Earlier this summer, I was inspired by the devilish number 66 on a list of The 100 Best Ways to Become a Better Writer. Rack up rejections. The phrasing and sentiment behind the idea played over and over in my mind and I was captivated by it. I started imagining pieces of my writing marching out into the world dressed to the nines in their Saturday night best, and returning home (accepted or not) to put another notch on the bedpost. Perhaps they would have short-lived flirts with editors who didn’t want to take them home, or one night stands with litmags where they weren’t accepted but, hey, at least they were being read, even if only ephemerally. Or maybe they’ll find the editors of their dreams and fall in love together, being read again and again, put into print to show the permanence of their mutual devotion. In any case, they were going out, having a good time, and meeting some new people.
So, I encouraged myself to bring these absurd reveries to fruition by setting a challenge for myself. In the month of July, I would submit work to one literary magazine every day. I called it Submission Bonanza! (and yes, the exclamation point is quintessential – I’ll take it as one of my five) because it was by far the most submitting I’ve done, ever. I’m a little more than halfway through my challenge and I’ve learned quite a bit from it. I’ve learned some basic, practical, and incredibly necessary skills, like how to write a cover letter for my work or what to include in my author’s bio (look out for posts on these in the future). But I’ve also learned some things that I didn’t quite expect to learn.
1. I’ve been introduced to more contemporary writers and magazines.
In trying to decide which pieces to send to which magazines, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. In this digital age, a lot of literary magazines have either full issues or teaser bits and pieces of issues on their websites. Thankfully, I’ve not had to buy year-long subscriptions of every magazine I’ve submitted to (I am a poor grad-student-to-be, after all) in order to see what kinds of writing might be a good fit for the magazines. The interesting thing about all of the reading I’ve been doing is that it is very contemporary. It’s very now. Though I love me some Pablo Neruda or Sylvia Plath, they have become quite canonized. It’s incredibly interesting to read what people are writing now. It’s also really useful to get to know the magazines and publishers that are working with these things. You can see the magazines I’ve been submitting to at the original post about the challenge and read what they’ve been publishing.
2. I’ve become a better reader.
All of these pieces I’ve been reading, I’ve been reading incredibly closely and critically. I don’t think “Gee, that poem makes me feel… (warm, angry, fuzzy, whatever).” Because I am reading to find out what editors might like in my own writing, I have to ask myself a myriad of questions about everything I read. What did the editors like about that piece? What does it have in common with the other pieces that were chosen? How does it compare to pieces I’ve written? Reading critically like this has forced me to turn the same discerning eye back on my own writing, which brings me to…
3. I’ve been motivated to edit more.
We’ve all heard the mantra again and again about how important editing is. And yeah, I know it’s important. But usually when I write, I become inspired and it takes off on it’s own. It’s like I’m being filled with some spirit that’s vomiting words on the page that are beautiful and make me cry and the muse has me speaking in tongues and finally when I finish I am exhausted. I feel good, sure. But I also feel done. Reading the works published in some of the magazines I’ve read feel so polished, though, so purposeful. In some ways very different than the literary upchuck that I produce in my frenzied first drafts. Don’t get me wrong, I love my writing as if it were my little children, but children need to be raised and tended, nurtured and loved.
4. I feel part of the writing community.
Ok, I know. My work is not being published alongside Billy Collins and I am not sharing martinis and discussing themes of displacement in literature with Salman Rushdie (yet). But there’s something about just having your writing out in the world (even if it’s not being published – just having it out), that makes me feel like I am part of the community of authors trying to make sense of the world in words. If all literature is in conversation, I feel like just by submitting work to magazines, I am becoming part of the conversation.
5. I am more inspired to write.
Perhaps most importantly, the more I read and submit, the more I want to write. In this exercise of trying to get something out there every day, I find myself wanting more writing that I can put out there. It’s been like a soaring spiral on updrafts of wind. I am reading more, I am editing more, I am thinking more, and I am writing more.
I haven’t heard back from the literary magazines yet. That should come as no surprise as some of them have reading periods of up to six months and so far, it’s been a measly seventeen days since my first submission. So, I don’t know yet if this Submission Bonanza! will be a successful endeavor in terms of getting published. But I do know it has been incredibly successful in furthering my development as a writer.
And to think, I’m only halfway through.
Thanks so much to http://debitch.tumblr.com/ for the incredibly apropos photo.