Last year I wrote about starting to work on Julia Cameron’a The Artist’s Way with a local group of artists. I haven’t said much in a long time, probably since before the pandemic began. I thought I’d give you a little update about the process.
The group is still meeting once a month, generally with me in attendance. We moved to Zoom meetings when the pandemic began. We are down to four fully-committed women. Last week we worked on chapter nine where I learned that enthusiasm is more important than discipline (YAY!!!!) and that all artists make creative U-turns upon occasion. When we finish the book, we plan to start work on another book but haven’t yet decided which one.
If you’re familiar with TAW (The Artist’s Way), you know that there are two permanent parts and one temporary one. The temp component is working the book itself–reading it and doing the exercises. Though temporary, reading the book can be done over and over again. The permanent and most important parts are Morning Pages and Artist Dates.
I am here to fess up that I doubt I can ever complete TAW the way Julia Cameron wants us to. What works for her and thousands of people doesn’t work for me. I have to do it my way (can you hear the song there? hah).
First let me tell you the brilliant part of TAW–for me. It’s the Artist Dates. Because art is all about PLAY and ENTHUSIASM, I love giving myself permission to play in and about anything creative. So when I ordered the supplies for an art journal and got all excited about it, that was an Artist Date. When I started work on the Wild Unknown tarot cards, that was an Artist Date.
The book itself is fun and gives me ideas of how to think about creativity
and writing itself, but I am not a blocked artist, and I really think the program is geared for the blocked artist, the frustrated artist, or someone who is prone to getting blocked. Many times someone is blocked because other people have rained on their parade which is so extremely unfortunate. Luckily, I have not had a lot of those experiences or at least ones that I really took to heart. But I know others who have had that happen over and over again.
OK, now the last part of the program is the Morning Pages. Some people think these are the most crucial. I hate them, and after trying them, I refuse to do them any more. They are just work. More stuff that I “have to” do–about the opposite of play and enthusiasm as you can get. So why do I have to do them? 😉 (Hint: I don’t!) That said, I see them helping other people, so I am not dissing the concept or the application.
I’m just being honest about my participation in the process.
I had one of my stupid complicated migraines the other day and it has lingered, maybe because of the VF. Otherwise, I am doing fine, and I am sure that I am getting better. In two or three more months I should be completely well. Grateful!!!!
We had Thanksgiving on the patio with Mexican food yesterday with daughter and her fiance. Thursday the gardener and I will dine alone. Yes, it will include gluten free stuffing. Stuffing is the “Artist Date” of the Thanksgiving menu hahaha.
Happy Thanksgiving to all Americans this week. Please stay safe. With the vaccine on the horizon we want to be in good health to really appreciate life after the vaccine.
This is day 36. I am hanging in there, gaining a bit of endurance, and trying to pay attention when my body needs rest. I’m also trying to pay attention to the beauty that I encounter.
It’s the time of year when we put the winter flowers in. I didn’t participate this time, but watched a bit of the work. The gardener had daughter and her fiance, as well as our pet sitter and her boyfriend to help. It took them a few hours to plant all the flowers. The nursery ran out of white snapdragons, rust and variegated marigolds, and many other flowers. The gardener suspects it is because the summer was so darn hot.
An hour and a half after everyone finished and left, look who showed up in our backyard.
That’s right: a gorgeous Arizona bobcat. If you enlarge the photo, you can see his beautiful black and white ears. The area where he is trudging is actually a steep section above a pony wall. Below the ponywall is a sidewalk and then our house. This long and narrow space is a bit dangerous as we could get trapped back there by the bobcat. They tend not to attack humans unless they have rabies, but who knows? And, yes, they eat house cats (and small dogs). This is one of several reasons my cats are kept indoors all the time.
Since I haven’t been able to write, but would like to prep a bit for writing in the future, I decided to study a subject I have long been interested in: archetypes. I first encountered them years ago in a class taught by an English professor who was very into Jung and Jungian theory. Archetypes really resonate with me–being a poet I find myself exhuming them frequently. Later, I studied Freud for my work with literary theory, but I never felt in sync with Freud the way I did with Jung. In fact, to me, Freud’s thinking is kind of creepy, whereas Jung’s is more expansive and important.
An archetype can be described many ways, but a short definition might be something like this: a recurrent motif in psychology and art and the culture at large. Many say they can be found throughout all cultures. I worked quite a bit with The Mother archetype in grad school, but this time I wanted to get more in depth with more archetypes. So as a “sorry you’re sick” gift to myself 😉 I purchased this beautiful box containing a tarot deck of 78 archetypes.
