Saturday, December 31, 2016

One Writer's Thoughts on New Year's Eve -- and The Year's Top Posts

Before the day gets away from me, and it's 2017, and I forget how much I like tied-up endings (in life, if not in prose), these are my thoughts, post-shower, pre-breakfast. I use the word "should" not in the bullying, guilt-inducing way, but in the prodding, goal-directed, self-to-self pep talk way. Sort of.

I should write a final blog post for the end of the year.

I should go buy the dessert I'm expected to bring to tonight's party.

I should finish my office decluttering, the day-after-Christmas project that always stretches to just before dinner on New Year's Eve.

I should finish my January and February submission calendar.

I should write down my *I Did It List* for 2016, the one that's been swirling in my head for a month, the one I urge every other to undertake, the one I've been avoiding because OUTSIDE of my little writing world, the year was, in some ways for my own family, for friends, for the country, as Queen Elizabeth once called 1992, "an annus horribilis."

I should help my husband put together that new Ikea file cabinet for my office, but since I stink at almost all DIY projects that do not involve words, I'll leave it to him and my son.

I should hit SUBMIT on my first piece of short fiction I told myself I'd finally send out into the publishing world this year. (But my nonfiction soul is waging a loud and occasionally snarky "But is it really any good?" and "Who says you can write fiction now?" fight).

I should finalize the two syllabi for Spring semester. Or at least write down the day next week when I'll do it.

I should write a note or at least a tweet to that writer whose finely written nonfiction narrative piece I just read in a nice journal, and tell him so. Because it's something I always mean to do and often forget to do, and because I know what it's like to be that writer, hearing something nice about something you've written and wonder if anyone will appreciate. (UPDATE: between drafting this post and proofreading it, I did this. I feel better already).

Finally, I suppose I should...fill and organize that new filing cabinet; re-order all of my office bookshelves so the newly acquired books aren't stacked in a heap; bring my clip file up to date; get my tax info ready; overhaul my blog; finish reading the three books I'm in the middle of.  Nah, just kidding. I'm not doing those six things at all!

But all the rest? I'll be doing all of that today. Not because I should, but because I want to and my writer's mind won't let me rest until I do and because I promised myself that once I do all of this, I can go to that party tonight and feel a little bit lighter. Until I sample the dessert I'm going to buy.

Hope your New Year's Eve works out just the way you want. See you back here in 2017.

Oh, and because I forget to do this last week, here are the most popular posts of 2016:

Happy New Year !

Images - all Flickr/CreativeCommons: Lights:-NicMcPhee/UnhinderedByTalentTacks -HDValentin.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- December 2, 2016 Edition

Looks like there are a bunch of new subscribers: Welcome! If you don't already know, Friday Fridge Clean-Out is me clearing out links I've gathered in the past week (or more)...much like how I sometimes feed my family on a Friday night, pulling leftovers out of the fridge. Enjoy!

> Jane Friedman with good (and in many cases, overlooked) advice about "How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher." Just because a press is traditional (and not a self publisher), doesn't always translate to a desirable partner.

> Check out Christelle Lujan's "20 Apps for Writers Who Want to Get Serious" at SheWrites. I definitely need a few of these!

>Is an official book launch worth the effort? Dorit Sasson weighs in with some recent experience.

> At WOW! Women on Writing, Chelsey Clammer encourages submission, and offers her 1,278 rejections since 2011 as proof that the prize (in her case, 150+ publications!) goes to those who stay in the game.

> If you like Pinterest: a whole bunch of nifty lists and cheat sheets here with writing, revision, and editing advice.

> Short stories printed on wine bottle labels! What's not to like? (Okay, they're in Italian...)

> Finally: breathe. Or at least have a laugh with Daveena Tauber's "Post Election College Paper Grading Rubric" at McSweeney's.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Way out of Prose Problems is Through: Through poetry, sometimes.

