Empowering Submission – guest post by Naomi Shafer

DLLRegular Live to Write – Write to Live blogger Deborah Lee Luskin recently posted Raising a Writer. Here’s a post by that young writer, who by changing the language, offers a new way to think about sending work out.


It’s hard to get excited about submitting. Submission Opportunity sounds dirty. As a twenty-three year old, just starting out, I have far too many opportunities to submit in my personal and professional life. And I work in a literary office, so I know the odds: they’re grim. But working on the other end of the submission spectrum has offered me a new perspective: as much as I’d like to believe that the gatekeepers to literary success are ogres, this job has taught me that the opposite is true. Each work is read with compassion and dedication, read by people who have dedicated their lives to soliciting new work. So, regardless of whether I like the lingo or not, to assert myself as a writer, I have to bite the linguistic bullet and submit my work.

I offer this: Instead of submitting to a competition, agent, or publisher, submit for. Submit for the opportunity to start something new, to clear your head, to know the draft is done.  Submit for the personal satisfaction of having done your best. Or, if you really need to spin it, submit for the person who will read it, for the opportunity to share your work with a stranger, to make someone else’s day a little less lonely. Because it will. Reading new work gives me hope to know that there are so many writers brave enough to share their work.

My evaluation is only one step in the process of how work is chosen. I can’t guarantee anything, certainly not fame or fortune, but what I can give each writer is my undivided attention while reading her work. I step into the world she has created and then ask what it taught me about myself. That’s a gift I can never repay, certainly not one that can be quantified with a royalty check. The authors who crafted these stories may never receive validation from my office (although many, even those not selected, do), but their characters step away from the page and inhabit my day. Some of them accompany home and keep me smiling all week. Others visit unexpectedly, months later, and remind me the enduring power of stories.

Submitting your work is an act of generosity. You give someone the chance to read a story they’d never heard before. And you create an audience, even if it’s only one person. Now, my submission is empowered with the knowledge that my work will be read. For now, that’s enough. . . But still really hard.

I’ve made a submission schedule with the goal that the more I practice it, the less scary it will become; submitting my work will feel less like submitting my whole self. The added perk is that the schedule keeps me moving forward.  Having an outside deadline helps for the days I’d prefer to clean my toilet than write. And sometimes it’s fun to write within parameters I wouldn’t have thought of for myself.

But it’s not foolproof. This past month I chickened out.  Frustrated by the contest I should have heard back from weeks ago, I let myself slump. Then, angry at the judges for not giving me the courtesy of a response, I invited six friends over to read the play I’d submitted. I was one chair short. My attempt at gluten-free baking was a catastrophe. But the play came to life. Best of all, I got feedback and encouragement from the people I care about most. It taught me that there will be other opportunities for this play, ones I can make for myself.

And in the meantime, I remind myself that each work I submit is a gift for the person lucky enough to read it.

How do you get yourself to submit your work?

NGSjan13Naomi Shafer is a Dramaturgy/Literary Management Intern at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, where her play Lucid is about to premiere in a festival of short plays. She is the editor of the Intern Company Blog and a contributing writer for inside Actors, the theatre’s newsletter. Shafer holds a B.A. in Sociology and Theatre from Middlebury College.

16 thoughts on “Empowering Submission – guest post by Naomi Shafer

  1. Sometimes you just have to stop writing and read pieces like this. I am so glad that I took the time to read every word. Great advice, as well as a work of comfort for all us writers out there procrastinating even realizing that we are finally ready to start the process!

  2. I am impressed and stunned at your maturity and insight Naomi…this is not ment to be an unkind comment but a sincere compliment. Many of us have not managed to harness the submission process as you have. I will take your advice gladly and thank you most sincerely for it.

  3. Your Mama raised you well! I will be sharing your thoughts with some friends ( especially the cranky “to-ers” who would benefit from becoming “for-ers” in the world of works submitted 🙂 )

  4. I love your perspective – writing “for” someone who’s a real person who loves reading as much as we love writing! Someone who is willing to listen to what we have to say! Win-win, even if you don’t get a tangible prize from your submission.

  5. The worst that happens with submitting is someone says “this isn’t ready.” If you’re lucky, they tell you why and you can then evaluate and fix the issues. It’s tough to get those responses, but it’s the only thing that keeps us writers moving foward!

  6. Pingback: Empowering Submission – guest post by Naomi Shafer « Aquí también, "nosotros los pueblos"

  7. Thank you so much for your feedback. Funny how, even writing this, I almost lost my nerve and pulled out at the eleventh hour. What a wonderful affirmation of my fledging faith in the kindness of an unknown audience

  8. Thanks for this fresh perspective on literary life, Naomi! As a writer, the one thing I crave is for others read my work–and it’s also the thing I’m scared of most! Yet, I cannot tell you how motivating it is to imagine editors combing through my piece with care instead of callousness. Thanks for this enlightening post and thanks also for the good work you do outside of it.

  9. Thank you so much for this beautiful and compassionate piece Naomi, discovered today on the day a full proposal for my second book was submitted …I have deliberated long and hard on the process of submissions, my first book being self-published and knowing the hard work that that entails spurred me on to trust that I could submit and be taken up by a publisher …I’m now over the first hurdle and waiting for a contractual agreement …it is a little like giving birth …thank you and good luck on your journey …Penny Reilly

  10. I really enjoyed this piece, Naomi! I never thought of writing as being for the benefit of the reader. I wish I had writing from my parents and grandparents, and you have given me incentive to write about my family and my life for those who might come after me.

  11. Pingback: Saturday Edition – What We’re Writing and Reading | Live to Write - Write to Live

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