After reading the book that comes with the deck and meditating a bit on the whole situation, I pulled one “random” card from the deck with the intention of working very thoroughly with it. And what did I select?
Why, the card that makes the most sense in this year of 2020, the year where so much of life as I have known it has been toppled and erased. I pulled out the card of THE DESTROYER. I kid you not. I don’t want to write now about what I am learning as I explore this archetype because I don’t want to short-circuit my work.
I hope that this exploration will lead to poetry writing when I am up to it.
By the way, this is Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Although I did not grow up with this tradition, I find in it much to admire. Taking a day to remember and pray for loved ones who have passed seems like a very good way to harness our feelings of grief. It prevents us from tamping down our feelings and thoughts about those we have lost, but gives us one day where we can really focus on loved ones. If we celebrate, we serve food that they loved. We create an altar and put their photos on it. Next year, I think I will prepare ahead for Dia De Los Muertos. Yesterday I cried remembering my maternal grandmother, so I think she is waiting to be recognized in this way.
The other day, Ellie from Crossed Eyes and Dotted Tees asked me how I find magazines/journals where I can submit my writing. On the chance that maybe what I do might help someone else, I thought I’d share my haphazard method for finding good places to submit short stories (both fiction and nonfiction) and poetry.
First, though, Kana says hi.
My list items are effective by themselves, but I also think that there is a synergy that develops from doing them all or a large portion. Kind of a 2 + 2 = 5 result. Some journals show up repeatedly, and I’ve learned more about them in this way. Then a new name springs up, and I check it and wow! a wonderful new mag for writers and readers to discover.
Let’s start with social media. I have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, my blogs, and a website. For the purposes of finding journals and magazines, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are arguably the most important.
On Facebook I joined writers’ groups and engage at least occasionally. I also “like” the pages of journals that are mentioned. When Facebook gives me suggestions to like journal pages, I either “like” and check out later or check out before I decide to “like.”
On Twitter, I follow lots and lots of literary magazines and journals, as well as writers. The more you follow, the more suggestions for journals you discover and, hence, the more you follow.
On Instagram, I follow “suggestions” for journals to follow.
I’ve taken writing workshops in the past where I met writers. I stay in touch with many of them.
When I find journals and have a chance to read and check them out, I keep track of them. I used to bookmark them on my computer. But the other day I deleted most of them because this method had become unwieldy. I also found that I have reached the point where I didn’t need it as much any longer.
What else do I do?
Search Twitter and Facebook for submission calls. Sometimes that search can produce a request for submissions from a journal you have never heard of before. Or maybe a themed issue that fits well with something you are working on.
Check out Clifford Garstang’s Pushcart ratings lists. They are invaluable for seeing which journals have published Pushcart-selected pieces (doesn’t predict the future, but looks at the past). Here is the 2020 list for Fiction. You can look around for nonfiction and poetry once you’re on the site.
Search for submissions through my Duotrope membership.
Read Allison Joseph’s site. She used to run CWROPPS, a valuable Yahoo group. When they shut the groups down, she started posting on her blog: Creative Writers Opps.
Read collections of stories or poems. Then I check out the acknowledgements and see where the writing was first published. That gives me a solid list of journals.
Every time I encounter a journal new to me that looks promising, I read at least a good portion of an issue. Try it. See the bios of the writers published in that issue? They often give names of other magazines that have published their writing. Go check those out!
You can see that this process is extensive and symbiotic, but not exhaustive. I certainly don’t do this all perfectly. But I’ve done it for a long time, and I don’t stop going through the process: the literary journal world is ever-changing. It’s important to keep up. Many journals have closed up shop in the last year or two, but many more are publishing their first or second issue.
If you have other ideas for finding places to which you can submit your work, please share!
This cactus flower was a little slower to bloom than the others. It’s nice to have one open now while it’s so stinken hot.
Thank you all so much for your kindness about my uncle’s passing. It felt too daunting to respond to all your condolences, but know that I appreciate each one. I closed the comments over there.
Tiger is feeling better. All of a sudden she started eating much better, and I have not had to take her for sub q fluids lately. I hope she stays well now. Everyone seems to be feeling ok currently (knock on wood). A friend brought them all fresh catnip yesterday, so that was well appreciated by the furkids.
