After reading and following the submission guidelines—i.e., no name or identifying information on your document, no more than five poems, nothing longer than 1000 words, etc., etc.—you finally click “submit.” A few seconds later, you receive a confirmation email that looks like this:
Thank you for your submission to Awesome Literary Journal. We have
received your submission and look forward to reviewing it.
Awesome Literary Journal
Now what? Writers know that we must wait, wait, and wait some more after sending out a submission. How should we spend this time, which might last between a few days to a year or more?
After I send a submission to a journal, I tend to lapse into a willful state of amnesia. This mindset can be so successful that I sometimes forget that I submitted to that particular journal—I’ll come across the journal again a month or so later, think “Wow! This sounds like a great place to send some poems,” but then a scan of my spreadsheet and Submittable reveals that I submitted to Awesome Literary Journal six months ago and my submission still hasn’t moved from “received” to “in-progress.” When this happens I feel slightly stupid and wonder what’s wrong with my memory.
According to Journal of Neuroscience, “choosing to forget something might take more mental effort than trying to remember it, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin discovered through neuroimaging.” This gives the writer who is trying not to think about the submission she sent months ago two choices: 1) send it and forget about it or 2) send it and remember, over and over, that it’s pending. Option 1 leads to the possibility of attempting to re-send to a journal you’re waiting to hear back from, and, paradoxically, uses more mental energy, while Option 2 increases your stress level, constantly reminding you that you still haven’t heard from Awesome Literary Journal. Multiply that level of stress by the number of submissions you have in the queue, and it sounds like a recipe for a nervous breakdown. Is it a wonder so many writers have issues with substance abuse?
An article at Psychology Today begins,” “Everyone has times in their life when they’re waiting on potentially life-changing news.” For the writer who submits her work for publication, this is her normal state of mind, and not just any old time, but every day of the week, month, and year. The article has a list of common-sense suggestions, i.e., “Do simple productive tasks to ground yourself” and “accept your feelings and disrupted cognition,” but the most useful one, in my opinion, is “Talk to yourself compassionately.” Tell yourself, hey poet, it may be hard to focus right now, but you’ll get through it. Calm that monkey-mind. Start working on something new.
I recently came across an example of a healthy attitude towards submitting work from Early Morning, Remembering My Father, William Stafford, by his son Kim Stafford:
“One thing I learned from by watching my father was his readiness to send his writing forth in all directions with the fluid motion of water leaving a hilltop. Publication for him was no anxious drama of submission and rejection. He simply sent batches of poems out constantly, with a verve more in keeping with shoveling gold than tweezing diamonds.”
I love the idea of my writing flowing forth, through the metaphorical streams of the worldwide web or the post office, even if so much of it comes back. The healthiest way to deal with this constant stream is, as Kim Stafford tells us, disengagement from the “anxious drama of submission and rejection.”
And to treat yourself with kindness.
Categories: Diary of a Poet
Hi Erica. Thanks for this. I saw a copy of his submissions of Traveling in The Dark Bill had kept. Many famous mags were listed with rejection. I find this encouraging. Jim LaMontagne.
Hi Jim, nice to hear from you! I wonder if journals and magazines keep lists of submissions they rejected but should have accepted, including “Traveling in the Dark.” Would make for an interesting read!
Hope everything’s going well for you,
Love this! But I’m going to try to forget the bit about the mental exertion involved in forgetting.