esterday, when I was sitting at a coffee shop, (I know, duh—I’m a writer. Where else would I be? Know that I’m not doubting your intelligence, dear reader; but I have been told setting is important in any piece of writing. Even though I’m currently still debating the validity of that creed, I decided just a bit ago to follow the herd and include a setting, albeit vague: the all-mighty, ubiquitous coffee shop. There. Setting. You’re welcome.) (If you think that parenthetical is funny, then consider signing up for my humor writing class that starts in November! How’s that for some shameless self-promotion?!?), I glanced over at the screen of a fellow computer-dependent person because we’re all nosy like that. What I saw was that she was about to click the submit button on my favorite journal’s submittable page. Oh hell no! I rushed over to the enemy, shoved her out of her chair, and dropkicked her laptop across the coffee shop. GOAL!
Submitting is a contact sport.
(Note: My brain is terrible at making things up. That’s why I write personal essays. Therefore, that opening paragraph is the first piece of fiction I have written in over a year. Can I get a high five, people?)
There’s a phrase in Lawrence Sutin’s postcard memoir (aptly titled Postcard Memoir) that struck me when I first came across it and continues to strike me each time I think about it because that’s what powerful phrases do. Sutin’s powerful phrase is: “fight like a writer.”
Admittedly, at first, I had no clue what he was talking about. Was my pen a weapon? Did I need to get all scrappy when competing for publication? Is writing itself a contact sport? Perhaps. Despite my initial lapse in comprehending Sutin’s phrase, a part of me actually knew exactly what it meant to fight like a writer. As in, I understood it emotionally, not logistically.
To fight like a writer means fighting off that can’t-do feeling. It means willingly entering a battlefield full of words and meanings. Yes, each sentence has a weapon. Each paragraph a platoon of troops.
Extending this metaphor into the subject of submitting because that’s the theme of this column: submitting, then, is a process of letting your words stand up for themselves. You must believe in their ability to create a killer meaning, to fight for publication head-on. Fight like a writer—face the challenge, enter the ring. Now start submitting.
“Fight like a writer—face the challenge, enter the ring. Now start submitting.”
Jonathan Franzen: “The writer has to be like the firefighter, whose job, while everyone else is fleeing the flames, is to run straight into them. Your material feels too hot, too shameful, to even think about? Therefore, you must write about it.”
A number of decisions must be made for any piece of writing to see its way towards the green pasture of acceptance letters. I could start from the very beginning, explain how that little zygote of a half-thought you just got has to simmer a bit until the next time you take a shower, and the half-thought matures into an actual idea—you know, just add water. (That perspective about the shower being a hotbed of ideas is real. Cleanliness is next to epiphany-ness.) Once you know what you want to write about, then you have to decide how to write out your idea. This is the logistics of it all: first that chaotic free-for-all of words spilling from pen onto page, then comes the mechanics of revision, then a bit of obsessive polishing, and finally, participation in the submissions process.
All of this is to say that we first have to fight like a writer, have to enter into the blaze of storytelling, so that when we go to submit, our words are standing up for themselves.
“The writer has to be like the firefighter, whose job, while everyone else is fleeing the flames, is to run straight into them.”
Confession time: I turned this column in to my editor almost three weeks past deadline. I’m usually not that terrible at the art and skill of deadline-meeting, but life happens sometimes. Although that last sentence is true, the significant issue here is that I couldn’t figure out what it was I wanted to say about fighting like a writer and submitting like a champ. Still haven’t figured it out, really. It has something to do with not giving up—like how it took three weeks to achieve this column’s completeness. Or perhaps this is about believing in yourself as a writer, as someone who has words that the world wants to read—how you must attend to that aspect of the writing process to get published. Encourage it to develop. Mother it.
I tell myself I’m not a nurturing person, that I don’t have one maternal molecule in my entire being—which is to say I make books, not babies.
“Forget the room of one’s own—write in the kitchen, lock yourself up in the bathroom.”
I need a new metaphor because, of course, submitting isn’t a contact sport. (Though it would be pretty hilarious if it were. I wonder who would be better at boxing: the one-punch poet or the well-planned tactical novelist.)
New metaphor: we submit our literary children to an unfamiliar classroom on the first day of school. We drop off our little darlings, trust them to figure out what to do next, how to revise their mistakes when they make them throughout the day. We need to rejoice in their preparedness to explore the lit world without supervision. Because by the time you drop your writing off at various submissions locations, you have put in hours of work to ensure that they will impress and make sense.
Truthfully, I think all of this is my own intention to create a literary pep-rally of sorts and to keep myself submitting. I’ve had a serious lack of acceptances lately. Like a ten-month lack. It sucks. I’m writing this column more for me than for you because maybe that’s what it means to fight like a writer. I’m writing to hopefully get inspired, to feel that desire to submit again after such an unusual and persistent whack to the modicum of my writing confidence.
Gloria Anzaldua said: “Forget the room of one’s own—write in the kitchen, lock yourself up in the bathroom. Write on the bus or the welfare line, on the job or during meals, between sleeping or waking.... While you wash the floor or clothes, listen to the words chanting in your body. When you’re depressed, angry, hurt, when compassion and love possess you. When you cannot help but write.”
What else are we to do with our words but ready them to face the world? By fighting like a writer, we gain confidence and hope. There will be a momentary bit of time in which you truly believe that your words are readying to stand up for themselves. As you let them go, as you submit them for publication, you’ll see that what you are doing is advocating for their success—for your success as a writer who knows how to just go for it. So go for it. Take action. Fight like a writer and give everything you have to get your words heard.
Next month, we’ll take a look at a nifty submission checklist in the form of a flowchart!
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.
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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