Remember how I posted two weeks ago that wah wah wah I might not make my publication goal for 2019, which by the way is the first time I’ve ever set such a goal for myself. I don’t typically set goals for myself. Even if I am nudged, like on Goodreads, to do so, I usually forget about them. But this one I kept in mind throughout the year. When I last reported in, I was one publication short of my goal. Miraculously, I have had three more acceptances, and I believe these poems and an essay should all be published before the end of the year which will put me two over my goal!
Full disclosure: I also had two rejections in the same period of time!
My big news is that I have begun The Artist’s Way (TAW) program, reading through the book of the same name by Julia Cameron and doing the required and encouraged activities. The two main ones are morning pages and artist dates. Morning pages are three full pages of journaling, preferably written by hand first thing each morning. Artist dates must be done solo, and they require doing something that provides a fresh viewpoint or a burst of inspiration. Then each chapter has other assignments.
While the chapters are meant to be fulfilled in one week, I have discovered that many people take from two to four weeks to work on a chapter. I think I prefer this. I began with the one week plan, but three weeks into this project I felt that I was just scratching the surface of what I could accomplish. I joined a local support group that was just starting out, and we will meet each month to discuss our work with one chapter. So I plan to slow down and dig in deeper.
What is The Artist’s Way? The subtitle sums it up neatly: “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.” It’s a way of eliminating what gets in our way to maximizing our creativity. Writer’s block? Writers who have done the program swear it can remove the block. This book has been around for twenty-five years, so there are a lot of people working the program.
One of my favorite writing theory books is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Not only did she write the foreword for my edition, but she and Cameron are friends.
I have already made progress, although the morning pages have been very difficult for me. I wake up to a lot of important emails (perhaps, in part, because I am three hours behind the east coast). In addition, my six cats won’t leave me alone until they are fed and the overnight poos scooped. And at least twice a week something “happens” in the early morning that has to be addressed: exploded water heater that has flooded a room, the early morning call I got that my uncle had passed away, a spilled cat water bowl on my alder floor. Then I want my caffeine, too. I have worked out a compromise. I will complete my morning pages before I go to bed that night. That means I will try to finish them in the AM, but if not, I will do them at some point in the PM.
Now that I have that worked out, it’s more a matter of what to write. I never have an actual writer’s block for poetry, nonfiction, or blogging, but for the morning pages I tend to write like this: “Halfway through now. What should I write about? Um, how about writing about the color red? Color should be the sixth sense. It deserves it’s own place, not just part of vision. OK, what now? I don’t want to write about red. It feels boring.”
This is an idea of what I write about. We are not “allowed” to show our morning pages to anyone.
For my artist date this week I went to the craft store and looked through every single aisle, at all the various types of craft materials sold. My favorite part of a craft store is the items that are displayed by color. I love color coordination.
I plan to keep on with the program, so that might actually be my second set of goals that I am making and will keep. Another good reason to stretch out the chapters, though, is that I don’t have to give up on what is most important. Mom is coming to visit for two weeks for Thanksgiving and her birthday. I don’t plan to do much TAW while she’s here, but rather spend as much time as I can with her. She’ll be 85 on December 2. I might not even do my morning pages on many of those days. We’ll see.
Happy Halloween! I love the fall holidays, and for Halloween I love the witches. I tell my kids this is a self-portrait. They think I’m kidding, but I’m really not.
In 2012 I started blogging. Not on this blog, but on the adoption one I shared with my daughter (July 2012) and then, soon after, I started the family history blog, The Family Kalamazoo. It seemed as if I began this blog, Writer Site, many months afterward, but in fact, I began TFK very hesitantly in September 2012 and first posted on WS on October 24, 2012! So all three blogs began in a four month period in 2012.
I had no thoughts to how long this would go on. At some point, we stopped posting on the adoption blog because my daughter and I had done what we wanted to do there. We still keep the domain and occasionally reblog something of interest, but the project sort of feels complete to both of us. As for family history, that will never be completed, especially since people keep giving me old photos and info!
Writer Site is my fun place for writing, reading, travel, and whatever strikes my fancy. I always have lots of ideas for blog posts, but not enough time to write them all. Right now I don’t feel that way. For the first time. So I ask myself why. I think the main reason is that my daughter has been living with us all summer and is still here. There are good reasons for that, and it won’t last forever. But it’s EXHAUSTING to me to have another adult living here.
The funny thing is that we get along great, and I love spending time with her. But her young person life exhausts me. I hadn’t realized how stuck in the mud the gardener and I had gotten. We get tired so easily. We get overtired if we see too many people or if the procession of events moves too swiftly. And it does with a younger person living here.
When did I get so old? And when did everything start to tire me out?
WAHWAHWAH. You get the drift.
