This Week: Our Heroine Continues Her Valiant Efforts To Defeat The Mighty Slush Pile

There's nothing quite like receiving a response back from a literary magazine to motivate you into sending out more work, regardless of whether or not that letter holds an acceptance or a rejection. Every time I receive back a slim envelope (usually with a printed -- or worse, xeroxed -- rejection slip), it's a reminder that my work isn't out there. And when I check the excel spreadsheet that I keep as a kind of submission log, I'm reminded further that I REALLY don't have any work out there.

There's no envelope sitting unopened on an editor's desk. There's no manuscript filed in a cabinet, waiting for some poor graduate student to swing by and slog through the unsolicited submissions. There's nothing but the sound of the air-conditioner rifling through the pages on my desk, and the electrical current humming through my laptop. (Actually, you can't really hear the electrical current humming through my laptop. That was, as we say, a bit of purple prose. I think I'd have a larger problem on my hands than a lack of publication if I could actually hear the electricity entering the inside of my computer.)

I've been really, really, bad about submitting to magazines since I began to take being a writer, and being a writer in the world, seriously. I've actually read more literary magazines in the past 10 years than the number I've submitted to. (How grammatically effed up is THAT sentence? Or the one before it?) Of course, I feel a bizarre mixture of shame and pride in that fact. (Obviously, not in the sentences. Those just inspire shame.)

I'm proud, for instance, that I actually READ literary magazines. I'm tired of writers who expect an audience without taking the time to BE an audience member themselves. The world of poetry -- at least, American poetry -- is especially guilty of this. There's plenty of good writing being written and published, in both major and minor literary magazines. We just don't take time to read each other's work anymore. Maybe it's that we don't have enough time -- because we have jobs and careers and kids and complicated family lives and complex personality issues that we need to explore through intense psychoanalysis. Whatever the reason, it's a shame.

Anyway, back to my point. (I may have one.) So I've read a lot of magazines, and it's good that I've read them, but that reading doesn't get me very far as a writer if that's ALL I do. If you want to be published, you need to submit your work. Plain and simple. Not necessarily to as many magazines as possible -- I'm not of the opinion that says you should just open up the Writer's Market and start working your way through the alphabet, magazine by magazine, letter by letter. Despite the fact that I just argued for reading more, there ARE a lot of crap magazines, filled with bad writing, and you don't want a poem that you're proud of ending up poorly edited and printed next to a lot of flat, uninspired, cliche-ridden light verse.

But SOMETHING must be submitted. To magazines that you read, and enjoy, and respect.

I can chalk up my lack of submissions to any number of life changes I've readily adopted and sometimes hazarded (is this a word?) and endured, but when it comes down to it, those life changes aren't really to blame. My utter lack of desire to pay attention to this area of my writing life is to blame. (Because, you know, if I'm not sending out poems, they can't be rejected, right?) I'm glad that I spent MORE time trying to improve my writing over the past decade, but perhaps a wee bit more time and discipline could have been applied to the submission process.

Recently, very recently, as in this-morning-recently, I've been trying to "fix" this part of my life (if we can ever really fix our lives, even parts of them). I'm going to use this sabbatical to send out -- dare I give myself this goal? -- ALL of the poems I consider fit for publication (even the ones that don't have a manuscript to call home) over the next four months.

And then, next spring and summer, when I go back to teaching and I find that I haven't any time to send out submissions, I'll find my mailbox inundated with SASEs holding, most likely, xeroxed rejection slips. Or, if I try to view rejection positively, proof -- good, hard evidence -- that I tried.

And hopefully those little pieces of evidence will light a fire under my ass and get me to try again!


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