It had been six months since I submitted to a literary journal, but this week I logged into Duotrope, opened up my story database, and got back on that horse.
I needed the break, and I think it did me good.
Back in May I was feeling the weight of hundreds of rejections, not only from journals, but also from agents I’d queried about my two novels. Not that my submissions record had been that bad, but all those “no’s” can get to anyone. I was also in the middle of an exploration of why so many publishers don’t pay their contributors. (My record with paying journals is not so good.)
So I just stopped. And as the man who was asked why he kept banging his head against the wall said, “It feels so good when I stop.”
I wrote, not worrying about what the editors at certain journals would think. Better yet, I put the stories aside for months, letting them fade from memory, making it possible for me to revise them with a fresh and more critical mind. I wrote enough stories to make a themed collection. Now as I revise those stories I’m discovering new and deeper meanings, better developed characters, and a more direct style. Perhaps I’ve learned at last the value of a good revision process.
More important, I have begun to develop a new perspective on this writing life.
To be considered art, the process of writing (and the other artistic pursuits) must be detached as fully as possible from the constraints of a regimented daily life. But since they are about people and life, they must be intimately engaged with that “other side.” And success in art, as in any other endeavor in our capitalist model, is largely determined by critical and monetary achievement, which means the art must be tied to the opinions of those who choose to live a more traditional, regimented daily life—in other words, we must submit our work for publication, pray for acceptance and hope that readers like it.
To submit, of course, has another meaning: to yield or defer, to succumb.
Perhaps writing is just being able to find the balance between engagement and detachment.
The ideal artist: engaged with the world but apart from it, without need for money, or acclaim, and yet someone whose ideas matter to millions. I don’t like to get religious, but it occurs that Jesus and Gandhi were artists.
Anyway, I’m still working on all that.
In the meantime, I’m submitting again.