The shame of submission:

Photo courtesy of Nic McPhee



What have I done?

A steady tsunami of shame washes over you as you realize what you’ve done: you have just submitted your work, your heart, your soul, to your college literary magazine. Your face is flushed, your hands are shaking, and you begin obsessively re-reading your work. You start to doubt everything: Does it even make sense? Will they get it? Will they “get” it? Repeat until exhausted.


Shame. The feeling that “this is not enough.” The fear of being exposed, judged, criticized, rejected, dismissed. Not to make too big a sweeping statement, but writers seem to live in a constant cycle of shame.

Social researcher Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” I’m sure we’ve all experienced this at one point, regardless of whether we deem ourselves “writers” and attempt to get published or choose to remain under the surface with our creative endeavors. This isn’t just a superficial self-consciousness we have about our work – it reflects deeper feelings of unworthiness and feelings that we are just not enough.

One can’t help but compare themselves to others, to fit their work into the conversation of art and literature already happening around them. But this is a dangerous path to stay on. I think a lot of this type of shame stems from comparison and unhealthy competition. My work may be contrived or silly or pretentious, but hey, it can stand on its own. It can be bad or great without being judged next to everyone else’s. Or so I tell myself.

Even though I’ve been through this before, even though I’ve been on the staff for two years, when I emailed my poetry to the Greenleaf Review this year, my face immediately turned red with embarrassment when I hit the send button. I compulsively opened up the originally document and read my work over and over, placing myself in an outsider’s perspective and wondering how a stranger or even a friend would interpret the piece. I began doubted my reasoning for wanting to submit anything in the first place. “These aren’t ready,” I told myself. “This is just embarrassing.”

Sure, being published in the mag is one way to ease these worries. But I’m still constantly questioning my writing and presumably always will. I look back on pieces I wrote in high school –

I look back on pieces I wrote two months ago – and groan in self-aware agony. It happens when I submit 15-page essays and 2-page ungraded reflections. Will it never end?

I must say, at this stage in my life, as an amateur and a student, I can’t say I have the secret solution to avoiding the feeling of shame that comes with submitting your work for review. But my personal task list includes: avoiding comparison and intense self-criticism, continuing to submit my works and getting used to that feeling of vulnerability, valuing my own work as writing that can stand on its own. It’s not easy, but it’s better than continuing to dwell in shame.


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