Thursday, December 8, 2016

Don't worry, it's not just you!

I have had several conversations with clients recently as to the status of their poetry or prose submissions. Having not heard from me lately they grew concerned that it was because all their work had been rejected. I've had to reassure them that all has pretty much gone quiet and very few journals have sent replies since November 8th. Historically this has been an active time of year but it feels to me like readers and editors are perhaps distracted or overwhelmed or working on special assignments. I recently posted on my Writers' Wings Facebook page that several journals, such as Cleaver and Stoneboat, have issued special themed calls for writing that's inspired by activism, social justice and a need to "explore the deep cultural and political divide that has emerged in the wake of the recent U.S. presidential election."

Perhaps it's time to write something new that answers one of these calls!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Creative writers: Are your story or poetry themes fresh, or worn to the nub?

What I hear from editors of journals is that they are inundated with stories of coming of age, sexual awakening, family trauma, and the grieving process; and poems that deal with love and/or loss. These are universal themes, of course, and ones that inspire writers to write. So are you supposed to avoid them? No. But, look at them with more scrutiny. Are you relying on the poignancy of the situation to be enough?

The decision to publish is based on many things, but in creative writing, it is less often based on WHAT you have to tell, and more on HOW you tell it. Do you have a fresh take, a unique voice, evocative imagery and words that sing? Or are you in such a rush to tell your tale that you are skimping on the art of great storytelling? Cultivating your own fresh voice is a long process, but a potentially joyful one. Especially if you find a community of writers to support you on your journey.

What I hear from my clients is that it is challenging to find a group with good critiquing skills. Two of my clients have found real value in an ongoing adult education class at College of Marin called Poetic Pilgrimage led by Prartho Sereno, poet laureate of Marin County. I’m told there is no critiquing or commenting whatsoever. Not a word of encouragement even! One client says, "We just read whatever we've just written and move on to the next person. And I have observed people really grow in their skills. I think just being exposed to good writing really helps, as we read quality published poetry that she chooses to suit her theme. Being able to hear yourself read your poem to a group lets you to really hear your work in a way that reading it to yourself just doesn’t allow."

I have also heard mixed reviews on writing critique groups. It’s important to find one that reaches the right balance between everyone being "too nice" to say anything useful, and a group that leaves you feeling overwhelmed with other writers’ ideas of how they would have written it, so you lose the heart of your piece. If you aren’t in a group and would like to try one, ask friends, check on Meetup, inquire in bookstores (Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA has many classes, for example), read reviews, and try them out. Then see if you feel invigorated or enervated. 

Perhaps the best thing is to get to know other writers (through classes, groups and conferences) whose work you like and after a while form a very small group of maybe three or four people that meets regularly for support and encouragement. This is enough to keep you on track writing, and if you take turns introducing the group to writers you admire, and discuss why, then your ear is being tuned to recognize when your own writing a bit trite and uninspired, and of course this is what you’re going for: fresh and on point!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Success Story

Way back in May of 2015 I wrote a post that explored various alternatives to getting your work published, including submitting your story or poem as an audio piece. Or participating in a reading at your local library or bookstore or an open mic event.

Sometimes I work with a client who is looking ahead to getting a book published and they enlist my help to build a publishing history and bring attention to their work. I submit their poems, short stories or memoir pieces in hopes that something will be accepted. Sometimes it works!

Case in point: Writers' Wings client Susan Isa Efros. Her fabulous book of short stories, Girls Gone Astray has just been published. It includes a gem of a little story called "Footface." Early this year I submitted that story to and they accepted it, publishing it before her book came out. Success!

Last weekend I attended Susan's book launch event and it was stellar. Susan puts forth exuberance and a theatrical flair as she reads her stories, holding her audience rapt and timing the funny bits with exquisite accuracy, getting big laughs and nods of appreciation. She brings her stories alive in the room.

I'm sharing this with you, dear readers, to remind you to think beyond the printed page or pixels and imagine yourself with your friends and new fans as you bring your words to life. And if you feel intimidated maybe it would help to think back, as I often do, to the pleasure of story time in grade school. That wonderful feeling of being transported to another time, or another world. Your audience awaits!

-Yours in words,

Monday, August 1, 2016

Rejection Dejection?

A recent article by Kim Liao on LitHub is well worth reading for any writer who wants to share their work with the world. She says to go for the rejections, as many as possible, because the more rejections there are the more submissions you’re doing, and so there are more likely to be at least a few acceptances. She quotes a number of writers who agree with this approach.

