Does the idea of sending your work off for publication make you want to breathe deeply into a brown paper bag? Me too. Maybe there's a way of re-framing the problem.
Recently, I showed a friend an article I had written. The deal was, if I showed her something, she’d show me something, which was as exciting and potentially humiliating as it sounds.
After reading my paper, she said lots of nice things, including that I should get it published. Of course, I expertly fobbed her off, making the very idea sound distant and unlikely.
'Yeah, maybe. One day... not now.'
A few days later, she held up her end of the bargain and sent me a few poems she had kept stashed for a long time out of sight. I loved them, and told her so in an email...
I just read them. Beautiful! I feel like I just ate a wonderful meal and now I want to lie on the couch and have a nap. Write some more! NOW! Also, when are you sending off the third one for publication? This week or next week? I don’t know much about poetry, but it struck me as a sure, sure bet for instant publication.
She responded with the type of deflection those of us still figuring out how to put one word in front of the other do by reflex.
Aw, thanks anyway. I was really nervous. I thought you might have thought they were stupid (maybe you do and are just too nice...)! I don’t know about sending them off just yet—I feel like I don’t really know why anyone would want to read them. But maybe... I'll see. Maybe.
I knew what ‘maybe’ meant, especially since she had used three of them in as many sentences.
Maybe = Nup, no, nein, nicht, non, negatory, never, nuh-uh!
I also knew for sure I wasn’t 'just being nice,’ and that other people would love reading her stuff as much as I did. It also struck me that maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t just being polite when she said she liked what I had written. I wrote back, gently pushing her again to publish.
Do it, do it, do it! Here’s a poem for you...
Give warmth to cold print!!!
(else I’ll give you no rest!!!!
‘cept an ever-widening tumult of exclamations!!!!!)
The poetry didn’t work. Like me, she resisted the idea like Linda Blair writhing around in the Exorcist, and it started to dawn on me that we might both have a demon to rid ourselves of.
Don’t publish. Submit!
I'm hit with a sense of cold dread every time I think about trying to get published. But it occurred to me that it might be the very idea of publishing, the act itself,that makes it so terrifying. It’s the word ‘publish’ that’s the demon—that’s literally holding up the works.
But we’re not in the publishing business, I realised; that’s someone else’s job. We’re in the business of creating stuff that might get published—it’s not for us to decide if what we create is interesting to other people.
I wrote back to her.
I think you shouldn’t worry about whether people would like reading your poems. You should just submit and welcome the rejections like... like how a mother welcomes her baby chucking up on her shoulder after feeding it.
I need to take this advice too. I should tidy up that thing I showed you and submit it somewhere. There were bits in it I liked (most is probably drivel) but I’d like to see what happens in me when I release it into the world.
So maybe it’s worth dropping that terrifying word 'publish' from our vocabularies and our to-do lists for the moment. Perhaps, like I said in my joke-poem to my friend, there are only two tasks to concentrate on—write and submit.
It’s like what Andy Warhol said,
"Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Not worrying about getting published, and just submitting things after they reach the point where they don't make me gag too much while reading them, is something I’d like to experiment with. Sure they’ll probably be rejected, but really, getting published is largely outside my control. That’s someone else’s job.
It reminds me of something pacifist and feminist, Vera Brittain said in her book, On Becoming a Writer:
"It is now known to all the world that George Bernard Shaw’s first five novels came back with the affectionate persistence of homing pigeons." (79)
In the end, my friend and I made a pact to both send something off in a month's time. Homing pigeons or baby-sick, it'll be good.
UPDATE: My friend sent off two poems to two different journals and both got accepted! Her first two published poems! You can read one in Writ. Poetry Review.
I'm yet to send something off. Soon. I promise!