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The Art of Submission: On the Importance of a Writing Tribe
Written by
Emily Lackey
September 2015
Written by
Emily Lackey
September 2015

I read a short essay recently by Janis Cook Newman about holding regular writing dates in her house. Once a month she and a group of writing friends gather in the same room to write quietly together. Her tribe, she calls them. The essay stresses the importance of creating that kind of community as a writer, and I couldn't agree more. But when it comes to writing, sitting around in a circle while everyone else is frantically inspired does not sound like fun to me. 

I love the idea of the type of tribe that Newman suggests we all have, but I seriously doubt the logistics of it. As a wirter who has been apart of more writing groups that have fallen apart than I care to consider, I've come to realize that writing and revising really are solitary acts. The sooner I can be comfortable with the fact that I am the only one who will make this thing that I am trying to make, the better. That way, when the writing exchanges fall apart and the weekly meetings come to an end, I will do the thing that is the most important: I will keep writing. Because if I am lucky, there will still be this at the end of it is, this thing that has always been there: the blank page, a wet pen. 

But do you know where a tribe of writers really comes in handy? It's not during the writing process. It's not even during revision, although, when you're first beginning or near the very end, it might be. It's when we step out with our work and begin submitting it to the world. For as lonely as writing can and should be (because this, above all, is what I've taken from all of my workshop experience: How can you learn to hear your own voice if you're listening to everyone else's?), when you begin sending your work out into the world, having people in your life who are doing the same thing can be immeasurably helpful. 

I have a tribe. I am lucky for that, I know. But even when our writing exchanges have fallen flat, our vows to write 500 words a day turned into empty promises, we still support each other in this one amazing way. When it comes to the submission process, they are the people I turn to to commiserate about wait times (a slew of texts last night about our submissions that have been out the longest), about where to send our work (an email last week from a friend who heard about a themed contest that would be perfect for one of my stories), about finding paying gigs (a long list of freelance agencies and job postings that we cobbled together from all of our collective searching), and about our very sporadic, very incredible successes (a late night phone call about anxiety and insomnia turned into a celebration when a friend receives an acceptance letter in the middle of the call). 

Because this writing thing—this pen to paper, this wet ink drying by the time you get to the end of the line—this is something you can only do alone, even when you are with other people. (Praise be to the writers who can actually write with someone else on collaborative projects, because I am not one of them.) But when it comes to putting your work out into the world, that is when we all step our of our minds and say, "This thing that I love, this is yours now." And that is a public gesture. That is when we need community. That is when we need a tribe. Because this submission thing is overwhelming at its best, impossible at its worst. It's too big for one person to hold in their hand and make sense of. It's something you need a community to help you navigate.

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  • Sakki selznick Publishing

    This is great, Emily. I'd like to suggest that the tribe need not just be writers. A group meeting regularly to support any endeavor works just the same, even if one is a photographer, one wanting to breed dogs, one changing careers, one a writer. You won't hear the same suggestions about publication, obviously, but you can still brainstorm, cheer on, cheer up and otherwise buck up your buddies. That's the important thing.

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Yes, a tribe.  When I lived in Boston, I wrote with a group of writers at the Boston Public Library and another group directly connected with the National Writer's Union.  Now I have a writer's group near me that a neighbor friend leads and one that I lead.  Mine is a paid gig now, through Meetup.  It's amazing that people I have never met are coming to my home (a co-housing community's common house, really) to write.

    When I do write in a group, it's usually in response to a prompt and it's short.  I write to generate content that may fit become an essay or fit into a longer story later on.  I found some of the content and a few characters for my novel by writing that way.  Yet, I know that the "rest of the story" lies in many hours and many words written alone, at the computer, while my daughter is out playing or on sunny afternoons that I'd love to be out frolicking in myself.  But my love of writing will keep me at the keyboard, typing out hundreds of words, for the love of the story.

    Yet my present writer's group is also set up to listen to members' longer works for feedback. The feedback sessions will be set up according to a form that the writer feels will be most helpful. 

    Thank you for making me think about this.

  • Isobel cunningham

    So spot on! I really feel lonely when I look at my submittable list ( even thoughnGlimmertrain has given me a few Honorable mentions over the past year). But you see, I have nowhere to celebrate that! I just joined a writers' group and will suggest this. That's so much

  • this is so inspiring that it brought tears to my eyes because I've been afraid of this part of the journey... for years and years, I've been spinning my wheels...watching the wheels go 'round and 'round as John Lennon says in his song entitled "Wheels." I keep writing and feel inspired, then I get busy with life and I write and feel inspired...and now I'm in an online writing program and I still find myself doing the same thing...I've belonged to groups, some of which I love...come up with wonderful ideas, discussed people's pieces until we're all blue in the face, coming away with, okay, now it will be better..THIS is what I'm looking for. this is what I need. But the most important step has been missing from the process. Sending my work out into the universe. I now wish to belong to this tribe my friends...sending pieces out into the universe... LET'S DO THIS!!! 

  • Laura Page

    This is exactly what I need! A TRIBE--that will sweat it out with me and I with them, during the shopping for a journal/magazine phase, the wait times, the rejections, the acceptances! Alas...it is just so damn hard to gather such a tribe from the far corners of the writing world, from all the widely variant places they are in their writing careers, from the chaos and busy-ness of life in general! I hope someday I can grow and nurture a real community!

  • Sherrie McCarthy

    I love the idea of a group of writers sitting and writing but much like you I really do not think it would work for me. What I would love is a weekly meeting that was less writing and more just brainstorming and support. As you said, writing is a solitary act and that is why I love it. The thought of reading my unfinished work out for others to critique (or even just listen to) makes me cringe.  (I know some writers really benefit from this. I am just not one of them). But a Friday or Sunday meet up where we drink coffee, talk about not just submissions but the entire process and support each other. (Although maybe that is all just a run up to the submissions which is the final sprint?) That I would love and I think the rest of my writing week would really benefit from it. Hmmmmm, maybe I should you just inspired me to start a meet up.