Note: this post and the two that follow are taken from my notes for a class on submitting work to literary journals created for the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program.

I’ll bet any writer reading this blog already knows how to submit his or her work to literary journals. First, make a spreadsheet with a list of your stories, poems, or essays. Then add a column for journals, and another for deadlines. Spend some time reading and researching magazines in which you would like your work to appear. Finally, carefully proofread your submission, and send, send, send! Even for the administratively challenged, the process isn’t very complicated.

So, if “how” were the question, then this post would already be…over. Perhaps a better question to jump start the process isn’t how to submit work to journals—but why you don’t.

While preparing for my class, I posted this question to Facebook: “Writers, do you intend send to work out and then find yourself sidetracked, or overwhelmed, or discouraged?” The response made it clear to me that—unless we address the road blocks encountered between first draft and final publication—no spreadsheet in the world will save us.

Here’s a short list of the reasons writers gave for not submitting their work:

  • fear of rejection
  • lack of knowledge about the editorial process
  • overwhelmed by options
  • lack of information re: what kind of work journals want
  • preference is given to subscribers
  • my work doesn’t “fit” anywhere
  • it’s like breaking into a secret club
  • difficulty finishing pieces—private/public barrier
  • perfectionism
  • not prioritizing my writing life
  • disorganization
  • resentment toward gatekeepers
  • holding out for a book
  • loss of control – what if they never even get back to me?
  • nobody reads short stories, poems, essays, etc.
  • nobody reads literary magazines

Geez! Now, I’m not a licensed psychotherapist. I’m a writer and a teacher, and for ten years, I helped run the MFA Program noted above. But on taking a closer look at this list, I noticed a pattern: some of these blocks are emotional, some simply imply a lack of information, and others are about not having a system to contain said information.

Let’s tackle the messy ones first—emotional blocks: fear of rejection, difficulty finishing work, resentment toward gatekeepers, and concerns about loss of control.

Obviously, submitting your stories, essays, or poems for publication requires moving from the relative safety of one’s private, creative space toward the public realm.

Once you’re run that gauntlet, you face another test: UNLESS you have a relationship with the editors of the journals to which you might submit, you are trying to establish a connection and build a relationship as an unknown, and often anonymous, entity.

This is disorienting as hell.  The self (and the primacy of self that is honored by the private practice of creativity) is now in freefall. In addition to anonymity, and the accompanying freefall, you are entering a situation in which the rules of engagement aren’t entirely clear, all while risking rejection of your creative work. Add to that the solid chance that, if your work is rejected, you may not ever find out WHY, and it’s a wonder anybody sends anything out for publication at all.

Seen in this context, difficulty finishing pieces, fear of rejection, concerns about loss of control, and resentment toward gatekeepers all seem pretty understandable.

What to do?

In my next post, I’ll outline some approaches to dealing with emotional blocks, misinformation, and getting organized. Courage!

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