Submitting your writing is kind of like applying to all the best colleges and then waiting on pins and needles for six or more weeks til a fat envelope lands in your mailbox. Except this time there is no such thing as a “safety” but there is a good chance you’re not going to get accepted anywhere and wind up working at Dunkin’ Donuts. Not that there’s anything wrong with Dunkin’ Donuts…
There is a small corner in hell reserved for the living. It is populated only by the tortured souls of people trying to become writers, plummeting down to the depths of the underworld by the grief that comes with the editing, submitting, and ultimately, the rejection process.
The floor is lined with clumps of torn-out hair, crumpled pages, and the stains of tears. The room remains dirty until the housekeeper imps pass through and clean it all up, feeding on the mess and living off the self-scorn and debris.
If you hadn’t guessed, I’m in the middle of submitting, once again. This experience is nerve-wracking and gut-wrenching, especially if you’re not 100% confident that your stories are kick-ass and definitely going to be published or gain you entrance into the workshop you’re dying to be accepted to. I am happy with what I’ve written, but finding a home for it, or trusting it to be my entry-ticket into events is a lot harder.
Do you remember what it was like applying to college? Me neither; it’s all a stress-filled blur I’ve mostly blocked out. But I have a feeling that submitting your writing is kind of like applying to all the best schools and waiting on pins and needles for six or more weeks til a fat envelope lands in your mailbox. Except this time there is no such thing as a “safety,” but there is a good chance you’re not going to get accepted anywhere and wind up working at Dunkin’ Donuts. Not that there’s anything wrong with Dunkin’ Donuts…
I think I’ve been avoiding my writing career for about a year now. About this time last year I was submitting a second short story for publication numerous times and had received no good news about it being accepted. I was already discouraged, then an untimely visit to a well-known MFA program landed me in the office of a grade-A Debbie Downer. Her advice was not so much advice as it was encouragement to give up all together.
The professional writers aren’t much help in times like these, either. I can’t tell you how sick I am of reading self-help books for writers. They either give you hollowed-out pep-talks that they’ve plagiarized from weight-loss manuals, or they say something incredibly discouraging that makes you not even want to bother.
The one thing I really don’t like about writers is that their ability to pick-up on nuances coupled wit their endless desire to be thought of as witty and smarter than the average bear can make them extremely discouraging. We are the critics of the world, the cobras waiting to strike; quick to notice mistakes and point out the likelihood that someone who thinks they’re hot shit is mistaken. You have to be careful who you listen to, otherwise you can get really off-track.
Now that I’ve worked up the courage to submit again, what has been buoying my heavy hopes are the few stories from brave writers who are willing to share their swings-and-misses. It’s hard to find other writers who are willing to talk about the deep pits of despair they wallowed in after receiving rejection letter number umpteen thousand. And who can blame them? Nobody wants to remember the times they doubted, they feared, they almost derailed and hopped on the next train to a career as a tax auditor. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being an auditor, but it is the exact opposite of what I would be most happy doing).
When I’m feeling blue about how long this process is taking, I think of someone named Sarah who responded in the comments to one of my favorite online advice columns, Dear Sugar. The article was advising someone who had yet to be published, and this anonymous Sarah shared one of the most humbly amusing and heartening anecdotes from a professional writer that she met that I often think of when I’m straining at any point in the writing/editing/submitting process:
“I had the privilege of talking to an award winning southern author at a conference and I asked him about his “first” novel. “What did you do with it?” I asked. “I shot it,” he said. He literally took a double barrel shotgun and blew the stuffing out of his first novel’s only manuscript. And the second one. Because they were so bad and so unsellable and they had cost him so much effort and pain. But if he hadn’t gotten through those (and a lot of short story writing) he wouldn’t have become the writer who wrote a book that actually deserved an award. (Note that getting an award and deserving it aren’t always the same.)” – Sarah
I love this anecdote. It makes me laugh long enough to pick myself off the floor, where I threw down in a temper tantrum and took the photos that are peppering this blog post, and drag my ass back to my rolling chair.
It’s a wake up call not only to other aspiring writers, but to those would-be critics, suggesting that they should be a little more sensitive when they bash other people’s art. Look, if you have an opinion, you shouldn’t feel the need to censor it. This is something I struggle with a lot as a writer, because I have something to say but often don’t feel I have the right to say it (I know, I know, don’t go there: can of worms).
But you should think twice before you shit on someone else’s art. You know why? Because there’s a 99% chance someone put a lot of hard work into that art, even if they didn’t execute it so well. And they’re trying to express themselves, or something true to the universal nature of life, which is a lot more than can be said for most schleps [sp?], who just hit the snooze, go to work, watch tv and go back into a deeper state of coma they are living in, then repeat. It’s way harder to try and make your own job than it is just to show up at it.
That’s why I really don’t blame the front mant for Bon Iver for losing his shit when that dude from Hipster Runoff called his music “dying indie rock.” Homeboy has a hit record, a grammy nomination, and he still can’t get no love; he’s got this half-rate hack over here shitting on the [seven] years of hard work he did just to get to this point of national acclaim. And for what? So Hipster Runoff can look smart to his friends? Foul on the play!
Anyway, my point is that writing or making any kind of art is hard. Becoming known for writing is even harder. Not just because it’s hard to get a friggin break, but because it’s a process. But all jokes aside, my good friend Somerville reminded me of a universal truth not too long ago when I was moaning about not having achieved one of the milestones I had assumed I would have blown past by now. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
And with trying to become a writer, you have to hit all those speed bumps of rejection while you’re on that journey, learning all the way or you might never get better or hone your craft. You can’t just get acclaim and praise nonstop from the get-go, or you might never actually have the chance to develop and mature as an artist. At least this is what I tell myself.