This September, I have a goal of submitting a few essays to at least twenty different publications. I really want to create writing and publishing momentum before I find myself buried under grading dozens of papers because I teach five writing classes. I’m calling this publication push the Super! September! Sendout! If you want to participate, just submit a bunch of stuff, and let me know how it goes 😉
The other day, while I logged into different websites to submit my essays, I stumbled across a notification from an editor who published one of my essays several years ago. I had always falsely believed that the editor forgot to notify me that my piece had been published. That’s because I didn’t receive word it had been published. I stumbled across the essay one day while taking a break from grading papers. I was ego-surfing (Googling myself!), and I discovered Doin’ Time up on a journal site.
You might wonder, how could I never know this essay was published? If you’ve never submitted writing for publication, you wouldn’t know how hard it is to keep all the publications organized: the dates for contests and submissions. There are so many different possible websites—some that use submittable, some that don’t use submittable, some that require email submissions, some that require you create a new password on a website you will only ever log into if you are checking on the status of your submission. When submitting work for publication, I sometimes feel like Homer Simpson on Tax Day.
I do try to stay organized throughout the publishing process. I keep a spreadsheet and write down dates, websites, deadlines, and titles of the essays I send out for consideration, but what I really want is an assistant, someone to let me know that X was rejected from five places, and I need to work on it some more and send it out again.
Before I discovered that “Doin’ Time” had been published, this essay was rejected at least twenty times. I received so many rejections, that I had just given up hope it would see the light of day. I had submitted “Doin’ Time” two times to Ascent, and I assumed the second time it was also rejected, because I never heard back.
Initially, I was sad that the essay had been published and I never knew. But for my Super! September! Sendout! I decided I would look into submitting to Ascent again, the magazine I thought never notified me, because I’d rather something get published and me not know than something never get published at all. And is that a sick thing to do? Maybe. There are two reasons why I’d do it: 1) I’m a struggling writer, and I’m used to all kinds of rejection, and 2) as a struggling writer, I can’t afford the luxury of having high expectations.
When I logged into the site, it had been so long, I needed to request a password change. The password change email went directly to my junk mailbox. No biggie. I retrieved the password email from my junk mail, changed the password, logged in, and thought nothing of it. When I logged into this site, I noticed there was a little hyperlink that said “View.” I had never seen nor clicked on that button before, so I clicked on it. Guess what I found out?
Yeah, my essay was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I feel like a dope, kind of, because I had such low expectations of my writing future that I didn’t investigate why I wasn’t notified about that publication. I had all these trash thoughts: “He probably forgot to tell me” and “I must not be important.” Neither one of those assumptions are helpful or true, but it’s where my brain tends to go, the bad place, when I think of my future as a writer.
When I saw this notice, my immediate thought was, “Holy Fucking Shit, it would have been nice to know six years ago that someone nominated my writing for a prize.” It could have done wonders for my self-esteem at the time, which was lacking. I wasted time feeling like garbage for not publishing, yet my first response to reading this notification from Ascent was that external validation would have headed off my negative feelings.
But I’m not so sure about that anymore. I’m kind of glad I just discovered the nomination. In the time between the essay being nominated and now, I grew as a writer without too much outside affirmation. In the past couple of years, I began thinking about writing as a thing I have to do, an art I want to explore. I have also become more intentional and mathematical about my submission process. I know the more essays I send out, the more chances I have to get published. The more hours I write, the more chances I have to finish writing an essay or a book. I came to these ideas on my own, after digging myself out of a rut.
The other day I was interviewing my old dissertation director, Greg Martin, and I asked him when he knows he has a story. He said he doesn’t always know when he has a story, and not all his stories see the light of day. He added, “The hard thing is being in the space of doing something and knowing it might not work and still doing it anyway.” I came to that conclusion too, around last year, when writing started to become more integrated into my life, as something I do, not something I sell, not something I distribute, but an activity I can enjoy.
I am happy I found out about that nomination, and it makes me feel like I am heading in the right direction; however, I am glad I did not need that affirmation to keep going. Discovering this nomination has been a nice way to start off my Super! September! Sendout! It’s extra rainbow sprinkles on top of my writing cupcake.
Cheers to writing, cupcakes, and sending your writing out into the publishing void, whether you know you’ve gotten published or your words are out there, detached from you, hanging out in the internet ether.