Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- November 21, 2014 Edition

> I love Katie Riegel's "Literary Magazine Wishes"over at The Gloria Sirens. Sample: "A human-sounding 'about' page. Pretentious = no. You don’t have to deride other branches of the literary world in order to do what you do."

> Via the New York Times' Learning Network: "500 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing". (Yes, 500. Neatly categorized. 500.)

> Perhaps a bit surprisingly, for someone who thinks of herself as something of a word nerd, and at the risk of seeming old or out of step, I had to look up the top three new words of the year named by the Oxford Dictionaries.

> It could be that this kind of word fun is more my speed: Popsonnet, where pop song lyrics (old and new) are rendered as Shakespearean sonnets.

> At the Writer Beware blog, a reminder of "How NOT to Register Copyright," including scams, fees, and the law.

> Ten major writing errors a manuscript editors sees often, and ways to avoid them.

> Caroline Leavitt details the complexities of literature and litigation involving several of her books' characters, both real and imagined.

> Finally, some odd punctuation marks.

I'm putting together my next newsletter. If you'd like to stay in touch, please use this to sign up (you'll get about four a year):
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Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons - Roger Wollstadt

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Acceptance After (Multiple) Rejections: It Only Takes One Yes, One Editor, One

On Facebook a couple of weeks ago, a friend had something to say about acceptances and rejections – a good news/bad news post; not exactly an infrequent topic among writers toiling in the upside down world of literary submissions, occasional publication, and hope.  

This writer noted that she'd received a third place finish in a literary journal contest, from a publication near the top of her wish list -- after she'd already received 51 rejections from other journals, some of which she admitted she might have been less than enthusiastic about appearing in anyway.

I understood this too well. You begin with a small list of places you'd love your work to appear; a few might be a reach, but you're not insane, you don't over-reach and chuck every single thing you write at all the top tier publications. You build a list that makes sense, but still represents places you'd be humbled and honored to get an acceptance from. Then you wait. Rejections arrive. You add to your list, this time dipping further down the coveted top tier. More rejections come your way. The list grows, and submissions go out, again.  

But once you reach double digit rejections, you begin to doubt a piece's substance and chances and adjust your submission list yet again, scanning a bit lower. You still keep sending to those near the top of your list but you're realistic and send to second and third tier places too.

Then the acceptance comes from a venue near the top, one you had submitted to with hope but also pragmatism, and you wonder once again: Were all those other editors wrong? Is it a matter of taste? Was Mom right (about jobs, spouses, everything), that it only takes one, and sooner or later it will happen?

Sometimes, I think so.

When I saw that writer's post, it was just one day after I'd received an acceptance for a nonfiction narrative essay from a journal I consider desirable (at least to my own idiosyncratic, individual system of ranking)—after having received, over the previous year of submissions, rejections from 26 other publications, a mix of those less stellar, more stellar, and roughly equal to the one that said yes.

Go figure.

After virtually high-fiving that other writer, I got curious. I pulled up my Excel spreadsheet that I use to track submitting activity and did a quick, calculator-less analysis. Just how often did this happen, I wanted to know? How often does it take hearing a lot of No, before I hear Yes? I had a sense that the answer was, pretty often. But suddenly I wanted proof, numbers, stats.

Not only was I curious in light of that writer's post and my own almost simultaneous experience, but I wanted to know because I am known to encourage fellow writers thus: "Don't be discouraged, keep sending it out, this is how it works." Was I right? And how often? So I pulled up my personal Excel spreadsheet stats, along with my Duotrope tracker.

Here's what I found: Over the past 18 months or so, I had submitted 15 different pieces of creative nonfiction (all kinds of essays and nonfiction narrative), to a total of 47 different venues (a mix of print and online literary journals and mainstream media markets that publish CNF). That amounted to 116 total individual submissions, resulting in: 10 acceptances, 19 personal rejections, 52 form rejections, 21 withdrawals by me, and 14 never-heard-back-might-as-well-have-pitched-it-into-the-ocean. [Not included in this count are submissions associated with the book-length memoir manuscript, my smattering of poetry subs, and other hard-to-classify stuff.]

I'm neither surprised nor upset by these stats. (Not as upset as this poet who describes a sometimes zero-sum game of poetry chapbook/contest submissions.) Duotrope, for example, tells me (not that I asked, but there is it displayed on my Submission Tracker page): Your acceptance rate is higher than average. Okay, then. Then again, Duotrope doesn't know the whole picture, only the journals I've submitted to which are in their database. Still, I'll take the praise/encouragement, as there's precious little of it around.

