Note: This craft article was originally published at The Review Review. This is the first in a series of throw-back articles.
When my siblings and I were little, our father would drive us over the Dizzy Hill. Of course, it isn’t really called that. It’s just a hill on a country road on the way into town but we loved it. It has a steep climb with a sudden peak that tips seemingly into nothing. As we’d crest the hill, the road disappeared for just a moment. It doesn’t have any white lines where the pavement meets gravel and berm so it takes a careful driver to stay on the road or to not over-correct and veer into oncoming traffic.
At the base of the hill, our dad would call out, “Close your eyes!”
I’d grab my sister’s hand and wait, counting off the seconds in my head, trying in vain to predict the exact moment we’d careen over and the butterflies would fly up into our bellies. I’d wait to fool gravity for just a half a second as we’d come up off the bench seat of my father’s old blue pick-up. I’d wait to feel the fall of it in my stomach, that greasy feeling of nearly being sick.
Our dad was a good driver. Even when he couldn’t see the road, he kept the truck steady until we came down the other side. We laughed and clapped and begged him to go again but the road leveled out and we carried on into town.
When I submit stories for publication, I think about the Dizzy Hill. It’s a scary thing, opening yourself and your writing up for that kind of consideration. It takes a steady hand. It’s a tedious wait full of anticipation punctuated by a near-sick suspension of gravity.
Know the Road before you go – If you’re going to drive over the Dizzy Hill, I’d caution you to study the road a bit. Want to publish your work? Be mindful of the places you submit. Read those journals. Follow their submission guidelines.
A lot of smaller journals with high acceptance rates typically cannot pay. Check their social media presence: do they promote their writers? Is their site professional and error-free? Do they demand a submission fee and ask you not to simultaneously submit your work elsewhere?
A lot of highly respected journals cannot pay writers but, in turn, will promote you and your work – this is a kind of currency that holds a lot of value because they have a reputation for publishing excellent work. Others can and do pay well in addition to promoting the writers they publish. Find those journals, follow them, submit to them. Support them.
Climb the hill to get to the other side – Be persistent in the face of nearly constant rejection. Rejections are tough, I know. Who wants to drive off the road? But unlike actually driving, there is no real danger here. You don’t lose control of the wheel. Give yourself a little time to recover and then start right back up that hill.
Rejection is not failure in writing. It is an absolute certainty. If you know this at the base of the hill and you trust yourself, you will be prepared for it. Then, when you finally make it to the top, and that acceptance comes, you’ll get to experience that wonderful dizzying feeling.
Grab someone’s hand – Writers need community. Other writers are not your competition, they are your support. They’ll hold your hand as you climb the hill together. They’ll squeeze it, almost unconsciously, at the exact moment gravity takes your breath away.
Be ready to wait – I’ve had days when I’ve checked my email a dozen times. I check my submission statistics on Duotrope and try to game the system. Has my story been out longer than a journal’s average? They love it! Or, they hate it? I don’t know!
The more you climb the Dizzy Hill, the better you’ll think you are getting at predicting when you’re about to hit the top. But you just have to be patient. And, remember:
You always lose the road at the most critical point – You’ve written something amazing. You’ve done everything you were supposed to do. You’ve submitted to the perfect journals (notice I said “journals” and not “journal” – I’m a big fan of simultaneous submissions). Now, prepare yourself for the unknown.
You can’t actually game the system because it’s out of your hands. Now is when you close your eyes and wait to come up out of your seat. I’ll be honest: sometimes it takes a really long time to get up the Dizzy Hill. But when you do, you’ll get that acceptance and you’ll beg to go again. Keep moving. The road is long, the next climb is just as steep so keep writing.