At the end of July of this year, I started a new job, one I absolutely love. With all of the change and adjustment that comes with a new job, I’ve really put everything writing-related on my periphery, and that has been interesting in its own process.
During my MFA program, all I did was look at my own writing. I was writing it, submitting it for critique in class, editing it, submitting it, going back over it once it was rejected, re-submitting it, then, often, I was looking at it again once I started putting together a collection of poems.
I was also always looking at writing-related things. I was reading the work of other writers, in class, for The Pinch, or in literary journals. I was brushing up on writing contests, stalking other writers for solicitations, talking with other writers, attending readings and book festivals. Blogging. Tweeting. Status updating. All about writing.
Looking at all of this writing felt like, in a way, looking at the sun. Often looking at it so intensely that it hurt, like when my book got its first round of rejections or when several literary journals all at once returned a piece saying it was “so close.” The intensity of my gaze made these rebuffs all the more acute.
Having this job as my main focus has meant I haven’t been focusing at all on my writing, so when I’ve received pretty big rejections, I haven’t felt them very much or, in some cases, at all.
When none of my poems were selected to appear in Best New Poets 2013, which two literary journals had nominated my work for, I shrugged and returned to grading papers. When my book, again, wasn’t selected for a finalist or semifinalist for two major contests, I looked over the manuscript again casually while eating breakfast one morning, and sent it out to another contest later that month.
The same has been true for good news. An independent press that I had sent a manuscript query to requested to see the full-length. I sent it to them a day later with only opening the file to make sure it was my most recently edited version. Someone solicited me to submit work for a poetry anthology. I went through some of my poems that fit the theme they were asking for and sent a packet out with little worry or anxiety a few weeks later.
This morning, I sat down and read and edited and submitted, and it was a nice morning. I even submitted to some journals that not only charge $3 fees for submission, but also are really fantastic journals that I never was brave enough to submit to (or willing to shell out the money for) before.
I can’t decide whether I’d recommend “not looking at the sun.” For me, getting a full-time job that is not dependent on my success in the literary world has made me change my priorities. Before, since I was always thinking, “Well, I can’t get a position as a professor UNLESS I have a book, preferably two, and lots of fancy publications, and maybe I’ve won some contests…” I needed to write and submit and write and submit.
Now, there’s still a need–my spirit feels really cluttered when I’m not actively writing–, but the need isn’t chained to a desire for material success, and for me, I needed that freedom.