This Ain't Zig Ziglar
By Joseph Allen Nichols, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio
How do you write about combating the fear of putting yourself out there, as a writer, without sounding like some Zig Ziglar-Mary Kay-esque inspirational euphemism? For me, it is a particularly threatening endeavor – after all, I spent my childhood reading such affirmations pasted all over the mirrors and walls of our home (my mother did, yes, sell Mary Kay).
The truth of the matter is this: We fail, if by failing we are describing the loss of a contest, the pass-over from a possible employer, or a declined submission to a literary journal. It is the business that we have chosen, or has chosen us.
In the past couple of months, I have begun to “put myself out there” for the first time in my career. I have submitted to numerous literary journals, a couple of scholarships, a few chapbook contests, and, this afternoon, the first of two summer internship interviews. All of these, with the exception of the interviews, have already been declined.
Simultaneously, I have been weighing submissions as the Editor-in-Chief of Jelly Bucket Literary Journal. I have read through a great number of submissions that I had to, ultimately, decline, some of which I would have given anything to accept. But, as I’ve heard about “the right story to the right editor on the right day for the right issue,” they did not fit with what we are currently putting together. I have had to decline submissions from our own BGWS students due to our policy to avoid any percieved favoritism (though the pieces were exceptional). I have had to decline pieces that were mere inches from being “there” simply because taking the writer or their writing to the next level is just beyond our time constraints.
Sitting on both sides of submissions has been challenging. I find myself fearing the process of offering my work much more strongly than I did prior to editing; after all, I now know how an Editor-in-Chief has to trust their genre editors to be the judges of every single submission that crosses their proverbial desk. At the same time, the position has enlightened my submissions as well: I have learned, firsthand, that a declined submission has nothing to do with me, the author, and sometimes can depend wholly on the subject matter of a piece rather than being a judgment of the quality of my writing.
Above all, I’ve learned two facts about submitting.
Regardless of a decline or a bit of constructive criticism that an editor may send your way, you should respond with respect, if not thanks. At least one person on staff poured themselves over your piece. Decisions are not made lightly. Some submissions, in fact, linger over the editor’s mind for days or longer. If you respond in anger or bitterness, the only thing that accomplishes is the guarantee that you won’t be taken seriously thereafter. Respect the decision and understand that a personal note from an editor, even a short one or one that involves constructive criticism, means they took your piece seriously.
Secondly, and more importantly, if you do not submit, you do not get accepted. It seems obvious, yes, but the fear that tells you delaying is a safer route will also convince you that if you spend more time revising, then you won’t feel so insecure. That you won’t be as afraid. Then you will better handle the moments of “failure” that are sure to come your way at one point or another. The fact is, you will always feel like you do right now. “Resistance”, as Steven Pressfield says the force that keeps us from chasing our passions (in his book “The War of Art," go buy it now) will always make you feel this way. You either listen to Resistance, to fear, or you begin the process of becoming a professional.
Pressfield says that a professional shows up. A professional writes. A professional gives his/her writing a chance to succeed:
“The more scared we are of a work or calling,
the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Follow me into the abyss. It’s immeasurably rewarding.
Published on April 07, 2014