Notches on the Bedpost: Unexpected Lessons Learned from Submitting Writing to LitMags Every Day


Notches on the bedpost - scratches on the back.

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.

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69 thoughts on “Notches on the Bedpost: Unexpected Lessons Learned from Submitting Writing to LitMags Every Day

  1. Yikes! This has hit me like a splash of ice cold water!
    WAKE UP! it has blared at me!
    Thank you for this, most sincerely.
    PS Do you read/submit to The Sun Magazine?
    http://www.thesunmagazine.org
    It’s my dream to get published in it.
    I read some great poetry in the July 2013 issue last night.
    The poet is (was, as he’s deceased) Jack Gilbert.
    I think you’d like this mag and you probably should submit to it.
    Best of luck (as it takes a fair amount of that, too!),
    Mary McAvoy

  2. Many years ago, I took an on-line course on Q-link called “Writing to Publish”. If you’ve never heard of Q-link, I’m going to date myself and tell you it was an on-line service one connected to with a commodore 64 or 128, and a 1200 baud dial up modem. Q-link eventually became and is AOL. Anyway, in the course one of the things they impressed upon us was if your not sending out manuscripts and getting rejections, your not pursuing writing enough. I have a shoe box full of rejection letters from the old days. There is no fear in rejection. The fear is in not trying.

  3. even we who are long of tooth can learn from this.. maybe I should include a copy of my AARP card as part of the cover letter (playing the sympathy card so to speak)… :) everyone should read this…which is why I reblogged

  4. This was very thought-provoking for me. I started sending out my writing this summer too. I have a spreadsheet labeled “Rejection Tracker” and like to joke about what level of rejection each piece gets to. I hear Ray Bradbury wrote a story and submitted a story each week for a year when he was first starting out and getting established. Good luck on the submissions and hope we get to celebrate your victories with you very soon!

  5. Your post is quite exciting for many reasons, not the least being there are some lovely word songs in your writing. Also your decision to not only read but dissect with a view to learning how to improve your own writing is excellent. You will definitely learn what you need to know in order to get on the publishing bandwagon. All good thoughts and best wishes for success!

  6. That’s why I write. I gave up trying to get published a long time ago (I was a persistent wee bugger and used a multitude of styles on a wide range of topics). Sure, I did earn a few bucks and had a few articles published but never enough.

    So now I blog.
    I get at best half a dozen readers a day, sometimes (wow!) a whole dozen—but if I got none at all I’d still do it. (What’s that oft-quoted definition of insanity—?)

  7. That feeling of being a part of the conversation… I feel that just by writing my blog, lol. Goes to show how fresh I am to all this. :) Keep at it! Local blogging cheer squad: Go Lightning, Go!!

    • I definitely feel that way blogging too. The amazing thing about blogging is that you get to be part of the conversation without any editor’s approval or censorship. It’s invaluable. Thanks for the cheering!

  8. Thank you for your inspirational perseverance. I have yet to work up the stamina to do my reading to see what lit mags might be interested in my material to get it out there. But I do appreciate the kick in the pants your energy just gave me. Keep up all your hard work. It HAS to pay off.

  9. This is very inspiring, and timely for me. I read an advertisement once: “Do you eat rejection for breakfast?” I had to mentally answer that no. No, I bloody well don’t. I like the image of racking them up like notches on the bedpost, and maybe that will help me. So thanks! :-)

  10. Your “notches” metaphor and imagery really make this post sparkle. I’ll be sharing this on Twitter with my followers and would like to give credit if possible – do you have a Twitter handle?

  11. Awesome challenge to undertake! I’m not too organized as yet with my writing, after having taken over 10 years off from it but I just might start submitting my stuff one day.

  12. Wonderfully written piece! Your Submission Bonanza! has now become like a good piece of drama for me. I have to see how it turns out!!!

    Best of luck!

  13. I’ve recently begun participating in writing contests to help improve my writing skills. I think I’ll take a cue from you, pick one of these to work on, and add it to my list of “activities” (or whatever it is one would call the things I do). Thanks for the share!

  14. Ok, I am going to be trivial…but my site is writing the body, and well that picture is brilliant. And well I agree with most of what is said above. I must admit I hate being known….but it is fun to write. And well, you do. all best wishes!

  15. Great article. I think I’ve become complacent. It’s so easy to publish yourself these days that I’ve not submitted to a poetry journal or been published by one in a few years. Thanks! I need to start doing it to. BTW, your blog looks great. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  16. I think this was a fantastic idea. Really, there’s nothing to lose, is there? Your work certainly won’t be pulished if you don’t send it out. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I bet you’ll get at least one acceptance. I hope it’s even more than that. Good luck!

  17. Reblogged this on Plugged In Recruiter and commented:
    This post appeals to me as an appropriate way to close off the month. For the past 4 weeks, I’ve been participating in a 31-day blogging challenge, not unlike the project undertaken by the author of “Notches On The Bedpost”. Initiatives like this require one to just do it. Because there’s a daily deliverable, there’s less time available to over analyze or grieve over potential mistakes. I hope you enjoy Lightning Droplet’s post as much as I did. After you read it, find something you’ve been avoiding and put yourself on a schedule. Just do it. You have no idea how much the process will teach you.

  18. Reblogged this on UNWRI TT EN and commented:
    Sometimes I get so caught up in figuring out how to write more, I forget the other side of writing – sending stuff out… This is a good reminder.

    • “When you can’t create, you can work.”
      – Henry Miller.

      I was in the same boat. But I feel like they form a spiral. The more I sent stuff out, the more I wanted to write and vice versa. It was a really useful practice.

      Thanks so much for reblogging!

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