j’s Journey: an epiphany in three parts

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.

24 Responses to j’s Journey: an epiphany in three parts
  1. Michael
    July 26, 2011 | 12:56 AM

    Yes. And… yes. And finally… yes.

    • j
      July 26, 2011 | 2:48 AM

      Now I KNOW I’m right.

  2. Marisa Birns (@marisabirns)
    July 26, 2011 | 7:59 AM

    Oh, yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this. There’s plenty of pain with this writing business. And a whole lot of joy to offset it.

    • j
      July 26, 2011 | 11:16 AM

      Yes. Nothing like a vacation to remind me of the joy part.

  3. Dan
    July 26, 2011 | 8:55 AM

    So what is it about the book, the actual put-through-the-editing process, propped-on-a-shelf book that gives you the validation that these posts, that the Love project, that your published stories can’t give?

    Is it something real? A club because of the exclusiveness that tells you that you’ve become someone you wanted to be but could only be because someone else told you?

    This is a sincere question.

    Might it be that the book has the stories that you care the most about, that are the most passionate, that you want to tell, and that in the telling must pass through an external filter?

    I’ll tell you what, Jane. I want to hear those stories. Perhaps you need to start sharing them out here, with the audience that you have, the virtual gathering at your feet, waiting to hear what you have to say.

    I wish for you to get your book published. But I wish even more for you to find a place to tell your stories….

    • j
      July 26, 2011 | 11:25 AM

      There is definitely something about the work that has gone through an editor’s thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down process and “made it” to publication. There is a certain validation in that, no doubt. That is not to say that I don’t find tremendous value and validation in the Love Project or my ZS posts, it’s just different.

      I am looking into less traditional means of publication for certain pieces, and have become a little obsessed reading about the publishing industry. It’s a crazy exciting time to be a writer, there are more options for getting work out than ever before. It’s really a matter of finding the best route for each piece.

      You can get to more of my stories on the j-writes page at Zebra Sounds, and in the “Where else you’ll find me” section on the side bar there. I intend to have both places get bigger and bigger. (And thank you for this response… like a little kick in the pants.) 😉

  4. Kellie J. Walker (@YourLifeInGear)
    July 26, 2011 | 9:23 AM


    I’m sorry your friend couldn’t understand your angst. And, I’m REALLY sorry that she wasn’t supportive in spite of the fact that she didn’t understand.

    I mean, a hug would have been all she needed to ‘say’.

    Oh, and I’m not judging your friend. Just sorry that you didn’t get what you needed in that moment.

    So many, if not all, of our systems are set up to make ‘the little guy’ feel little. I see it in the corporate world. I see it in the government sector. I even see it in personal relationships.

    I think it’s easier for most of us to ignore the subtleties in the language used, at least in part, because we aren’t submitting a piece of ourselves to ‘the machine’. Well, actually, we are. But, so many are numbed to it. But, artists? That’s a different story.

    Weather your art is writing, painting, pottery, statuary, being a car mechanic, being a chiropractor, or bagging groceries, etc. I think really putting yourself into something and then watching a ‘machine’ treat it like it’s just an M&M among millions of other M&Ms… well, that just hurts.

    I’m glad you were able to remember why you do what you do. But, I was thinking it might be fun to do some word games with the publication process. What if you ‘deigned to allow others to look at your magnificent work of art’ vs. ‘submitting’ it? What if, instead of your work being ‘accepted’ or ‘rejected’, it struck a chord that some people can hear and some can’t.

    What if we recognized that when someone ‘accepts’ or ‘rejects’ your work, they aren’t judging the work? What if they are really making a statement about themselves and/or whomever they think ‘the public’ is?

    Just some random thoughts…

    Hugs & sparkles, as always.

