"Submissions and Anxiety" by Erin McKenzie
In the background as I write this, a lecture by Beth Kempton is playing, offering suggestions of spending time in nature and carving space every day to write. Her voice is gentle and smooth, and even the act of listening to the lecture provides some motivation to do just that: to write, to create. In other tabs, I have a master class with my favorite author, half a dozen blog posts about writing, and a Spotify playlist meant to help me focus.
Writing is never the problem. Not really. I suffer writer’s block, of course, and I have days where the blinking cursor on a blank page is an insurmountable mountain, but those moments are fleeting and the words come, even when they’re forced and require a double dose of editing. The words always find their way, even if they have to crawl from my fingertips.
I wish that was enough for me.
I have another mountain to climb, and that is the desire to have my work out there in the world. Eventually, I would love nothing more than for one of my characters to be someone’s favorite, but no one tells you that after you beat writer’s block, you’re only over the first mountain in the whole range of the Rockies.
The particular demon I battle is when I move to submit something I’ve written. Publishers, lit mags, beta readers, friends; every platform stops me in my tracks. The moment I even consider clicking send or submit, that demon that feeds on ink begins to laugh, perverting delicately shaped sentences into barely legible word vomit. Something happens to my confidence somewhere between the nebulous world of ideas and the concrete page where reality forms. In fact, I dealt with this just last night, working on a spontaneous submission for an online literary magazine with the theme of “yellow.” In my mind, there was a lyrical and beautiful story about the way Van Gogh might have painted physical bruises and unseen heartache as sunflowers, the yellow in the petals matching the tone of healing skin. The analogies and imagery were vivid and I was convinced I could translate that into honey dipped words that would reflect for a reader what I had seen in my mind.
I may have accomplished this in reality. It’s possible. In my mind, though, I am certain I have fallen far short of that goal, that any honey dipping has only resulted in sticky words that clump together and have trouble leaving the tongue. I edited, edited again, sent it to two readers, and then edited again. And then I hesitated over the submit button for far longer than I’d like to admit, considering every reason why it wasn’t good enough and why I shouldn’t send it.
How do you battle that self doubt and the imposter syndrome that tells you your work isn’t good enough? I don’t have the answer.
But Erin, you’re writing a whole blog post about it!
I’ll probably hesitate to submit this, too, in all its candor and vulnerability, so no, I don’t have a magical solution to ease these fears and anxiety. The only thing I can offer is my own story and my own solution and hope that someone connects with it (and isn’t that what writing is all about anyway?)
I submit anyway.
I push through the doubt, forced to recognize that it won’t leave my thoughts, and I submit anyway. That’s it. It doesn’t cure the second-guessing or the need to re-read my work a thousand times, and it certainly doesn’t quiet the ink demon. The anxiety and worry that I’m really a hack remain, but the work is sent into the world on a little paper boat in a wild river. But it’s out there, and whether it is accepted into publication or not, I’ve climbed one more step up that mountain.
I used to think it would get easier, but for me, it hasn’t. Maybe it will, some day, but whether that’s in another ten submissions or ten thousand, I don’t know. Maybe it will never get easier, and every click of a button will bring a laughing ink demon, shifting honey to tar, telling me I use too many metaphors and not enough talent.
What I can tell you, too, is that I have been proven wrong about my work. I’ve had a haiku displayed in an art installation, a poem on exhibit in a museum, and a handful of anthology and lit mag publications. I submitted my piece on yellow this morning, too, despite worrying that it was a sticky, jumbled mess, and I’m trying to just let it be.
I keep writing, I keep submitting, I keep doing. Maybe there’s a little bit of magic in that after all.
Beth Klempton’s catalog of classes and lectures can be found at https://dowhatyouloveforlife.com/
Erin is a writer and photographer living in Los Angeles. In addition to online publications, she has been published in two traveling exhibits, "Love Letters in Light" and "Messengers of Memory." She spends her spare time trying to turn into a mermaid, donates photography to military families, is a total space nerd, and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @emckenziewrites