Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.




Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Eleven Things to Think About When Renewing Writing-Related Memberships

Erika Dreifus has a post up today about the benefits she's gained by renewing her membership in the AvantGuild (premium level) of MediaBistro. She noted that she'd wanted to expand her freelancing and by exploring markets that were new-to-her, subsequently received acceptances for several queries and essays, as a direct result of her AG/MB membership.

The reason her post grabbed my attention today (aside from that her posts always command attention!) is that at the beginning of this year (can it be only 9 weeks ago?) I made a conscious decision that during 2013, whenever I got notice that my membership -- to any of the professional organizations, premium service levels, databases, and resource websites -- was in need of renewal, I would not automatically renew.

Instead, I would first try determine: 

1. How often, how deeply, and with what level of satisfaction did I use the membership, service or site in the past 12 months? 

2. Did I derive benefits I couldn't get elsewhere?

3. Was it a go-to source?

4. Did I find it simple to navigate, or if not exactly simple, do I like the way I must be engaged in order to dig for information?

5. Did I gain insight, information, and useful intelligence via the membership?

6. Can I trace back the sale/placement of an article or essay, an assignment, a new editing client, a new professional relationship, more competence with new tools or techniques, a worthwhile class or conference – to the membership?

7. Are the results I can personally trace, worth the cost? (Mind you, the annual cost may be quite *reasonable* but if it's for a service/site/organization I don't utilize, or find far too complicated to use, then it's a wasted expenditure. 

8. Is it any fun to use? (Because really, how many times have we quit using something we were paying for because, although it seemed like it should be worthwhile, it turns out it was just awfully tedious, annoying, complicated, boring?)

Finally, I'm looking forward.

9. Am I planning on wading in to new waters in the months or year ahead, and if so, will a membership or premium service level help me learn about this new area of the writing world? 

10. Will a membership enable me to more easily participate in that new arena?

11. Will it help me get to know others who have more experience than I, who might help me find my way? 

Since I've begun to analyze my memberships more closely, I felt better equipped, when the renewal notice arrived for three different organizations/services already this year, to know whether or not to click the renew button. (I did for two, but passed on the third.)  

How about you? Are there memberships you find invaluable?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion

A few things I'd like to share.  I'll keep to the rule of threes.

> Another of my recent Boot Camp students wrote about how the experience helped her make commitments to her writing and to develop a submissions strategy.  She had this to say about me: "She was TOUGH. She was DIRECT. She was HONEST." I'm proud of that because I think it's my job to be all three of those things when it comes to writers who spend money, time, and energy working with me.

Last year, my husband and I were so relieved to be done with the grueling process of filling out our first college financial aid forms, we temporarily forgot we'd be at it again this winter, and -- with one kid a freshman in college right now and another a freshman in high school -- again and again...until...2020.  I have an essay up over at BaristaKids today about one aspect of the funding gauntlet. Hope you'll hop over and read, "Same Time Last Year -- Paying for College: Forms, Good Intel...and Wine."

> I like to work "both sides of the desk," so to speak, and so am happy to have recently been appointed Creative Nonfiction Editor for the forthcoming online journal, Compose. The first issue is in the works, and I'm pleased to be working with a talented group of editors representing several countries.

What's your good news?  Share it in comments if you like!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, February 22, 2013 Edition

> Find resources, tips, advice and more about writing very short nonfiction over at Flash Memoirs.

> Personally I'm not upset that Duotrope is charging a fee now for its resources and services. Those who submit regularly to literary journals and don't currently use the site might want to read this post for the mostly thumbs up (and the comments for a few thumbs down).


> Food is usually a welcome sensory addition to memoir. At this Biographile post, a look at four well done food scenes from Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang.

> The New York Times says that the short story is not only not dead, but making a comeback, thanks in part of George Saunders' recently published acclaimed new collection, The Tenth of December.  But Laura Miller at Salon says, in short: Bull.


> You could do worse than investigate YOU: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person, from Welcome Table Press.

> Finally, I'm humbled by Elaine Kehoe's lovely account of how completing my Boot Camp class helped her move writing back to a central place in her life. What a way to end the week!

