once submitted an essay to a journal that had read and rejected the exact same essay two weeks prior. The second essay I submitted was not an updated draft—not one single revision existed within its four pages. In fact, it wasn’t even a different document in my computer. It literally was the exact same essay. The editors were nice enough not to point this out in their repeat rejection letter.
It is absolute havoc inside my head. Nothing is going straight. Thoughts are falling all over each other, some dressed in nice jeans and a sweater, hair neatly coifed. Some are naked and foaming at the mouth... They are the source of my creative impulse... We’re all writing out of that deep havoc. The tendency is to let it go, let it flow, and I think that’s good. To pour out on the page whatever comes. ~ Fleda Brown, “Between Havoc and Responsibility”
For me, my ability to write creatively depends on a brain that is able to jump around, making odd associations and out-of-the-box ways of thinking. This column, for instance, originally contained a metaphor about camping and the lack of electrical outlets found in The Middle of Nowhere that keeps me from camping. The metaphor made a point about the importance of list-making. It was an interesting connection; and although neither the metaphor nor the section on list-making made it into this final draft, it all kind of swirled together to become an analogy for how at times, creative writing can feel like a practice in resisting logic.
More or Less.
All of that said, when we submit our work for publication, we need to dig through the chaos to find that kernel of logistical thinking that exists in all of us. Why? Because submitting is a practice of planning ahead, an act of doing something now that will help us later. In other words, there’s this thing called organization, and it’s helpful.
I present to you a sampling of organization in my life—this little snippet of my submission spreadsheet:
The information on this spreadsheet is the basics, the key info I need to keep track of, so that my spreadsheet is helpful. Here, I record the name of the piece submitted, the date I submitted it, what journal I submitted it to, and if it got accepted.
Looking at this sheet, you can see that “Dear You” was accepted by Atticus Books; and therefore, I had to withdraw it from two other journals where I had also submitted it simultaneously (After Hours Press and Destroyer). “Dear You” is a really weird hybrid essay; so if I ever have another really weird hybrid essay that I want to submit to journals in the future, I might not send it to and/or since they rejected the “Dear You” hybrid essay.
As you can also see, Seattle Review rejected “The Art of Pausing.” Having that rejection and all of my other rejections documented is important. If I ever send “The Art of Pausing” to a bunch of journals again, I would see that I shouldn’t send it to Seattle Review because they already rejected it! How embarrassing would it be to re-submit something already rejected by that journal?!?
So, aside from saving face, organizing where and when you submit your writing has many other benefits:
- Saves time—You can easily search your submission record to see when the last time was that you submitted to a specific journal, and what pieces you have submitted to said journal in the past. No more searching through email for that information—now it will all be in one place.
- Helps you to learn the different aesthetics of journals—Looking back at your submissions, you can see what kind of pieces a journal has repeatedly declined. If you’ve only submitted upbeat stories to a certain journal, and that journal keeps declining them, maybe that journal leans more towards the dark emotional stuff.
- Gives a polite “maybe you should revise this again” nudge—Say one of your pieces has been rejected twelve times. Maybe that’s a sign that you should pull it aside, revise, and re-submit. This makes you a better editor of your own work because you don’t have twelve editors telling you what needs to be changed. You just have twelve “not quite” nudges, and it’s up to you to turn on your editor brain again and see if there’s still some chaos on the page that you have to clean up a bit.
- Improves emotional endurance—Even if you’ve submitted twenty-one different times and have zero acceptances, those twenty-one times are twenty-one testaments to the fact that you’re not giving up; that you are tenacious; that after twenty rejections you said to yourself, “I’m going to submit this one again,” and then you did. (Just so you know, A Wrinkle in Time was rejected twenty-six times before it was picked up for publication. Do you know how many times Gone with the Wind was rejected? Thirty-eight times. So keep going!)
- Increases the chance of publication—This point is related to understanding what kind of writing different journals like. Take each rejection as a personal tip from the journal in regards to what they are looking for. Then when you submit in the future, you’ll know more about where you shouldn’t submit, which therefore helps you to submit to the right journals from the very start.
- Motivates more submissions—Keeping track of your submissions is fun! You’ll get used to it and look forward to those times when you get to open your spreadsheet and enter in some new information. In fact, if you submit regularly enough, you’ll begin to notice when you have slowed down on submissions. It will feel weird that you haven't entered a new submission into your spreadsheet in over a week.
In an unpublished essay by Lori White, she says:
My chaos lies on the inside. My house is pretty darn orderly, and it’s clean. The laundry gets washed, dried, folded, and put away. I need my outside life to be neat...my interior world is less beautiful.
Which is just fine, if not how it should be, for a writer.
In other words, we need to balance our creatively chaotic (or is it chaotically creative?) minds with some version of structure. For me, it’s organizing my submissions spreadsheet that keeps me feeling okay about my inner chaotic swirliness. As writers, our ability to keep our submissions in order is a way to keep our writing going forward—regardless of how swirly it might seem inside of us.
Next month, I’ll look at some of the easy, yet incredibly helpful, strategies to follow when preparing your submissions in order to increase your chances of publication.
Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and won the 2016 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award for her essay collection, Circadian. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, McSweeney’s, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She’s the essays editor for The Nervous Breakdown. @ChelseyClammer www.chelseyclammer.com.
Chelsey is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. Check out her upcoming course, Face Your Fears: Women Writers Anonymous.
Last month’s column:
Submit ’Til You Make It