by Judy Clement Wall
I’ve been thinking about (researching, dreaming of, obsessing over, attempting) publication more these days. It’s not an entirely new process for me. My work has been published in literary journals and anthologies, and on some really cool websites (like this one), but ever since finishing my novel in May, my efforts at publication have taken on an uncomfortable sense of urgency.
Intellectually, I know nothing has changed. I write because I can’t imagine not writing, and I put my stuff out there because I want it to get read, and the path that my work takes – from my little writing cave to the big, bold light of day – is as fraught and wonderful and terrifying as it ever was. Nothing’s different, and yet…
Over lunch with a friend, I pronounce emphatically that, “Writing is a terrible vocation for people with external validation issues. The whole process of publication is set up to emphasize the writer’s helplessness rather than her art.”
I tell my friend that even the language of publication robs the writer of power. “You submit your work,” I say, leaning forward, putting submit into air quotes, “and people you don’t know accept or reject you. With the stroke of a pen, you are deemed worthy or not, a writer or a wannabe.”
She looks dubious then, like maybe she thinks I shouldn’t be giving editors that kind of power over my sense of self, so I rush on, ahead of her inevitable levelheadedness.
“You submit your work, which by the way is made up of your sweat and tears and little pieces of your struggling writer’s soul, and you know where it goes?”
She doesn’t. (Or maybe I don’t give her a chance to answer; I’m not sure which. I’m kind of on a roll.)
“The slush pile,” I say, and then I wait, but her expression doesn’t change. I feel she might be missing the significance. I repeat the phrase, using air quotes again, and then I sigh. “It’s a very disheartening term,” I tell her and she laughs.
“I can see that,” she says, but by then our waiter has arrived with food, and she’s flirting with him, and eventually I join in their silliness because it’s clear neither of them is going to join in my angst.
I’m writing this post on vacation a week later. I’m sitting on a rooftop patio, watching blue sky break through the cloud cover like an unstoppable idea, listening to the sounds of downtown Arcata float up to me: disembodied voices, bits of conversation, words made all the more fascinating by their jumble, their utter lack of context.
I want to assemble them – make them into a poem, a story, an essay, something funny, or raw. Something worthy. And in the moment that thought occurs to me, I gain perspective. I remember why I do this. Why I submit, why I brave the slush piles and weather the rejections and come back to my keyboard again and again.
Because in the end, it’s all about this – the actual writing, one word after another, a sentence into a paragraph into a page. I’m insanely grateful for the chance to do THIS.
JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a freelance writer and Course Presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course. Her short stories and personal essays have been published in literary journals and on some very cool websites. She just finished her first novel, Beautiful Lives, and here at FoW, she chronicles the ups and downs of a writer’s quest for publication. You can read more of her series here. Judy blogs about life, love, writing and cheesecake at Zebra Sounds.