is a universal fact that when you are at a restaurant and you’ve been waiting for your food to come out for about 41 decades, if you leave the table and go to the bathroom, your food will be waiting upon your return. Although this universal fact can, in a way, state that you are pissing your life away while waiting for the arrival of something key to your survival, what it’s really saying is: a watched pot never boils. (Which is technically untrue. In fact, I pretty much loathe that phrase, but I’m certain that my drift has been caught.)
Patience. Writers don’t just need it, but we need the unabridged herculean edition of it. Because after we submit a piece for publication, it truly feels like we’re just waiting for the waiting to end. There are times that this waiting can feel overwhelming. It can distract us and make us feel obsessed. It can make it hard to concentrate on other pieces of writing. But wait we must because there is not one thing about the writing process we can rush.
All good things come to those who wait.
There are times when I’ve really wanted to kick that phrase in the face. Because when a response finally comes, can I really categorize a rejection as a “good thing”? No, although, I’d rather receive a rejection in one day than have to wait six months for it. It’s all about perspective, people, eh? Rejections aren’t fun, but they are a response; and so we can say to ourselves, “Well, okay then. Moving on.”
But it’s in that suspended space between clicking submit and not knowing what will come of it, that snail-paced period of time full of waiting and waiting and waiting that causes such anxiety (if not agony). Yes, it’s distracting and actually it—Damn! I forgot what I was going to say because after the word “distracting,” I hopped on over to my Submittable account to check the status of my submissions, again. Nothing has happened since the last time I checked it—57 minutes ago.
(Let the submission status count begin.)
In terms of waiting to hear back on a submission, I have come to believe that patience is not a virtue—rather, it’s a forced, faux-momentary lapse in memory that never lasts, which makes it totally deceptive, which is a totally rude thing to do. I have no patience for things that have no manners. What we must recognize, though, is that regardless of its longevity, these little self-illusive seconds can help to dampen anxiety and clear our minds to keep us working on other things.
Because one thing I’ve learned is that constantly checking the status of your submissions is unhelpful at best and masochistic at worst. And useless.
(Arg! Status check again. Nothing’s changed.)
The most valuable writing advice I have ever received came from a poster board tacked onto a cement wall with a faded handwritten phrase on it. I sat on a droopy couch in a church basement, trying to learn how to end my abusive and codependent relationship with a variety of liquids, when I saw this excellent AA phrase:
I am responsible for the effort, not the outcome.
The world will turn without your input. Responses will reach you without obsessively checking them. Once sent, you have no control over your submission. You’ve put in your best effort to create a kickass piece of writing, and now the outcome isn’t up to you. So checking the status of your submission doesn’t mean you’ll receive a response any time soon. It just means that you know how to check the status of your submission.
Another analogy: If you love someone then let them go.
In reality, you shouldn’t submit your writing until you absolutely love it. Then, as you click that submit button, you have to let your love go.
Chelsey’s List of Helpful Ways to Let Your Love Go:
- Begin a new piece of writing or continue writing one of the gazillion starts to something that you have never finished
- Research things you might want to write about—ferrets are pretty cool
- Try a new hobby, such as underwater basket weaving
- Go to readings and push away your jealousy and do your best to feel excited for the writer whose book just came out—a writer who has obviously heard back already
And my favorite:
- Get involved with a lit mag
I suggest this not as an act of “giving back” to the writing community by becoming a voluntary reader or editor of a journal (though kudos to that), nor do I mention it just because it’s something that can keep you occupied. Getting involved with a lit mag will also give you the opportunity to see how lit journals work—and why it can take so damn long to hear back from an editor about the status of your submission.
(Arg! I caved. The word “status” made me check again. No change in my submission status.)
List of What Volunteering for a Lit Journal Will Teach You About the Process of Response-Waiting:
(Volume 1: Number of Editors as Based on Journal Size)
- Tiny Journal: There are one to three editors who are not only running the whole thing, but also yearn to participate in their own lives that do indeed exist outside the context of the tiny journal to which you have submitted.
- Not Tiny, Though Not Big Journal: There are four to ten editors and assistant editors who also have their own lives, and they also spend time reading and voting on submissions and then discussing what to accept/decline.
- Big Journal: There eleven-plus editors who receive hundreds of submissions every month; and therefore, you just have to keep your shirt on, get in line, and wait your turn.
Ultimately, learning patience is a helpful tool to acquire. It will not only make you feel less anxious after you submit something, but it will also encourage you to hold onto your writing a bit longer and to keep revising until it is truly perfect—until it’s something you love and are ready to let go.
All of that said, waiting sucks so here are some journals with quick turnaround times:
Finally, when in doubt, jolt your brain in some super-fun ways. Nothing helps to distract like a gut-busting laugh.
- Expand your knowledge and click on the following links to learn about:
- What risk is.
- What ended in 1896.
- What hard water is.
- What we call the science of classifying living things.
- Appreciate happy dogs.
- Hell, you can even brush up on your math skills:
Click here for the answer.
Either way, submit; forget; know that regardless of the outcome you’ve put in the all effort you can; and now just kick back and write, learn, and laugh because perhaps just the fact of a response is a good thing, and all good things come to those who wait (e.g., because I have thus far waited to kick that phrase in the face, I, therefore, have given it another chance to not annoy me—which is always a good thing).
Next month, we’ll look at what to do when it’s the actual piece you are submitting that causes anxiety because it’s just that personal and meaningful to you.
(Status check. So it goes.)
Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and won the 2016 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award for her essay collection, Circadian. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, McSweeney’s, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She’s the essays editor for The Nervous Breakdown. @ChelseyClammer www.chelseyclammer.com.
Chelsey is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. She’s offering column readers a Submissions Consultation of up to 12 pages (4,500 words). Find out more.
More Submission columns:
Q&A with The Sub(mission) Columnist: Chelsey Clammer Answers Your Questions!
Building a Community: An Interview with Becky Tuch, Founding Editor of The Review Review
What to Expect when Expecting to Work with an Editor
Them Fightin’ Words
Writing Contests: You Have Nothing to Lose
Breathe and Proceed: Poet Tammy Robacker on How to Submit the Hard Stuff
How to Hold Your Horses
Caring About cover Letters (because nothing says “please reject me” like a terrible first impression)
Find or Fling? Figuring Out Where to Submit
Rejection Acceptance: Interview with author/editor Jac Jemc
Hard-Working Writer Seeks Widely-Read Journal
What My Submissions Spreadsheet Teaches Me
Submit ’Til You Make It