the body is an exit
[a note on persistence when putting your creative work into the public eye]
creative endeavors are, like a great many things, more than just one thing. most folks who begin just about any creative project do it because it comes from somewhere deep inside them. something in the catacombs of their mind or the pit of their guts asking to be set free from the body. creation seems to always start with that spark of creativity. sometimes the artist sees the end result, sometimes they do not. but we begin with this lust, the fire emanating from the bones of us to go and do.
so let us say that you, a creative body, feel that flame taking hold, and begin the creative undertaking. whether it is a body of writing, mediums on a canvas, notes played on an instrument or the myriad of other ways bodies can be creative, you begin. a body in motion. a body in progress. and you listen to your bones and spend your time away from typical reality requirements creating your art. you enter this state of low key obsession with pouring this thing out of yourself. the body becoming an exit.
and then it is done. the poem is written. the manuscript complete. the painting finished. the project curated. the mold carved and set. the clay shaped. the song composed.
in this modern day world of technology and every person achieving celebrity, you then are forced to ask yourself the most important question, is this, my creation, for public consumption?
this is the real defining moment of your creative endeavor, because [and i know i might catch some flack for this] not all creative projects are meant for the public. for example, my husband loves playing guitar. he has been composing soundscapes with his instruments and effects pedals since he was a teenager, and is an immensely talented musician. he will spend hours constructing unique blends and bends of sonic creation, and yet his music is mostly for him. he shares it here or there with me [or i am simply in the house while he is playing] and occasionally sends what he creates to a friend, but for the most part he is happy to let his playing exist for himself alone. he doesn't need it to go anywhere else. it fulfills its purpose by just being.
and yet, not all creative endeavors are like that. while my husband's musical creations don't have to be private, he chooses for them to be. for in his day job, he is the head route setter for a series of rock climbing gyms in the local area. through this job he is able to explore his creativity and "publish" it, in a way, for the gym's population to climb on and evaluate. he very much cares about this work, being sure the creative of setting routes and boulders blends with the practical of training and getting in a fun workout, and that the community enjoys what he and his team construct.
so, there is public and private creation, and you alone have to decide where to draw those lines. as a writer, while i do have work i am looking to publish, i do not want every single thing i write to be published [such as: my journals]. so then you run into the next question, which of my creative endeavors do i choose to put out there?
one might think this is an easy answer, but it is not. figuring out which of your creative work is for the public and which is just for you can be a challenge. and the frustrating thing is there is no right answer, and only you can make that decision. while you might have talent with creating different things or have different types of creative sub-genres within your creative wheelhouse, only you can know what you want out there in the world, and what you would prefer to keep for yourself. but listen, keep some of it for yourself. because having your private creative expressions is like having a profound secret that you get to unlock, and that can bring you a wealth of joy in being able to experience it all yourself.
[please note that at this point i feel the need to make a commentary on social media and the modern day technology message that seems to be broadcasted to any and all that can see/listen/think. the message is to put yourself, ALL of yourself, out there ALL the time for everyone to see. every thought you have, every picture you take, every item you make or eat, and try and use that to become... famous or important or whatever. this is an insult to human creation and creativity. without the sacred pieces of yourself that are more personal [and hidden], there is nothing special to be discovered. it is very much akin to falling in love with someone. the best part about relationships is the discovery, the journey of learning another individual, unlocking over time the more intimate private portions of that person, and often, yourself. this world where you can see every bit of everything, it makes the details less special. it leads to short attention spans and the inability to communicate, everyone prepping for what they will retort with next. it creates a world of people talking over one another with a whole lot of nothing to say. so my two cents is: not everything should be visible, not everything needs to be public.]
once you have figured out what elements of your creative work you want to have out there, you have to do the hard work of curating said object/project, and possibly even marketing it [yeah, yuck, i hear you]. so you knuckle down and do that. you edit your manuscript or record, you glaze the clay, set the stones, add final touches to the painting. and this part isn't easy. since my medium is writing, i will tell you straight up that editing yourself is an exhaustive effort, especially if what you are editing is a full length manuscript regardless of genre or page count. but then miraculously one day, it is done, for real done. what's next?
if you are a writer, you begin the process of submitting your finalized work to publishers. this is a stress-inducing, ruthless, gutting roller coaster of an experience. you are elated with excitement when you construct the perfect cover letter and click that fateful submit button. after this comes the slow spot of waiting that seems to drag on forever. during this time, you begin to receive rejection letter after rejection letter. to make matters worse, much of the time these letters aren't even personalized. they are cookie cutter, copy-and-paste responses that look something like this:
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your writing. Unfortunately, [insert
your work] is not right for this journal.
Thank you for sending us [insert the name of your work here]. We appreciate the chance
to read it. Unfortunately, the piece has not been chosen for publication. We wish you the best
of luck placing it elsewhere and encourage you to submit to us again in the future.
you get no response at all, ever.
yep, this sucks. to be fair, on the side of these presses and journals they are often overwhelmed with submissions and do not have the time to give every entry a personal response. however, being on the receiving end of a rejection letter like this feels awful. you have no way to develop your work, no direction to hone it based on feedback, no clear answer when trying to figure out what you might be doing wrong [or right] and how to edit or curate it toward something more "publishable."
