On Shameless Self-Promotion: Keep Hitting the Send Button

As girls we learn not to stand out, not to be brave, not to be bold, not to break the rules. We learn that it is shameful to “brag,” so without realizing it, we downplay our accomplishments. We carry this internalized conditioning into every area of our adult lives, including our writing lives, where it operates beyond our conscious awareness and makes it very difficult for us to promote ourselves, never mind promote ourselves shamelessly.

 

Shameless self-promotion. It’s an interesting concept given that female conditioning is, in the words of literary critic J. Brooks Bouson, “a prolonged immersion in shame.” As adolescents, we learn to be ashamed of our female bodies in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. As Bouson puts it, “Shame about the body is a cultural inheritance for women.” Shame about our bodies erodes our sense of self and muffles our voice. Over time, shame determines how we see ourselves and what risks we will take in the world. We become shameful, not shameless.

 

Lisa Campion, energy healer and dean of students at the Rhys Thomas Institute of Energy Medicine, calls shame the most toxic emotion because unlike guilt, which we feel in response to something we’ve done, shame causes us to feel bad about who we are. When we doubt ourselves, how likely are we to shamelessly self-promote our writing?

 

Last spring at the AWP conference in Boston I attended the VIDA panel on the Count 2012. VIDA is an organization for women in the literary arts, and they’ve made it their mission to raise our awareness about the stark differences between the number of women compared to men published in literary magazines and journals. The panel consisted of magazine and journal editors, and one theme that emerged was a difference in the way women and men approach submissions after they receive a rejection. The editors had noticed a trend. It was not uncommon, they said, for a man who had received a rejection to respond by immediately submitting another piece of writing. Women, on the other hand, rarely responded with a new submission. Indeed, a cultural inheritance of shame becomes a literary inheritance of silence.

 

Recently my essay “Against Memory” was named a finalist for AROHO’s Orlando Prize for Creative Nonfiction 2013. Because only the winner in each category received publication, I faced an opportunity to resubmit my piece. My first choice magazine receives upwards of one thousand submissions a month and is known to take months to respond. I did not want a piece that was honored as a finalist to sit for months in a submissions pile. So I scratched my head and came up with a plan. This plan freaked me out. It made me jump up and get a cup of coffee even though I’m giving up coffee. It made me tear my thumb cuticles, even though I’m kicking that habit, too. It made me want to unwrite the essay and let both of us disappear.

 

My plan was to contact a writer I know—not well, mind you—who has published numerous pieces in magazine X. Maybe she could put me in touch with her editor  and streamline my submission process? Finally, after putting it off for hours, I composed an email. Not because I felt like it. But because I’d promised myself that as a woman writer I would be my biggest advocate. Yes, I drank coffee. Yes, I bit my cuticles to smithereens. The voices in my head ranted, Who do you think you are? You hardly know her! She’ll think you think you’re somebody. Stop right now. You will humiliate yourself and the rest of us. I didn’t dare ask the voices in my head who the rest of us are. I just composed while they ranted and my right knee bobbed up and down. And then, way too many minutes later, my chest churning, I hovered the cursor over send.

 

Hello, dearest R. I got your email address from G and S, and I hope it’s okay that I’m contacting you directly. My essay “Against Memory” was named a finalist in AROHO’s Orlando Prize for Creative Nonfiction 2013. (Yes, still pinching self!) Because it is a finalist and not a winner, I am gearing up to send it out for publication. It is a brief essay, roughly 550 words, that explores the effects of silencing on memory and the healing power of speaking one’s truth. I would love the opportunity to publish this piece in X but am well aware of the overwhelming number of submissions they receive each month. Which leads me to the reason for this email. Would you consider suggesting to your contact at X that he/she take a look at “Against Memory” without its having to wait in their very long pipeline of submissions for consideration? I know this request is shamelessly self-promotional and, well, suffice it to say that these days I’m learning to wear self-promotion as an endearing accessory. But I do not want to put you on the spot or create more work for you than you already have on your plate. So, if you’re up for it, awesome. If not, I will still think of you as the awesome and utterly pure wonderful R who you are. Really, this request is coming from a deep commitment to myself to put my voice and vision and writing out into this hungry world, and to be brave and take bold risks doing it.

 

Finally, to appease my own damn daring and, frankly, to honor my self, I hit send. My email made that whoosh sound it makes when I send an email. Whoosh. I felt lighter. Like I’d released a small measure of internalized shame when I hit send. I felt less shame.

 

In her essay “Carnal Acts,” Nancy Mairs writes, “Somehow, over the years, I’ve learned how to set shame aside and do what I have to do. … And I do so, I think, by speaking…about the whole experience of being a body, specifically a female body, out loud, in a clear, level tone that drowns out the frantic whispers” of her mother and grandmothers telling her to be quiet and to keep her truth to herself. “Speaking out loud,” Mairs says, “is an antidote to shame.”

