Out where? Well, there, and there, and there.
I’m talking about getting the creative writing out there, into the great wide open–beyond the blog, and into news outlets, magazines, and journals–and so are a lot of other bloggers. So, I thought I might start a convo here, where we can collect some pros, cons, and lessons learned.
Sound good? I’ll start with a disclaimer. I am no expert. I have an MFA in Creative Writing under my belt (along with a lot of Xmas cheese); yet we rarely discussed in short fiction and novel-writing courses what to do with our pieces after we’d written them–past the Sisyphean process of write-edit-trash-revisit-rewrite-edit, that is. Really, a piece of writing may never be “finished,” but eventually, it’s good to let it go. How do you know if your writing might be ready to submit?
- Join a writer’s group and find honest readers for honest critiques of your work. In-person groups are great, so long as it’s about the work and not just the wine; online’s OK too. For years, I was active in a novel-writing critique group hosted at Zoetrope and made very meaningful–if virtual–writerly connections. In real life or via FB or other social media, your best readers aren’t necessarily your best friends (or even the best writers you know); they are thoughtful readers. (And that’s exactly what we writers should be doing anytime we’re not actively writing: reading.) And, don’t forget your thick skin for the critiquing process! Best to separate yourself from your writing. The key there: write a lot; move on to the next essay or story or poem or chapter, and you won’t feel so “attached.” Ya know, as Samuel Beckett said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” It’s a process, and it takes a long time.
- Got a piece worth submitting? And, boy is “submit” the right word . Want to read about my submission angst: here you go. Want a short cut? There are ways to make the process a little easier. Start local. Check out your town’s free newspaper or the journal published by your local community college. For regional literary publications and the big journals we’ve heard of–Literistic* will send you a list of publications that might be looking for work like yours. (Note that many of these publications have readerships smaller than blog follow-ships, so that’s important to weigh.) Writer’s Relief, while more expensive, will even submit for you. While I don’t recommend cutting out the process of connecting with journals and magazines, yourself, I have used their a la carte offering to better target my submissions–with some success. Literary publications come and go all the time–Tin House, you will be missed–and for that reason, Submittable‘s “Discover” function helps the search; the site also keeps track of your active, declined, and accepted pieces, which is handy for the spreadsheet-phobic (me). Bottom line: submit a lot; it’s a numbers game, with some estimates of 100 rejections for every one acceptance. My number’s game story here.
- Do what we bloggers already do well. That is, learn from our betters and connect with our peers. Here’s where the conversation can get really heady, if you want it to, and we can parse what it means to be a literary citizen. For a deep dive into the rise of identity politics in literary writing, check out this piece from Subtropics. For my purposes here, I define literary citizenship as taking an active and responsible role in the communal writing life. For writers, this means writing. But also reading what’s come before and what’s contemporary. This means keeping literacy and literary organizations alive. Ya know, interacting and giving as much as you get. We bloggers are nodding our heads, because this kind of reciprocal relationship is what blogging is all about. At the risk of ensuring Jonathan Franzen will never blurb a book of mine, such a reclusive literary personality would never make it as a blogger. Just sayin.’
Have I made myself out to be a complete altruist in this writing life game? You know I’m not. I want my writing to be read. I want to be able to write, first and foremost, what I want; not what’s required by university marketing and comms departments (God bless ya for keeping me in said Xmas cheese!).
But I am happy to work for my spot in the writing life, because this literary citizenship stuff is good stuff: 2018 was a good year for it, during which I participated in a literary festival near my hometown; conducted writing research online and off; made a method of my writing by taking it outdoors; published work by artists I admire. And, post after post, connected with you here.
I’m not one for big resolutions but I am one for glomming onto other writers’ resolutions (thank you, Kelly Griffiths). For 2019, it’s agent or bust, “bust” being defined as 100 rejections. Agent querying is hard–maybe not hell, but a suburb of hell. Still, connecting with agents as people makes querying feel less like torture and more like part of a necessary process that’s helping me hone my skills and art (and patience, yes, there’s some of that.)
So, let’s keep up the back-and-forth here. Tell me what you like and what you don’t. And I hope you’ll keep an eye out for my next posts, including my forthcoming interview with Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas as well as notices of two of my stories, which are to be published–one online, one in print–later this month.
In the D.C. area? I’ll be reading at the issue launch event for Little Patuxent Review later this month. In April, I’ll be attending the Conversations and Connections conference sponsored by Barrelhouse, which brings together writers, editors, and publishers.
*Note that if you sign up for Literistic‘s submission list service, I’ll receive a small kickback. But I know you’ll like it.
P.S. Thanks–and congrats again–to Lutheran Liar Looks at Life for getting “out there” and helping to inspire this post.