Last week I submitted two papers to journals, one on Wednesday afternoon, the other on Friday afternoon. I had scheduled time to work one last time on them in the morning, and then scheduled an hour in the afternoon to deal with the submission formalities (both papers had to be submitted online). I have been working steadily on both papers for some time and presented each of them at conferences at the end of last year. One of them has already been desk-rejected by the top journal in the field, whose editor found it insufficiently theoretical but otherwise "excellent" and recommended I try another journal. That's obviously where I just sent it. The other has been well received by those who've read it or seen my presentation. All in all, I'm optimistic about this round, but there are still many other journals to try if these two fail.
Knowing I would be submitting, I felt great all week, and I felt a real sense of accomplishment on Friday afternoon when I was two-for-two. On the weekend I felt somewhat glum, however, perhaps blah is a better word. I imagine the feeling is a bit like that of the actor after closing night of the run of a successful play (I've tried that as an amateur). Or perhaps like that of a novelist after submitting the manuscript to the publisher. There's a lot of ego in the composition of a paper. You have spent a great deal of time constructing an authorial persona, a mask, a version of yourself for public display. Then, suddenly, you take the mask off. You're just yourself again. Now what you going to do? Or, rather, now who are you going to be?
I do of course have other papers in the works. This week I'm going to be spending five hours (one a day) preparing a 1000-word abstract for the proceedings of a conference I'm going to at the end of next month. That will also give me the core of the full paper, which will hopefully be submitted to a journal in April—i.e., after I get back from the conference. It's important that I use that paper as a way of working my way out of the post-submission blues of this weekend, rather than setting aside all writing projects, romanticizing the emptiness. (If I had nothing underway at all, it may not have been wise to submit both of the papers last week.) I then have a number of other projects that need to get started, some of them requiring a substantial amount of reading, and I think I'm going to give them a week of five-one hour sessions each to give them a bit of shape, then pick one to develop further, which will then include some underlying scholarship.
Much of the heaviness of starting new writing projects, and especially of choosing among them, lies in how much there is still to write and how little time I actually have, from week to week. It seems like I'll never get these ideas down on paper and, more importantly, into to print. Here, it is important to keep in mind that if you work on them steadily, your papers and chapters also grow in your mind, so they become easier and easier to write. They become real presences as you give them more and more of your attention. Your mental apparatus becomes attuned to the problems of the text you are working on; your whole disposition tends in their direction; you are "in readiness", as Shakespeare put it. And this is no doubt also why there is a certain emptiness when you submit.
The problem you have been working on disappears. There is, of course, still the larger theoretical and empirical problem that your research will continue to be about. Your paper, after all, will be reviewed, and you may have to resubmit it. Even if it is published, you will continue to work on similar problems. But for a few weeks or months your problem had been very concrete; it had been the problem of writing a text, the problem of composition. And that problem is now behind you. Another one stands before you. It's best just to get back to work.
* * *Look at that. I started this post at 6:00 am exactly. It's now 6:54 and I've written 706 words in five paragraphs. This week, like I say, I have to write a 1000-word extended abstract. I'm going to go at it in a formal way: five 200-word paragraphs. A major claim with 3 supporting claims. Introduction, body, conclusion. A five-paragraph essay.