This week, I am asking my creative nonfiction MFA students, to consider poetry. To read about poetry. To read poems. To ask themselves what they can learn from the poet and from the poem. Then, I'm asking them also, to write something that feels like poetry to them. Prose poetry. A narrative poem. Free verse. Maybe something lyrical. A haiku.

I'm not suggesting they embark on a serious study of poetry forms (though if that's interesting to any of them, why not?). What I'm doing is pushing them outside of their writer comfort zones. Reading a form they don't write in, to discover how those writers operate, and why. Giving them a new lens through which to consider that cranky essay, that recalcitrant narrative, that stubborn slice of memoir. To look from a new angle, with a different and strict economy of words, at what a piece of prose is struggling to be about. And to listen to what might happen on the page when the prose becomes a poem.

Every time I do this, in any class or workshop, the response is mixed. What I tell them all is how much I've learned about writing from the other genres. How pleased I was, during my own MFA program, to discover everything that poetry, and poets, and poems, and the blurry line between prose poetry and creative nonfiction, had to teach me about getting at the heart of what I was trying to write.

With the act of writing a poem, I think prose writers are well reminded of the value and possibility of each individual word. Of the need to think about each word on its own. Each word in connection to the words that come before and after. And in relation to the places where there are no words. These are nuances of writing that sometimes get lost in what can be an avalanche of words in prose drafts. Poetry demands the prose writer in me to stop and consider: this word? that one? or another one entirely? or no word? a space here? end here? or there? why? what's between the words, where there are no words?

I often try a problem child piece of prose as a poem, which shows me something about what I'm trying to say. Usually, I then go back to prose, wiser. But not always. About eight years ago, I did a crappy first draft of what I assumed would be a narrative essay, about a day I took a walk with one of my kids. When it wasn't working out, I tried capturing just one moment of the experience as a poem. That felt better. Then I put it away for a long time. I looked at it again last summer, as my younger son, who appears in this poem as a 10 year-old, was packing for college. I realized it was, and is, and is only, a poem. It appears in a new mixed-genre anthology, In Celebration of Mothers (edited by Trisha Faye), published this month.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This Week in Writing Workshops, Post-Election

In three writing workshops so far this week, before plunging into anyone's pages, I tried to take the temperature of the room, post-election. Since we all hadn't seen one another since BEFORE, I had set aside 10-15 minutes to chat and maybe vent—longer than we typically spend on small talk.  

I wasn't surprised to find the range of emotion included sadness, rage, confusion, frustration, fear, resignation. (And while I knew I had to be prepared to hear and make space for those with the opposite view, as I'd predicted, that wasn't necessary. We live in a deep blue part of New Jersey).

Then I moved on. Or, tried to.

But when I asked my usual opening question, always some variation of, "So, how did the writing go this week?" I was unprepared for the strong responses, most at one or the other end of the productivity / concentration spectrum. Either no words had appeared on the page because writers were too paralyzed, distracted, or emotionally wrung out to write…or, writing was all that had gotten done, in an almost nonstop stream.

I was in the latter camp myself. Since November 9, my fingers had barely left the keyboard. While I wasn't writing political opinion pieces or essays about what the election meant for America, I found that staying busy at what I love to do and do best, was my own private way of avoiding a total emotional meltdown. That—and making batches of soup and other comfort food, alongside my elder son.

Maybe I needed to remind myself that I would survive. For me, the act of writing alone means there are stories yet to tell, that we're not at the end of our own story yet, that the creative well inside exists apart from, and often in spite of, outside vagaries.

The writers around the workshop table told similar tales. Putting their heads down and plowing on with plots and drafts and (solvable) prose problems provided much-needed focus. Writing was available too, in the worried hours of the night, the frightening mornings before (or instead of) turning on the news. Like me, those writers were glad to have something to work on that felt do-able, whether unraveling a fictional character's troubles or describing a narrator's dilemma.

