Just Write, Damn It!

I struggled with my thoughts on the post this week: submitting vs. not. While I think it’s helpful to put yourself out there, if for nothing else than to get feedback on how you’re doing, there are those who would tell you that submission is part of being a writer. That somehow not being willing to fling your work over the transom makes you less of a writer, or at least not brave enough to fully own that title.

At the moment, I’m not sure that I believe that.

Several months back, I read a series of articles about what it means to be a writer. My own thoughts at the time were pretty snobbish. I felt that if you weren’t actively submitting your work somewhere then you were just wasting your time, as well as the time of anyone else who had been asked to read your pages. But then one blog post stopped me short. The gist was this: if you write, you’re a writer. End of story. No further validation needed. That really appealed to me.

Although I like the inclusionary nature of this approach, I feel like I should add a caveat here. Be proud of the work you do. Enjoy the thrill of creation, and soak up that rush of finishing energy you get when you finally type the words “The End.” But understand your limitations as well.

Cobbling together a story doesn’t automatically make you a professional writer. Just as hammering out a novel doesn’t put you on par with a best-selling author. This approach just says that even if you’re only a hobbyist, you should still call yourself a writer. Because writers write, whether they show their work to others or not.

Not everyone who owns a sailboat will win a regatta. Just as most people who lace up their running shoes will never set a new world record. And very few, if any, of the people swimming laps at the local Y will ever go head to head against Michael Phelps. But they are still sailors, runners, and swimmers in their own rights. Just not as experienced, and perhaps gifted, as those we see doing it professionally.

Now that I’ve gotten the feel-good portion of this post out of the way, let me say this: I do think submission is good for you. If you have any notions of trying to do the writing thing professionally, you need to know where you stand. It’s good to find out how your skills match up against other would-be scribes?

You also need to feel the sting of rejection. It’s good to have your heart broken and your ass kicked so you can figure out if you have what it takes to get back up again. Are you willing to put yourself back out there knowing there are no guarantees and that you very well might get crushed again? Perseverance can be hard to hold on to when you keep recognizing your own SASEs in the mail week after week.

The best coping mechanism I’ve found: write for yourself, not anyone else. Amuse yourself, terrify yourself, whatever fits the tone of the story that you are trying to tell, write it in a way that makes you feel what you want others to feel. Be honest with yourself about what you would expect from a book that you shelled out hard-earned cash for. Then hold yourself to that standard.

All that’s left is to write the damned thing. Because that’s what writers do. They write.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

4 Comments

  • Ted Boone says:

    I like this message. I’ve always found the, “You must do X, because…you must!” mantra difficult to swallow, whether it dealt with career issues, family matters, religious beliefs, or anything else. Why must anyone do anything to fit a particular definition? I definitely approve of a a more flexible approach when it comes to defining who we are and what we do.

  • Kevin Wohler says:

    You wrote, “Not everyone who owns a sailboat will win a regatta.”

    That’s true, but I would counter that writing without submitting is like buying a sailboat and never putting it in the water. You can’t be a sailor and never be on the sea. So how will you ever get anything out of writing if your manuscript stays safe on the shore?

    The act of writing is only one part of the journey of being a writer. To get good at writing, you have to leave the harbor and face the storm. That’s where submitting a story comes in. It’s essential to becoming a better writer.

    • Ted Boone says:

      I wholeheartedly disagree. I think the better analogy is that writing without submitting is like buying a sailboat and never racing it in a regatta. It’s in the water, you’re sailing it, but maybe you’re just sailing it for yourself. Maybe you have zero interest in racing. With writing: maybe feedback from agents/publishers/editors/peers don’t matter to you.

      I’m not coming at this from a personal viewpoint: I will personally put my work out there (someday). I’d like to be published, and submission is part of that process. But I know lots of writers that enjoy the process and don’t give one whit what anyone else thinks of their final result.

  • Jason Arnett says:

    Writing for the pure enjoyment of it is one of the best things in the world.

    What does it cost to submit a story, though? If you’re writing because you like your stuff, why would you sweat what others think anyway? If you’re getting your writing critiqued that’s submission as much as anything, you just tend to know the folks doing the crits. If you’re secure enough that you don’t care what anyone thinks of your writing and it’s yours and no one can take it from you, why not send it out?

    Having read some of Larry’s stuff — dude, you should submit. Your work is funny and cogent and all kinds of other adjectives. To put a finer point on it: it’s GOOD. If you don’t mind doing the work and getting communications from people you don’t know, there’s absolutely no reason not to submit.

    My two cents.

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