That you can learn to write better is one of our fundamental assumptions. No sensible person would deny the mystery of talent, or for that matter the mystery of inspiration. But if it is vain to deny these mysteries, it is useless to depend on them. No other artform is so infinitely mutable. Writing is revision. All prose responds to work. – Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
Last night, I started reading Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. I’m only on page 6, and already I feel rejuvenated to write. The introduction tells of Kidder’s journey to write his first piece at The Atlantic with Todd as his editor. Of how they went back and forth on the piece over and over until Kidder got “it.” Oh, to have an editor who will push so hard.
As I read last night in my bed with the wind blowing by the farmhouse windows, I realized that I have neglected a key part of the writing process in the past couple of years. In the fervor to finish a book, I forgot something that has always been helpful to me – That part of the writing process is submission. Brenda Miller once said that to me, and I have repeated her wisdom to countless students. Yet, I lost track of this truth in my head-down focus.
The truth is that the process of preparing submissions, of receiving critique, of incorporating edits for publication is part of what it is to be a writer. But even more than these things, the process of sending my work out of my hands, of letting it go when I have done all I can do, of moving on to write new things even as that one is gone, is healthy and wise and makes me a better writer. The submission process forces me to surrender what I have done even as I begin again. It keeps me humble and reminds me that I need someone else’s eyes to see what I cannot fill in. It keeps me from getting too caught up in publication expectations or sales numbers. It tells me that while a work is never perfect it can be finished, at least for a time. It reminds me that those things are not the reason I do this writing.
So beginning today, I’m submitting some work. I had an editor ask for a chapter of the book almost a year ago, so before day’s end (if my internet lasts), I will have a chapter of You Will Not Be Forgotten in his inbox. Then, I will leave it and not edit it again until I hear from him. I will surrender this piece to his judgment, and I will move ahead because this, too, is part of the journey.
Writing remains the best route we know toward clarity of thought and feeling. – Kidder and Todd
How does submission fit into your writing process? When was the last time you sent something out for consideration?