[i probably should mention at this point that there is a school of thought that says you shouldn't try and make the work more "publishable," that your work is what it is, and by trying to change it to fit some kind of mold that journals and presses might be "looking for" instead of honoring your voice and narrative is corrupting the very essence of yourself. with that said, i am a strong believer that feedback and editing helps you make the work the best version of itself. balancing the building of your work with the honing of it is a fine line to walk, but nonetheless, an important one.]
so, there you are, heart in your hands because seemingly no one wants your work. one piece of advice i received early on in my writing career endeavors was to submit to journals/presses where i had read the work they publish and felt my work would be a good fit. this is great advice, but what about when you have submitted to every journal or press you have read and respect (and think your work would fit well amongst), and seemingly, no one wants to publish you.
well, to be honest it feels like someone is telling you to your face that you aren't good enough. you put in hours not only reading what these journals/publishers put out, but also doing the hard work of evaluating and trying to be sure you are submitting the "right" work to the "right" places. yet round after round is a gut punch as you are told, nah. this of course causes creeping doubts to start flooding in. maybe your work doesn't have as much character as you thought. maybe it doesn't deserve to be published. maybe you are wasting your time putting all this energy and effort into this particular creative endeavor. maybe you aren't cut out for this.
i recently received a slew of rejection letters, one especially from a press that i was sure was the perfect fit for my work, as everything they publish is on the cutting line of new hybrid genre-bending awesomeness. i was certain that my work would find a home there. but then came the classic rejection: thanks for letting us read your work, unfortunately we don't think it's the right fit and won't be publishing it. again.
i went on a walk with my dad and was telling him how frustrated and upset i felt, and how maybe i should just give up. my dad, my biggest champion, was not having it. if they don't want your work, they are not only the wrong fit, but they are just plain stupid, plus probably these presses just publish their friends or people they know and don't want to take a chance on some work that pushes past conventional writing or story-telling, he said as we walked by the most incredible view of the front range spilling out before us, hey, why not say screw it to that advice and just submit your work everywhere. i immediately, and probably harshly, dismissed the idea. i trusted the person who had given me the advice in the first place, not only were they smart as a whip, but they were well published and renowned in the writing community. plus wasn't just submitting everywhere not respecting the publishers who work hard to curate a specific voice with the writing they do publish. but my dad is an incredibly smart man, and i do my best to carefully consider everything he tells me when he gives me advice, even if that means sitting on what he said for a bit.
i moped for a couple days. i considered giving up on getting my larger work published. i even considered giving up publishing my writing altogether. it was a low moment. through this i noticed one of my dogs following me around each day, through every room i would go, sitting by my side, staying close in case i needed to fall down, wrap my limbs around him, and cry. watching him do this, a thought pushed through the dark mist of my brain and came to the surface. this dog doesn't know when i might need him to be close and only show up then, he is there all the time. he gives me every chance possible to need him. he doesn't miss a single opportunity to show up. so why would i.
that advice i received is good and you should submit your work to publishers that you feel would be a good fit. but as my dad alluded to, you also need to cast your net wide. find as many as possible places for your work to nest in, because you owe your work that much. no one can or will be more of a champion for your creative project than yourself. this thing that came from you should be cherished and respected by you, and as such, you should give it every chance to succeed.
so where does that leave you. it leaves you with strengthening your creative arsenal - writing and editing across several different genres-, and for every publishing opportunity you find, go do your research into that company, read some of the work they have published, and then find the work of yours that seems like a fit and submit it. perhaps your short story collection is stalled in finding a home, but you have some poems that might fit in a journal you just discovered. and don't ever quit your creative endeavor because of setbacks. there is always a middle path, sometimes you just need to open your eyes wider to see it.
putting your creative work out there in the world for others to not only see, but judge is, in a short word, hard. but it is also always a process. one where you have to be rejected and cast aside to find the right place, the right set of publishers, the right home. and doing so always means putting in time. time creating your work. curating through the drafts. finding and paying an editor to go over finalized versions with you. researching journals and presses. reading and reading and reading. and looking for every opportunity to find and submit. and not giving up, but going through that process, learning a bit more each time, again and again.
keep this in mind, every fire needs attention and tending to. the flame that moved through the inside spaces of you to create the work that you now are putting out there in the world, cannot only be the creative. it needs to also push you forward through the submission process. it needs to be stoked, prodded, and rearranged constantly to keep burning. once this work that you create has exited you, it cannot simply exist, it needs tending to in one way or another.
so what am i saying. if you are going, keep going. keep tending to your fire. keep putting in the same time and energy to the submission process, as you do for the creation part. and know that in this process of fighting for your work, that feels more impossible on some days than others, that you are the one that shows up.