Sail On–The Peculiar Poison Of Seeking Publication

(from July ’09)

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Kousa dogwood (image author)

I am slowly, but surely, letting go of the conflicted feelings multiple rejections in a short space of time engendered in me. Actually, it hasn’t been that slow a process as I’ve been writing, reading, meeting with other writers, and working on other submissions all along.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve been letting go internally, in a deeper way, of a number of expectations and beliefs about my writing, what I want from it, and why I do it. And that this has been positive and healthy, even liberating.

Along the way I’ve found some helpful articles and information.  Check out, for example, the list found at http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/ of the many rejections scores of now-published, acclaimed writers suffered through.

Puts me to shame; I am a mere tadpole here!

While searching for markets to which to submit, I stumbled on the informed and encouraging words of Stephen Corey, editor of The Georgia Review (Poets & Writers Magazine, May/June 08, p. 54).  Corey has been working at The Georgia Review for a long time–since 1983–and I found his thoughts compelling.

After enumerating the exhausting number of submissions his journal receives, Corey makes the interesting statement that although the numbers are daunting, the ‘competitive pool’ (of good submissions) is small, and has remained stable despite the huge increase in creative writing programs over the past 25 years.  Creative nonfiction submissions, he continues, have exploded, poetry seems to have remained unchanged, but story submissions have dropped.

But what I really liked was this.  If Corey could share one thing with writers, he states, it is this:  If you are truly serious about doing distinctive work that will make its mark, slow down…Any person who writes one great poem or story or essay per year for twenty years will take his or her place on the short list of finest writers of all time…Slow down.  Read voluminously…

Doesn’t this make wonderful, and liberating, sense?

There is a peculiar drama that arises when we lust after publication.  Our eyes, our ears, our passion for writing–all become clouded and biased.  In my experience, I lose touch with what brings me to the page to begin with.  I can’t hear my own work; I hear it as what I imagine it will sound like to another’s ears.

Of course, we must bring our discernment, our own critical abilities, to our work at various places in the process of writing.  But there is something more, something different, that happens when we start to focus on publication.  We start writing for an imagined other, and we change our attitude toward our work, viewing it as a product to be bought and sold, and that stance–appropriate for an editor, agent, or publisher–is the kiss of death to our internal writer, our own internal voice that must be heard, longs to be on the page, and craves life.

Another of the many paradoxes of writing:  How can we learn to care enough about being published to work toward it, and to do the tedious and time-consuming work of submitting with thoughtfulness, while not allowing our own voice to be highjacked in the process?

In other words, while not really caring about the outcome of our submissions?

The conundrum of the seemingly straightforward, yet minefield-laden path to “getting published”!

(Written July ’09)

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