I have gotten 11 submissions done so far this month, entered three contests, and I can’t seem to decide what to do next. My novel is almost ready to submit, I could just start sending query letters to agents, but if I did, I would have to really rush through its final read-through if it got requested. And if it’s not ready to go out, why would I start submitting just to fly into a panicked editing rush if someone wants to see it?
Then there’s my short submissions. I can’t seem to simultaneously submit them without feeling this strange anxiety. I know that this is what lots of successful writers do. So why can’t I just do it?
Meanwhile, the ‘full’ of my memoir is still out with an agent in New York. It’s time for a response but I am afraid to write and ask about it, because I know that the answer is overwhelmingly likely to be “yeah, sorry, but we’re going to pass.”
I wonder if this happens to anyone else, unable to move forward because they’re unable to check on a manuscript?
So I have just the short fiction and memoir pieces. I read somewhere that you should not do simultaneous submissions that are not evenly matched — where if the less exclusive magazine accepts, you’ll be disappointed to take the manuscript out from the more-prestigious.
Meanwhile, yeah, that image is my submission tracker. The colors stand for such things as completed/not complete ms., submitted (green) accepted, rejected, rejected with note, and suggested submission that I haven’t done yet (that’s yellow).
I’m building on a blog post from Unbolt Me here in which Tony Single is discussing the question of what the writer’s muse really looks like, and whether you can create your own, and whether you should trust the @#$%^&** muse anyway. I claimed in the comments thread that in the past I never got past the idea of the nine muses of classical myth. I claimed that the idea that I might have my own muse, a sort of personal creative guardian angel, hadn’t yet formed. Actually, that’s inaccurate. My muse was forming years and years ago and I throttled it for personal reasons.
Yet this week, again, it is re-forming.
To understand why I tried to kill the muse, you have to go with me back to college. I am reading Adrienne Rich’s poem “Snapshots of a Daughter in Law,” the lines of which have echoed in my head ever since, in which the young writer hears the ‘angels (her muse) chiding’ her:
“Only a week since They said: Have no patience.
The next time it was: Be insatiable.
Then: Save yourself; others you cannot save.”
In my mind, as an undergraduate reading Rich’s work, I thought ‘yes, yes, the poetry is good, but Rich’s husband killed himself after she left him. Her liberation killed him, Her muse killed him.’
The muse was telling her to destroy her family. But maybe I misunderstood.
Rich wrote of the struggle to be a woman of letters while caring for small children, one of the great paradoxes of our age, since there’s no reason these days you can’t be a woman of letters and a mother, it’s just the hour-to-hour process of doing it is so damn difficult and intimidating, it feels like sitting in the landing craft the night before D Day waiting to land on Omaha Beach. From the same poem, Rich encapsulates:
“Reading while waiting
for the iron to heat,
writing, My Life had stood–a Loaded Gun–
in that Amherst pantry while the jellies boil and scum …”
Back then, Adrienne Rich was telling me my life and it terrified me. Right away, in seconds, I rejected Rich’s rejection of domesticity. I asked, ‘how can we abandon the men and children to get time to ‘actualize’ ourselves; men and children do horrible things and become horrible things in our absence?’
Details on that will have to wait for another blog post.
Her muse was too close to my own, with whom, back then, I had written a novel about adultery which I then foolishly showed to my family, who luckily misinterpreted it as being about my parents’ divorce. But my mother-in-law saw through the hoax.
“This book isn’t very good,” she told me, giving me the eye of accusation. In her view it was worse than not good. It was subversive.
“That’s it,” I thought, terrified of what family and others might do to me if the rest of them realized what the muse and I were cooking up. “Now I will stuff my muse and all the impulses that led to the adultery novel in the secret bag, which I will hide under the dresser.” For decades. I did get away from the marriage and among other things my original mother in law, ultimately. But that muse was never allowed back out again. I had conflated her voice with all the disasters of those years.
But now, the idea comes to me: If I let the muse out again, now that I am (I hope) a stronger, different person, what would the muse tell me to do say or do this time? What would he or she look like?
More on the muse to follow. I’m wondering: how many other writers think about the muse?
Yes, it’s true, I did it: 15 submissions in 30 days. How? I concentrated on writing short stories and re-writing old ones and finding potential markets. It did help that I submitted my novel to four mentoring teams in #pitchwars. And all this while working full time and conducting a deep reading of Mary Dearborn’s Hemingway biography.
