Monday, December 4, 2017

How many is too many?

Poets ask me how many poems they should send to a publication. The answer is simple: As many as they ask for!

The only reason to send less is if they are asking for a specific theme and you don’t have that many that would suit. If there is no theme, then you’ll want to take advantage of the opportunity to show your range.

Giving them as many poems as they allow -- always your best and always with the publication in mind -- increases your odds of getting published. One of my poet clients has (twice!) had two poems accepted for the same volume, and that could just as easily happen to you. Some publications feature a particular poet, showing multiple poems. Why ever would you send only one?

There’s a concern that if the reader doesn’t care for the first poem, then they won’t go on to the next. Maybe. If it is just awful, they might well assume the rest are. If no regard has been given to refining and presenting the poem well, then of course, they’ll feel their time could be better spent on another poet’s work. But if that first poem is well written but just not their cup of tea, then they will at least recognize that this is a poet worth reading, and hope that the next one might be a better fit for their publication. If you only send one, you might be putting yourself at a disadvantage.

My previous post talks about the importance of following each publication’s guidelines. Here again, if they ask for up to a certain number of poems and you have them, and they represent you well and seem to you to be a good match, send that many.

That said, only send what is suitable for the publication. If you are serious about getting published, you will do your research. There are thousands of journals and magazines out there. Not all are right for your work and haphazardly sending to them lessens your credibility. You have to have a strong clear submissions strategy. I develop a specific strategy for each of my clients, because each has a particular voice and a body of work that deserves to be seen in all the right places.

The most important part of any submissions strategy is to tailor your poems to the aesthetic of where you're submitting. Your chances of getting accepted to, say, a journal interested in formal or lyric poetry are minimal if you send them narrative or experimental poems. Know the publications where you plan to send your work. Otherwise you are wasting your time and theirs.

So put together a well-thought-out submission of poems you feel confident about. Then send as many as they allow. Your chances of publication will increase. But, just in case, put the best one on top. ;-)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Literary Submission Guidelines Differ and Matter

Maybe you’re the kind of creative cook who skips the recipe and the measuring cups and the dish comes out great. Wonderful! Invite me over! But sorry to say, disregarding the recipe won’t work with sending your work in for publication.

Every literary journal and magazine has different guidelines. No matter how high the quality of your writing, it might not even get the chance to be read if you don’t follow each publication’s rules.

It may seem like a lot of extra work and aggravation. But remember that most journal editors and first readers are overwhelmed, overworked volunteers, so you can think of it as a kindness to meet their submission requirements. Your effort will be rewarded by more thoughtful consideration.

No doubt sending your writing out is your least favorite part of the whole process. If you want instant satisfaction of sharing your work, start a blog. But if you want it to be seen and valued by editors who can include your work in their esteemed publications for the furtherance of your writing career, then you will need to play by their rules.

Of course it would be nice if they all had the same requirements, so you could easily duplicate your submissions, formatting all your pages the same no matter where you send them. And then when you receive a rejection, you could just turn around and send that same piece out right away, just as it is. But each journal and magazine is operating in its own little world, unaffiliated with a big conglomeration that would set standardized guidelines. So there’s just no streamlined way to do it if you are really serious about seeking publication.

Over the years since founding Writers’ Wings I have learned the various submission requirements of about 500 publications where I regularly submit my clients’ work. I enjoy the process of matchmaking writer to publication, and I’ve become adept at making necessary adjustments quickly and assuring that all rules are followed to a ‘T.’ My clients’ work is important to me and I take every care to assure that it will be given the most consideration.

Friday, June 9, 2017

"I remember being maybe six when I decided I would write an opera!"

Here we are in June! Time to glean some words of wisdom from Writers' Wings client Christie Cochrell as she muses on how and why and what she likes to write!

WW: When did you start writing? Was there something or someone that sparked your desire to write?

CC: I remember being maybe six when I decided I would write an opera!—having been inspired by something dramatic and delightful at the Santa Fe Opera, which children were encouraged to attend. The words were of course easier than the music . . .

My father was a novelist, and typed letters every Sunday morning (and allegedly one of his novels with a towel or blanket over himself and the typewriter so as not to waken me when I was a newborn), so I had always known writing as part of daily—at least weekend—life.

WW: What is your favorite form of writing? (i.e. essay, short story, poem) and why?

