My friend Karen said it: "It's the writing, stupid." We were talking about persistence, arguably the most important writing habit, but we agreed: persistence is more than torpedo-style submitting. It's more than creating the perfect submittal-organizer database, and it's more than hunting down the perfect agent.
Persistence is about craft. It's about revising your story until there is not a single spare word. Until every line serves its two purposes: advancing the story and revealing character. It's about reworking your prose until your novel, as Ron Rash once advised, is one long poem. Persistence is about sweating it out until your prose is so smooth it makes your reader forget he's reading. It's about the years that go into this, the mornings you rise, and, again and again, confront your words, your story. It's about a level-headed honesty and a belief in the impossible, about pushing your story until nothing about it nags at you, until there are no parts you frown over or try to ignore.
It's about tossing the story that simply doesn't work. Throwing out the novel that, you now realize, after months or maybe years of work, is invaluable only for what it taught you. Though giving up on an entire novel is oh so tough, you can't regret the time you've spent with it. It's about taking those lessons and starting all over again.
Don't get me wrong: publishing is important. It's very important. It is what we're all striving for. And, I've spent my share of time poring over duotrope and new pages. I've spent whole afternoons--precious, child-free writing time--licking envelopes, setting up databases to track where exactly my stories are and how long they've been there. I've cried real tears over rejection letters, I've given up. I've gloried at the acceptance email, I've loved the sight of my words in print. What we writers want are readers--we want eyeballs on our words--and the regular practice of submitting is the only way to go about it.
So, go ahead. Submit. Submit like mad. But don't let it distract you from what is really, really wonderful about all this: it's the writing. It's the butt-in-chair time. This is what we're here for. Why we show up at our desks every morning. What we fell in love with in the first place.