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

When Kids and Writing Both Grow Up


Here is part of my guest post this week over at Motherlogue.
       Saturday afternoon. I hear my sons squabbling downstairs. I rise from my desk, where I am writing, close my office door and sit back down, pick up my writing again.
      Ten years ago, maybe even two years ago, I would have stopped, headed downstairs, refereed. Gotten thrown off my writing game, maybe not returned to the page for a few hours, a few days. 
      But the boys are 19 and 15 now and the older one was home from college for a short weekend. The squabbling was more balm than burr, at least to me, and I suspect, to both of them too. While I wanted to soak up precious hours with my college freshman, so did his brother and his father.... 

     That was then.
     This is now:  No one bothers me. All the years of reminders (Quiet, Mom’s busy. Mom’s writing, don’t bother her.) — worked. Plus of course, the boys simply grew.
My writing grew up too...
      So here’s what I’ve learned... 

 The rest looks at how my writing grew up alongside my sons, who are now 19 and 15, what's changed about writing and mothering, and how I feel about it all. You can read the whole post here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Are We Having (Writing!) Fun Yet?

Last week, I was invited to contribute a guest post to the blog of Linda Sienkiewicz, a novelist, award winning poet, short story writer, and visual artist. We are MFA buddies, having completed the same program. My post is about fitting something fun into one's writing life. 

Here's an excerpt.  

Thinking of writing as work is great for discipline, meeting deadlines, taking ourselves seriously, and convincing loved ones that what we’re up to all those hours at the keyboard is not a fling at fancy.
But it doesn’t inspire much joy, like fun does. What do you find fun in your writing life?  
The kind of fun you discovered when you first started writing. Remember that, back a few years, or a few decades?
...Having some fun with your writing life can provide a needed diversion from your main writing project, and help rekindle the joyful fun of writing and being a writer in the world...It may also enhance your craft skills and return you to the big project renewed.

You can read the whole post here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, February 15, 2013 Edition

> Interesting Q&A interview with Phillip Lopate over at Beyond the Margins, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction.

> Do you know about the writing section at Alltop? There you will find links to the five most recent posts for some 50-plus varied writing blogs.


> If you are not on my newsletter list, you can read the Valentine's Day edition online here (which includes a sweet drawing you might like).


> Artists' grants and maybe even residencies designed for writers with children?  I know many folks who'd want an application.


> Eight good tips for marketing your book on Facebook.


> Elizabeth Gilbert responds to the discouragement Phillip Roth reportedly gave to a debut novelist about the writing life.


> Sometimes I recommend a good book on writing craft. For nonfiction writers though, sometimes I just point to the craft essays archive over at Brevity.


> Finally, cool slide show of bookmobiles, past and present. Enjoy.


Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Where and How I Learn as a Writer: The Unexpected Answer


I learned a lot from all the expected and logical places, programs, and people:  MFA faculty members. Conferences. Official mentors. Unofficial advisers. Fellow freelancers. Editors. Bosses. Books. Writing friends. Writing idols who somehow became writing acquaintances (and in a few wonderful cases, friends). 

But I also learned -- and still learn, all the time -- from people I would not have at first considered potential (or willing, interested, logical) teachers.

I learned an effective submission tracking system from a poet I met only once for a half hour (at a time when I knew very few poets). 

I learned a lesson about rhythm and cadence in writing from a mystery novelist whose presentation at a conference I attended only because the panel I originally wanted to attend was over capacity and I was just looking for someplace to sit.

I learned a few good submissions tips from a reporter for a glossy magazine who writes (and publishes) short stories in her spare time. (We met in the restroom at a conference for freelance writers where she was scheduled to talk about interviewing celebs. Go figure.)

I learned the value of writing way beyond my comfort zone from a stoic professor who pushed me to read books I insisted were far too upsetting at a particular time in my life, and which I just knew had nothing to do with what I wanted to write. (I was wrong, he knew it, he pushed.)

I learned something about my writing when, at the coffee-and-danish table at a conference, I ran into an editor who had recently rejected my work and remembered the essay and precisely why he'd passed.

I learned about the value of writing draft after draft from a successful children's book author who has never written fewer than six drafts of a manuscript.


Which makes me wonder: What might I learn in the future from someone who, at first glance, I am tempted to discount as a possible *teacher* because we don't share the same genre, orbit, skill level, aesthetic? Because the learning is supposed to be happening in the opposite direction?  Because I don't ask? Or listen?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, February 8, 2013 Edition

> Can the new retail book site Bookish compete with Amazon?  With backing by founding partners Penguin Group USA, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster, its odds are perhaps better than most.  Publishers Weekly breaks it down.