Others had the opposite response: the election outcome shut down their writing drive, pushed the writing impulse over a cliff. Either writing felt meaningless in the face of the gloomy bigger picture, or the bad news had completely robbed them of concentration and focus. Sitting still at a writing desk was not possible, given the upheaval in their minds and heart.

A few reported that while they had been writing, none of it was probably going to be salvageable; but the act of writing had felt comforting and familiar, and let them feel in control of something. Others said they were glad not to have brought all their negative emotion to the keyboard, so that when they are ready to return to their works-in-progress, and when they read that work in the future, it won't have the taint of "I remember writing this the day after…"

Finally, in each workshop, as the talk waned, I noticed a kind of unspoken hunger to get down to what we were there to do: talk about writing, read and share writing, listen to and give feedback on writing. It seemed to me that the act of gathering as writers—no matter what kind of week we'd all individually had—was important, or at least useful. That it was reassuring to be together, doing something familiar, something that at its core, promises things can improve, that we have change at our fingertips.

Revision, after all.

Images: All Flickr/CreativeCommons. Fingers on keyboard - Adikos; Tacks - HDValentin.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Wake Up and Smell the Essay (Or, let the darned thing rest and see what happens...)

I have no scientific proof, but I'm fairly confident that every childhood home had a particular smell, a combination of odors both pleasant and not so nice. Vanilla Yankee Candle maybe. Fireplace. Cigars. Perhaps garlic simmering in olive oil. Clay. Or lemon furniture polish. A ripe litter box. That smell we don't know is there until we live elsewhere and home becomes a place we visit—and notice.

I do know that science does confirm smell is the sense most likely to elicit memories.

But I can't say I ever wanted about the olfactory signature of my childhood home. Yet, that's what I did in "Smoke and Silk, Top Note and Finish," which found a nice home in the Fall 2016 issue of The Tishman Review.

The essay examines the role and meaning of the smell that clung to my late mother's material possessions, especially the fine fabrics my mother hoarded, and what that smell suggested to me about my mother and her marriage. All that is wrapped inside a narrative about some time my sister and I spent in her Las Vegas house a month after she died.

That week with my sister was all I thought I was going to write about when I first started the essay. But I've learned our writing has a mind of its own. Work on something long enough—or, better yet, DON’T work on it for a while—and sooner or later, the real story emerges.

Fortunately, I let each of the half-dozen messy successive early drafts of "Smoke and Silk" sit untouched for many months at a time over four years. Each time I returned to it, I saw something "new" that I had overlooked before. Each time, I got closer to what I think it was trying to be about. I listened to the drafts. Perhaps, had I worked on it more, or let it rest some more, or both, I'd have discovered even more. But at some point it felt finished. (As finished as any piece of writing ever is; which is to say, it felt ready to submit, if not precisely, ever done.) 

The longer I write, the more I understand the power of doing nothing (on the page) in between drafts; the more I trust that, while seeming to do nothing, I am doing something.

You can order a print copy of The Tishman Review (Fall 2016) here; get a Kindle version here; download the pdf version here. (My piece begins on page 85.)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- November 4, 2016 Edition

> I'm not much of a baseball fan, but I am a fan of beautifully written, sport-related essays and feature writing, especially a piece that bring together big team events with the humans who love them. Like this one, which ran on ESPN the morning after the Cubs' World Series win.

> Beautiful review by Alexis Paige at Brevity, of the new essay collection by my brilliant MFA thesis advisor Barbara Hurd, whose lyrical prose always astonishes.

> In New York City, legislators have introduced a bill to protect freelancers from editorial clients who don't want to pay.

> This is not new, but I read it again yesterday while passing along reading suggestions to some writers who are struggling with the concept of massive revision. Imagine tossing out an entire novel? Laura Dave explains.

> If you teach writing, or act as a writing coach, or simply help another writer with a project from time to time, I think you will appreciate Jane Bernstein's honest assessment of her behavior working with a former workshop participant.

> How about some levity? What if "Election: 2016" were a novel? Can you imagine the rejections from literary agents? Devorah Blachlor did.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Many Hats of a Writing Life. What's one more?

