Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Dealing With Submitter’s Block

By Sandy Fry, @HoarderComesCln

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: From time to time I like to invite writers who are still "in the trenches" so to speak, to share their writing challenges and journeys. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, but we all go through a very similar process and it's nice to know that we are not alone on this journey. Sandy Fry joins us today to talk about a different type of writing block you might be facing yourself.

Sandy is a writer, photographer, traveler, retired computer analyst, and lifetime art student. Though she yearns to write as well as and be as successful as her critique group friends, that hasn’t happened yet.

Sandy thought that planning a contribution to the “How They Do It” column would motivate her to submit some of her work elsewhere. She’s happy to report that she now has an essay in the current issue of Minerva Rising, and a first place in the non-fiction category of the Atlanta Writers Club’s spring contest, but sad to report that she still has submitter’s block and hasn’t sent anything out since.

Sandy admits that Bob, her late partner, was a something of a hoarder (she would like you to know that he was a clean hoarder). She’s still working on sorting through his things, and keeps herself focused on finishing that task by blogging about it.

Website | Twitter

No one has asked her any questions about why submitting her work is difficult for her, so she decided to ask them herself.

Take it away Sandy...

What’s the biggest problem with your writing?

Problem? I don’t have a problem writing. I happily make lists and scribble endless sticky notes to keep track of ideas. It’s not hard to start, not hard to gather my thoughts and make connections, to edit and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

No writer’s block here–what I have is submitter’s block. I’ll bet I’m not the only writer with this problem. See if you share any of my symptoms.

What’s so bad about submitting?

First, it’s boring. Writing is much more fun. But I’ve finally realized that no editors are going to come knocking at my door asking me to please give them my favorite work to publish. And I wonder, if a tree falls noiselessly in the forest because no one is there to hear it, are we really writing if no one reads our work?

As for submitting, I intend to do it but somehow sabotage myself. I look at friends’ and critique group partners’ publications with admiration and some envy. I spend hours researching publications and contests. I plan. I write down deadlines and forget them, waking up the day they’ve past, realizing I’ve goofed again.

When I tell someone I have a problem submitting my work I usually get a look of sympathy and some form of, “Have you thought about whether you’re afraid of rejection?”

Yes, I’ve thought about it, but there’s more to it than that. I do submit once in a while, just often enough to get a few good results that should inspire me to keep submitting. But I still don’t. I begin to see maybe the problem is that, despite all this working, writing and rewriting, what I’m not doing is finishing.

Where am you going wrong?

I’ve been accused of pesky perfectionism, but here’s an idea: I worked in computer programming for 30 years, maybe I’m stuck in one of those endless shampoo loops–like “lather-rinse-repeat”–but with writing. (write-critique-rewrite-repeat…)

What’s so bad about finishing?

Until last week I didn’t realize it was hard to finish, I just thought I was still polishing several things, er, everything. Then, in the middle of listening to the audiobook of the excellent Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I heard this.

Mr. Norrell began by asking Strange if he had brought his writing? He would, he said, very much like to read what Mr. Strange had written.

“My writing?” said Strange and paused a moment. “I am afraid, sir, that I am at a loss to know what you mean. I have written nothing.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Norrell. “Mr. Drawlight told me that you had been asked to write something for The Gentleman’s Magazine but perhaps . . .”

“Oh that!” said Strange. “I have scarcely thought about it. Nichols assured me he did not need it until the Friday after next.”

“A week on Friday and not yet begun!” said Mr. Norrell, very much astonished.

“Oh” said Strange. “I think that the quicker one gets these things out of one’s brain and on to the paper and off to the printers, the better. I dare say, sir,” and he smiled at Mr. Norrell in a friendly manner, “that you find the same.”

Mr. Norrell, who had never yet got any thing successfully out of his brain and off to the printers, whose every attempt was still at some stage or other of revision, said nothing.
That hit home. I was listening in my car. I nearly screeched to a halt in the middle of Lower Roswell Road, slammed with the realization that I have way too much in common with that old fussbudget, Mr. Norrell.

What to do?

I started blogging to help me focus on downsizing and de-hoarding my house, but I think it’s also helped my writing. At first it was hard to click that “publish” button, but with weekly practice I’m getting better at it, even looking forward to it.

Still, I think it’s the Mr. Norrel likeness that makes the biggest difference. If that doesn’t cure my submitter’s block I don’t know what will.

And since I clearly need some practice, here is my tentative step forward–thank you Janice for accepting this submission to your blog. I’m almost ready to hit “send”.

Have you ever had submitter’s block? How have you coped?


  1. I don't have submitter's block, but I do understand the syndrome. It has a little to do with fear of rejection, but not completely. I think it's more about perfectionism, and, as you said, getting caught in a loop. It's easier to keep doing what you're familiar and comfortable with than to move into uncharted waters.

    I'm currently revising my novel. It needs revision throughout, but I've also had to trash and rewrite the ending. Except, I'm stuck on the last few chapters. It's far easier to go back and revise the earlier stuff than to write something entirely new--even though I've already planned the ending. I'm stuck in the loop of (still necessary) revision rather than moving on.

    Maybe this post will give me just the jog I need to skip to the next groove. (That's a vinyl record reference for those too young to have experienced a stuck needle.)

