Passing Through Submissions Anxiety, 1: Writer’s Block

Gah!  The problem with writing a post about anxiety in submissions and putting yourself out there is that it’s hard to get hold of. 

So you’re getting a SERIES, People.

I would guess that submissions will bring with them simple stage fright for most novelists. I wonder if Atwood still experiences submission fright when she packages up the next Great Canadian Classic to send off ? Does she worry she’s lost her touch or that this one will be too challenging?

Novel writing is an exceedingly LONG TERM speculative art project - I was working on Insignificant Holy pretty seriously for most of a year. Before you start submitting, as a writer, you’re writing for you and maybe one or two other people: it’s only in submitting that you can see whether your story will connect more widely with audience.

But there’s a whole bunch of intertwined factors in that connection. Only some of which you can control. Of course, doing what you can and knowing you’ve done your best can help tame anxiety that you’ve just sent a dog into the world, and more than a few people are willing to sell you writing books, courses, manuals, how-tos, etc.,  to help you out. I’m going to take a little tour through what I learned from some of the areas other writers have talked about in profusion — things I learned thinking about their work.

1) Anxiety and Writer’s Resistance

There’s all sorts of stuff on how to force yourself to write. ( I like War of Art and Bird by Bird). This is not something I can speak to well because I have not yet experienced really debilitating writing resistance: as I said to Cheesefairy recently, I’d be more than happy not to write, if I could find an avocation that fit the space in my life, was as essential, and made money. I keep fucking writing just because.

But I’m going to guess that writer’s block would make the submission process that much more anxious because of all the sweat in the manuscript. And for that, I shared similar anxiety.

I remember, after writing Eureka, that the idea I might write a second novel without publishing the first was HI-LARIOUS and obviously not going to happen. Why would I invest that many evenings into something less productive than sweater knitting? 

Working through that anxiety was about asking: Why is it that I write and can I choose something else as a thing to do?  (Like, for example, sweater knitting.)

For awhile I needed writing to be the answer away from my mucked up career path. That generated a hell of a lot of anxiety. The pain was not about writing, but about money, success, and what you tell people you do when they ask at a party. It was Rachel at Milkbreath and Me that slowly convinced me that, re: artistic pursuits, trying to make money define your work is a fool’s game.

I spend shitloads of time and sweat on this work.  Ergo, it is my work, paid or no. I’m not sure why it was so important for me to justify my compulsion with payment in order to acknowledge my time… but it was untenable to demand that of myself. I can’t stop and I work very hard, therefore I work as a writer. That helped some of my submissions anxiety: I’m not justifying anything.

There are a lot of things you cannot control when sending a book, right? Market forces and saturation, the headspace of the person you’re sending to, etc. If you write an opus and it’s brilliant, there’s still a good possibility it won’t sell: as my brother has said, sales is a numbers game. What keeps you going through the numbers is the writing for its own sake – if writing for its own sake isn’t enough, the submissions anxiety will enjoy eating your stomach as a tasty snack and belch your opus after. All the writers I know have similar advice: send it and get writing something else.

Tomorrow! Stammering out a Manuscript


  1. If you ask Richard what he does, he’ll tell you he’s a photographer. He works to earn money, but he doesn’t define himself by the job he does, it’s just what he does to earn money. He defines himself by his passion, his art – he’s a photographer. You’re a writer.

  2. I have been suffering from anxiety since I was a child, then I succeeded on getting rid of it. I dropped my anxiety by my book. It helped me. I wish it to help also the others. I want to spread my message as much as possible, to give people a few amount of inner fire. The way how I healed my anxiety is written in my recent book. The title is “Travels of the Mind” and it is available at
    If you have any questions, I am most willing to offer my views on this topic.
    Ettore Grillo

    By Ettore Grillo on February 1st, 2010 at 7:17 am

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