and relationship with a written work, however, doesn’t always translate into publishing. That means I am unable to convert it into sharing with as many other readers as I’d love to because of a) various adjacent considerations like flow and adequate readiness-to-publish (including edits), and more importantly, b) concerns of limited publishing space. Many excellent pieces continue to receive decline notices. This daily and weekly sadness also does not make me, as a writer, immune to the pain of receiving a rejection. But what has changed is this: Earlier, I used to imagine a brittle glassy red heart, shattered to a thousand tiny pieces, every time my inbox chimed with another decline coming in. Now, I imagine a red siren going off, like a warning alarm, and an electronic voice saying, all too dispassionately: Wrong Match! Wrong Match!
I know now, in my new found role as an editor, how huge the chances are of getting rejected out of hundreds of promising entries. Only a single digit percentage will get selected and published, and those will be read and passed along to generations of readers. What about the rest? There’s no denying the fact that repeated decline notices for the same piece make writers feel unwanted, almost like an outsider banging on a closed door, and no one opening it. As any fellow writer will tell you, it is strange to be told those weaved words that seem to be genius are, to others, but only trash.
Towards the strangeness of the statistic mentioned above, let me also point out the strangeness of what I write. As an outsider, my task, as well as that of writers writing from a culturally diverse identity point, is doubly challenging: They must try to gauge what is not too regional-specific a reference as to get an international reader stuck on it. Deciphering a thing with some level of difficulty or Googling something will suck the pleasure out of reading. When that is addressed, I think it is smooth sailing all the way, because, as we all know: “Being a perpetual outsider means one can be at home everywhere”. Matching up to standards, as well as matchmaking unique-writing with one that has universal appeal, isn’t something to be shy of. After all what’s the objective of art, if not to communicate.
Thus: To home and onwards….
Read more of Mandira’s work here at Reckon:
Outsider Perspectives: Home, Hinges, and Halcyons
Outsider Perspectives: Insider Narratives
Reckoning Flash: An Interview with Tommy Dean
Mandira Pattnaik writes prose and poetry in India. Pushcart, Best Microfictions and Best of the Net nominated, her work appears in Reckon Review, Passages North, Watershed Review, DASH, Miracle Monocle and others. Her writing comes from a space of the perpetual outsider. While navigating the wondrous world of popular literature, she shares chronicles of her journey through her craft essays.