In a very odd sense, I have come to the idea that the only way to stay in this particular system is to think of the submitting-rejection-submitting-acceptance game as just that, a game. Do I hope to "win"? Sure, whatever that means. Publication? Certainly. More frequent, reliable acceptances? I hope so. CV-building? Yes, that's necessary after all. Platform building? Meh. And also, colleague-making, affirmation, participation, a dollop of validation!

But unlike the Scrabble, gin rummy, and shouting-at-the-TV Jeopardy games I play frequently (and rather expect to actually win), I have to think of the submitting game the way I do the tennis, shuffleboard, and other outdoor games I play with my competitive husband and strong teenage sons while on vacation: nice (though rare) if I win, enjoyable (mostly) when I tie or lose by a little, and fun enough (usually) that I will play again the next day. I  know that while every game is about skill, I'm always aware there are other dominant players on the field and that field is not always precisely level. My son's legs will always hold up better than mine, my husband's killer instinct will forever surpass mine. But they forget: they're playing against someone who, on a daily basis, often before breakfast, sloughs off rejection, has learned to study but then ignore the competition, and who knows, perhaps even enjoys, the underdog position.

They're dealing with a writer who, at the present moment, has five different pieces of work in the submission pipeline, awaiting their fate at 25 different venues. And I haven't even checked my email yet today.

Game (still) on.

Images: All Flickr/Creative Commons -- Cookies: Stallio; Yes and No: Abhi; Rejected: Sean MacEntee.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Of Print, Pixels, and Publication

I've gotten used to posting a link when something I've written has found its way to publication; even when a piece appears in a print journal, there's often an online version too. But not always. Since I'm a writer-who-came-of-age-in-the-time-of-typewriters, there's a part of me that finds a print-only publication quite satisfying. But since I'm also a writer-who-has-adapted-and-loves-the-online-world, it also feels a bit odd.

"The Nurse We Needed" is a piece of flash nonfiction excerpted from my memoir manuscript, and appears in the Fall 2014 issue of The Healing Muse (volume 14). When the package arrived with my two contributor copies, I had a sense of nostalgia…postal mail, the printed word, the glossy cover, the discovery of fanning through the pages, the small thrill of flipping back and forth from table of contents to contributor bios to individual random pieces of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork.

Okay, enough nostalgia. I'll admit too, there was a smidge of disappointment that I couldn't oh-so-easily put up a link to my work. But that soon passed.

Then I was on to my usual habit—scanning to see if any writers I know and/or admire also have work included. I don't know why this makes me so happy when it happens. It's not about validation (okay, that's a lie, if I found myself in the same journal or anthology as, say, Joan Didion…) so much as knowing I'm in this literary world together with other kindred souls.

Immediately, I found two brilliant, linked pieces of  micro flash nonfiction by Rita Ciresi, a colleague and fellow MFA faculty member. I also recognized several other names in the nonfiction listings, and a smattering of those in the poetry section as well. Next, I read randomly from all over the journal, and admired some of the visual art, too.

The Healing Muse is produced by the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the Upstate (NY) Medical University, with a focus on work about illness, health, loss, the body, hospitals, healthcare, grief, sickness, care giving, medical workers, and other related topics. There is plenty of good work in this issue, representing so much rich experience. 

Editor-in-chief Deidre Neilen wrote in her Editor's Note, "Here is another paradox: the journal feels so light in my hands, yet it contains the weight of complex histories and the impossible questions they provoke."

My piece feels that way, at least for me: it's about what little I know actually happened, what I surely can never know, and what I imagine might have happened between my father and the hospice nurse who saw him only once, and very shortly before he died, alone.

Three weeks ago, I had made plans to participate in a reading and 14th anniversary celebration on the Upstate Medical campus, adjacent to my undergraduate alma mater, Syracuse University; it seemed an ideal quick road-trip getaway. But the universe laughed, my plans folded, and so now that I can't post a photo from the event, and instead of a link to my work, here's the page where you can buy a copy of the Fall 2014 issue of The Healing Muse ($10). Or maybe you have a piece of work you'd like to submit.

I'd also like to give one blog reader a copy of the Fall issue. Just leave a comment by midnight on Tuesday, November 24 (must have U.S. postal address and a trackback web contact).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing Ideas, Interruptions, and Sometimes, a Storm of Inspiration

Where do writing ideas originate? In our minds? Our hearts? A little of both, surely. Do they come along in a flash, or simmer for some time? In my experience, both. But some arrive with a powerful, abrupt interruption to life as usual. And then hold on, refusing to be shaken loose.   

