Publication is not the point–but publish anyway.

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.

We’re all very lucky

One of the strange dichotomies of my life is that I teach (and take) creative writing classes and I also tutor in adult literacy. So on the one hand, students obsessing over crimson vs scarlet, and on the other, slowly sounding out the word ‘red’. All about words, but very different priorities.

Now, writers being writers, complaining entertainingly about writing is clearly part of everyone’s creative process, because we do a lot of it. (Well I do a lot of it.) But it’s because we forget that we are lucky, lucky people. This is an art form that require a fair bit of education–not necessarily formal education, but I have yet to find a writer that is not well-read, and that typically means that we were probably raised in homes where we were taught to read and had access to books.

I have, at times, been envious of people who were raised in a family of artists vs coming from a long line of accountants (except at tax-time) but the truth is, accountants or not, I started reading when I was four and going to the mall to buy another book was never an issue in my family. I am lucky.

We all have reasons why we might not see ourselves as lucky as writers. Pushed by the forces of financial practicality from the accountant genes in my DNA, I got a degree in Computer Science instead of pursuing art and writing. Sometimes, because we all have our self-obsessed moments, I regret that because I think it slowed down my development as an artist, because maybe if I’d known then and had the courage then, I’d be a more established writer now. Then I have to remember, so what? I’m here now, doing my writing thing, for no other reason than because I can.

Other writers might think, well, if only I’d had a more understanding spouse, if only I were wealthy enough to not have this job, if only my kids were older, if only I had more time, if only I’d started sooner, if only I knew the right people, if only I had more credentials, if only….

What it boils down to is, if only this were easier. If only I were more successful. And then the irony is, the number of writers who do well, win awards, have doors opened for them, meet the people, and then think: I didn’t deserve this.

So we want it to be easier, and then when it is easier we wished it was harder so we’d feel like we deserved it?

We’re lucky that putting words onto paper is as effortless as thinking of the next word. We’re lucky that reading is a joy and not a struggle. We’re lucky that whatever indirect path lead us to writing, we got here. We found the thing we love to do.

But I don’t know that anyone is ever going to quite feel like they deserved to be lucky. Who deserves luck? Sure, we work hard on our craft and we put a lot of emotion into it and have to find the courage to be vulnerable on the page and put it out there and hope that someone likes it… but I don’t know that success in writing is ever going to quite feel earned the way, say, a farmer tills the soil and earns his potatoes. This isn’t backbreaking labour.

It’s okay that none of this feels quite deserved because frankly, very little in our lucky lives is really deserved, but we live our life anyway. None of us are curing cancer here (another lucky thing to be able to do) and that’s fine, because not everyone in the whole world can cure cancer. Some of us farm. Some of us save lives. Some of us write.

We are lucky. And it’s okay to be lucky. There will always be someone out there with more luck than you. There will always be a lot more people with a lot less. There is no shame in enjoying the fact that you, writer, despite the weirdnesses and frustrations of the writing life, are still lucky to be a writer. Don’t take that for granted by dismissing yourself and disparaging your own work. Don’t spit on the luck that you have because you’re fortunate enough to have it.