Using submission requests to spur inspiration

I’ve written previously about the value of writing prompts as well as the importance of creating your own inspiration. Today, I want to take just a few short minutes to share a little tip about submission requests, and how they tie into these two topics.

No matter what you write – poetry, novels, short stories, essays – there is a literary journal, website, or writing contest somewhere waiting for you to send in your best. And while many folks might not feel their work is up to the “publishable” level, or are concerned that they don’t have an appropriate piece of work to submit, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter.

Publishable or not?

I’m my own worst critic, so I know how it feels when you’ve written something and don’t feel it’s worthy of a wider audience than your cat. You want to tweak it again, fix this line, change that word. I get it.

But, if you’re like me, there’s a point at which you finally think to yourself, “I’ve been working on this so long, I have no idea if this is good or not.”

So send it in! If you come across a submission for which you think your piece is appropriate, send it in! Maybe the editors will like it, maybe not. If they don’t like it, they won’t publish it and no one will see it.

If they do like it, however…you can rest assured that particular piece can be now considered “DONE.”

Nothing appropriate?

The flip side to having a piece that’s appropriate for the submission rules but not actually ready for submission, is not having anything appropriate at all, with regards to subject matter or genre. Here’s where it gets really fun.

Say you’re checking out some writing blogs and one of the bloggers has a writing prompt. Maybe he/she has posted a photo or some words and is asking for readers to share a piece of writing based on the prompt. You might not think twice about whipping up something based on that prompt…so treat the submission as a prompt!

What, there’s a journal looking for stories about windows and doors? That’s a writing prompt! A contest requesting poems about dreams? That’s another prompt! Every submission request is a prompt, so seize every opportunity you can! If you aren’t already doing this, you need to.

No inspiration is no excuse

A professional writer does not wait for inspiration to strike; you simply can’t afford to! Rather, a professional writer creates his or her own inspiration.

Many years ago, I wrote when I felt inspired. Now that I have been writing more and more – and have been published more and more – I have learned to create my own inspiration by working on ideas and words and lines until the poem or story starts coming together.

In the case of submission requests, though, the inspiration is handed to you!

You are told, “We need stories or essays about this” or “We’re looking for poets from this background writing about this subject.” So when you see the request, think about what you might be able to write about that fits the requirements.


Proof is in the poetry

Last week, I was thinking about some of the adult-oriented poems I’ve had published, and it occurred to me that most of them had not been written until after I had seen the submission request. In other words, I didn’t have completed poems lying around that just so happened to perfectly fit the rules and requirements of the submission.

Rather, I saw the submission request and decided to write a poem that fit the requirements. And honestly, this has been the case with almost every poem I’ve had published! A few examples:

  • I saw a submission request for poetry about nature, society, and change. So I thought about it and came up “In the Glen,” a poem about The Giving Tree, one hundred years later. It was published by the Tall Grass Writer’s Guild in their anthology, Seasons of Change (Outrider Press, 2010).
  • I came across another request seeking poems and essays about how poetry trigger-warningsaved a life. My best friend from college, who struggled to accept himself as gay, immediately cam to mind. So I wrote “Coming to Terms,” which was eventually accepted and published in the anthology Trigger Warning: Poetry Saved My Life (Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, 2014). (I’m still waiting for my contributor copy to arrive, but that’s a whole other story.)
  • In 2013, I interviewed Gerald So, editor of The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly for a National Poetry Month post here on my blog. When Gerald asked if I wanted to contribute to his blog journal, I said I’d love to – so I needed to come up with a poem! The result was “Flight;” another poem, “To the Accused,” was published the following year.

These are just three examples of many, so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to use submission requests as writing prompts. Many folks besides Yours Truly do this, with great success.

In fact, I just completed a new poem that was supposed to be for a writing prompt by a fellow blogger (sorry, Michelle, I’ll have to come up with something else!) – but then I stumbled upon an anthology submission request that was so similar, I had to use the poem for that, instead!

I have no idea if the poem will be accepted for publishing, but I’m not worried. I can: a) resubmit the poem elsewhere, if an opportunity presents itself; b) set it aside to be included in my own chapbook-in-progress; c) share it here! or d) let it languish in darkness, never to see the light of day.

I do know which option I won’t be taking. I’m happy to share just about anything I write, providing I’m pleased with it!

There are plenty of things I’ve written that probably won’t see the light of day, though…and that’s fine, too. Not everything is meant for publication, and not everything meant for publication is publishable. The important thing, though, is that we are writing – so #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading!


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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15 thoughts on “Using submission requests to spur inspiration

  1. Love your productive attitude, Matt. Fingers crossed for your anthology submission! If the poem you wrote was a persona poem, I’ll enter you in the giveaway even if you don’t write another poem. You met the challenge – that’s what matters to me, not whether I post your poem in the wrap-up. Well done!


    1. Thanks, Michelle! Yes, it was a persona poem – I wrote it from the perspective of a young child whose divorced parents were arguing during a Sunday afternoon exchange. I’ll email you a copy so you can read it, if you’d like, but please don’t publish it until I find out if it’s accepted.


  2. margaretsmn

    My problem has been I send something off and hear nothing, nothing. No rejection even, nothing. I’d love to know where you are tuning in to hear calls for submissions.


  3. Matt, this is a great post that is inspiring. After college I decided not to go to grad school for creative writing because I needed to publish. While my prof believed in me he did not give me the push I needed. I would love for you to dig deep into your poetry bank and send me an offering for my #SpringsSeeds Gallery.


  4. Pingback: Poetry Friday: “Spring at Pond Meadow” – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

  5. Pingback: Poetry Friday: “Sunday afternoon, 1975” – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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