  2. I love the reference to the vinyl grooves. Now you've helped me in return -- I try to be "open to change" in my life but hadn't thought about the aspect of just doing what I'm comfortable with in relation to my problem submitting. Thanks, and all the best for your writing -- Sandy

  3. I resonate with your post, Sandy and with Elissa's response. Every part of the writing process is hard--nothing is easy--and getting stuck in a groove at any step of the way is very possible. Glad you clicked, "send," Sandy!

  4. I can't believe I've found somone just like me!

  5. Oh yeah. Collecting MS's under my bed rather than collecting rejection letters/notes. Must polish one more time, or wait - rewrite that opening yet again!! Thanks for speaking for many of us!

  6. I can relate. Thank you for sharing your story, Sandy. :-)

  7. I started to say how glad I am to see there are more of you who understand and are like me, then I realized "no - not glad -- we need to get over this!" So here's to all of us breaking our submitter's block and successfully sharing our work. Thanks for commenting -- Sandy

  8. For me, part of it's fear and part of it's fighting impatience.

    While not specifically pertaining to "Submitter's Block" I can relate to a lot of those frustrations myself.

    I think the current culture in publishing adds to whatever we bring to this problem. We always hear about and how submitting too early is just as damaging as never submitting at all.

    The only difference is that one situation is more public (i.e. Submitting) than the other (i.e. not submitting not because of, or SOLELY out of "Fear of Rejection").

    On the other hand, there's something to be said for having more than one manuscript to shop around.

    That said, something I'm known to say often is, "There's a difference between writing 10 books and those same 10 books being of equal quality with a fighting chance of publication."

    With blacklist being one of the increasingly LOUD mantras, especially in the indie/self-published arena, building a body of (Finished as we can make them) manuscripts isn't a bad idea.

    To be Continued...

    1. I focused so much on my debut (that I thankfully did sell) I didn't write a lot of new stuff, not because I didn't want to, but I do struggle with not either trying too soon or avoiding submitting entirely.

      But when you consider how competitive the market can be, that adds to our own insecurities as writers, especially in the beginning.

      Yes, nothing about this is easy, but the beginning's especially hard because we just want to go from 0 sales to some sales, that's a low-ball goal/want in my opinion.

      So while this is always been a potential concern for authors not getting out there, at the same time, submitting too early doesn't do us any favors.

      I think at least some of the hesitance to submit is in part because of the increasing demand for making a irresistible first impression, and I think part of the reason why authors struggle with criticism is not because their self-absorbed brats who don't want to work hard.

      Here's the thing, we've been told the last 20+ years now that unless you send it really polished work you'll be rejected instantly, and we know the horror stories of the indie/self-published books that aren't well edited and/or don't look professional as far as design or covers go.

      Divas aside, I KNOW that's part of it for many writers, and I include myself here.

      That's why I was resistant to the indie movement, not because I didn't want to try it for myself, or that it's impossible, but because I don't have the finances ore the team to do it right, and while there are times when you have to dive in, I don't want to be perceived as inattentive and sloppy just because my budget doesn't reflect the quality I strive toward.

      Whether or not someone likes my work, I at least don't want to be accused of not caring because I can't attain the pro standard regarding covers and not being able to pay for an editor.

      That said, I do think some highly pragmatic writers confuse "Lack of Money" with "Unwilling to be professional" but they are not the same, even if they at times overlap, that varies from one writer to another.

      To be Continued...

    2. Oy, sorry for rambling on, but this is one of those topics that tugs at my heart a lot.

      I also feel it's important I make one thing clear, I don't regret focusing on Gabriel (my debut) as long as I did, even if I'd been further along in my career, that doesn't mean Gabriel would've been ready any sooner.

      But I would've probably been able to shape it up sooner, but the road to publication might still have been long.

      Do I wish I had written more books while slogging through the trenches submitting Gabriel? YES!

      But some books just require more from us than others.

      While you often hear of the "Sophomore Slump" after people publish their first book, even writers further along in their careers have a hard time transitioning from one book to another.

      Any hardcore fan of Kate DiCamillo knows how she struggled both to break into the industry in the first place, and faced a delayed sophomore slump you could say between "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "The Tale of Desperaux, two of her best known and loved books.

      It's not always about being new and inexperienced.

      Some books just take longer than others.

      Some books simply require more of us, which doesn't mean the books that weren't as hard-pressed to emerge are any less labored/loved over.

      Especially if we're the kind of writer who always tries to do something new in every book, authors who mostly write stand alone novels best understand this, but even if you like writing series as I do, it's important both creatively and professionally not to get stuck in a rut with how and what you write.

      That doesn't mean foregoing a routine necessarily, just varying things a bit to keep it fresh, and that's what most writers want, right?

      Anyway, thanks for being brave and sharing your story, Sandy, sometimes that's the hardest part of writing, just sharing what we know to be true.

      I started my site "Talking Animal Addicts" in large part to shed the shame I used to have about what I loved reading and writing which isn't atypical for someone my age who's not a parent, teacher, or works with kids on a regular basis.

      Most writers my age are writing YA, New Adult, and adult fiction, or if they do write children's books, it's usually picture books, but middle grade novels are where my heart is. Eventually I do want to branch out, but right now middle grade's my biggest focus.

  9. What a thoughtful post - thanks for taking the time, and you are so right, it's hard to know when done is done, and we all want our work to be polished and ready. (speaking of which, I've always been amazed at how getting critiques can give me so many different opinions - I get a little lost in that sometimes) Thx again -- Sandy