Blake Butler has got an amazing post, “22 Things I Learned from Submitting Writing,” over at HTML Giant. I highly recommend everyone read it! Again, the reminder to put this submissions thing into perspective. I’ve been repeating here, broken record stylee, that I recommend focusing on more important things than allowing ourselves to get swallowed up in the seamy po-biz stuff. What are the more important things? Well, writing, for one. Writing, and growing stronger as a writer, through much practice, through much success and failure, which isn’t even really failure, and as a continually growing artist, always writing, always reading, always learning, being prolific, always in movement, and rather than creating work which merely satisfies the industry’s current trends and demands, aspiring to create great work that will grow beyond us.
Here’s something of note:
If you really want to publish a book one day you will publish a book. The time that you spend getting there is kind of wonderful. Don’t cut it short. The emotional range is valuable.
Yes! Long ago, before Gravities of Center, I remember talking to one of my mentors about his poetry collection, which I love, which I count among poetry collections which have influenced me and my poetics. I do believe he is largely proud of his poetry collection, but then he said to me that he believed he let some poems go too early, that some of them clearly needed more “cooking.” He’s the author of exactly one collection of poetry, though I know he has more work than this. I’ve read some, and it’s all beautiful. Perhaps he’s holding on to his poems too tightly, or perhaps he has the patience of a saint, and no need to stroke the ego with pub creds busting at the seams. I believe he knows publication will happen when it’s time for it.
These days, I get impatient too, or insecure that three books and three chapbooks is not enough pub cred, that I should be 99% done with book #4 and nearly ready to do the submissions rounds with it. That book #5 should already be in the concrete works. That I need to keep up with my colleagues, and more so that I need to be ahead of them in the race. Then I have to tell myself to chill out because this isn’t a damn race. And just get back to work.
And yes, as Butler writes, the time you spend getting there, in the writing process of the next book, is great — immersion in the body of poems, the act of growing, building, weaving, and shaping it into something uniquely ours, setting ourselves deep in those patterns. That’s a rich and optimistic place to be.
Here’s something else of note:
Don’t lose sight of someone you love in the midst of this.
Right? So, more important than simply being a great writer is to remember to be a good human being. Don’t neglect the important folks in our lives, and don’t take frustrations and jealousies out on them. Don’t use people, and don’t treat them as resources or conduits to bolster the CV. Reminder: there are no shortcuts. Create some amazing work, get better at creating amazing, smart, multi-layered, ambitious work, become efficient at getting the work into the world, and instead of being a social network guru or troll with a small amount of some passable work, collecting contacts like baseball cards, “let the work network.” You will eventually get to the point that editors, publishers, etc. that you respect are coming after you for work. When this happens, be grateful that it’s happening, and don’t squander the opportunity.
So then placing this all in perspective — submitting work is necessary in order to be published (not taking self-publishing into account). I think of it as necessary as having our livelihoods, and being on top of paying our bills, so that we can eat, so that we can have our happy homes, not just the real estate investment or status symbol, but the quality of home lives that we carve out in our spaces — the beautiful meals we create in our kitchens, having warm, safe, comfortable spaces to tend to herb gardens, build our libraries, and to break bread with loved ones and dear friends.