Every January, when I think about my upcoming writing year, in addition to working on one big work-in-progress project, I envision what I’d like to see happen with publication of short pieces of work. I’m usually pretty consistently writing and sending off short memoir, essay, and nonfiction narratives (in the 100 to 2500-word range) and it’s motivating to have some submission and publication goals in mind.
This year, I knew that by early summer, I’d want to begin my next book—and that is indeed underway…slowly. I’m having fun getting it off the ground, writing some crappy rough draft pages, making plans. (More on this in a few months, as its still in early infancy, and since it’s an experiential project, I first have to do the stuff I want to write about!)
In early 2019 I set the goal of getting 12 short pieces published—roughly one each month—in print or online, in literary journals, mainstream media/sites, anthologies. Mostly I picked that number/frequency to keep myself motivated and on track with writing and revision, and to keep filling the submission pipeline.
Now that we’re just past the halfway mark in the calendar, it’s time for me to evaluate progress. Over the years, I’ve gained a lot from peeking inside other writers’ goal-setting and progress reports, so I’m sharing it with you.
First though, I had to ask myself, how do I define “success” when it comes to this goal? Is it hitting the mark of one piece appearing each and every calendar month? Or just 12 publications by year’s end? Is it more logical to measure success as submitting enough work to reasonably attain 12 acceptances? (Some folks measure submission success in numbers of rejections, figuring that each rejection brings one closer to an acceptance. They have a point, but I don’t like measurements based on negativity myself.) Perhaps success is producing, over the course of the year, enough quality polished short works that are ready to go, even if, by December 31, they didn’t move all the way through the pipeline from submission to 12 acceptances yet?
Well, all of that matters—or at least a little of each of those things, I suppose.
The tally for publication (and one acceptance, w/publication forthcoming) of short pieces in 2019 so far stands at six for creative work, plus one article and one guest post, and looks like this:
- - An essay on a website that focuses on spirituality and mindfulness. (March)
- - An essay in one of Medium’s edited publications. (July)
- - A short nonfiction piece in a popular mainstream print anthology. (August)
- - A piece of flash nonfiction in the online portion of a literary journal. (August)
- - Another work of flash nonfiction in a specialized online literary journal. (September)
- - An invited guest post on memoir craft for an educational venue’s website. (April)
- -A Q&A interview w/a fiction writer about her new book, on a cool literary website (May)
My (exceedingly exhaustive, multi-page, bordering-on-obsessive) submission tracker spreadsheet tells me that at the moment, I have four completed pieces out on submission at a total of 11 venues. That’s not a lot, and a bit short of my usual making-the-rounds total. Twelve publications (not just acceptances) might not happen by year's end.
While the little Post-it list on my desk that lists works still-in-progress says there are three more almost-ready pieces that should make it into that submission pipeline over the next few months, with the teaching semester getting underway in three weeks, that’s perhaps doubtful. (Then of course, there's life, interrupting and insisting on my attention all the damn time!)
Funny thing about writing/publishing goals though, at least for me. Seems that whether I get close, or achieve the goal, or fall just a little bit or a long way short, the result is often the same: I usually feel just fine about it. Because no matter what, I learn something, sometimes something important—about my writing process, my subject matter, myself.
And especially, I learn more about what it means to move personal nonfiction stories out into the world—and how, when, why, and where I want that to happen.
I’ve learned that by the time a piece is published, it sometimes means something different to me thing than it did when I first wrote it. With some pieces, some stories, simply sharing them with readers is deeply satisfying. With others, the satisfaction comes from having brought a treasured now-gone relative or friend back to life on page or screen, or from sharing a cherished experience with the world, even if that world is a relatively small number of readers who care about true, personal stories.
And in the end, regardless of numbers and goals and keeping track, that’s very often enough.
Did you set a publication goal for this year? How’s it going?
You can find some of the above-mentioned pieces via the links in the left margin of this blog. The latest is “A Grave Duty,” over on Flash Glass, the online home of Glassworks journal from Rowan University (which, in a cool unrelated but fun twist, is where one of my sons is now a student!).
Image: keyboard with petals - Marco Verch at Flickr/Creative Commons