[The Art of Submission] Go Slowly
Written by
Emily Lackey
January 2015
Written by
Emily Lackey
January 2015

I am not a patient person.

My tendency in all things is to go quickly, to get it out of the way, to get it over and done with already. This mentality comes in handy with certain things: moving boxes, cleaning houses, putting away laundry, anything that requires physical strength, really.

But my boyfriend is the complete opposite. When we moved my things from New Hampshire to western Massachusetts, he took an entire morning to properly distribute the weight of my belongings in the trailer. Something about how if everything was too far forward it would take the weight off the front of his truck and make us spin out on the highway or something. I don’t know. What I do know is that he was at work on this for six hours and at one o’clock I snapped and started piling boxes on top of all of his perfectly placed furniture.

Lately my writing process has begun to feel similarly rushed. When I am at my computer, I am writing words and revising the way I wash the dishes, splashing water all down the front of me, stacking the words precariously in a row in order to just get the thing done. The idea of slowing down, of taking my time, of reading it through again is crazy-making. But a few weeks ago, in practicing for a reading, I noticed that the story I was going to read (and the story I had already sent out to a number of journals) had more than a few errors. There were typos, repeated words, paragraphs that went on for a little too long. I cringed at the thought of an editor reading it.

I don’t know when or how my impatience spread to my writing. Maybe during my MFA program? Maybe because there was always something else due, something else to write, a story or a blog post or a one-hundred-and-fifty-page thesis? Because I know that writing used to be the one thing with which I did take my time. At Bread Loaf I would spend an entire day revising a five-pager, reading it over and over until I couldn’t find a single word to change. I can’t tell you the last time I did that with a story. Maybe 2012?

The story I sent out with typos? I did that because there was a contest deadline looming. So I read through my workshop notes quickly with an eye for line corrections, fixed what needed to be fixed, and hit submit. I told myself that if they really liked the story, the editors would forgive a missed comma here, a forgotten quotation mark there.

Let me save you the time and heartache: they won’t. A friend of mine is a reader for the New England Review and he told me that typos are an indication to him that a story hasn’t been cared for enough. If the lines aren’t right, chances are the story isn’t either. And even though we know this isn’t necessarily true, it is true that our work has only one shot to make an impression on an editor.

Still, the submission process encourages us to rush. It demands speed, it demands prolificacy. It suggests that we all should be Ray Bradburys, cranking out a new draft every day so that we have something new to send out by Saturday. We should be publishing now. We should be publishing widely. And if you’re not? Maybe this writing thing isn’t for you.

Junot Diaz said once that the business of writing demands us to go fast, that we produce quickly and abundantly and while people want to read what we write. But the art, he says. The art demands us to go slowly.  

So I’m trying. Even though this work, like Jamie’s—what should we call it? steadiness? deliberateness?—drives me crazy at times, it is also the thing that I love the most about it, about him. Like all good relationships, he forces me to try harder, to be better. It’s like that book Oprah always talks about, the one that claims we pick who we love based on what they stand to teach us about ourselves. I think it’s the same with what we love, too. My relationship to writing and revision reveals something similar: that I need to slow down, that I need to take my time, and that I need to take more time to balance the weight.

What have you learned about yourself from your writing process? What has it demanded that you do differently?

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