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