How to Get Published

After years of hemming and hawing, of feeling inadequate, ambivalent, worried, anxious and excited about the notion of being published, I finally this year, in my 40s, have gotten my act together enough to submit some of my long-lingering work for publication. Since the beginning of the year, I have submitted three stories, and I have gotten two stories accepted for publication. This makes me feel quite optimistic.

Here are some (fairly obvious) “secrets”:

1. Guaranteed: You will Never get published if you don’t send your material out into the world. (My first 30 some years of writing related behavior prove this.)

2. Good Likelihood: The more venues to which you submit your stories, the more likely your stories will eventually be accepted for publication. This doesn’t mean be indiscriminate, but as I’ve learned from Writer’s Relief, you should send every story out to at least 25 appropriate publications.

3. Inevitably: The editorial review and response process takes time–I’m just hearing in June about stories I submitted in January. For the first time in my life, I had one story accepted in two different publications, a slightly painful but exciting turn of events.

4. Definitely. If an editor sends you encouraging feedback, follow up! Try to build dialogue, invite additional feedback, figure out if something else in your portfolio might be more suitable. That’s how I got Rosamonde Wakes published.

In short, send out your stories! The pieces that make you shake with excitement will provide enjoyment to others as well. Do your best at writing, then take a deep breath and submit!

The Fairy Tale Craze

Timing. It’s a killer.

I wrote a novella-length feminist adaptation of Rapunzel in 2004. I’ve been trying to write complementary stories ever since. It’s been slow work, but now I’ve got close and far adaptations of Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood. And then I’ve got Stan, my devil story, which is an odd tale that doesn’t fit comfortably anywhere, though he is very interesting. If I put all these stories together I’ve got a slim, but compellimg volume that makes me feel like I’m close to finishing another short book of writing.

Here’s the problem. I’m obviously neither prolific nor fast, and my little volume is not quite finished even as fairy tale retellings become the rage on TV and in the movies. I’m watching my thing get played out in the commercial arena and I’m not quite ready for prime time. This is an odd feeling. Like if all your life you’ve loved persimmons and no one talks about them and in your spare time you’re slowly working on a persimmon cookbook; then you wake up and you start seeing persimmons on all the menus in all your favorite restaurants and in all the newspapers. Yup, that’s what this year feels like.

There’s also a bit of Tantalus in this tale. Success (or its attempt) is not quite within reach.

I guess, and here goes further proof of how slow I am, that it’s time to redouble efforts and concentrate on what I can do to get my work to market sooner rather than later.

Dread

This is what I wrote 15 minutes ago: I need to add Guilt as one of my main tags. I’ve procrastinated my way through this evening, and now here I am, bloated with pent-up self loathing. Maybe that’s the new tag: secret self loathing. I do not do new year’s resolutions, and yet if I have one resolution it’s to set aside 15 minutes to write each day. Blogging does Not count. 15 minutes. It sounds so doable. I guess I could close out this page and spend 15 minutes writing about how I have nothing to write. I’m an empty vessel. I’m a buoy. Floaty and hollow. I hate how angry I get with myself. Are you suggesting self acceptance might be a more productive use of my time? Don’t be so mature about it! I’ve got more self loathing to tap into: the supply is stupendous.

I will now take myself by the scruff of my neck and try to work on a story. I’m listening to Adele and I’m setting my phone’s timer. Start.

15 minutes later: That wasn’t so bad. I got some writing down. I need to counter my procrastination impulse–it is strong, like a black hole’s gravitational pull. I did some editing and wrote 400 words in 20 minutes or so, which is fine. I haven’t finished my story, but I am weaving in a new strand, developing the relationship between snow white and grumpy and how that affects grumpy and the evil queen’s relationship. This should be fun. My brain’s just not magically leaping about. I like those magical leaps. Instead I get earnest work which brings its own satisfactions, though they are a bit more quiet and shy. I’m going to see if I do better trying to write in the morning. I’ll say this for getting writing done–the phenomenal Guilt now seems ridiculous. That’s an important lesson to learn (over and over again): Stop feeling guilty, start writing.

