Budding Writer, 1979: Ding letter

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Despite gloomy news, Spring is just around the corner, as these crocuses from March, 2020, remind us. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Back in my college days, our campus culture included “ding letters.” Essentially these were “dear John” letters from a potential date or steady lover. Most of us were familiar with them.

We even had ding letter contests for Homecoming, Winter Carnival, and Green Key weekends. The best came from movie stars and royalty who had no idea why these random students would be writing to them.

My first professional ding letter came on this date, 44 years ago, from TV Guide:

Well, today really was miserable. The weather turned cold and sleety again; I wasn’t up until about noon; I got dinged by TV Guide (the reason was that the students’ reactions “just weren’t fresh enough” — i.e. the truth hurts, they wanted something rowdy like Newsweek and Time), and generally the day was unproductive.

I was, of course, disappointed and upset by the rejection slip, which I turned into self-righteous indignation by saying I would refuse to write what they were obviously looking for. Meanwhile, I was angrily looking for some way of reworking the article and combining it with a reaction piece on the Time/Newsweek pieces. Something ought to come of all this, after all.

Journal, Volume II
10 March 1979

I took a break from writing and consoled myself by studying a grammar reference guide. That night I watched Delta House for entertainment rather than on asssignment, but the fun was sucked out of it.

Every writer gets rejections, although today they’re probably by email instead of snail mail. Every writer will go through the same range of emotions I did — indignation, anger, frustration, and the urge to salvage the work by rewriting and resubmitting, perhaps to another publication.

Realistically, though, that wasn’t going to happen. The original premise — a real campus tube room’s reactions to the TV clones of Animal House — was already past its prime. One series was canned after its pilot, one was barely hanging on. The third would make it to the end of its scheduled season, but was fighting the network and censors all the way. It wouldn’t be renewed.

If you’ve been following this series of posts, you probably saw this coming. I did, too. In the next day’s journal entry, I noted that “I’ve calmed down considerably.” The following day I noted that I thought about writing a letter to Time in reaction to their article, but I decided against it.

That ship had sailed. But the whole long, angst-ridden saga might someday be fodder for a fictional scene — or memoir — or maybe even a blog (which hadn’t been invented).

3 thoughts on “Budding Writer, 1979: Ding letter

  1. I am enjoying this story arc of your early professional endeavors. Soon you’ll be getting to things that happened in the Upper Valley after I returned from my London studies!

    1. Thanks, Jim! If I’d only known then what I know today … maybe I’d have gone to London, too.
      Reading ahead, I do see myself indulging in sherry and cigars (!) with you and Jon P in the SLR in early April. I’m not sure how much about a certain birthday party is ready to be released to an unsuspecting public even now, though…

What do you think? Let me know here. Comments are moderated, and I'll respond as soon as I can. Thanks!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.