It’s that time again: submission season.
It’s the season when we writers polish up our prose and poems and novel MS synopses to send out into the world, fresh-faced and optimistic, imbued with loads of potential–in the hopes of being published. I wave to them and smile (a little smugly). “I’ve done good,” I tell myself.
And then proceed to shudder in fear.
Maybe that’s my kids. Yep, silly me. September is also back-to-school season, when I send my actual offspring out into the world, fresh-faced. I wave and smile…Well, you get it.
Here’s the thing.
Let’s not confuse our creative offspring with our actual offspring, our stories with our kids. Really, I’m talking to myself here. Is it just me? Am I the only one who’s ever uttered: “That manuscript is my baby.” (Note that I had not yet endured screaming twin infants when I said that.) No, I can’t be the only one. In fact, I’m pretty certain there’s a country song with that title.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative offspring and actual offspring and the time and attention of mine that they share, along with the guilt I feel at juggling them–and the fear I feel at sending them off into the world (all a little bit unfinished).
Much better writers than I, including Lauren Groff and Michael Chabon, have weighed in recently on the complexities of being a writing parent–or a parenting writer. In Chabon’s case, he writes about the time an older male writer he admired tried to convince a young, unmarried Chabon never to have children. Here’s the argument of the “great [unnamed] man” for remaining childless:
Writing was a practice. The more you wrote, the better a writer you became and the more books you produced. Excellence plus productivity, that was the formula for sustained success, and time was the coefficient of both…In short, he was saying, children are the opposite of writing.
“Excellence plus productivity…”
Plus submission, (I’d add).
Equals success. But then again… Spoiler alert: Chabon didn’t follow the “great man’s” advice; he did almost the opposite, having four kids. He’s also “birthed” 14 books. The big difference between creative offspring and actual offspring for Chabon:
Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back.
Submission (I mean, the word itself) is imbued with subjugation–a loss of control, or even a willing release of control. Whew–parallels all over the place, if we’re talking about the powerless uncertainty, even fear, writ large across the annals of writing well and parenting well.
Must we submit our loved ones to succeed?
What’s the opposite of submitting our offspring to the world? Hoarding? Keeping them entirely to ourselves?
If being a writing parent is selfish, being a writing parent who hoards what she has written is worse. So, we send our stories and our kids out into the world–to find their rightful places.
Not submit, but release.
Semantics, I know.
But words have emotional weight. And the last thing I need is more emotional weight. (See: twins.)
I’m not the only one who finds the submission/release process fraught. Nor am I the only one who ties it to parenting. I mean, as a writing parent, everything is wrapped up in our kids. In a great essay in the latest issue of Poets & Writers magazine titled “Like the First Time,” fiction author Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum describes the process of finding a publisher for her third collection of short stories, after taking a break from publishing to raise her kids. She talks about submitting that collection:
The last step of the submission process is just that–to submit, but here I mean a submission of the emotional sort.
But then it’s done. And life moves on, because a manuscript is not a baby. We haven’t handed over our actual offspring. And if we (meaning me) are confusing stories with babies (characters with flesh-and-blood), there’s a problem.
Yep, it’s that season. Time to submit, to release our works into the world–and then focus on the actual world. Lunstrum describes her letting go, which, naturally, as a writing mother, is a scene that includes her kids:
As I walked behind my kids along the muddy footpath, I realized how contented I felt with the work I’d done on the manuscript.
Contented sounds good.
I will strive for contented this season.
What does this season mean for you? Are you submitting to journals or agents, or both, this fall? Keep an eye on my “publishing” category here at Rust Belt Girl, where I’ll update my progress and provide lessons learned.
Some resources I hope will help us all:
Poets & Writers magazine online includes a searchable database of literary agents, small presses, and much more
Submittable allows you to access and submit to thousands of creative opportunities, and handily keeps track of active submissions, accepted and declined
Literistic (out of Canada, so includes as many, if not more, publications from Canada and Great Britain as from the U.S.) compiles deadlines for literary publications, contests and fellowships and sends you an email. Their “shortlist” is free.
Have any other tricks or tips to keep us all contented while submitting?