So many writers wear other hats, and I'm not just talking about non-writing careers or day jobs. I mean the different hats they don within the literary world that usually don't come with fat paychecks or profits: editing journals, publishing literary websites, running boutique publishing houses, organizing book festivals, hosting a writing conference.

I'm one of those folks who some days worry my hat rack is about to tip over. Often, I have to remember what my husband said when I headed out to Family-School Association meetings: Just. Say. No. Because I was already on two committees, or had just wrapped up five years of booking assemblies.

So I have said no to otherwise interesting sounding, tempting literary "side jobs" that didn't feel like a good fit, or conflicted with something I was already doing, or when I did not have an extra ten minutes.

But then something comes along, appearing in that sweet, rare spot (that maybe lasts two days) when I (usually incorrectly!) believe I actually do have a bit of "spare" time, which coincides with a piqued interest in the job (hat) in question. That's when I forget everything my husband taught me, my arm shoots up, and I say Yes.

My newest hat is editing craft essays about nonfiction writing for the cool literary site Cleaver Magazine. After I was published in Cleaver in June, I struck up a friendly online exchange with editor Karen Rile. She messaged me one night to see if I'd take on the job, knowing I was interested.

It was my good luck to inherit an inbox with a few good submissions already waiting, and it was even better luck to work first with writer Andrea Jarrell on her piece, doing exactly what I love—exchanging editing ideas with a writer whose work is already excellent.

 Andrea's wonderful piece will resonate with many memoir writers. In "Becoming an Outlaw (How my short fiction became a memoir),"—which is, on its own, a lovely bit of memoir—Andrea brings the writer into her writing process, her mind, and her heart. Along the way, we learn how she managed some of the bigger obstacles of memoir writing: finding the boundaries between narrator and major secondary characters, navigating the possibility of hurting a family member with our story, figuring out why she's writing at all, and how that knowledge helped impose an organizing principle on the manuscript.

I hope you'll take the time to read Andrea's work at Cleaver. And, if you're interested in writing a craft essay, we're open to submissions.

Images: Hats - Flickr/CreativeCommons-MCroft; Cleaver article illustration - Candice Seplow/Unsplash

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- October 28, 2016 Edition

> The New York Times' excellent teaching blog, Lessons Plans, offers a long, resource-filled, smart piece about using the many personal essays that appear all week long in the newspaper, to teach (and learn) how to write better personal nonfiction. Hint: there's a lot more on offer than the Modern Love and Lives columns. (hat top: Creative Nonfiction)

Tomorrow night, October 29, four nonfiction literary journals are holding a National Nonfiction Simulcast, with reading in three cities (Pittsburgh and Lancaster, PA, and Sacramento, CA). Anyone anywhere can join in online.

> Here's a list of 30 literary journals that pay writers (via AuthorsPublish).

> Some crazy legislation in California is making it difficult for bookstores to sell author-signed books.

> Another take, from Kristen Langley Mahler, on how "collecting" 100 rejections strengthens a writer's submission game.

>Did you know there's a website that compiles information about chapbook publishers, chapbook reviews, and other chap-related goodies? (hat tip: Trish Hopkinson)

> I'm often asked for  places to find new writing prompts. Try The Writing Reader.

> Finally, if you buy books and don't read them (yet), there's a word for you. (Please don't tell it to my husband.)

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/CreativeCommons-BrittKnee

Monday, October 24, 2016

How I Got Into That Journal (or, how to get into any journal)

Occasionally I teach a class on Submission Strategies, and from the start, I passionately insist that for every time I get an acceptance from my top-pick, first-choice venue, without sending the work anywhere else, there were at least three instances of sending a piece around to a half dozen (or several dozen!) markets before it landed in a good literary home. 

And though everyone dutifully takes notes and nods, I'm guessing some are quietly thinking, well maybe for her, but that won't be me. Few people ask questions at this point.