I don’t feel like writing with her here. Even when I’ve pushed myself to do so, I don’t get the joy out of it. I feel as if I’m in a holding pattern while she is here.
She’ll be headed for the city to spend time with her boyfriend soon, so maybe I can take some naps. Or write. Or let the world stop spinning for a few days.
Sun on the mountain Alaska
ON ANOTHER NOTE . . .
Let me point you up above, where I wrote that it’s exhausting having another adult living here. In 2013, I posted about my discovery that I am a Highly Sensitive Person. Now five years later, I can tell you that using today’s terminology, I am a Serious. Freaken. Empath. An Empath picks up on the emotions of others or, in my case and that of others with it really bad, you actually FEEL the emotions of another person. It’s kind of creepy. I think it’s important to remember that having sympathy–or even empathy–for somebody else doesn’t mean that you have to experience their emotions. So when I say it’s kind of creepy I mean it’s really creepy.
Nature is one of the best ways for people like me to replenish themselves. Probably why I wish I was still in Alaska.
Is an HSP always an Empath? Is an Empath always an HSP? Or are they two different things? I am trying to come to grips with this new revelation about myself, so if you have any insights, please share away!
#amwriting: I will continue to plod away on the gun essay, just don’t hold your breath haha.
I’ll tell you what. I’ll post a picture of my dearest love from this week, and you can guess what’s been going on.
That’s right: I’ve been sick for a week! Allergy season is horrific in Arizona right now what with the palo verdes in full bloom, so when the illness began I thought it was the allergy symptoms I had already been having. But NO. Turns out allergy morphed right into virus.
I am proud to say that I turned out some sort of poem draft every day, but I am pretty sure they are mainly crap. I didn’t try to clean them up because I knew that was the best way to kill them. If I leave them in this half-awake state, maybe I can do something with them later.
Yesterday, NaPoWriMo.net posted notes from Wesley McNair: On Craft. There’s some excellent ones in there. If you write or want to write poetry, I would recommend reading this short piece. The very last line applies to workshopping poetry, but you can apply it to writing fiction or creative nonfiction, too. He says, “No good poem was ever written by a committee.” Haha, I take it to mean to get advice from others as needed, but don’t let their voices take over the poem.
Another note refers to something I mentioned above.
Contrary to the notion of the schoolroom, your slow-witted self is your smart self because true intelligence is not in quickness. Work slowly as you make your poem, so as not to give in to the quick self.
If I rushed to finish up those poems in my ill state, they would be ruined. I will let them slowly work their way into life.
If you are not a poet and do not write poetry, but are a prose writer, I have a way for you to honor poetry month, if you’re game. Try a prose poem. If it makes you happy, think of it as a form of flash nonfiction. Actually, prose poems are claimed by both genres, so there ya go. When you write a prose poem, format it in a block so that both left and right are justified (although you can’t keep that format on WordPress). Just write your prose in this block shape and then to revise get rid of things that sound too prosaic–too much explanation, too many extra words, and try to heighten the images and the language a bit. Try it without dialogue. And try it in present tense. Read the sample prose poem first. OK, ready, set, GO.
Sample Prose Poem
I discovered a journal in the children’s ward, and read, I’m a mother, my little boy has cancer. Further on, a girl has written, this is my nineteenth operation. She says, sometimes it’s easier to write than to talk, and I’m so afraid. She’s offered me a page in the book. My son is sleeping in the room next door. This afternoon, I held my whole weight to his body while a doctor drove needles deep into his leg. My son screamed, Daddy, they’re hurting me, don’t let them hurt me, make them stop. I want to write, how brave you are, but I need a little courage of my own, so I write, forgive me, I know I let them hurt you, please don’t worry. If I have to, I can do it again.
The cats are well. Perry was actually quiet and rested for much of the week. It’s as if he knew Mommy didn’t feel well enough for his usual antics.
Writing short stories and personal essays is a marketable skill in publishing. These types of short pieces are submitted and accepted every week. And the great news about this kind of writing: Writers don’t need a literary agent to participate in the process. We can independently market our prose and land bylines that make us proud. It just takes sending our work to the right editor, at the right time, and in the right way.
In 2009, I founded the Market Coaching for Creative Writers program to help writers get their short stories and personal essays published in magazines. In that program, I teach writers how to create targeted cover letters, professionally format their manuscripts, and find hundreds of perfect markets to match their voice. They study magazine guidelines and submission etiquette, learn the difference between copyright and the rights available to sell, and set up a system for keeping their submissions organized. By the end of a Market Coaching session, writers are not only able to submit their work to viable magazine editors with confidence; they’re able to repeat the process for every piece of short writing they produce in the future.
Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays is going to teach you all of those things, too and more. This book is a complete conversation on the topic of publishing short works.
THE SHORT STORY
A short story is a short work of fiction. Many of the same craft techniques used to write novels are used to write short stories, but the short story stands apart as a separate form of prose—one delivered with concise language. The use of compression and microscopic storytelling makes short stories unique. A short story isn’t a chapter from a book but a complete experience delivered in a small package.
Besides length, short stories are unique because the action usually revolves around a single dramatic event. It is a glimpse of a character’s life—perhaps one year or even one hour. Every moment in the story is a dance between action and reaction that is related to a single dramatic event. These stories begin as close to the main conflict as possible, giving an unmistakable immediacy to the prose.
Short stories can be enjoyed in one sitting, but that time frame varies from story to story. Short stories can be as simple as six words or run eighty pages long. Most short stories published today fall somewhere between one-thousand and seven-thousand words, but longer stories and shorter stories can still find homes. There is no hard rule to follow with word count.
The terms “flash fiction” and “microfiction” refer to the very shortest of stories. Microfiction is a story that tops out at one hundred words. Flash fiction is anything between one-hundred to one-thousand words. Anything above one-thousand words (and up to twenty-thousand words) is simply called a short story.
Well-written short stories are highly desirable pieces of prose. There are plenty of markets to place this type of work. You’ll find short stories in literary magazines (The Literary Review, Black Warrior Review, Passages North, etc.), genre magazines (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed, etc.) children’s magazines (Cricket, Highlights, Ladybug, etc.), and commercial magazines (The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, etc.). Some are even sold as digital shorts on Amazon or other digital retailers.
I mention the caveat “well-written short stories” because even though there are many outlets for short stories, the competition to earn a space on the pages of a journal is quite stiff. For any writing project, you must create, revise, and polish your work until it meets the standards of the market to which you’re submitting, and in the world of short stories, that standard is skyscraper tall. Short stories are some of the most clever, experimental, urgent, and fresh prose being written today.
Part of the reason is the long-respected history of great storytellers and their iconic short stories, such as Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf,” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I could go on for quite some time before running out of names, but the point I’m making is that short-story writers still aspire to equal the masters. This category’s authors and publishers will always hear the echo of notable writers in the distance. So today, editors search for contemporary yet barrel-aged stories that have been given enough careful crafting to mellow into greatness.
Personal essays are appealing first-person stories often found in magazines and newspapers. They’re true stories told by people willing to share their intimate thoughts and feelings about life. They are incredibly popular to read, with plenty of submission opportunities for writers.
These stories are nonfiction, but they stand apart from other nonfiction pieces because of their purposeful use of storytelling. We’re not talking about self-help, how-to, or informational articles, which all require the writer to slip into an invisible narrator’s voice. Essays bloom well beyond that informational tone. Well-written essays harness cadence, individuality, a narrative arc, and creativity.
Studying the craft of writing is essential to creating publishable personal essays. Writing the truth is important, but great storytelling holds equal weight. Personal essays have rising tension, compelling characters, and mini-plotlines that push the reader toward a conclusion or a realization. A personal essay isn’t simply an anecdote but an in-depth exploration of a subject.
Essay categories include travel, parenting, grief, humor, satire, nostalgia, divorce, friendship, personal growth, and much more. Essays can cover a trip with your mother-in-law to Las Vegas or a midlife moment in the mirror. They can explore the injustice of racism or the beautiful healing nature of butterflies. They can be filled with hope, anger, or angst. Essays have that delicious inclusion factor that grabs readers by the heart and makes them feel something.
Personal essays whose style strongly emphasizes literary elements (symbolism, setting, style, tone, theme, characterization, etc.) find homes in literary magazines like Tin House, The Sun, The Paris Review, etc. Reported essays—an essay that contains a personal narrative with some degree of reporting and statistical analysis—are found in news sources and lifestyle magazines like The Washington Post, Aeon, The Guardian, etc. All other essays, including well-written prose with any degree of literary emphasis, are found in nearly every other print and online publication.
Many places that publish personal essays will state clearly that they are looking for creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is an industry term that includes literary essays along with other creative nonfiction, including travel essays, parenting essays, and pieces of inspired reportage, among other things. Outlets looking to acquire creative nonfiction are advertising, essentially, that they publish personal essays on a variety of topics that contain a large amount of scene development.