Prayers Answered

Life is very exciting in these parts. I just tackled my second memoir chapter rewrite, and it felt downright successful. That’s two pleasurable chapter rewrites in a row. Inconceivable. (“Are you sure that word means what you think it means?”). Miraculous.

The experience is good because I can read feedback on particular chapters that tell me I’m currently failing and take the critique in stride, and when I re-read the chapters, my X-ray editor/writer vision is in full force. I can see when this empress has no clothes. And I have the gumption to make my own cloak and fix the problem. This is a very empowering process. I can be pointed to a problem, and I can tackle it. Oh sweet rewrite siren, how sweetly you sing.

Tonight, I also rewrote my intro to my book using language that I first plunked here. It’s been tweaked, but it’s still good and evocative (thanks Blog!). I also started re-organizing the order of the memoir chapters. The memoir order is not exactly chronological, but it’s now more thematic. Kind of.

I have to do homework, so i have to leave well enough alone for now, but I may have found a new technique: I get an hour (on nights when I have five hour homework stretches in front of me) to work on my memoir (timer and everything) and then I have to attend to homework. This creates a positive kind of force. I am compelled to face my fears, write, and be efficient, because my precious minutes are tick-tocking away. Oh the precious!

And with that. Good night.

Between Done and 25 pages of comments

I was reading the done manifesto, which encourages you (me) to wrap things up and move on, in acceptance that everything is a draft, and mistakes will naturally creep into the process if you’re highly productive (paraphrasing). I like the idea of getting things done, of course, and maybe I should embrace the 20 minute productivity burst ethos that led to the creation of the manifesto to begin with.

I am however in possession of four thoughtful people’s comments on my memoir draft, which adds up to 25 pages of feedback. That’s 25 pages of editing suggestions to synthesize. I’m excited and pleased and slightly dismayed because I agree with most of the comments and they represent a huge amount of potential work. If I try really hard, I might just get to squeeze in 20 minutes a day of manuscript editing.

That’s like being told to build a highrise during your regular job smoke breaks.

I guess my new approach is to aim to get one story edited a week, and in half a year or so, I’ll have my next memoir draft. I better start carrying the weekly story to edit with me at all times. Commitment requires sacrifice, overcommitment requires sacrifice And sustained strategies.

This week, my sustained strategy was to declare an all out war on stress. I had several tactics: get homework that was making me feel bad done, throw some acupuncture at my back to keep it from seizing up from all the sitting, get a massage to remind myself what feeling good feels like, get a haircut because honestly I’m getting quite scraggly, and have a support session with a new school friend so we can compare coping techniques in the flood of new responsibilities. But what really needs to get done: learning to let go, and learning to be where I am, without the racing monkey mind of guilt and confusion.

I want to get things done, but to do it with grace, and in a happy way. That’s the trick.

The best surrender

I (triumphantly) snuck in some writing tonight because I realized that strictly speaking I didn’t have to do my assigned reading because class was a general assembly lecture. It felt naughty. It felt good. Writing soothes a part of my soul that nothing else can get to. Also, it felt really good to give up on something mandated and grab something else more important (and alluring) to me.

I watched the Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement speech last night, as a memorial, and he discussed his philosophy of looking in the mirror each morning and trying to assess the day in the lens of “what if this were my last day?” If this were my last day, I would definitely want to spend part of it writing. I’m going to have to get more creative about finding time.

Also, it felt great to try to tackle some pointed feedback I had gotten about going with more emotion in my writing, and trying to cover less ground. I was scared, but I opened up my document, printed it, edited, and I started expanding my favorite sections. My rewrite process felt good. I felt focused and lucid, I could clearly see and cut the fat. And I’m proud of the final product. My piece about Frenchness is finally starting to work. Huzzah.

