December 5th, 2011 / 2:52 pm

ToBS R1: emailing yr writing to people you dont know vs. readings w/ so many people reading no one listens

[Matchup #15 in Tournament of Bookshit]

emailing drafts of your writing to people you dont know

Right now I am picturing the recipient of one of these drafts: What, why? the recipient—let’s say she is a she—might be thinking, upon discovering this unexpected draft in her inbox. The brief note accompanying the draft says something that is nice enough, but also fundamentally presumptuous. It states the author’s reasons: “I’ve been a fan of your work [or blog, or Twitter] for quite some time now…”

The recipient of the emailed draft feels flattered, but primarily confused, and put out. She scrolls down, more out of a kind of morbid curiosity than interest or professional or collegial obligation. She would like to read, sure, remembers when she herself was the person emailing drafts of her writing to people she didn’t know, once upon a time. But she’s busy. And not in the mood for this kind of crap—I like to imagine she’s a celebrated yet emotionally distant author, or the grievously undercompensated Web editor of a print publication who is forced to take on multiple freelancing gigs in order to pay for her exorbitant New York rent and student loans (because of this she eats poorly and is always frazzled-feeling). The Web editor—it seems more likely, now that I think about it, that she is the Web editor—tries to offer up the proper response. Should she a) ignore the email, b) politely thank the person without offering specific feedback, c) issue a fevered, angry response (or, come to think of it, d] a terse, angry response)? She decides, for several reasons, against c and d, though is still unsure whether she should a or b. The grievously undercompensated Web editor starts typing out the polite, nonspecific response: “Dear [author], Thanks so much for getting in touch…” Suddenly she feels exhausted, incredibly so, as if she has been typing out hundreds and hundreds of emails exactly like this one, which, over the years, she probably has, or most certainly will. The web editor feels slightly depressed, saves the half-started response as a draft, which gets added to all the other half-started drafts saved in her email account. She clicks on another window, or gets up to get more coffee, or rubs her eyes and tells herself she should get back to work, responding to the emailed drafts of writing from people she actually does know.

Meanwhile the author of the email, wherever he or she is, grows anxious. He or she wonders: Why haven’t they responded? Did I do something wrong? What was it? And then: Should I just stop, or should I email somebody else?

readings with so many people reading no one listens to anyone 

Here I picture the reader at the reading, not talking right into the microphone, wondering if people will care if he goes on a little longer than the amount of time he’s been allotted by the organizer, whom, deep down, he doesn’t actually take very seriously, but is here because it seemed easier to agree to do it than to come up with a reason why he couldn’t do it while still not lying. It doesn’t matter: the reader who is up next isn’t listening. Doesn’t hear anything but a stream of words in a self-pleased cadence. Instead she is looking over what she will read, crossing something out. The reader up after these two wonders if there’s enough time for him to run to the bathroom. He strains his neck to see if he can see the line. He looks at the bar, or the folding table where the free wine (and the attractive intern-type person) is, to see if he can’t hit up both, bathroom and booze.

Meanwhile, a little off to the side of the stage, which is really just a cleared out area in the front of the room demarcated only by the presence of the mic stand, the organizer hopes the person currently reading wraps it up soon while also trying to remember the correct pronunciation of the next reader’s name. The non-reading members of the audience, of which there are, in truth, not that many, less, in fact, than the portion of the audience who will, at some point, be reading tonight, these poor people waver between feelings of curiosity, boredom, obligation, love, inspiration, impatience, beauty, horror, as well as various bodily urges: hunger, thirst, sleepiness, sex, the need to use the bathroom. Maybe somebody’s parents are also there, seated in uncomfortable chairs toward the back, the parents of one of the readers, awaiting their son or daughter’s turn to go up there, they look proud, patient. Next to them, leaning against the wall, is someone with no previous awareness that a reading would even be going on, let alone one with so many different readers—the bystander searches, in vain, for a program, or a flyer. The bystander—let’s say he is a he—had simply been present in the bar, had wandered into (or just not left) the area where the reading was to be held. Maybe he was feeling bored; maybe he had just been lonely. Now he finds himself trapped, too polite to leave in the middle of someone’s poem (is that what they are reading? The bystander feels fundamentally confused by everything that is going on). He laughs to himself, quietly curses how life can be sometimes. He waits for the right moment when he can escape, unnoticed.

James Yeh

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WINNER: emailing drafts of your writing to people you dont know

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