So, I’m working on a couple of stories that I plan to submit to literary journals, hopefully for publication. I’m running hot and cold, the literary flu, as I pound out the words. It’s exciting, fleshing out characters and scenes. Oh, I’m good. How can they possibly turn me away? It’s depressing as I bleed onto the page. What do I think I’m doing? I suck.
The tension is nearly unbearable, and the first deadline is looming. I’ve got a week to finish a strong first draft before it gets scrutinized at writers’ group, then another week for the rewrite. This is my first foray back into the literary world I left seven years ago. Well, it was more like tumbling out of the nest, and I’ve just got the nerve up to flap my rubbery wings again. I’m trying to be realistic. It is the first attempt, and it will most likely be rocky. But, I’m so pitifully hopeful. I’m not exactly unbloodied in this battle for publication, but I feel like a green recruit. New writers, you who are seeking your first victories, you know this feeling well.
Here is my advice (these are things I know from experience, yet they are still difficult to integrate while in the throes of creative derring-do and self-doubt). Just do the work. Don’t second guess your abilities, don’t look ahead to possible outcomes, don’t try to write what you think a submissions editor might like. Tell your tale honestly and with all the craftsmanship at your disposal, and let it go into the world to find its fortune. Give it a helping hand by doing your homework on the publications to which you submit. Don’t send a bubbly romance to a dark horror mag, for instance. Duh! Once the story or poem is off and away, don’t obsess over it. Chewing your nails to the quick won’t help its chances. If it comes back stamped with that direst of words, REJECTED, polish it up and send it out again. It is a foot soldier, and it’s tough. Tougher than you will be, but you’ll grow a few calluses after a while. This is the part where you say over and over, “That’s ok. I learned something valuable from that, and I’m going to apply it and keep going. No sweat.” It will be an utter lie at first, as your writer’s heart is ripped out, but soon it will be the truth, and you will be a seasoned pro.
If you don’t belong to a writers’ group, think seriously about joining one. When the chemistry is right, that little band of fellows will be your lifeline, your warm fire in the dark. They will share your excitement before each campaign, they’ll (hopefully) give you honest and constructive critiques on your work, and it will be a balm to speak ‘writerese’ with like-minded comrades. They will be there to pick you up and dust you off when you’ve had a literary beating. They will celebrate your triumphs with you as though at your coronation. A tight-knit writers’ group is priceless – it’s home.
So, head down and one foot in front of the other. The way to publication can sometimes be a little like a siege on a well-defended castle. When your characters and plot machines are on the field, brave banners flying, you just have to hunker down and throw everything you’ve got at the wall. You are the general, and you’ve got to keep morale up. “Quit” is not in your vocabulary. I’m already camped there, dug into the mud and strategizing. Come join me.