CC: I love writing short-short stories because I can (I tell myself) concentrate on a character in some remembered setting full of rich and quirky details without bothering too much with plot and structure—always my weakness.

WW: Do you write in more than one form?

CC: Yes, almost all of them. Even a parody of an opera again, some years ago!

WW: Do you have techniques that help to inspire you to write?

CC: I have a favorite exercise I invented, called "Triplets," in which I pick at random three unexpected and unconnected words (whether noun, verb, and adjective, or three intriguing nouns), and then have to devise a paragraph or longer to bring them all together. It helps me think outside my usual patterns.

As for getting going every day again, I usually have so many things started, and in so many stages, that I can pick up one or another of them where I've left off, depending on where my interest and energy is that day. I've learned that some days my mind is creative, for getting new things down; some clear, for line-by-line editing; and some good only for doing research and collecting ideas and snippets from elsewhere.

WW: Who are your favorite writers and what have they taught you?

CC: I'd love to write like Marguerite Duras or Michael Ondaatje. Clean and pure and achingly translucent. But in fact my father told me once that I had reinvented Faulkner's style, though I hadn't at that point read him; and a professor told me my thesis was like a Bruckner symphony. So I guess the only writer who's directly informed my writing has been Alice LaPlante (The Making of a Story, Turn of Mind), in many classes, who taught me among many other things that we should render and not solve the mysteries that surround us, and that showing and telling are both valid. Peter Mathiessen, at a writer's seminar years ago in Key West, taught me that in the way of Zen we each discover our own truth through writing it, since all writing is a process of discovery. And so we know whether we have faith in what we've written, and whether we should send it out just one more time after endless rejections.

WW: Do you begin at the beginning, middle or end of your work?

CC: Hmm. Beginning, I guess. I jot down whatever seems like an opening into the whole. A key concept or image or situation. Often, in fiction, a place and a character. (I've traveled extensively, and evocative settings are always at the heart of my writing.)  Or a character at a certain place in her life. Or a moment in time, like a blooming Christmas cactus struck by January sunlight. And then see where it goes from there.

WW: Do you write longhand first, directly onto a device or do voice recording?

CC: Laptop, nowadays. (Though scribblings in notebooks are constant and eventually get included.)  And then I have to print out what I've got and edit on paper, then type that up cleanly to print out and look at again.

WW: Are you part of a writing group or class that supports you? Is this something you would advise for another writer?

CC: Classes and workshops have been wonderful, and from what friends say I know that groups are great, especially for feedback, but I'm an unrepentant introvert and feel that what I need at this point is to just get on with the writing, all by myself. Time is always short and precious.

WW: How did you know it was time to share it publicly?

CC: Only when I'm happy with what I've got will I share it. "Happy" means when I just feel there's nothing else I know to do to make a piece better, and there aren't places in it that snag or worry me.

WW: Is your writing a form of activism? If so, in what way and what particular issues activate you to write?

CC: My creed is that happiness, too, is a valid life choice, and my writing is (like Pierre Bonnard's paintings) defiantly light-gathering, inward- and backward-looking, quiet, in contrast with whatever big and ugly might be happening in the world. I must express the gratitude I feel for life, the mindfulness I've come to of the sacred within the everyday—despite. So I declaim serenity and grace: Neruda's "Ode to My Socks." An elderly couple on a Palo Alto sidewalk, the wife with an armful of pug dog and the husband with an armful of orchids on leggy stems. Lost Songs of the Silk Road. Clementine tart, minced lamb with Moroccan spices and eggplant, chicken tagine with apricots. Aromatic wood lotion. Archaeologists dating scarlet macaw bones. The word komorebi: sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. A 1920s photo of the mistletoe sellers of Paris. Everything it seems we are about to lose.

WW: Who is the greatest support in your writing and how does that impact your ability to write?

CC: My husband is my greatest friend and ally. His nature is blessedly much like my own, and he's content to sit and read quietly all morning while I write (the best time of the day for me), without interrupting or nagging me to do something. "All you do is sit around," my long-ago first husband complained.

WW: Is there any advice you can offer fellow writers?

CC: I absolutely recommend The Making of a Story. Start with lots of exercises, to get the words, your words, down. Write down what feels urgent to you. Use lots and lots of specific detail. Go from there. Keep going!