    • j
      July 26, 2011 | 11:28 AM

      Oh, I think I painted too cruel a picture of my friend’s reaction. She’s heard all this before. I can get a little Woody Allen with my neurotic “and another thing” ramblings about the hardships of writing and publishing. She is a wonderful friend and is there for me when I need her. I do need to hear sometimes that editors don’t have the final say on my value as a writer. That day, I think it was best to turn our attention to the waiter.

      That said, your change in vocabulary is fabulous. I love, love, love my stories are a chord that some people can hear and some can’t. That is wonderful.

      • Kellie J. Walker (@YourLifeInGear)
        July 26, 2011 | 2:42 PM


        Giggling re: your phrase ‘a little Woody Allen’.

        Breathing a sigh of relief thatnyour friend was actually giving you what you needed. I should have know that The Love Warrior wouldn’t settle for less.

        Giddy that you love my vocabulary change. Keeping playing your own music, lovely lady. We’ll keep listening, dancing and applauding.

        Sparkly hugs!

  5. Caroline
    July 26, 2011 | 9:24 AM

    First of all, I thought you were on vacation?! Having said that, I suppose writers never really get away from their work do they? And to sum up what I think about this post: #superheroJ! :o) <3

    • j
      July 26, 2011 | 11:29 AM

      We never do get away from our work, no. I am sometimes rewriting conversations as they happen. It’s a little like a sickness. And thank you! xoxo

  6. Tricia
    Twitter: Tricia_Sutton
    July 26, 2011 | 10:12 AM

    J, if it makes you feel better, I would have sympathized. Only another writer will understand. Did you take a picture of this handsome waiter? ahem … just wonderin’.

    • j
      July 26, 2011 | 11:30 AM

      He wasn’t my type, actually, but he was sweet and easily embarrassed. And we were both way older than he was, so I’m sure he was working on his tip. *wink*

  7. Ann MG
    July 26, 2011 | 12:33 PM

    I’m applying for jobs right now, and I work in academic publishing, so it’s a little like senior year all over again–as a fellow suffer put it, “Congratulations! You’ve been rejected by one of the finest schools in the country!”

    But some places I get far enough along to actually talk to some people, and some of them I really don’t like. top school or not, great job or not, this wouldn’t be a good match for me. However rejected or unvalidated or out of control I feel about this process, I do have input and I’m getting information. So deep breath and mail some more apps.

    • j
      July 27, 2011 | 11:57 AM

      Yes, I guess we all maybe have to do a version of this, submit ourselves for approval. Good luck with your search!!

  8. Fear of Writing
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    July 26, 2011 | 12:52 PM

    Great story and great collection of comments! I admire your courage, both in undertaking this journey and in baring your soul about it here. I could feel every moment of that lunch scenario, and how only another writer (or artist) can truly understand that particular angst.

    I loved these bits from Kellie:

    What if you ‘deigned to allow others to look at your magnificent work of art’ vs. ‘submitting’ it? What if, instead of your work being ‘accepted’ or ‘rejected’, it struck a chord that some people can hear and some can’t.

    What if we recognized that when someone ‘accepts’ or ‘rejects’ your work, they aren’t judging the work? What if they are really making a statement about themselves and/or whomever they think ‘the public’ is?

    I’ve been working on this kind of attitude for other parts of my life so I might borrow some of her wording for my mental landscapes. If only we could feel and believe words like that to our very core, we could live our creativity unfettered by what anybody else thinks or does.

    ~ Milli

    P.S. Your epiphany on the rooftop was wonderfully written – it swelled in my heart like music. xo

    • j
      July 27, 2011 | 12:03 PM

      I love the term “live our creativity unfettered by what anybody else thinks or does.” Of course, that’s the ideal, but it’s hard. As soon as we share our art, it does become, at least to some degree, about what others think.

      But you and Kellie are right. Rejections aren’t always pronouncements on our work, they are often decisions centered around perceived saleability and markets… a whole different thing. And I do still think that if you write to chase a market (instead of writing to tell a specific story or communicate a specific idea), your art (and soul) will suffer.

