Want to be a better literary citizen? Six things I learned by sending my poems out into the world
Happy National Poetry Month!
After a long hiatus, I recently started sending my poems out into the world again and in doing so, I learned several things that are helping my literary career that I wanted to share with you.
First, the reason I hadn’t been sending my poems out is because it always felt like drudgery to me. All that left brain work made me feel overwhelmed. Plus, I’m a busy business owner! I mean, who has time for one more thing to do, right?
After hearing one of my poetry mentors say she, too hated sitting down to send out her work (and she’s a HUGE award-winning poet), I didn’t feel so bad. What works for her, she said, is to sit down once a month or so and do an afternoon of submissions. I thought, “I can do that.”
I chose a Saturday and sent out 20 poems to eight different literary magazines. I created a short artist bio that I could use for each submission. Then I found a simple Google Sheet online from another poet that I used to track my submissions, including the name of the poem, where it’s been submitted, when I submitted it, when they typically reply, a column to note if it’s been accepted or rejected, and a column for the magazine’s website link.
Normally, my left brain would be balking at these types of activities, but it was kind of fun.
Next, I basically forgot about all this and went back to work on my other projects. Over the next two months, I got several rejections and six acceptances (six poems in two magazines). Pretty cool!
What did I learn?
Track your submissions. Whether you’re sending out poems, short stories, novels, photography, or paintings, you’ll save so much time if you have a simple tracking system and an artist bio ready.
Treat it like a job. Submitting your work is part of your job as a good literary citizen. We create work so others can read it and benefit from it, right? If you’re not sending out your work, you’re not enriching others’ lives.
Ask for what you want. A wise person once told me, “If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.” People are not mind readers. We must ask for what want in our lives. For artists, that includes sending your work out to be seen and published. If we don’t send our work out, it won’t be published. Ever.
Have no emotional attachment to outcome. When I was a young poet, I took rejections hard. Each rejection was like an ice pick in my heart. Over time, I developed a thick skin and just keep sending my work out. Eventually, I got a poem published, and then another, and another. If I had let my emotions get the best of me, I probably would have stopped sending my work out, and my poetry life might have dried up. As artists, I firmly believe we need that interaction with our community to help us grow and become better humans and artists.
Find passion for your bigger projects. I’ve been working on a novel which is a very long, time-consuming process. But now, by sending my shorter works out and getting some published, it gives me a little reward, a hit of pleasure, while I keep slogging away at my larger work. This feeling of satisfaction gives me more pleasure and passion for my bigger project, too. It’s like a little zap of energy.
Join an artistic community. This will sustain your muse and feed your passions. At the end of January, I joined a poetry community and subscribed to a newsletter where I receive poetic inspiration, writing prompts, lesser-known places to submit work to, and more that has helped me become a better poet and literary citizen. (If you’re a poet and would like a free month of this newsletter, let me know. The two poets who put out the weekly newsletter gave me a few links for friends and I have one left).
I hope my experience helps you see the importance of putting your work out into the world. If you’re working on a novel or memoir, look for opportunities to submit shorter works such as poems, short stories, or flash fiction, etc. to literary journals.
Another benefit is you’ll start building up your artist resume, which might come in handy when your book is ready for publication.
Activity: Write in your journal about what it means to be a good literary citizen. I’ll share my ideas in my next post.
You can see some of my poems at CDFawcett.com.