Christie B. Cochrell is an ardent lover of the play of light, the journeyings of time, things ephemeral and ancient. Her work has been published by Tin House and New Letters, among others, and has won several awards including the Dorothy Cappon Prize for the Essay and the Literal Latté Short Short Contest. She has written three novels, currently seeking publication; one was shortlisted for the Eludia Award given by Hidden River Arts. Her short story “The Pinecone” received Honorable Mention in the Glimmer Train March/April 2016 Very Short Fiction contest. 
Her poetry has been published by Red Bird Chapbooks and her flash prose has been published by 101 Words and Dime Show Review.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"I remember hiding my writing, embarrassed..." Further explorations on Why Do YOU Write?

This month we're talking to poet and long-time client Stephanie Noble!

WW: When did you start writing? Was there something or someone that sparked your desire to write?

SN: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. My first poem was published in the Akron Beacon Journal when I was seven as one of many student poems on a slow news day in Ohio.

Throughout my adolescence writing was my catharsis through journaling in what I called my Private Property Book. What a load of misery and angst! But there were poems as well. And one short story. I remember hiding my writing, embarrassed by the impulse to put my thoughts into words, as if I thought they had value. But it wasn’t about preserving my thoughts, it was about processing them. This is something most people understand today, but back then anyone who attempted to write was secretly working on the “great American novel.”

WW: What is your favorite form of writing? (i.e. essay, short story, poem) and why?

SN: Poetry has always been my first and foremost form of writing. In my late twenties, I went through a period where I wrote songs. It felt safer than poetry, since songwriters weren’t sticking their heads in ovens, or taking themselves too seriously, it seemed. But eventually the poetry just had to have its say.

I did write a novel at the age of 33 and that was an amazing experience. But poems have always just risen up within me and demanded to be put down on paper, so that is what calls me.

WW: Do you write in more than one form?

SN: I teach meditation and write up my talks, then post them on my website for those who aren’t able to attend my classes. I enjoy the liberation of prose, but I credit poetry for teaching me how to write in any form. My natural tendency is to want to say the same thing in a number of ways, just to cover my bases. This is actually a useful impulse when teaching as students learn differently. But poetry makes me choose the best of those and hone things down to their essence, and that’s helped me stay more on track in my prose writing as well.

WW: Do you have techniques that help to inspire you to write?

SN: I like to let a poem percolate in my mind until it just has to be written. When I was a mother of young children, this was a necessity. I couldn’t just stop and jot something down. I had to keep changing that diaper! So I learned how to hold a poem in the making as a creative inner process that at some point just has to be written.

Decades later I am less adept at holding it all in my head, and since I can easily stop and write it down, I do. This has meant more editing, because what’s written down is in a less developed state, but that’s an interesting process too.

WW: Who are your favorite writers and what have they taught you?

SN: There are so many novelists I enjoy as pure indulgence. I read at least a book a week, usually more, but I don’t have much retention for books or movies, with rare exceptions. So let me give you the rare exceptions: Stones in the River by Ursula Hegi, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. When I used to study literature in college, I retained much more, so there’s a lesson there for me.

But when it comes to reading poetry, I find I learn different valuable things from each one. And when I read a poem, after allowing for whatever feelings and thoughts come up, I often ask myself ‘What is this poet giving me permission to do?’ Like most writers I have many unexamined assumptions about what makes good writing, and this question frees me each time to go beyond those assumptions and find some new way of exploring with words and the images they evoke. The only poet whose poem blew me away who isn’t on everyone’s list is Martin Galvin, and I’ve only ever read that one poem ‘Introductions’ that was in a library dollar book sale anthology. But it really still is the most fabulous poem.

WW: Do you begin at the beginning, middle or end of your work?

SN: Hmm, I always think I am beginning at the beginning, but sometimes it turns out to be the ‘first pancake’ and what follows is the real stuff, so I toss the first part or rework it into the piece somewhere else. Other times there is a wholeness to the idea for the poem that feels like it’s shaped in a nonlinear fashion, even though, being words they always end up beginning and ending.

WW: Do you write longhand first, directly onto a device or do voice recording?

SN: Most of my poetry starts longhand in whatever my current composition notebook is. Currently I like those Decomposition Books with the pretty patterns on the outside that I pick up at the art store. They are made with 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, so that frees me to ‘waste’ a page writing total garbage. Our family is full of stories of parental stinginess with paper. My mother was begrudging with her paper, though she wrote copiously on yellow legal pads. Our children claim I only let them write on the backs of already typed-on pages (Not true!!). And one granddaughter knows I’m watching that paper stack like a hawk, even as I rejoice in her delight in writing and drawing.

