A Writer’s First: Personal Essays, Publication Submissions And Writing Contests

I promised myself that this year I would finally submit something. And not just something, but I would begin submitting regularly to different presses and publications. You can’t get published unless you actually put your writing, and yourself, out there. I’m thirty, and I’ve been writing since I was seven, and yet I have never submitted anything before – ever.

I attended the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference this year, and I took many things away from it, and one of them was: SUBMIT! SUBMIT! SUBMIT! I even received/won a free 1-year subscription for a great website that does research on where you can submit your work and tracks those submissions, etc. I still haven’t used it, or even logged into the site yet.

Despite my resolution, I struggled to come up with anything new and couldn’t find anything I had already written that I wanted to polish. I knew about a few writing contests I wanted to enter, and most of them had deadlines of June 30 or July 1. I had time…

Well, now it’s June 26 – so time is almost up! For the past ten days I have been scrambling to write, rework, find readers, revise, revise again, find more readers, polish, get a stamp of approval, make sure it fits the requirements and aesthetic (if applicable) of the writing contest/sponsor/publication and submit.

Well, at first I was like, “Let’s do this!” and after realizing how little I had (next to nothing) and how the contest deadline was only twelve days away… why even bother? I mean, I can work on pieces and submit them next year – it’s not like these contests are new or change up the rules or expectations every year. The day after I decided it was a lost cause, I was struck with blitz attacks of inspiration. Since, I have finished four essays, and three of them I have some hope for, meaning they don’t entirely suck (maybe).

I’ve been writing, revising, emailing friends and fellow writers who were kind enough to agree to read my stuff on a tight deadline just because they’re awesome, taking their feedback, processing it, revising and then shooting it to someone else to read… this has been my life for the last seven days. And now, thinking that in four days I’ll be submitting at least one piece, probably two or three, to one or two of the contests that are most important to me… wow.

I feel like a factory worker, and I just started writing two more essays today that… we’ll see. If they’re strong enough, they might fit into two of the contests (one each) but they have to be decent enough. And I hope by that time I don’t run out of or wear out volunteer readers because, five essays to give feedback on, quickly, for free – is kind of a big deal. And invaluable. And sure, I am going to read stuff from some of them (I offered to read anything from any of them, any time after July 1, which is the last deadline date, but only one person has responded to said offer) I still can’t articulate how much I appreciate them doing this.

I’m so beyond nervous. For one thing, everything I am submitting is a personal essay. And I’ve never written a personal essay before – not really. I’ve done blog posts and editorial pieces, but I wouldn’t call these personal essays – blog posts generally lack “show” and scenes, while editorials aren’t personal and more political or social commentaries. I’ve written a memoir (which is a sore subject we’ll get back to someday) but that is long-form nonfiction. Capturing an experience completely, while balancing the “tell” and introspection with the “show” and scenes to keep the reader interested… it’s this juggling act I’ve never had to deal with before.

I think I have one strong piece, one potentially strong piece, and one “I have no idea until someone lets me know” piece. But all three are complete. I finished another piece, but I decided not to pursue it until a later date. It totally works for a contest, but that contest has one or two pieces that are strong and could work for it, while this third piece feels stiff, and I know there are additional problems the other two don’t have. I don’t have enough readers and each one only has so much time, so I have to pick which pieces demand attention and feedback now, and which ones can wait. What are the real contenders?

I’m excited about the two essays I’m working on today, but I’m not going to guess how they’ll come out. The ones I feel good about writing, seem to suck and have problems I clearly see once I’m finished. The ones I’m unsure about seem to do better. But I know they have the potential to be great, possibly even contenders.

I’m looking forward to this all being over soon, because I like to be more balanced (job, reading, writing, health, home, personal time, etc.) and the last week it’s been all about writing and submitting. But once these deadlines pass, I’m determined to churn out some worthwhile writing that I can submit to different relevant publications. I promised myself I would start submitting, and it’s high time I hold myself accountable and make myself submit.

I never meant for my first submission experience to be a contest, where my odds are so much worse, the competition so much greater, and that you actually have to pay to participate (contests have entry fees, regular submissions do not), but I’m excited and proud, and I know that those feelings will only intensify once I actually submit. Even if nothing comes of it, and it’s likely nothing will, I did it. I submitted something. And after that first time, I’m sure it will become more and more routine.

This is only the beginning – I’m going to keep submitting. In other words, bring on the rejection! 😛

-DMW

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