But at the next session, I bring in a couple of printed out 11 by 17 worksheets from my (long, tedious, but vital) Excel spreadsheet that I use to track all of my submission, cross-sorted by venue and piece of writing, dates, outcomes, editor notes, etc. When this starts to make its way around the table, eyes widen, jaws drop a little, questions erupt.

Did you really send 8 (or 18 or 28) pieces to X before you got a yes?


Did you really have to submit that piece (the one got nominated for an award, the one that won an award) to 8 (or 18 or 28) journals before it was accepted?


But now that you have lots more experience, it's easier right?

Ha. No. And, yes.

You learn stuff. You get better at this enterprise, this business, this game of figuring out where your work will succeed. You develop instincts, learn from mistakes, know more about what editors want based on what they've already published (because you read and read and read). You also learn more about yourself and what you are interested in accomplishing by publishing, what you can live without, what you don't care to negotiate. This takes time, commitment, some analytic skills, gut instincts, and a little luck. Not to mention (but oh let's mention) that this only happens if along the way, your writing craft is also consistently improving, even if only incrementally.

When it all works, when the venue you are after wants what you have to offer, after you pat yourself on the back, it's worth figuring out what you did right that time.

That's what I do in a guest blog post running over at the Brevity blog -- analyze what I did that got my essay into the Fall 2016 special issue of the literary journal Brevity Magazine. The post is divided into nine steps. I hope it's helpful to any writer wanting to break into any market that's personally meaningful. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

When a Themed Submission Call Prods a Story

September was such a busy month for my writing that I've not yet mentioned—not here on the blog anyway—one publication that made me particularly proud. Those who write and read creative nonfiction, and especially fans of short works, know the quality of the essays and nonfiction narratives at Brevity, all presented in 750 words or less.

I'm so pleased that Brevity chose to publish my work, "On the Near Side of the Tracks," in their Fall 2016 issue, which had a special focus on race. What makes this slightly more gratifying is that this story—though the actual experience lasted less than 10 minutes—was one I sat on for years, not knowing precisely how or when or where to tell it.

When I came across the Brevity themed call for submissions in the spring, something slid into place in my head—and eventually, onto the page. I believe that's true for some stories: we wait and ponder and think, and wait some more, often not sure if it's ever going to live on the page. Then, something clicks and we "suddenly" know how to write about it, where to send it, and that it's time to tell it.

I'd love it if you took a few minutes (really, that's all it takes to read 750 words!) to read it. While there, perhaps take a bit more time to read some of the other stellar work in the special Brevity issue, which includes work by Deesha Philyaw, Roxane Gay, Tyrese Coleman, and several others, all with unique perspectives.

I'd been chasing a Brevity byline for a while, undaunted by a half-dozen rejections before this wonderful acceptance. That's not unusual, that's the writing life. Whatever you're chasing, I hope it shows up in your writing life.

UPDATE (10/19/16): Over at the Brevity blog, you can now read about the steps I took to nail this long sought after acceptance

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- September 23, 2016 Edition

>I love reading about all the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant recipients, but of course pay special attention to the handful of stellar writers always on the list. Included among them for 2016 is Claudia Rankine, who says the "prize is being given to the subject of race."

>My kids aren't young enough to have enjoyed "Llama Llama Red Pajama," and other books in that series by Anna Dewdney. But I fell in love with the author when, after she passed away this month, instead of funeral services, she asked everyone to read to a child.

>I learn from coaching clients all the time. Recently, a writer looking for new ways to approach complicated essay topics, found "Let's Discuss Shredded Romaine Lettuce," an essay from 2014, by Wendy Rawlings. Whoa. It immediately became suggested reading for my MFA students.

>Part sounds-like-fiction horror story, part you-can't-make-this-stuff-up nonfiction, and altogether creepy/fun reading: Lesley's Kinzel's "The Writing Retreat From Hell: Or, a Completely Weird and Slightly Terrifyig Adventure in Small Town New England."