WW: Are you part of a writing group or class that supports you? Is this something you would advise for another writer?

SN: Absolutely. Living in Marin County, I am fortunate to be part of the ongoing Poetic Pilgrimage class at College of Marin, taught by Prartho Sereno, the current poet laureate of Marin County. I, like many others, have been studying with her for years. Even when the class is not in session, we get together, either with Prartho or on our own, to continue our writing together. Through the class I am exposed to many poets I would not otherwise have discovered, and she gives us very stimulating writing prompts. I probably write ten times as many poems as I would if I weren’t in a regular class! She also ‘publishes’ an 8 x 11” anthology at the end of each 7-8 week session. We supply two camera-ready pages and she has them copied, collated and bound with a cover that she draws and almost always a poem that she creates using lines from each of our poems.

I definitely recommend getting together with other writers in groups or classes. It has to be the right group or class, of course. I remember decades ago I took a class at College of Marin led by a professor who scared me. He was very rigid and judgmental. So for the first time in my life I stopped writing altogether. Instead I obsessively cleaned our little apartment. My best friend came over one day, took one look around and said, ‘If I ever find your home this clean again, we will no longer be friends.’ So I quit that class and have been very selective ever since. No writer needs to put themselves in a position where another person, be it a teacher or an editor, causes writer’s block rather than inspiration! While we want to be open to learn, sometimes there are people who are just projecting their own anguish, and that’s really not a useful situation to be in.

Pratho’s class may be unique in that there is no critique whatsoever. We read and discuss poems by established poets she offers as examples of the theme she is teaching, then she gives us prompts to write for a while, either in class or anywhere on the campus. Then we take turns reading what we’ve written if we want to, and it creates this amazing shared space of creativity. Just hearing your poem as you read it aloud in a group can give you everything you need to know if the piece is working and where you might make some revisions. Since everyone in class has been improving over the years, this technique seems to work. And it beats writing poetry by committee, which is how some critique groups end up feeling.

In editing a piece, it seems the two questions that are most useful are: Where does the piece come alive? And what in the piece supports that aliveness, and what doesn’t? Then be brave enough to cut the part that doesn’t. If it’s too good to toss, just acknowledge that it might want to be its own poem. But it doesn’t belong in this one. One thing I’ve really learned through this process is how to write a shorter poem!

WW: How did you know it was time to share it publicly?

SN: For years I never bothered to send out my poetry. After all it generally doesn’t pay, and I needed to make a living. But at some point I put together a little handmade chapbook of my most meditative poems and Spirit Rock Meditation Center featured it in their wonderful bookstore. When I joined Marin Poetry Center, it just seemed in the spirit of things to submit poems there. It turns out to be very competitive as we have really remarkably talented poets in and around Marin. But I’ve been fortunate to have been included in every volume for the past six years. Then I became a Writers’ Wings client and suddenly my poems were being published far and wide! Wow! That shifted my understanding to include the possibility that this isn’t just some little thing I do for myself. Or it still is, but once the process is done, it can venture out into the world, as long as I’m not the one waiting at the mailbox (or inbox!) to get the rejections!

As to any individual poem, there’s a sense of doneness that can either be ‘I’m so over this and it’s getting tossed or ignored for a few more years’ or ‘Yes, this captures what I wanted to say.’ Of course any poet will tell you that you can edit forever, but I fear overworking as much as under-editing, so if it feels done and Marleen at Writers’ Wings is happy with it, I call it ready.

WW: Is your writing a form of activism? If so, in what way and what particular issues activate you to write?

SN: My issues are the environment and helping people be less stressed so they can live meaningful lives doing whatever it is that calls them to contribute. My prose writing is all about that. Poetry is a form that really has to be allowed freedom to be whatever it wants. But coming through me, my themes are meditative, nature, memoir or family, with an occasional quirky one that can’t be placed. My poems from my twenties are both angrier and more sensual. There was a strong women’s liberation bent to some of them. While I am happy to use my writing skills for any cause I care about, my poetry calls its own shots. That’s just the way it’s got to be for poets.

WW: Who is the greatest support in your writing and how does that impact your ability to write?

