Reading my blog, you might think I’m very anti-publishing. It’s true that I don’t think publication is the magic gold medal that we all once secretly believed it was. And it definitely means a lot less than non-writers think it does. (I keep a secret mental list of the family and friends who had zero interest in my writing until after I had some conventional success whereupon it became a thing for them: I call it the Phony Assholes list, and it’s very long.)
But in truth, nothing annoys me more than reading the work of good writers who don’t send anything out. Particularly on those days when the slushpile is extra slushy. Here is this writer–a friend, a student–sitting on work that is good, that is interesting and well-written, and doesn’t do anything with it. Why? Why? Why must I read 25 pages of “spiritual fictional memoir” when there is good work sitting in a drawer somewhere unsubmitted?
One friend admitted that they just don’t know how to submit. Fair enough. It’s not a very difficult process, but it takes a little bit of getting used to. Here is blog that points to Doretta Lau’s excellent presentation on how to submit to literary magazines.
Some of it though, is confidence. “I don’t know if it’s good enough.” Trust me, if you are conscientious enough to ask yourself that question, it is definitely better than the worst of the pile.
Truthfully, I don’t think you ever really know if it is good enough, but at some point, you have to make peace with that and launch it out in the world. You really can nitpick forever. And really, if you know it is good, you have probably played it a little safe. You haven’t pushed yourself to the edge of your abilities. You might suspect it is good, you might be proud of parts of it–but I think that little bit of wondering “Did this really work?” is a good sign. Some doubt is normal to have.
But I think that goes to the heart of why you should submit writing, even if publication is not really the point. Confidence. Not so much confidence in whether or not something is good–anyone can be confident if they know it’s good. But confident that you accept it as yours. That you are willing to put your name on it and send it out for other people to read.
Sending work out into the world shows a willingness to stand behind your work, whether it’s good or bad, whether you are sure about it or not. This work is yours and you are publicly claiming ownership of it.
(I am now imagining my work as a toddler, standing in the middle of a department store screaming “I want vagina!” while people stand around looking for me, the parent, to come and claim her.)
You need to own your work. You need to stand behind and be willing to say “Yes, this is mine” even though it’s not perfect. Yes, absolutely, you need to revise and rethink and rewrite until it’s as good as you can make it or you are sick of it (the latter usually comes first), but then, one day, you need to format it like a manuscript, find a magazine and send it off. It’s your work and you are willing to tell people that.
Now, unless you are writing a spiritual fictional memoir, dust off a story and submit it somewhere.