Behind the Scenes
22 Things I Learned from Submitting Writing
Re this I thought about this:
1. Early on I sent out a lot of bullshit. I mean I would send out almost anything that seemed done, whether I loved it or not. Later on I began to realize that not only did I rarely receive acceptances for things that I hadn’t put the work on in, I also realized that boy does it suck when you accidentally get something published that you don’t even like.
2. There is a mental diminishing return to publishing. The more you do it the more the feeling is diluted. Thus, there is no rush. It seems really urgent and then it seems less urgent. Being diligent to the point of nearly psycho produces results in that the practice of writing makes you get better and better, but you should never feel shitty for a rejection. It is just another chance to improve. Take that chance.
3. My major practice was once I felt a piece was done I’d send it to like 10 places. After I got over sending out just anything I would write a piece and revise it over and over from beginning to end until I could get through without wanting to change anything. Then I’d send a block of them out. When I got one back, even if it was just a form rejection I would then reread the piece to see “what was wrong with it.” Often this resulted in finding more I wanted to change, on my own terms, partly from getting older, partly from new doubt maybe. Then I’d send some more out, refilling the gap. In this way, by the time a piece would get taken (if it did), the new version would be imminently better than it had ever been. Thus rejection spawned improvement. But some writing is from a very specific mental time period and changing can make it worse. Be honest with yourself, and with your art. Maybe consider: would I be moved or interested in reading this if I wasn’t the one who wrote it? Maybe it is just for you.
4. Often editors who reject you are doing you a favor. Either the piece isn’t great and needs work (thus saving you face of looking back later like whyyyyy did I publish this) or taking a strong piece and making it stronger because of force of will. Yeah sure some editors just are pussies but so what. The work is never necessarily done.
5. Some pieces are you learning. Some never get it right. Don’t publish your homework. “Burnsong” was the first story I ever finished and was like Yes I did something really strong here. Now I know it sucks, and trying for so long to get it published and being rejected over and over was way more of an accomplishment for myself than having it in a damn magazine.
6. Deletion is holy.
7. It’s not that fun to publish places you don’t read. Early on I would send to anywhere that was open, I would look at Duotrope on those days that all the mags reopened like a holiday, with slews of places to put my stuff out in, and if eventually I placed something, I would feel happy for however long it took to read the letter and say yes, and then, ok. Now what. That’s not really the point, though. The point for publishing isn’t for the pat on the back (though it can feel nice) and not even really because people are going to see your work (some will, but let’s not pretend litmags are doors to fame). What it does is give you a space to practice and refine and have a mental sandwich every now and then. Getting your nose ground in, whether the work is truly shitty or truly awesome, is vital to growth.
8. You must keep moving. The reason I was able to send out so much work was also that I was constantly writing new stuff all the time and sending that out and firing and firing. While part of my goal might have been to get something ready to go out, the real value was that it gave me an arrow in the butt to keep writing. The subsequent frustration that is practically unavoidable also, if harnessed in the right way, can lead to you “giving less of a fuck” and maybe in the process finding out what you really want to say, or how to get in the way to say it.
9. If you really want to publish a book one day you will publish a book. The time that you spend getting there is kind of wonderful. Don’t cut it short. The emotional range is valuable.
10. Send places that might actually like you. To do this you probably need to read them or at least pay attention to something about them so you know if you even have a foot in the door aesthetically. It doesn’t hurt to send to places that you don’t really feel a fit for, or who have weird profiles anyway and you can’t tell if you’d fit there because it’s kind of vague, because why not. I’m just saying you’ll have better results when you actually pay attention.
11. Set goals. I had a list of like 5 places I really wanted to get into, and I worked at them incessantly, even if “working at it” simply meant trying to figure out what would come from me that they wanted, and letting time pass. Sometimes shorter works of writing could be seen as little keys, toward an end that extends beyond the piece. Like learning little methods that contribute to a larger vocabulary. I think I eventually ended up in 4 of the 5, though it took years. But having a substantial place you want to be and then getting there is a good bonus fire, and things begin to connect maybe.
12. Writing and submitting don’t go hand in hand. Writing is yours. Submitting is a fucking video game. Play the game hard when it’s time to play it, but don’t get eaten. I would set aside time (sometimes whole days) where I did the research and work of submission. Then when it was time to write, that was the last thing on my mind.
13. Don’t lose sight of someone you love in the midst of this.
14. The larger project is more than even being more than the sum of its parts. All these magazines, once I got in them, are just on a big black shelf next to where I brush my teeth at night.
15. Simultaneously submit. Even if the place says not to, fuck it, unless there’s a place you really want to get in, and they have goodish turn around times. I’d respect that. But otherwise, the odds of you placing a piece in two places at once, eh. Also always be sure to let places that you have simul-subbed know when it gets picked up elsewhere.
16. College journals are frequently a wild toss. Their boards change as students come and go. This results not only in a wide field of difference in their aesthetic, but a kind of group mind that is harder to get through usually than a place run independently or by an individual. I once had a story accepted and published and then after the issue came out got a rejection letter for the same piece from the new board. Play the game like the game deserves to be played.
17. It helps to know someone at the journal and there’s nothing wrong with that. Many of the places I got accepted I had emailed with someone there or even met them. Their taking your work doesn’t mean you are a circle jerker, or that your work isn’t good enough for elsewhere. This means simply that you are involved and give a shit enough to be involved, and people recognize that. You meet people at journals for a reason (and the kind of people who really are doing the circle-jerk style AWP hobnob crap? well, it’s plain as day and most editors don’t want to fuck with it). Really all that is happening is you are an active entity in something and if that gives you a slight leg up amidst the brutal onslaught of people sending work, well, you did extra. You got saw. Good for you. At the end of the day no one is publishing work they think is crappy whether it is by a friend or not.
18. Want to restate: this submission/publication thing is ephemeral. Yeah it’s nice and fun that it exists, and to get somewhere you need to go hard. But keep your head on. No one on Facebook cares. Keep it yourself most of the time, the struggle. Eat the struggle. It’s meat.
19. Be a person, not an email address with a social profile and an onslaught.
20. Give people the benefit of the doubt until they force you not to. Even then.
21. No one knows anymore than anybody else some people just are less tired for a while.
22. No matter how far you get there are always going to be more people who don’t understand you than do. There are hundreds of thousands of books and all of them are important to somebody, and most of them most people have never heard of, and there’s a reason you’re related to those people.