 

Submitting and resubmitting our work is a form of speaking out loud. Hitting send, then, is an antidote to shame. Each time we hit send, we have less shame than we had before. We become shameless.

 

From an energetic perspective, hitting the send button in the face of shame sends a message not only to our deepest self that we have our own back but also to the universe and to our writing muse that we mean business. That we believe in our writing. That we value our story. That we will stop at nothing to become the writer we intend to become. The universe and our writing muse take notice. They support us in our mission in ways we cannot anticipate. We become more confident in our writing. More empowered. More present. More able to take shameless command of our writing dreams.

 

R responded within the day, and while she supported my submitting to magazine X and offered a contact, she did not think it would make much difference. She herself still waits months for a response from X and the rejections still outweigh the acceptances.

 

I considered stopping there. But I’d promised myself that I would promote myself even when I felt discouraged. So on behalf of my Self I composed an email to the editor. Yes, I drank coffee. Yes, I picked my cuticles. But I hit send. Whoosh went my computer, undermining every rule I’d ever learned about what it means to be female. And even though I don’t expect to hear back from magazine X, I believe I’ve won. Because hitting the send button against such odds bolstered my courage and my confidence. From that daring act I now show up at my desk a little less shameful. Indeed, shameless. Whoosh.

 

To shameless self-promotion,

 

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37 comments

  • Kate Hopper October 10, 2013   Reply →

    Oh Marilyn, yes yes yes! I love this so much. I love that you’ve decided to turn your back on shame and instead honor the important work you do as a writer. I’m so happy for you and proud of you. Every woman writer needs to read this!

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 10, 2013   Reply →

      Ah, Kate! Thank you, dear. We’re in this together, all of us girls, that’s for sure. xo, M

  • Ginny October 10, 2013   Reply →

    Marilyn, what a brave story! And you are spot on about the shame of the self being deeply grounded into our bones and muscles as young girls which we carry into our older, mature women bodies. Bravo for hitting send! You’ve made an offering to the Universe–and the Universe will get back to you.
    Hugs and love, Ginny

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 10, 2013   Reply →

      Where would I be without you, Ginster! I love how we are kicking up dust in our writing lives together. Send send send.

  • Jennifer L Myers October 10, 2013   Reply →

    Thank you Marilyn! What a wonderful story! You’re so right! As women we have to develop the self-promotional/self-confidence/fearless nature in ourselves. For men, it comes more naturally & isn’t criticized like it is in women. Women aren’t supposed to be ruthless & determined! But we are.

    My blog post yesterday is titled “Be Bold! Be Inspiring! Be Courageous!” We must be!

    Jennifer

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 10, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, Jennifer. So good to meet you here. And how true that women are criticized for self-promotion. The term “pushy broad” comes to mind and of course “bitch.” But once we get hold of ourselves from the inside there ain’t a thing anyone out there can say to stop us from hitting that send button. Looking forward to you blog! All best, Marilyn

  • Kim Barnes October 10, 2013   Reply →

    Marilyn, this gave me little butterflies of excitement for you! When we visualize ourself in a negative/shameful light it completely blinds us to the way others see us. And you my friend are fucking fabulous (ooh can I say that?), in writing and in life! I shamelessly thrive off of your energy, just a little 🙂

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 10, 2013   Reply →

      Kim! I love that you graced this blog with the f-bomb! And thank you, my dear, for all of your appreciation. It touches me deeply. But also thank you, and I mean this, for choosing writing and putting your words on the page. You are incredibly brave and thank God because if you weren’t I might not know you. And I might not know the pieces of your story that are finding their way to the light of the page. Keep bringing on your Kimness!

  • Tania Pryputniewicz October 10, 2013   Reply →

    Marilyn,

    I love this post; ferreting out the backdrop to what holds us “in” is powerful; just your anecdote about how men send again, and women tend to hold back post rejection is such an eye-opener. A call to action. You take a portion of the group shame away by naming it like this…thank you. Am thinking a lot about issues of exposure and power in terms of writing lately, so your post comes at a good time for me.

    Congratulations that your essay placed as it did with AROHO, and better, that it inspired this post. Look forward to hearing where it finds a home. Let us know.