No one likes rejection, particularly for something as deeply personal as a piece of creative writing. One way to protect against it is to simply not send anything out. There’s no law that says you have to seek publication, after all. But there is a point in every serious writer’s life when the stimulus of being read takes the work to another level. This reading could just be among friends, but there can be the concern that friends are "just being nice." At some point curiosity about how a piece of writing would do in the harsh world of publishing prompts actually submitting the work. This is not ego rearing its ugly head. It’s more likely to be seeking of connection and a need to get feedback in order to perfect one’s craft. So out it goes. Then there’s waiting. Then there’s (usually, percentage-wise) rejection. Ouch! Who can blame the writer for wondering why even bother?

I have writer clients who were so terrified of sending things out, they never sought publication until they hired me to send it out for them. But more often than not, my clients come to me more than a little battle-worn and frustrated. It’s all very inspiring to suggest setting a goal of 100 rejections a year. It’s quite another experience to receive those rejections. And even another to turn around and send the piece out again and again. It would take an almost automatonic ability to rise up from rejection without first healing the perceived wound. Great if you can do it, but rare, I would think. Read the article and see what you think!

But first, on a related note, enjoy listening to George Plimpton’s very entertaining ‘Dinner at Elaine’s’.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Are You Backing Up??

I hope the previous post was helpful! More soon on the subject of organizing your writing, but first, a more pressing topic.

You might recall that I ended the previous post by urging you, dear reader and writer, to remember to back up your work! I was recently talking with a poet friend who was bemoaning the fact that her current backup drive is full. If you are like most people, you keep meaning to purchase a new drive or even a little "thumb" drive, but you never seem to get to it.

A quick and easy temporary solution is to email yourself the latest draft of your piece. It will then at least be stored on the server, i.e., in your webmail. But, and this is something I just learned for myself, depending on whether your mail account was set up as IMAP or POP, the server won't store things indefinitely. As it was explained to me, (and feel free to educate me if I don't have this quite right) an IMAP account is best when syncing across devices as the server will store a copy in your webmail inbox. A POP account on the other hand will not do that. Instead, your emails will download from the server to your various local devices (computer, tablet, phone) but will only be saved for a few weeks on the server.

Ok, now back to backups. There is software that will do this job for you. I'm a Mac user and my computer has a program called Time Machine built into it. Another popular program for the Mac is called Super Duper. For PC users I'm certain there are plenty of good options there as well.

The ideal setup is to have two backup drives; one that you are currently using at home and one stored safely offsite, perhaps in a bank safe deposit box. You'll want to switch them out periodically. How frequently you do this depends on how prolific you are. In addition to the "big" backup, I also have a thumb drive that I put new files on. It's great to do this with photos as well, as they are important keepsakes. Which reminds me that I haven't done this in a while so I will take care of it right now!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Where's that file??

Organizing Your Writing Projects

Before I founded Writers’ Wings, I was an organizer, helping people declutter and establish sustainable systems of staying organized. So when my writer clients say they struggle with being able to retrieve the latest version of the poem or short story that they want to send me, naturally I want to help.

The biggest complaint I hear is the difficulty of being caught in a transition period between files or binders of printed work, pieces that are written in Word and are filed on one computer or another, and ones that are written on (or comparable cloud technology) that they can access from any device, AND the ones that are on back up drives.

Some work is replicated in a variety of places, others only in one place. And it is frustratingly easy to lose track. For poets this is especially challenging, because they tend to produce a much higher volume of individual projects. Essayists and short story writers can have a folder (hard copy or digital) for each project. And writers of longer works are usually focused on only one project at a time, so the organizing is more internal to the project itself, rather than finding it amidst other work. Let’s look more closely at the various aspects to consider.

Do you write in a notebook or on a digital device?

If, like many writers, especially of poetry, you scribble your thoughts in an ongoing notebook dedicated to writing, at what point do you type it up to share? When it is fully edited and ready for the world? Or do you continue to work on it once it is a digital file?

First, the notebook should be dated on the front cover so you can more easily retrieve something. As you take a piece into a digital life, be sure to check it off in the notebook and if possible note the final title of the piece. If you don’t like clutter and don’t care about your ‘archive for posterity’, then once you have fully checked off everything that might be of use, you can tear off the covers and recycle the notebook.

If you write and/or edit on a device, (whether in Word or on a cloud) and if you create multiple versions, then a folder for that piece is a good idea.

Here is an orderly way to keep your writing organized.