One Hour of Reading Explains Two Years of Writing

Tonight, I’ve been reading about (big words coming, so don’t freak out and abandon me here) Applied Symbolic Interactionism. It’s a social work theory formulated from 1890 to 1910 (stay with me…) and it freaking answers every question that drove the writing of my memoir. Okay, I’m exaggerating. It only answers or speaks to half the chapters. The chapter where I write in the second person, and my story about Frenchness and Identity–this theory can handle these questions. This theoretical framework specifically deals with multiple identities–internal and external, past and future, and across multiple clubs (e.g., France/America). Holy shit. That’s what my memoir is about: The imaginary, and the differences between the labels you inherit or are given and those you select for yourself. It’s deeply weird to have my narrative, story-based pieces explained in a structured theoretical framework. In one hour of reading what took me two years to write was explained. Can you guess how weird I feel right now?

Maybe I should be relieved that practitioners have been refining the theory for 120+ years. Does the existence of an explanatory theory nuke the need for a storytelling work? I don’t think so. But it’s a little bit like living in colonial Philadelphia with some back pain and being handed an x-ray of my spine. Several social work theorists can explain in elegant symbolic grammar what my brain has been toying with. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

It does confirm my decision to undertake these studies–I’m studying the right field which asks exactly the kinds of questions my brain likes to toy with. That’s a terrifyingly sexy turn of events. I have been enjoying the intellectual, moral and emotional stimulation of my schooling. But tonight I feel a little bit like Moses reading up on Exodus in the King James Bible.

I’m not sure what to with all this, or how it will impact my revision process, but I’m pretty freaking psyched and amazed, and with that, I’ll go read some more.

Delicious Rejection

I got instantly gratified, or nearly so, with a rejection two days after submitting my work for consideration. This kind of turnaround in the zine industry is rare stuff. So I’m delighted and honored to know where I stand, at least with this one publication.
I am not however disheartened, probably because the best advice I ever got about writing was to submit often and fearlessly and expect numerous rejections, and count each rejection as taking one step closer to getting something accepted.
The advice giver, my friend Nina, is an abstract painter, so she knows a thing or two about the brutal marketplace of art and esthetics.
So every time I get a rejection slip, I stick it to the wall as a reminder to keep going out into the world. I have my NO pile, nice and thick and chaotic, and my Yes pile, two pages deep. But I’m cool with that. Because I’m not nearly systematic enough about submitting my work. For example, my last rejection came on August 29, and the one before that in May.
People this is a wake up call! I need my work to go out and about into the world. The marketplace of ideas.
Also, I am being held in a lovely cold embrace as I write this post. It’s perking me right up.

two of my favorite things, together

Delicious, nutritious, loving

Buzzing Mind

I’ve been waking up and realizing that I’m mulling over the findings in my readings and how they are altering my world view–for example, the best predictors of decreasing poverty rates for African-Americans? Lifting out of poverty correlates to having more AA’s being employed by the government and their having greater political representation.(That’s tonight’s homework–email me if you want the reference.)

Or I wake up feeling deep guilt about not having written anything other than this blog, and ruminate over all the chapters I need to revisit and improve when I start the memoir revision process in a couple of weeks. Here’s My Big Problem: I don’t have a quick snappy way of explaining how/why I ended up writing my memoir, or what the memoir is about. I guess that’s Two Big Problems.

And with my new schedule I’m constantly negotiating my priorities. Right now, for example. I really wanted to nap between work and my evening lecture. But I decided I couldn’t nap until I finished the class reading, and then I decided that if I finished the reading I was allowed to blog (still no nap in sight.)

I realize these are trivial problems–it’s like complaining about being covered in whipped cream–so messy, so sticky, and so delicious. That’s really what’s happening. My life is overfull with wonderful developments, but I’m not used to all this stimulation and activity. It’s great, but it’s definitely an adjustment.

8 years

Today I reviewed a piece of fiction I have been working on for eight years. Eight years. It’s a short story I’m very attached to, but I can’t get it to come out quite right. It’s not like I’ve been continually working on it for eight years, it’s just that I haven’t gotten it into the right shape in eight years. Sometimes the revision process doesn’t just feel endless, it is endless. I keep getting closer to my end goal, just not close enough. Every incremental set of changes advances me slightly less. Microscopic, diminishing return forward progress. Perhaps it’s time for a radical rewrite.