      Thank you, for the comment on my rooftop epiphany. xo

      • Fear of Writing
        Twitter: fearofwriting
        July 27, 2011 | 12:37 PM

        It’s a paradox, too, how sometimes reactions we deem to be negative can be seen from someone else’s perspective as a plus. For instance, when Fear of Writing came out, one of the local newspapers in Taos, New Mexico (where I lived at the time) did a book review. I would have been ecstatic to get some press . . . only it was the editor of The Horsefly. Yes, the commentary in that publication lives up to the name of the paper: biting.

        I guess he was pretty gentle on my book, considering how fiesty and scathing he could be about local issues. All he did was search the book till he found the single reference to sex and print that as a quote in the review. Jeez!! I was upset about him taking such a preposterous angle on a book for writers and making it sound steamy. But when I complained, a friend of mine, another writer, pointed out that even bad press can be good press because controversy gets attention. At the time, I was way too sensitive about my book and my writing to agree with her. Looking back, though, I can take it with a grain of salt and even see the humor in it.

        (Not that I need or want controversy to help me sell books. I’d rather be authentic.)

        Not sure this tale is really appropos to anything you’re going through with the process of querying agents. But, hey, an extra smile about a silly story never hurts, right? 😀

        • j
          July 28, 2011 | 11:02 AM

          Ha! So true. And that’s an awesome story. I’ve been critiqued but never reviewed. Someday. 😉

  9. Jeffrey Bennett
    July 28, 2011 | 3:23 PM

    “Suffering’s spells were loosened,
    Earth was soothed by torment.
    The hours for silence had arrived,
    Both for forgiveness and oblivion . . . .”

    Adelaida Gertsyk, poet. “Event.” Genuine of heart.

    Your quality is clear, j. You know the obstacles are
    temporary, or you wouldn’t submit your work. You
    know that the quakes of the earth happen, within
    you and without. You send your work out because
    you are responsible for it. It’s built to be read, and
    you, perfectly suited to write it.

    Your example in writing is your empire of love. Anyone
    who needs to know how to be brave need only find their
    courage in what you write every week.

    You are part of a community of writers, each and every
    one, publishing, submitting their work every day. It’s
    par for the course, and you embrace the fear of rejections
    and even celebrate the more famous rejections you receive
    on occasion.

    I appreciate this column, and your admission that there
    was fear in your process, or doubt, serves to remind me
    that you are indeed human. Like me. Perhaps the most
    important reminder of all. That we have that in common.

    Thank you for sharing what you go through. How you manage
    it. This is exactly, in my humble opinion, what the rest of us
    want to see.

  10. j
    July 29, 2011 | 12:04 PM

    There is definitely fear in my process. I think it’s inherently terrifying to hand your work over to someone to judge, which is what the publication process involves, really, from beginning to end. I do realize that anything I ever write is ultimately judged by the people who read it. All art is that way, but most readers aren’t gatekeepers… and it’s the gatekeepers, even the nice ones, that will always be the most angst-induing.

    Thank you for commenting. It’s you guys that help keep me in the game.

  11. While I was gone… | Zebra Sounds
    August 1, 2011 | 2:12 AM

    […] woke up feeling alive, the previous day’s bike ride part of my (ahem) muscle memory. I had this epiphany in the morning (which counts as a surprise, I think), and I visited the (surprisingly) pretty […]

  12. Terre Pruitt
    August 1, 2011 | 8:05 PM

    In your mind you could, “kindly allow” publishers (or whomever) to read your work. And when they don’t publish it (or take you on as a client) it is because it is too good for them. It would make everything else they work with/on/for/to look like crap! Somewhat like, “you’re over qualified for the job” type of thing.

    No submission or rejection. It’s allowing and too damn good.

    Yes? Yes. Attitude. 🙂 XOXOX

    • j
      August 3, 2011 | 1:29 AM

      I love that. Attitude adjustment complete. 😉

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