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Business of Writing, Craft of Writing, The Writer's Life

Back in the Submissions Saddle Again: But with a New Perspective

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.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


23 thoughts on “Back in the Submissions Saddle Again: But with a New Perspective

  1. Way to go, Joe. There was also a period of time where I’d stopped as well…unsure what I was trying to accomplish, because I knew I couldn’t *just stop*. Knew…eventually…I’d come back. Sometimes we just need “that distance”…that new perspective. Glad you found yours!

    Posted by fpdorchak | November 9, 2013, 2:05 PM
    • Thanks, Frank. If we don’t let ourselves pull back once in a while and get some perspective, there’s a tendency to obsess, like I wrote about last week.

      Posted by jpon | November 10, 2013, 1:59 AM
  2. I think there’s a cycle to all aspects of writing, and that includes submission. Your head has to be in the right place for it, because the rejections will inevitably pile up and drag you down. It takes me days sometimes to get my head right to read a critique, or notes for revision, because if I dive into them at the wrong time, I’ll waste a week in self-flagellation and have to crawl back to an upright position before I can move on.

    Writing is an endless mental self-manipulation. I’m glad you’re in a good head-space, Joe. Good luck!

    Posted by Averil Dean | November 9, 2013, 3:03 PM
    • “Writing is an endless mental self-manipulation.” That’s one of the best metaphors for the writing life I’ve heard. The rewards are few and the challenges overwhelming—we have to continually motivate ourselves to keep on.

      Thanks, Averil.

      Posted by jpon | November 10, 2013, 2:01 AM
  3. Good for you, Joe. A fresh, new, relaxed perspective.

    And Averil, speaking of cycles, I’m leaving the house and the desk and taking my writing to the coastline this weekend — and I’m only taking 4 chapters with me, so that’s ALL I am allowed to work on. I feel like a fresh view (literally) and having no choice but to work on these few chapters, and these only, is the cycle I currently need.

    Posted by Teri | November 9, 2013, 5:48 PM
    • A good plan. You just might have some time to enjoy the view.

      Posted by jpon | November 10, 2013, 2:04 AM
    • That’s a fine idea, Teri. I think it helps to not have an entire book with you when what you need is to work on one specific part. Gives you less opportunity to lose yourself in comma switcheroos and the internal debate about that semicolon on page 74.

      Posted by Averil Dean | November 10, 2013, 7:12 AM
  4. Joe, glad you are finding a balance. It’s interesting that conversations about art and money seem to be everywhere lately. Here’s one that seems especially emblematic of the writer’s dilemma. (http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/blog/2013/09/07/7779/) Also, Scratch Magazine is a new online magazine, which in their words “explores the relationship between money and art, literature and business, life and work—and advances the conversation in the process.” (http://scratchmag.net)

    My writing life and mindset is constantly see-sawing between whether I should continue freelancing (intermittent and time consuming but theoretically more time for creative projects) or seek full-time work (financially satisfying but less time for creative projects). Scales are tipping to full-time work this week…

    Posted by Lori Eaton | November 9, 2013, 6:00 PM
    • Thanks, Lori. It is sad to see a writer of note like Douglas Light’s story of financial woe. But that’s all too common in the writing game. But at least people are writing and talking about the state of affairs that dictates writers don’t deserve to be paid for their work. We can change this.

      Posted by jpon | November 10, 2013, 2:11 AM
  5. Glad to hear it, Joe. I’ve been wrapped up in preparations for the Louisiana Book Festival. Then the festival came and went. And now I’m ready for a break. May put everything away until after the holidays. I could use a new perspective.

    Enjoyed your piece. I’ve missed you.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | November 9, 2013, 7:56 PM
    • Welcome back. I hope the festival was a success. I’ll probably put the blog on break during December. Not that I don’t love doing it, but time away does create new perspectives.

      Posted by jpon | November 10, 2013, 2:12 AM
  6. Some good thoughts here, Joe. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of a break from something (like writing) in order to get more energy available. More perspective is a given, of course. I’m also working on a novel which has refused to budge, and I was hoping to have it finished by sometime soon after Christmas. Now, it looks that it’ll take longer than that. But taking you as an example, I’ll hope that leaving it alone for a while will do some good, and that it’ll start to shape up better after a bit of a break. Keep working, and definitely don’t stop blogging–you encourage us all.

    Posted by shadowoperator | November 9, 2013, 9:52 PM
    • Wishing you the best of luck with the novel. I know from experience that setting timelines for such an undertaking can be a fruitless pursuit. Novels especially have a way of changing direction without notice, becoming more involved than we ever intended. It’s both a good and a bad thing. But keep with it.

      Posted by jpon | November 10, 2013, 2:15 AM
  7. Based on your analysis, I’ve been religious for a while.

    Posted by Nadia Ibrashi | November 10, 2013, 3:40 AM
  8. SO GLAD YOU’RE BACK! don’t forget the Buddha, who certainly was an artist of detachment, and Sor Juana (kick ass nun poet), and many others who have blazed this trail for us.

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | November 10, 2013, 6:07 AM
  9. A nice long break is usually the best thing any writer can do for his work. I’m a big believer in stepping away from it, because when we return to it, not only have we grown as writers, we can approach the work with a fresh pair of critical eyes, as you wrote above. I know a guy who was in a big hurry to publish his novel, and my opinion was that the manuscript just wasn’t ready. His writing skills aren’t there yet, and I feel I can say that as a reader and as a writer. He didn’t take the time to set the project aside for a few months, and rushed into the self-publishing process instead. Now I feel torn — do I buy his book to support him as a writing friend, even though I know it’s substandard? It’s a tricky line to walk. I wish he’d taken the time.

    Glad you’re back in the game. Great post.

    Posted by Gwen Stephens | November 11, 2013, 12:09 PM
    • Thanks, Gwen. You make a great point about rushing the work. Although I have self-pubbed one book of stories (mostly to help promote our local self-pub services), I have held back on doing that with my novels. In fact I’m also getting back on the agent trail with my WWI tome, which I originally finished in 2009. I continue to revise both the story and my agent pitch, especially in light of the 100th anniversary of the war starting in 2014. I believe in that book more than ever, and am not ready to give up yet.

      Posted by jpon | November 11, 2013, 12:15 PM
  10. I have a good feeling about that book. Go for it.

    Posted by nadiaibrashi | November 12, 2013, 5:33 AM
    • I hope you’re right. I’ve been thinking that there might be more interest in a WWI novel in Europe, where the war affected many more people than over here. Sometimes I wonder if Americans even know there was a WWI.

      Posted by jpon | November 12, 2013, 12:47 PM
  11. Lovely post sir. I like the reflective slant and the positivity. The inclusion of the hard truth of capitalism’s influence on our art was particularly interesting and very true. Good luck with your submissions!

    Posted by Duke | November 12, 2013, 6:16 AM

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