Submitting to literary journals takes a certain level of selective amnesia to avoid going completely insane. All of us have pored over our Submittable pages and tried to read the tea leaves of the transition from Received to In-Progress when in reality, it doesn’t actually mean the piece is now being discussed in real time. The editors don’t have your story displayed on a projection screen, dissecting the movement of the characters and pondering the allegories.
So we must forget we even hit the Submit button. The second you receive that notification of receipt, it’s best for the writer to whack their forehead against the wall a few times and forget where they’re sitting for a moment. It’s the only way to live a productive life. How can we be expected to take out the trash when the Taco Bell Quarterly submission is In-Progress?!?
We all learn our own methods of pretending like we have the necessary levels of patience. Personally, I start to vibrate if the car in front of me hesitates for more than three seconds after the light turns green. Imagine my capacity for watching a submission sit with the blue rectangle for 16 months? It’s simultaneously impossible to stand and impossible to change. All I’m left to do is try my best to forget it even exists.
In most cases, the odds of a successful submission are so low that all of us should probably take a moment to question why we continually sign up for a continuous string of disappointments.
This might sound off-topic, but stick with me for a second: I recently started learning how to skateboard. I’m in my mid-thirties and—as I’m learning—not very coordinated. The amount of scrapes and bruises on my shins would make you think I’d be throwing out kickflips in no time, but even after two years, I still suck. So why would I continue absolutely slamming the shit out of myself when the payoff just doesn’t seem like it’s ever coming?
It’s a math equation: Hope x (Belief+Possibility) = Pain. There’s always the hope that things will work out. The fact that I’ve landed a couple tricks (likely by accident) leads to belief. And there’s always the possibility of a miracle. So when you put that altogether you get a continuation of a seemingly self-destructive behavior.
Now substitute skate tricks for publications and bruises for rejections, and you have a quick explanation of why we continue to stare a 1% acceptance rate directly in the face and go, “Betcha this’ll work,” before submitting the latest story or poem.
Selective amnesia and the belief in overcoming massive odds require an intentional distortion of rational thought. There’s a lot that’s been said of writers over the years, and a little sprinkling of craziness is often attributed to the weirdos that will sit alone for hours talking to themselves through their characters.
Have you ever tried to explain the process of submitting to a non-writer? They’ll either say, “Jeez,” and shake their head or ask why you do it in the first place. Generally, you can’t say, “Well I have a detached sense of self-importance that leads me to believe I’ll hit the miniscule odds of receiving an acceptance,” even though it’s probably true (guilty as charged).
We have to build up walls in order to continue being open enough to write something honest. We have to simultaneously be in touch with our emotions and guarded. Vulnerable and stoic. It’s a feat of doublethink the Party would be very proud to see.
Anybody that takes the time to read submission requirements—and then adhere to them—deserves a full round of applause. Every refresh of the inbox has the potential to make your dreams come true or crush them. Most people would get discouraged after being told they’re not good enough time and again.
But not us. Not the intentionally delusional and unwell. We persist because somebody has to get that acceptance. Why not you? Or me?