In Documents or My Documents create a Writing folder.
Within that folder create a subfolder for each of your genres-Poetry, Fiction, Memoir, Essay, Nonfiction and so on.
Now, let's say you've got a poem called “Geese” and you have several versions of it.
Within your Poetry folder you’ll want to create a subfolder, perhaps Birds or Nature. Then within that folder, create a folder called Geese. That is where you will save your versions of your poem.
If that sounds like your current work is buried too deep to remember to work on it, then keep the most current file on your desktop, but DO file it away when you are done. And if you forgot which version you were working on because you didn’t update the name, remember that you can always sort by Date Modified and that should lead you to the most current version.

If you have determined that the latest version is absolutely ‘it’, you can trash the previous versions to avoid confusion. Again, if you are interested in your ‘archive for posterity’ these previous versions are insight into your process, so you might keep them in a separate archives folder. But mark the final version clearly.

If you only type up your work when it is in its final edited stage, then you don’t need a folder but do file it in a way that you can find it again.

And always be sure that your work is backed up!!!!

Monday, February 8, 2016

What's Up with all the Waiting??

So you write something amazing and you send it off to your favorite literary journal and wait, and wait, and wait. What’s up with that? Do they keep shoving it to the bottom of the pile? Have they forgotten about it? Are they lollygagging around sipping lattes while you wait on pins and needles for their response? Why can’t they get back to you any faster? 

Literary journals are staffed by mostly volunteers who are working other jobs and have busy lives.The more well-known may have more paid staff but then they also have many more submissions coming through. Since the editors are unpaid or underpaid, they are doing this for the love of literature. You can trust that they will honor your work and give it the time it deserves. Be patient! Your piece will get read, eventually.

The problem is that while you’re waiting, you may start rethinking things and doubting your work, or wondering if you sent it to the right place. To calm these bouts of self-doubt, don’t send off your piece until you’ve done your homework, meaning:

  • You wrote the best piece you could.
  • You put it in the drawer for a bit and read it again with fresh eyes.
  • You read it out loud to find where you stumble and to hear the music of it.
  • You had at least one person whose opinion you respect read it and give honest feedback, and you edited it based on that feedback.
  • Hopefully you read it, or some portion of it, outloud to a group so you could gauge by the collective response -- laughter, concentrated attention, sighs of appreciation, yawns, confused faces, spontaneous applause or a rich awed silence -- whether the piece worked or fell flat.
  • You researched the most likely publication to be a home for your piece based on more than wishful thinking. (Or, at this stage you turned it over to Writers’ Wings and let me handle it as you get started on your next writing project!)

photo credit Michael Rosenthal
If you’ve done all that, even though it may take awhile stuck in a pile on an editor’s desk or computer, you can rest assured that it will get the attention it deserves. And who knows, maybe it will be the very breath of fresh air that editor has waited for all day!

Friday, January 15, 2016

When an Editor Says They Like Your Writing

It’s so much fun when I receive an acceptance letter on a client’s behalf, and I get to give the news and celebrate with the author. But I also consider it a potential win when I receive a letter from editors that goes something like, ‘Although this piece doesn’t suit our needs at this time, we would like to see more of your writing.’ I immediately turn around and send that editor some more of that writer’s work.

But apparently for some writers, women in particular, this kind of letter doesn’t prompt immediate action. Instead it seems to cause for a lot of inner questioning. Apparently, men are more likely to take the editors at their words and send them more writing right away. Women don’t. Why?

An article by Kelli Russell Ogodon titled Submit Like a Man: How Women Writers Can Become More Successful says that women overthink it and it get lost in a quagmire of self-questioning. She imagines it goes something like this:
“Maybe I should wait a few months so I don’t seem desperate or so I don’t irritate them by submitting so fast. Do they really want to see more work, or were they just being nice? ...I wouldn’t want to be an imposition and it would be better manners and more respectful to wait a bit. ...I wouldn’t want to impose.”

And then the few months pass and that plan is forgotten. Meanwhile the men are receiving acceptance letters for subsequent submissions.

If you have been so devastated by a rejection letter that you failed to notice an embedded invitation, go back through letters you’ve received from editors and see if any invited further submissions. If so, stop whatever you are doing and send them some more of your work!

We women have inherited a lot of passive traits that don’t serve us. Many of us were raised to wait to be invited into the dance of life, so we sit like wallflowers. As writers, women may find rejection too hurtful, and may not even read the words of encouragement in the letter, or assume they are not sincere. My writer clients confess that either they have never sent their writing out, or they have sent it out but have been so devastated by the first rejection letter that they put their writing back in the drawer and couldn’t muster the courage to send it out again. If this sounds like you, I encourage you to pull those pieces out and send them off into the world again. If you haven’t a clue where to begin, I’m at your service.

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