The Art of Submission: Submitting to the Work
Written by
Emily Lackey
December 2015
Written by
Emily Lackey
December 2015

Have any of you read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert? If you haven’t, you should, because I can almost guarantee it will inspire you in some way. The thing that did it for me? When Gilbert described having an affair with your creative work:


“Sneak off and have an affair with your most creative self,” she writes. “Lie to everyone about where you’re actually going on your lunch break. Pretend you’re traveling on a business trip when secretly you’re retreating in order to paint.” Gilbert urges us to think about our creative work constantly. Look forward to seeing it. Let it be the thing that drives your days. Let it be the thing that you fall in love with over and over again, every single day.


How long has it been since I have been in love with the act of writing?


A few months ago I had a sort of existential crisis about writing. It started when my therapist asked me what success looked like to me after I spent our forty-five minute session beating myself up for not being driven enough, for not finishing my latest project, for not submitting a story in months.


As in, what does a successful writing life look like to me? And as it always seems to happen in therapy, my mind answered before I could, leaping to solitude, to a house in the middle of the mountains, to a life untouched by other people’s opinions, to trusting myself as a writer above all else, and to being love with the act of writing.


Here’s the hard and fast truth: Publication barely played a part in my vision of success. I mean, it did, but so small a part that it barely registered—a faucet someone hadn’t turned off entirely, the sound of my dog circling his bed to find the best spot. When I pictured what my version of success would look like, I pictured myself loving my work, not other people loving it. Publication in this picture was something that I did occasionally—maybe sending work out twice a year—not something that I thought about and aspired to daily.


Why had I spent the last three years of my life, then, believing that what I wanted above all else was to be published, to have my name known, to have my work read, to have my words appreciated?


The answer: We all want to sit at The Real Writer’s Table.


But lately I’ve begun to ask myself a question that is changing all that: What is it that I believe I will get from sitting at The Real Writers Table?


The only thing I can compare it to is wanting to be skinny. Probably because I have been battling that want my entire life. But it’s something that a lot of people want. In fact, many more people want to be skinny than want to be published writers. Hell, there's a multiple billion-dollar industry around making people believe that what they want is to be skinny. But if you ask the people who want to be skinny what they want from being skinny, what they think skinniness will bring to their lives, they say things like "I want to be happy," "I want to be comfortable in my body," "I want to wear nice clothes."


It's taken me years of therapy to realize the very simple fact that all of those things that I want from being skinny have nothing to do with being skinny. I can have all of those things right now if I want them. The mistake I’ve been making all these years isn’t not working hard enough at losing weight, but in conflating being skinny with being happy with my self. 


Now, allow me this leap:


Isn’t being published kind of the same thing? I have been telling myself for years that I want to be published the best journals, that I won’t feel like a real writer until I am, that I won’t trust myself or my work until I do. But if I ask myself the same question, what I want from being published, what being published will bring to my life, the answers have nothing to do with actually being published: Feeling validated as a writer, the ability to trust myself as an artist, and a sense of pride in the work that I'm producing.


Can’t I have all of those things now without being published in the best journals? Aren’t I conflating being published with being happy with myself as a writer? And why the hell am I doing that when some of the most impressively published writers still don't feel validated, still don't trust themselves as artists, still have very little pride in the work they produce?


Obviously there has to be some sort of balance. The ideal situation is that I start to love my body and then want to take care of it with healthy food and plenty of activity. The same goes for writing. The ideal situation is that I feel so good about my writing that I want to share it with the world. The ideal here is to reach a healthy weight. The ideal here is to be submitting my work. But maybe that submission process looks nothing like what it’s been for me in the past. Maybe instead it’s only an annual submission process. Maybe instead it’s a celebration of the fact that I wrote work that I loved all year long, not the fact that I may or may not have that work published. I’ll bake a cake. I’ll hang streamers from the ceiling of my office. tion


Here is something that is unbelievable but entirely true: These days I am head over heels in love with the act of writing. Just this morning, I swear to you, I cried over a double entendre I wrote. I was so overwhelmed by the line, that little bit of divinity, that my body broke down like it did that time my boyfriend ran his tongue along the length of my neck for the first time, that line so precise, so full of love, that my body couldn’t handle it.


But this did not come easily. This came from months of completely changing how I think about my writing. I write only in a journal now, longhand. And I write only what I want to write, in a café that reminds me of home. These days I am not submitting to anything other than my work, and that feels (and that is) remarkable. 

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  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Yes, I will have to read Big Magic this year, and make 2016 the year I truly fall madly in love with my writing, my art.

  • Victoria Chames Writing

    Ah, but the problem I have with that philosophy is both a practical and spiritual one. You probably know the Zen koan: "If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?" 

    Since I deeply believe that writing, including my writing, has meaning and purpose beyond self-satisfaction, it must be "published" (made public) in some way, in order to be shared. Without the ear to hear, there is a real question whether the tree makes any sound; without the reader, whether the writing makes any difference. Just a thought...