About 10 days ago, folks here in New Jersey marked two years since Hurricane Superstorm Sandy slammed into our coastline, then worked its way north through the state to where I've lived most of my life. BAM, regular life was interrupted. Like many writers, I wrote about it, not once but several times.

First, even before the winds howled, an essay poured out of me about what it was like to be huddled in my home with my husband and one son, while another son was away at his first year of college. Though geographically safer from the storm, he was actually wishing he had been home (a meteorology major, one of those odd people who like bad weather); and that stirred up powerful emotions.

 About two weeks later, I wrote a different piece for the blog of a regional writing center where I was just about to begin teaching. That essay focused on the way people in my state were still talking about the storm in ways that seemed clear we were actually talking about a lot more than the storm--and how, in personal essay and memoir, we often *talk* about one thing while telling the real story about something else.

Next came an invitation to contribute a guest post to the popular blog of a friend from high school. This one, in keeping with her blog's theme of empowerment, focused on how the storm had forced me to look at my relationship to being flexible and adaptable.

Finally, a few weeks after that, when I'd had a chance to consider what the Jersey Shore – an ever popular vacation haven for most Garden State residents, but alas, not for me—meant to me now that it was ruined. This piece, like many of the layered and slightly more lyrical pieces I love to work on, took me places I hadn't anticipated--from childhood longing to newly married compromise, young motherhood to middle age, and finally, to facing a parent's decline, when bad news once reached me while on a rare Jersey Shore visit.

Noting the anniversary has put me in mind of how pieces begin, grow, and then are linked, not only in obvious ways, but sometimes less clearly; how (if we're lucky) one piece of work leads to another; why we can't rule anything out. It made me again consider how what we think we are going to write is sometimes usurped by what feels most urgent to write. And it reminded me to appreciate that squirrelly, unreliable, and gratefully welcome thing we might call inspiration.

Had you asked me in mid-October 2012 what I was planning to write over the next month, I surely would not have said four essays that relate to weather and the Jersey Shore (and more). Even when the storm was making landfall -- I was working then as an editor for a regional news site, frantically gathering and posting storm preparedness tips; interviewing health, power company, and local government officials; and texting my son to interpret the weather updates -- I still hadn't planned to write anything personal about the storm.

Then, the storm was upon us, and my fingers began to move over the keyboard. The first essay felt like I'd said everything I needed to say. Until the next essay asserted itself. After that one, I felt finished.

And then…well, you know; you're a writer too.

Over the next few months, my family will spend our first Thanksgiving in our hometown in about 20 years…my elder son will turn 21 and my husband's niece will marry (on the same day)…my younger son will take the SATs…my family will attend a concert we've been looking forward to for six months (hint: we'll be in a New York state of mind)…and who knows what else might happen, what unexpected events, large or small, hopefully not tragic, will occur. I don't plan to write about any of it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- November 7, 2014 Edition

If you're new here, this is the deal: on (many) Fridays, I dish up links I've stored lately. The post is named after the way I like to feed my family at the end of the week--by getting all those leftovers out of the fridge. Enjoy!

> Not an outliner, planner, or particularly organized writer? Patrick Madden too is "Against Getting It All Down."

> Tired of arguing about the Oxford comma or single spaces after periods? Consider the single quotation mark. Or, please don't.

> When a former This American Life producer starts producing podcasts, better find your earbuds. I've heard Serial is seriously good.

> Nonfiction writers must not miss this Review Review roundtable with editors from Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Hippocampus, and River Teeth.

> Then, broaden your range with The Write Life's list of 19 places to send personal essays (and most pay).

> Definitions and examples of every literary device you probably recognize but cannot name.

> Have you discovered the "My First Time" guest posts at The Quivering Pen? This recent installment, by Wendy J. Fox, covering self-imposed deadlines, post-MFA life, and perseverance, rang some bells for me.

> I love this "color thesaurus" at Ingrid Sundberg's blog -- Pantone meets Roget's meets paint chips. 

> Hasn't every writer -- and maybe poets in particular -- who has ever submitted anything anywhere gotten the no-more-I-quit blues?

But if you're not so jaded, and lucky enough to get an offer of publication, then check out these tips for working with a small independent press.

> Finally, have you seen, and tired of, all the possible turns of phrase for the new social network Ello? No? Here you go. And, a
re your Tweets are Reader's Digest-ible? You may get paid a whopping $25 thanks to this guy.

Have a great weekend!