> New Conde Nast freelance writer contracts include what the ASJA Word newsletter calls a "nasty surprise" concerning film, TV and other rights.

> Redroom, the popular site where authors interact with other writers and with readers, now has a Classifieds section.

> Why start a new literary journal?  One publisher explains, and asks a few of his journal publisher colleagues to chime in too.

> At Dames of Dialogue, Karen Pullen talks about the challenges (and rewards) of writing a transgendered character.

> Here's a lengthy list of non-contest poetry book publishers.

> Twenty-three outstanding contemporary writers and editors list their 10 favorite essays of all time.  I haven't even gotten to some of the lists yet because I was caught up reading the incisive notes each wrote about how they made their essay choices, like this one from Brenda Miller.

> Finally, i
f you simply can't get enough of actor Dan Stevens (who plays Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey), check out his essay in the British literary journal Junket, where he's a contributing editor.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Writing Steps and Lists

I doubt I've ever met a list I didn't like. Because really, is there any greater small pleasure in a busy, often frustrating day than crossing things off a list? (Aside from dark chocolate, that is.)

I'll even admit that sometimes – on the most challenging days, or the ones when it feels like I'm getting nothing done – that I have even, after completing something I didn't think I had the time for, put it ON the list just so I could cross it off. (Please, if you are a therapist, refrain from analyzing that behavior!).

You get the idea.

Lists are, I think, a huge help to a writer. And so is breaking big writing projects down into steps that can be individually slotted onto a to-do list. Because what good is a list that only reminds you of the big project, the one with a far-off deadline, the project that may seem overwhelming?

Among other projects, I am working on a essay which I would like to finish in time for a journal's themed submission deadline of March 30, and I know I need to make steady progress on it week by week. But if on my list for this week (and next and the next) it said: Finish X essay, or even Work on X essay, I know I'd look at that item on the list and groan.

In the parlance of Boot Camp, it's too big, too formless, too long-range an action item without any interim goals that are specific and measurable.

However, if I break the project down into steps AND I portion out those steps in sensible increments on the to-do list for today, this week, this month, then I can get my head around it. Now, the steps and the lists are helpful, not intimidating or guilt-inducing.

So, I might write, in relation to that essay: -Revise pages 2-5. -Rewrite the first hospital scene. -Check spelling of medical terms.-Read entire essay aloud. -Re-read my journals from the time period. -Do some research on X disease. -Ask B (a doctor friend) to read/critique next draft. -Play with titles. -Try the middle section in present tense.

By doing this, I break the work down into steps (less daunting), give myself more an idea of how much work needs to be done (important because I've been known to underestimate), and lets me cross (more!) things off my list.

I have a master long-range list on a computer doc, and then use a combination of a whiteboard (monthly, noting big projects), a legal pad (weekly, noting rough break-out steps), and oversize sticky notes (daily, listing specific incremental steps).

Others I know use different systems to create, interact with, and cross things off lists -- bulletin board, whiteboard, sticky note, legal pad, smartphone app, computer doc, back of junk mail, digital calendar, email reminder program – you name it.

The only rule I can think of is, once you make a list – use it.

Write blog post.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, February 1, 2013 Edition

> Whether entering the contest, or as a writing exercise, this Brevity flash nonfiction essay challenge can only help improve one's creative nonfiction writing craft.

> Dinty W. Moore, at Bill Roorbach's blog, has a few things to say about Bill's (not so bad) advice to writers: think in 10 year segments, and be "porous and available."


> Did you know that Submittable, which manages submissions for a large number of literary journals and contests, rounds up a list of upcoming deadlines every couple of weeks at their blog?


> Wonder about optimal word counts for novel or children's books? Some guidelines.

> Need a few reading suggestions? This list of "100 Great Nonfiction Books" will keep you going for a while.

> Richard Blanco, who wrote and read his fine poem at President Obama's inauguration, penned a thoughtful essay about how his grandmother's disgust at his sexual orientation inadvertently shaped his work as a writer.  


> Interesting review about what sounds like an insightful book, Good Prose, by Tracy Kidder and his long time editor, Richard Todd.


> Finally, have a laugh at The Awl, with Modern Love: A (Likely!) Statistical Breakdown Of The Weekly 'New York Times' Column.