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 10, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, Tania. Wow. Thank you so much for letting me know how this post spoke to you. Your comment is itself a call to action: a reminder to put our own challenges and successes out there because our experiences as women writers contain within them the challenges that we are up against as women in every area of our lives. That’s why I like to say that our writing practices are the equivalent of graduate school for personal development and transformation! Writing will not allow us to live our lives inside the female conditioning because writing demands that we be visible. It’s also why writing is so hard on so many levels: it puts us as women right up against that conditioning. So our writing and our writing practices are indeed precious gifts that nudge us every single day to be our visible selves out in this wonderful world. And what a lucky world it is when we do that! Hmmm. I feel the kernel of another blog coming on ; >!

  • Dee Lewis October 10, 2013   Reply →

    Hi Marilyn,
    Reading this blog made me laugh out loud while sitting at my desk at the agency. The part about “the rest of us” really hit home. I asked the question once about who “they” were. The They Organization that knew everything about everything. I have overcome the “theys” in the world. I have learned that just because something didn’t work out for one doesn’t mean that it won’t work out for another. I believe in the timing of things. Being a mortgage loan officer way back when taught me perseverance and enduring to the end. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Thank you for encouraging us to move past the “theys” and the “rest of us’s”! I’m encouraged even the more to write out loud!! Thanks Dee

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 10, 2013   Reply →

      Dee! Talk about laughing out loud: The They Organization is priceless. A student in my Excavate Your Truth/Free Your Voice class last spring dubbed them The Congregation. So glad you have overcome the theys. It’s a prerequisite for writing our stories. And I lovelovelove that you are encouraged to write out loud. Let the music begin! All best, Marilyn

  • Shelley October 10, 2013   Reply →

    Wow…I saw some vulnerability here and it is POWERFUL! Thank you for sharing your courage and strength here. YOU inspire me…to keep moving even if I feel shamed. xox

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 10, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you, sweet Shelley. No doubt it’s in our vulnerability that we find ourselves, or reconnect with ourselves, as the case may be. And aren’t ourselves some kind of POWERFUL girlz! Looking so forward to being brave and vulnerable with you in Boston in a couple of weeks. Big hug, M

  • Michelle O'Neil October 10, 2013   Reply →

    This is wonderful. I will keep these sentiments with me and remember them when I am afraid. Thank you.

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 10, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you so much, Michelle. Keep taking bold action on behalf of your Self, your writing, and our reward when we read your writing. All best, M p.s. LOVE that photo of you with the thumbs up!

  • Elsie Depeau October 10, 2013   Reply →

    Love it. I’ve just returned from The Annual Rolling of the Osage Orange Balls. This is a tradition my son, now 20, and I started when he was a little boy in which we attempt to roll the fruits from the Osage orange tree at Riverside Park from the hill under the tree and into the men’s restroom. This year’s final score: Colm 3 Mom 1 Next year we go pro! As a woman, also a ritual public fountain dancer, who can be so shamelessly silly in our city parks, I should believe I could someday toss a bit of my writing out there for the world to see. For now I am extremely grateful to you Marilyn for helping me believe if my stories have value to me they can have value to anyone.

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 11, 2013   Reply →

      Roll that writing down the hill, Elsie, and watch your words gain momentum on their way to changing other people’s lives. Let’s just, um, make sure they don’t find themselves in the men’s restroom ; >! And thank you for your appreciation. It touches me deeply to hear you honoring your story. See you in class Tuesday night, which happens to be the class where we focus on what our writing means to us, and the power of our stories to transform our lives AND the world. Best best, M

  • Adriana October 11, 2013   Reply →

    Marilyn, thank you so much for writing this. Now, I know, I’m not alone. I wrote a very personal piece in February 2012. I submitted it to over twenty places and got over twenty rejections. The story changed with each rejection. I revised, rewrote, changed POV, tense, everything, so that it would be publishable. Nothing. A year later, I decided to ignore all the suggestions and re-submit the story as I had written it originally. It got accepted by a magazine I love. That’s my one victory over shame. Thanks.

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 11, 2013   Reply →

      Adriana, wow oh wow. This story about your submission process should be framed and hung somewhere for the whole world to read. Twenty rejections. You are remarkable. A victory over shame results in your story out in the world where it will no doubt shift the consciousness of everyone who reads it, and by extension shift the consciousness of the culture. Thank you for your persistence AND for sharing this here with all of us. From now on, I won’t stop short of twenty. (I wanted to say, “My submission balls just grew three sizes” from reading your experience, but I censored myself. Damn this shame runs deep!) What is the title of your story? Where can we read it? Very best to you, Marilyn

  • Adriana October 11, 2013   Reply →

    It’s hard to see the line separating determination from blind stubbornness. At least, I never seem to be able to see it. Thank you for your interest in my work. The piece is titled “Girl in Red Stilettos Getting Drunk.” It will be featured in Redivider (formerly known as Beacon Street Review).
    Best to you. We should make a cyber quilt made of rejections.
    Adriana

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 11, 2013   Reply →

      Wow, Adriana. Did you change “Girl in Red Stilettos Getting Drunk” after it had been named a finalist for the AROHO Orlando Prize for Creative Nonfiction and then resubmit? This holds a fascinating tale and no doubt a lesson for all of us. Okay if I contact you by email? And about that cyber quilt: I delete and destroy rejection slips. I know. Everyone says you should save. But they make me feel like I suck as a writer. So, right or wrong, I take pleasure in erasing them.