>I reported over the summer that Beyond Your Blog--a helpful trove of advice and resources for submitting essays and articles--had stopped putting up new material. Now I'm happy to say it's resumed doing so, with a few tweaks.

>Finally, I know I'm late to the Taylor Mali party, but caught on when my college freshman son sent me the link to Mali's  hilarious video send-up on "The Impotence of Proofreading" which he saw in his freshman comp class.  

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy Best American Essay Brithday

When my birthday arrives in about 10 days, my card may say, "Your gift was delivered on  September 13."

Here's why (and I beg of you, imagine this in deep narrator voice-over like at the Oscars): This is Lisa's second nomination, and first…

Let me not bury the lede any further: I received word that an essay of mine, published in 2015, was selected for the Notable Essays list included in Best American Essays 2016. How simple and calm that sentence sounds. So unlike how I sounded when I got the news.

No, that was more like this (imagine this in hysterical barn owl voice at 140 decibels): What?! NO WAY. Wow. Whoa. OMG! Wait, REALLY?

BAE doesn't notify those on the Notables list. I learned it from a Facebook writer friend who'd scoured the Notables pages (using Look Inside) as soon as Amazon put BAE '16 up for pre-order.

As you probably know, BAE is an annual anthology that republishes about two dozen essays that exemplify fine writing craft. Tucked in the back is the Notables list, a few hundred pieces culled from thousands of nominations. When I think about all the essays published in all the print journals and all the online literary journals, and all the mainstream magazines and websites, across a full 12 months, the odds of being selected are small. The honor is huge.

Often, a media venue will let a writer know that it is nominating one's work, as happened several years ago when Under the Sun nominated an essay of mine from 2013 (no booming narrator voice that time around).

But this time, I was not aware that the good folks at Blue Lyra Review, notably nonfiction editor Adrienne Ross Scanlan, had thought highly enough of my essay, "Not Quite Meet Cute" (which appeared in their Spring 2015 issue), to place it in nomination. So the news last week was extra surprising, extra sweet. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to Adrienne and BLR.

If you like this sort of stuff, the backstory on that essay includes the usual forces and vicissitudes that accompany this wacky thing called essay writing.

It's such a personal piece that after the crappy first draft in 2007, I put it away, worried my husband wouldn't like the world knowing how he behaved when we first met, or how I'd behaved before we met. Then there was the inevitable cycle: revise, rewrite, put-it-away-this-is-crap, forget-about-it-for-another-year, revise, this-is-less-crappy-but-it's-still-crap, revise, rinse, repeat.

Finally, it entered the gee-this-maybe-is-not-so-bad stage, followed by revise, submit, rejection, submit, submit, submit. Once it found a nice home at BLR, the only next step I considered was that I might include it in a future essay collection of my own (yes, I'm delusional that way), but essentially, I figured that was the end of that story.

The BAE listing comes with not a dime of monetary compensation, and of course, the Notable pieces themselves are not printed in the book. That booming narrator voice isn't concluding with….and her first win. A Notable is more than a nomination, less than a win, but it's something rather nice, and I'm excited. It means the judging committee and editors think it has merit.

And I’m thinking that, in the everyday trenches of revise, rewrite, put-it-away-this-is-crap, forget-about-it-for-another-year, revise, this-is-less-crappy-but-it's-still-crap, revise, rinse, repeat, gee-this-maybe-is-not-bad, submit, rejection, submit, submit, submit – that's going to help.

Though I guess this means my husband figures he's off the hook for a birthday gift.

Monday, September 5, 2016

When a Targeted Submission Fails: Rinse, Revise, Repeat

Not everything we write lands where we hope. I occasionally write essays for themed calls for submissions, especially for anthologies, and have had some success (10 thus far). But when the resulting essay is declined, there are decisions to make. Like every writer, sometimes I am tempted to forget about it. But not often. Because when I work hard on something, I like to salvage those efforts.

