I’m always afraid to submit a manuscript to a publisher or literary magazines. I mean, it’s so scary, isn’t it? Anonymous editors judging our work and maybe even making snarky comments to the co-editor sitting next to them.
I know. I used to work as an editor and yes, sometimes I did make snarky comments, and I’m not proud of it, either. And don’t get me going on the subjectivity of the submission process. Think of it: You can submit the most amazing poem or essay, and the day it lands on an editor’s desk she could have a cold or just had a fight with her husband or spent the night awake with a colicky baby, and she’s not exactly in a positive frame of mind.
It happens, trust me. Yet if your piece is good, if it’s sincere and beautiful and holds tiny granules of truth, it will eventually get picked up; it just might take longer than you expect.
I’ve never been a very patient person. I’m the woman jiggling her foot while standing at line at the bank and singing old 80s songs while braked at a stoplight. I want to send out my work and hear back the very next day.
Of course, it doesn’t happen that way. And if I do hear a quick response, chances are it will be a big, fat, form-reply rejection (try submitting at The New Yorker and you’ll know what I mean).
This past week I took the plunge and applied to the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Residency Program, the William Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Contest, and the Writer’s Center Emerging Writer Fellowship; I have a slight chance in hell of receiving any of these honors. Sometimes I wonder why I do it: Why go through the agony, the twist, gut-wrenching agony of polishing and re-polishing a piece, of worrying that the opening isn’t as strong as it could be or the middle sags or wait!, that semi-colon in the first paragraph–does it stutter? Should I perhaps change it to two separate sentences instead?
I worked myself up into a ridiculous state. I cried. I ate too many peanut butter sandwiches. I yelled at the dog, at my cat, at my partner, and when I glimpsed myself in the mirror, I looked like a crazy woman: My hair unwashed and uncombed, my tee-shirt smeared with jelly stains, my hands trembling slightly from spending all night at the keyboard. I stared at my reflection and thought: Who is this woman and what is she doing in my bathroom?
But appearances aside, I got all of my submissions in on time and you know what? It felt good. It felt liberating to step outside my comfort zone, to reach a little bit higher than normal, to say to myself, “I deserve this chance.”
Because, face it, if we don’t try, if we don’t take that tenuous and terrifying leak of faith, we’ll never see our work in print.
I hope that everyone reading this sends in at least one submission next week, and I know you have one, too: That poem or story or essay tucked in a drawer, the one that both thrills yet scares you, the one that you secretly believe is the best thing you’ve ever written.
Pull it out, polish it up and send it out, okay? Because if you believe in your work, and I mean really believe in it, sooner or later someone else will, too.