SN: My husband, the artist Will Noble, honors my writing time, just as I honor his painting time. And although he never had interest in poetry or meditation, he faithfully reads my meditation blog, and allows me to read my poems to him when asked, and has developed a good ear. Second is Marleen at Writers’ Wings because she sees all my poetry and cares about it deeply. She is like the shepherd for my little poetry flock. I will have forgotten about a particular poem but she knows them intimately. And it’s such a delight when she lets me know something has been published. It’s a celebration we can share, so that makes me feel more part of a team, which I love. And of course, my fellow poetry classmates and Prartho Sereno, who hear my poems first in their rawest form and don’t puke!

WW: Is there any advice you can offer fellow writers?

SN: I’d say if you feel called to write, give yourself the dedicated space and time to work. Let the writing itself guide you. Let go of goals to get published, but honor your work enough to send it out into the world when it’s ready. Find your tribe! Be vulnerable! And if you experience ‘writer’s block’ just remember that fields go fallow sometimes, but it’s a rich time, too. Just stay present with your experience and be compassionate.

Stephanie Noble’s poems have been published in the The Buddhist Poetry Review, Light of Consciousness Magazine, The Mindful Word, Atlanta Review, IthacaLit, DoveTales, Pilgrimage Magazine, Temenos Journal, the Marin Poetry Center Anthology, 2010 through 2016, the anthology Unsilenced, the Spirit of Women and other publications. She was a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee.
She has a BA in Humanities from New College of California and is a member of the ongoing Poetic Pilgrimage class at College of Marin, led by Marin County poet laureate Prartho Sereno. 

Stephanie teaches insight meditation in San Rafael, California and is the author of Tapping the Wisdom Within, A Guide to Joyous Living.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

More on Why Do YOU Write?

This month we're hearing from the fabulous Susan Efros, author of the short story collection Girls Gone Astray.

WW: Susan, when did you start writing?

SE: In the fifth grade when I wrote a novel about my friends and volleyball.

WW: Was there something or someone that sparked your desire to write?

SE: My crazy family and wanting to escape it.

WW: What is your favorite form of writing and why?

SE: Short story- doesn’t take as long as a novel and it demands a lot of compression and concision.

WW: Do you have techniques that help to inspire you to write?

SE: Yes. I read good writing to inspire me.

WW: Who are your favorite writers and what have they taught you?

SE: Tough one. Like favorite kind of food. Depends on my mood but a few of my favorites are Raymond Carver, Lydia Davis, Mary Gaitskill, Ann Patchett, Adam Hasslett, Murakami, Mary Oliver, Michael Cunningham, Louise Erdrich, Doctorow, Ian McEwan, Francine Prose, Ann Tyler,Tobias Wolff. These writers have taught me to be spare, be true and take risks.

WW: Do you begin at the beginning, middle or end of your work?

SE: I begin at the beginning and then the story takes me to the end.

WW: Do you write longhand first, directly onto a device or do voice recording?

SE: Longhand and computer.

WW: Are you part of a writing group or class that supports you? Is this something you would advise for another writer?

SE: Yes. I am part of a writing group that has been meeting for about 5 years. I think it is a tremendous support for any serious writer.

WW: How did you know it was time to share your writing publicly?

SE: Friends told me it was time.

WW: Is your writing a form of activism? If so, in what way and what issues activate you to write?

SE: Not directly a form of activism but the issues that are of concern to me end up in my stories.

WW: Who is the greatest support in your writing and how does that impact your ability to write?

SE: My partner, Jerie Gilbert. She gives me so much space and encouragement.

WW: Is there any advice you can offer beginning writers?

SE: Practice practice practice. Overcome doubt through the sheer act of writing.

WW: Thanks Susan!

Susan Efros' work has appeared in Amelia, Ascent, Christopher Street, The Feminist Art Journal, Juked, Narrative Magazine, The Patterson Literary Review, The Paris Transcontinental and Yellow Silk. She is a frequent contributor to The San Francisco Chronicle and The Funny Times. She is the author of Walking Vanilla, a novel, and the editor of This is Women’s Work, an anthology. Susan was awarded a Marin Arts Council Individual Writers Grant in 2003 for her short fiction, “The Ozzie and Harriet Factor.” Her latest collection of short stories, Girls Gone Astray, is now available at your local bookseller or on Amazon. 

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