I try to remember what I advise my students: that the gift inside rejection (for something I wrote and submitted exclusively), is that I now have new material. Even if it requires a little (or maybe more than a little) revision, I have something to submit elsewhere.

Last July, I submitted an essay to a planned anthology to mark the 10th anniversary of the mega-memoir, Eat, Pray Love in 2016. I learned in November that mine—along with some 1950 other submissions—was not accepted for what eventually became the book Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It.

I let many months go by, mostly because I was busy with teaching and other projects, but eventually realized that if I were going to place that essay, it had to be in 2016.

Fortunately, the original call had a word limit that coincided with what many mainstream online destinations look for in personal essay length. So I examined the content, and zeroed in on an angle that I hoped would help it sell: although Elizabeth Gilbert, author of EPL, was in her thirties when she rebooted her life, my own story of connection with the book was rooted in midlife, so I enhanced that aspect of the essay. When I sent it on its way, I aimed at venues with readerships in that age range and that seemed likely to include EPL fans. I emphasized in my pitch that the globally successful book was celebrating its 10th anniversary.

That piece, eventually titled, "Happy 10th Birthday Eat, Pray, Love: A Big Shout-Out to the Book that Inspired My Three Big Midlife Changes," was published in late August on Purple Clover, a popular site geared to midlife women. The site's tagline is: still crazy after all these years. It seems like a good fit for the piece, the paycheck is welcome, and I love knowing that my original efforts paid off, though in a different manner.

Later this fall, a similar story will play out when a much longer, more literary nonfiction narrative I originally wrote for Creative Nonfiction Magazine's 2015 call for works about the weather will be published by Harpur Palate, another journal where I'm happy to see my work appear. Lately, I've been seeing a number of well-written nonfiction pieces about weather popping up in many quality venues, and I've been secretly wondering if those traveled the same road, too.

Do you have pieces that you intended for one place that wound up in another? I'd love to hear your experiences.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- September 2, 2016 Edition

> Ursula LeGuin, interesting and forthright as always, had something to say about being named to the Library of America (New York Times).

> At Assay Journal, Sarah Einstein probes "
Questions of Authorial Selfhood and Ethics in ​First Person Creative Nonfiction." 

> Did you know that half of those you ask for a book blurb will probably say no? Dorit Sasson, author of the memoir Accidental Soldier, offers "Top 10 Tips I Learned About Getting Book Endorsements," 
over at Funds for Writers.

> Joanna Novak at Bustle features "9 Women Writers Who Are Breaking New Nonfiction Territory."

> Recently discovered Pitching Shark, which offers freelance writers tidbits from editors of print and online venues, including topics they'd like to see pitched, as well as their email addresses. Also, advice about writing, pitching, etc.

>Brag Box: I'm super proud of my coaching clients who landed the assignment to write this cool story for's travel section. (I work with freelancers on polishing their pitches; details are on this page.) 

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/CreativeCommons - James Jones Puggles

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Post-Conference, Post-Vacation Post

Probably the smartest thing to do after a writing conference would be hurry home and burrow in, open a new document (or six!) for all the ideas that skittered across your mind while there. Or, better yet, take a solitary decompressing trip, that frees you to write and muse. I've done both of those things before.

What I hadn't done was return home, run a load of laundry, answer only the urgent emails, repack, sleep a few hours, and then set out with my family for an enforced four days of R&R—strictly away from my computer, all of us together in a small seaside house (often huddled in the A/C to escape daunting heat and humidity when not under a beach umbrella to escape frigid A/C), and on unspoken but rather clear orders from my husband not to disappear into my brain and essentially away from the moment

I had books. I had my notebook. What I didn't have was time to spread out all my notes from Hippocamp 2016 (a conference for creative nonfiction writers), and reflect, make notes, tackle follow-ups in the immediate manner I like, and to write a post-conference post.

But I'm back at my desk now (feeling of course as if I never did leave it!), so here goes.