I don’t want to lie. At times, I thought I might go a little crazy, obsessively building my MsExcel submission tracker, with its color coded boxes that tell whether something is in submission, out of submission, rejected, or still being developed.
I subscribed to Duotrope and Literistic (more on that later, I had planned to do a blog post talking about these two, along with Submittable, and which of them you need and why) and tried to match my stories with magazines that might, theoretically, find them interesting.
I submitted to The Sun again. They have rejected me a number of times, and I don’t know if my theory of literature and what it should do is 100% compatible with theirs, but then, I don’t know that it isn’t and I at least was able to pick the least likely to fail of my stories, because I know them and I’ve read their journal over the years. And my father, who is quite infirm, said he wished someone from our family would publish in the Sun, his favorite magazine. This week is his birthday.
My stats so far: Four rejections. Eleven items still in submission. No acceptances. Some of the pending subs have a better chance than others. But even if ultimately if none are accepted, for now, I’m pleased. You have to do things wrong, sometimes, before you do them right. I learned a lot, I submitted my work over a broad range of journals, and at the very least, I can tell myself that I’m in the game.
Having just written about the experience of reading literature with my own 15 year old, I had to wonder: why had my son not claimed the same thing? He clearly is less interested in reading than Ulin’s son Noah, requiring reminders and cajoling to get school assignments read, and never, as Noah apparently has, reading a book voluntarily. Yet my son, Andrew, wouldn’t say literature is dead. Perhaps because he reads for comprehension, generally not philosophically to determine whether the text is living or not, or perhaps because his dad is not a literature person, but a classicist, which, I surmise, is a little bit more intimidating. Assailing Classics would be obvious — Dead Languages are Dead, Dad! But his father, having heard all these arguments regularly on any given street corner, and having, withal, a rather techy nature– would be ready for him.
I’m convulsed with laughter at my own arguments and I don’t know if anyone else will find this funny. But Dr. Ulin, your son is a reader and a thinker and be grateful. Anyone who reads Lord of the Flies voluntarily while at camp has a potential for a future in letters. Of course, what that future will be will depend on technology. Be grateful nevertheless. Two out of my three sons inherited dyslexia from my mother in law. It’s been tough. And fifteen year olds are generally rebellious and difficult. When Noah is 18 or 20, he’ll be a different person.
I am eating the frozen pupusas that I mentioned in the previous post. Actually, they’re pretty good. Although 14 year old Andrew walked in, picked one up, asked “Does this have meat in it?” and when answered in the negative, threw it right back down on the tray.
Back to writing: today I put Scarlett on an airplane to return to LAX. Before she left, we talked about having our second Mother-Daughter Writer’s Retreat over Thanksgiving.
I wondered how it could be improved, so I decided to do a little bit of research and found a couple of relevant articles on The Write Life. The first one, 37 Incredible Writing Retreats to Attend in 2018, was just what it said. This was the one that told me that Scarlett and I are on the right track. These retreats were, it seemed, mostly on another continent and mostly $1200-$3000 not including airfare. “What kind of writers have money for this?” I wondered.
Well, I have to admit that I didn’t make it. I only made 10 submissions. Of those, one requested more material (agent query) one was responded to with a personal rejection, and I also got two time-stamp rejections, by which I mean, they said if it takes longer than a couple weeks to respond, it’s no, and it did. Six items are still awaiting responses.
I spoke of my challenge-failure to Leo. “Well, what made you think you could make so many submissions?” he asked me. “Especially when right in the middle of it we went on vacation to Florida and you were babysitting Emma also?”
Uggggg. What indeed.
Now we are moving to Colorado in five days, no, wait, a day has gone by since I originally drafted this. Four days. The house is full of boxes, I haven’t been on Twitter in about two weeks, and what is on my mind? I’m worried about my submissions challenge?
Have I not got my priorities straight? Well, maybe not, but one needs to have hope! Writing makes me feel better and in the midst of moving, you have to feel better. By this time, generally, I’ve emotionally reached what we have long called “the horse latitudes of moving,” that is, the point when you’re so sick of moving you just want to throw everything away and run for it. So, as I pack another box, I determine: as soon as I get started in the new house, I’m going to do the submissions challenge again. This time, it’s the fifteen submissions in 30 days challenge. And we’ll see how that goes.
Meanwhile, we’re having the leftover frozen dinners that have to be purged from the ‘fridge. Smiley. Not.