I’m a writer, which means that I write. It’s not a job or a profession, not a career choice or a hobby, not a get-quick-rich-scheme that many non-writers seem to think writing is (because with few exceptions, writers are POOR) – it’s more like a calling. It’s a piece of who I am and a need that is more natural and insistent than eating or sleeping. But until this year, despite pressure and encouragement to submit, I haven’t submitted anything – ever.
Then this year I decided, “I’m going to submit dammit.” I mean I want to be published; I want to be able to support myself solely on my writing. And if this is ever going to be a reality (forget that it’s already a big if) I actually have to submit my work to places. And that means I also have to get ready for some serious rejection.
I think a lot of writers don’t submit because of some fear of rejection. Not me. I mean I don’t like rejection anymore than the next person, but I don’t even get to that place in my head… I’ve already decided not to submit way before I can guess what someone’s reactions will be to my writing. My problem is – I think too much. And I am incredibly harsh – my harshest critic. I can find fault in anything I write. I feel like it just shows what a fraud I am. I’m not a writer, I’m a non-writer and I’ve just fooled myself into thinking that I can write.
It doesn’t matter that my peers who are published and successful “working writers” have told me – “You MUST submit THIS!” Or “Why haven’t you submitted this?” Or “OMG, this is important – submit this NOW!” It doesn’t matter that my graduate school instructors and mentors have said the same thing. It doesn’t matter that I won awards as a teenager, first place in the largest school district in the state, after being nominated by a teacher who knew I wouldn’t go for said nomination. It doesn’t matter how many times I have been nominated for anything, or won. In my head, I feel mediocre on my best day. And on my worst? “You are not a writer – STOP trying!”
But because writing is a need, I don’t stop, but this loud and angry voice definitely keeps me from sharing anything I have with anyone else. Friends, peers, even my husband. So forget about sending anything anywhere. I don’t want the world to know how much I suck and am trying to be a writer, when I so obviously can’t write.
But this year I have taken great steps to ignore that voice, at least enough that it will no longer paralyze me from sending my stuff out into the world, sure there will be plenty of rejection, but also hoping my voice will eventually be heard. That’s my big goal this year – to be published (and getting notification that I am going to be published next year totally counts).
So, I have put myself out there more this year. I attended a big writing conference in hopes of being inspired and/or networking. I am taking an advanced memoir/personal essay class and workshop (and workshopping is just as bad for me as submitting, as people in the workshop will be able to identify how much of a wannabe I really am), and I just finished a two-week online course, which was really more of a support group, where a lot of us (writers who need to start submitting) got together and made a pact to submit five things before the week was up. And I did. I submitted a short story I recently recovered to four different publications.
It’s so weird trying to select publications in general. On the one hand, I have no confidence, but on the other I don’t want my writing to go “just anywhere” so I’m particularly picky. I mean few places want to touch a reprint, so where your work is published… that might be the only time your piece in question sees the light of publication. So you have to research the readership, the editors, the magazine – read stuff they have done. I submitted to places that I have a total writer’s crush on. And once they all reject my story, I’ll go to the next level or wave of presses. It’s like applying for graduate school all over again – except that for graduate school, I applied everywhere all at once.
I’m hoping that within the next month, I’ll have a few essays, short stories and poems floating out in the submission-sphere. I’m thinking if I can have a few works of fiction submitted to five different places each, and the same for a few essays, and a few sets of poems – then I’ll be actively submitting, and casting a wide net – not limiting myself to one genre or another. And it’s not like I don’t already have poems and essays and stories to submit.
My virgin submission was in July – two essays to a contest. So sending out my story to four different places, it felt like the first time all over again. I couldn’t bring myself to do it – and my husband had to push the “submit” button with me. Cover letters, author bios, different formatting guidelines and individual submission systems… it’s not like you’re just emailing a story to five different places (and while that would be easier in the actually doing it, I don’t think it would make the before-you-do-it any easier at all).
I think my biggest fear is that I’ll get back a personal rejection that is like, “How dare you send this trash!” Or, “Did you even read over what you wrote?” Or some equally nasty thing, confirming all of my worst fears, reinforcing my very loud insecurities. But I know it’s much more likely, I’ll just get a form letter rejection, no matter how much they hate it. At least I hope so, considering the alternative!
For now though, I am determined to start submitting every week. I want to make it a regular thing and get over this “virgin anxiety” every time I send something somewhere. And I’ll get rejected – I just know it. But it’s a numbers thing, and I hope that eventually I’ll get accepted. And something I wrote – that I poured my heart and soul into – that is more or less my child, will see the light of publication, and be read, and I will be heard.
Right now I just have to keep the mindset I have tried to adopt (particularly since that two-week course). Submit or DIE!!!! Seriously, not submitting is just not an option anymore.
*Since writing this post, my #1 writer’s crush publication sent me a form letter rejecting my story. I also received word back from a contest I entered (not the one in July for my essays, another for a regular columnist position) that I wasn’t even worth an honorable mention. The latter stung a bit more, and by “receiving word back” I mean that they announced the winners on their site, but to their credit they always said they did not have time to let people know if their pitches had been rejected.
The story’s rejection was not surprising, because I question how good it is, even though other writers are saying it’s one of my strongest pieces. I’m not really sure where it fits in the literary landscape. I think it’s easy for people to miss the actual message of the piece, distracted by the main character’s intentionally unsympathetic tone, or in two different scenes that are somewhat graphic (though they are the minority of the piece). People latch on to what they want. It’s still pending at three places anyway, and it’s my #1 place saying no – I mean who gets their stuff published at their first-choice publication on their first try? I’m not broken over it.
The column didn’t break me either, but I thought I had a shot, more than I did with my short story. And I really loved what I did, but because it is a series of columns (six already have been written, the others mapped out) I’m not sure where I can submit them, because they work as a collection. Each on its own… well I’m not sure.
But getting this rejection is just a reminder I am putting myself out there. That’s how I have to look at it, even though my inner voice wants to use each individual rejection as reinforcement to how much I suck, I am ignoring that voice. Let’s hope I still can once I received word back from all of the other places my work is pending. In the meantime, I intend to submit more crap by this Friday. Onward… that’s the only way there is.