Since I'm trying to focus on shorter pieces right now, I’ve spent some time this week writing a bit of short fiction and submitting work to online lit mags for the first time in a while.
For a lot of writers I know, the submission process is a constant source of anxiety and stress. Fortunately, it doesn’t particularly freak me out. I mean, if no one accepts anything I’ve written, ever again, then sure, that would be depressing. On the other hand…so what? My relationships, my livelihood, my health…none of that depends on the approval of online lit mags. Rejection's not fatal.
In her excellent piece “Am I a writer?” Cathy Day says, “Only you can decide what it means to you to be meaningfully published.” I think about this a lot. When I finally finish my book, yes, I want someone to like it enough to produce it as a physical, tangible object. In the meantime, I also hope I'm writing pieces that make people feel and think about things in new ways. The most effective route to that might mean letting someone else consider publishing my work online. Or it might mean blogging right here...so why not do that? It doesn’t necessarily make sense for writers to get caught up in waiting for someone to give them permission to share their own work.
In the 90s, a lot of us were distributing our own writing by making zines. Sometimes we submitted pieces to each other’s zines, sometimes not, but the work we were doing felt meaningful either way. And it was always fun. The online lit mag scene is a higher-tech version, but it’s basically the same concept: people who’ve created spaces in which to share words and ideas, on their own time and dime. But there's so much more emphasis on submitting now (technology has made it much easier to do, but maybe also less fun?), and I feel pretty detached from the anxiety that surrounds that.
Maybe this makes me sound blasé, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s more about extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation: the difference between writing toward a goal of recognition or acclaim, vs. writing for the creativity and challenge of working with words. As a kid, imagining what I wanted to be when I grew up, I pictured myself as an author. As an adult, typing at my computer or scribbling in my notebook, I think of myself as a writer. Do you see the difference? It’s subtle, but it’s there. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy achieving what my younger self envisioned: the prestige of having my name on the cover of a book, the external validation of that. But I care more about simply having the opportunity to do the work and to share it in whatever way seems best for me. Whether someone else publishes it--or I do, or no one does--the rest of life goes on, either way.