  • Adriana October 11, 2013   Reply →

    Ha! I had forgotten about being a finalist. It’s been such a long time!!
    Email me any time you want. I live in front of the computer; it seems.

  • Brooke Warner October 11, 2013   Reply →

    So awesome, Marilyn. I love to see that you’re walking your talk. And congrats on the AROHO piece. They’re a great organization.

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 12, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, Brooke. Delighted to “see” you here. Thanks so much for your comment. AND for your tireless work promoting women writers. All best, Marilyn

  • Bethaney October 15, 2013   Reply →

    Marilyn, you are so kick ass and I LOVE YOU. What an amazing story… and as I read I was thinking, wow, all the men do is resubmit another article. How freakin easy is that?????? Yes it takes courage to do it but you got me thinking, where in my life do I need to resubmit? Where did I back down a little too quickly… holy mackerel! This is life changing and I thank you. thank you for highlighting shame for us in a way that helps me to feel lighter. It gives me hope that together we can all hit send and let our gifts shine.

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 15, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you, Bethaney! I love your idea to take submission a step further and think about all of the places in our lives where we can resubmit. Try again. Not give up. Both in and out of our writing. Wow. What an aha moment you just gave me. Thank you!!! Biggest best, M

  • Mark Piatell October 15, 2013   Reply →

    Hi Marilyn,
    You inspire me to be bolder. I am not a woman, but growing up as a boy attracted to others of my gender I too kept silent with my secret and my shame. You remind me of how this shame can still today limit me in getting my voice heard. Thank you for your courage. You have relayed your experience into such beautifully articulated words, sharing the vulnerability, insight, humor and bravery of your Shameless Self-Promotion. I loved reading this!! Best, Mark

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 15, 2013   Reply →

      Mark, this is such a beautiful and deeply moving comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to give voice to your experience with shame here. Talk about courage. Do I know you? Your name looks really familiar to me. All best to you, and to your shameless self-promotion, Marilyn

  • Cathy Hamilton October 20, 2013   Reply →

    Marilyn, you and your words are so beautiful. You are right on with the shame and something I am dedicated to not hand down to my daughters about their bodies and who they are in general. It is about time we become shameless in loving every part of ourselves and being able to put ourselves out there for all to see – every beautiful part :). Congratulations on taking that step yourself and inspiring us to do the same. Love you, Cathy

    • Marilyn Bousquin October 20, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you so much, Cathy. What lucky daughters to have you raising them to be their own fierce, bold selves in this world. Love right backatcha, M

  • kgwaite October 26, 2013   Reply →

    This is a great write that encourages me to dust off my old rejected manuscripts and, just as importantly, to promote my published work, something I have an awfully difficult time doing.

    • Marilyn Bousquin November 5, 2013   Reply →

      Yes, kgwaite, I love the idea of “dusting off” previously rejected manuscripts. I happen to be rewriting one right now that’s been rejected and rejected and rejected but is now becoming a piece that lays a truth bare. So, dust dust dust! And I so empathize with the difficulty in self-promotion. But know this, the difficulty is rooted in mindsets and conditioning. Every time you promote yourself, it gets a teensy bit easier. Never easy, mind you (at least I’ve not arrived there yet), but at some point it starts to feel good. Best, Marilyn

  • Linda Rosen November 7, 2013   Reply →

    Thank you, Marilyn. This is just what I needed today. It takes a great deal of guts to send our work out to the world, be in lit mags or linkedIn – and to take it even further after rejections. This post bolstered me and I’m ready to take the extra leap I’ve been considering, to contact that well-known writer who liked my pitch. To be shameless. We all need this bolstering from time to time. And I wish you well with your piece.

    • Marilyn Bousquin November 14, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, Linda. I LOVE your insights, here. So…did you contact the writer who liked your pitch? Let us know the outcome of that. I am whole-heartedly cheering you on. Best, Marilyn

  • Melissa December 4, 2013   Reply →

    Yes, so good! I’m doing this more and more, but even when I share, it’s timid & a bit small, to be modest & shy about it, instead of BIG. Maybe it’s to balance the risk and fun in signing my name & clicking “send”. Funny women-stuff, maybe?

  • Pingback: on being brave | Motherhood & Words December 10, 2013   Reply →

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