If you read my post from the first day of activities this year, you already know how much I love this conference. You can scroll the live-at-the-time tweets, and read other post-Hippocamp coverage here and here and here, and at the official conference recap page. I'll just share some of what showed up in my notebook and program margins when I was sitting in the audience at various presentations.

First, I'll note that I was completely unprepared and overwhelmed by the lovely, positive reaction to my own session, "Writing About the Same Experience Across Multiple Pieces." Not only did people fill every seat in the break-out room (nerve-wracking and wonderful), but I was gobsmacked by how—for hours afterward and into the next day—so many writers approached me to say that the session opened up something for them about their own CNF work. I've never had that kind of response before, and almost cannot adequately express how much it meant to me. (And served as a timely reminder that when I'm in the audience and find value in a speaker's presentation, saying so afterward, face-to-face, can be a true gift to that person.)

Now, on to some of the small gems I came away with.

> In the Collage Essay Workshop (a pre-conference add-on), we got to talking about other fragmented forms, and Sarah Einstein shared her own definition of a segmented essay, which she thinks of as not exactly linear, but a series of interconnected stories that follow a timeline progression. Yes! That makes so much sense; something I think I intuitively understood but hadn't worked out a definition for.

> During a panel on query letters, one agent (sorry, didn't record who!) suggested a simple formula: "The hook, the book, the cook." What's the essential heart of the book?  What is the book about (slightly extended description)? Who is the writer?  Another noted that query letters should involve no more than "one scroll" of the email screen. Still another advised digging through the Manuscript Wish List's site or following #MSWL on Twitter.

Wendy Fontaine, part of a panel on truth in nonfiction, shared some of her captivating research on memory and recall, brain anatomy and function. This, for example: "The brain makes no biological delineation between a true memory and a false one." Whoa! Certainly makes me want to think twice, or three, maybe four times when writing about what I think I remember clearly.

> At a presentation on designing and delivering a writers' retreat, Joanne Lozar Glenn advised working backward from the intended outcome. Ask yourself what you want the writers who will attend to take away from the experience. Newly generated pages? A notebook of ideas? Feedback? New process skills? Community? A combination? Something else?

> In a talk on incorporating science into CNF, Jeannine Pfeiffer, writer and scientist, suggested ways to track down data and experts without spending a lot on abstracts or other access to scientific journals—such as using Google Scholar; the Public Library of Science; asking a professor friend to let you search on or; gaining in-person access to a local university library; and searching the terms "open access journals" + "your topic".

> At a session on content marketing, Kelly Kautz noted that for writers who are marketing themselves, their books, and/or their services, it's wise to tame the intimidating monster that is analytics data, focusing only on areas that are meaningful to you. Identify keyword combinations that work, and then purposely use them in posts or social media exchanges. That means, for me, posts incorporating the word combinations "New Jersey… Editor" "Writing teacher…NJ" and "NJ…writing coach," might be in my future.

Jim Warner, on a panel about literary citizenship, invited writers from everywhere to submit audio files from literary events, especially interviews with authors, for consideration for his podcast, CitizenLit.

> Finally, it would be impossible to sum up all the wonderfulness that was Mary Karr's keynote address, so I'll leave you with these notes:

On writing about family: "A dysfunctional family is any form of family with more than one person."
On stories within memoir: "Memoir is, by its nature, episodic. Everyone has stories."
On melodrama: "Don't write how you suffered. Write how you survived."
On writing from reality: "Don't exaggerate. Trust that what you experienced was enough."
On blame: "Judge yourself more harshly than anyone else."
On her writing process: "One sentence at a time. There's no strategy. Jump lump along. Six hours or 1000 words a day, whichever comes first."
On revision: "Make the ugly parts prettier. Make the pretty parts better. And if you can't, cut it out, because you don't want to be boring."

There was so much more. I suspect it's all going to be buzzing around my writer's brain for weeks or months to come, and maybe as long as it takes to get back there in September 2017. Which is what I want out of a conference after all.