The key to well-written creative nonfiction is in the use of scenes to convey the story. Creative nonfiction essays use less narrative and more scene-by-scene storytelling—a technique that pushes the sensory experience for readers. When readers feel the action of an essay, they can make inferences, judgments, and emotional connections. They can experience the events with personal investment. Readers can then examine their own experiences in comparison.
Creative nonfiction is the fastest-growing area of nonfiction, with opportunities for writers in magazines and newspapers across the country. The genre allows for experimentation in a way that appeals to readers of fiction and nonfiction alike. Not every magazine is looking specifically for creative nonfiction, but if that’s the direction your work takes you, know that you will have many opportunities for publication.
Author Susan Pohlman has written creative-nonfiction essays for a variety of print and online outlets. She likens these essays to fiction, in terms of technique: “Creative nonfiction is an umbrella term. It is an easily accessible genre encompassing a multitude of forms such as the personal essay, the profile essay, participatory journalism, memoir, features, travel essays, biography, and inspired reportage on almost any subject. In short, creative nonfiction is the art of applying storytelling techniques to nonfiction prose. They are true stories that read like fiction.”
That’s right—they read like fiction. Don’t let that confuse you. They feel like fiction because they employ such a big dose of scene development, but creative-nonfiction essays are all accurate depictions of people’s lives. They are true stories crafted to elicit an emotional response.
Want to learn more? Grab a copy of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays, available in bookstores everywhere.
My bio: Windy Lynn Harris is the author of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published (from Writer’s Digest Books) and the founder of Market Coaching for Creative Writers, a mentoring program that teaches writers how to get their short work published in magazines. She’s a prolific writer, a trusted mentor, and a frequent speaker at literary events. Her long list of short stories and personal essays have been published in literary, trade, and women’s magazines across the U.S. and Canada in places like The Literary Review,The Sunlight Press, and Literary Mama, among many other journals. She is also a developmental editor-for-hire, specializing in short stories and personal essays. She teaches the craft of writing in person and online. More about Windy at her website: www.windylynnharris.com.
Note from Luanne: I posted a review of Windy’s book here: Write Short First. Please direct your comments to Windy as I am entertaining Mom this week!
Today I want to introduce you to Robert Okaji, poet and the writer of the new Finishing Line Press chapbook From Every Moment a Second. Robert’s poems are relatively short and seem simple. I said seem. Each polished gem is the kind of poem you fall into, without worrying if you will “get” it or not, and an array of meanings will wash over you without effort on your part, but the reward is great –an emotional and intellectual payoff.
Robert is published regularly in literary magazines. So I asked him for advice for readers about submitting to magazines. This is what he wrote for us.
Newer poets occasionally ask me for advice on how/where to get published. What follows expands a reply I made to a comment on my blog in August, 2014. I can speak only from my experience, thus any advice I offer should be taken with a huge grain of salt. But here goes:
Determine who you are as a writer, and where your work has a realistic chance of being published. What, you say, how do I do this? Think about your favorite living poets, those poets you’d most like to be associated with, whose work has influenced your writing, and with whom you’d like to “converse” through poetry.
Where does their work appear? Look at their lists of publications, choose the smaller, lesser known literary journals first, and read them cover to cover. When you find in these same journals other writers whose work appeals to you, examine their publication lists. After a while you’ll notice that certain journal titles repeat. Compile a list of these, and consider them your “targets.” Read them. If your sense of aesthetics meshes, send them your best work.
This is not a quick process, but sending your poetry to publications that publish the poets writing the type of poetry you like is much more effective than haphazardly scattering your work across the poetic landscape. In other words, be selective. Think. And always read submission requirements. If a journal says “no rhyming poetry,” don’t send them any. You get the picture. Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste theirs – most lit mags are labors of love. The editors earn no money, often, if not usually, bearing all publication costs. Be kind to them.
Also, look for newer publications calling for submissions. They may be more amenable to your work, and the competition may be a bit lighter. How do you find these? Read Poets & Writers. Check out New Pages‘ calls for submissions. Facebook’s “Calls for Submission” group is worth joining. Follow Trish Hopkinson’s blog. Join various writing communities on social media. Look around!
You might also consider subscribing to Duotrope, if only to determine what certain publications’ acceptance rates are. For example is it worthwhile to submit to a publication that accepts only 1/2 of one percent of submissions? Or would your time be better spent submitting to publications accepting 5% to 20% of what’s sent to them? One can over-think this, of course, but knowing the odds can increase your chances. Of course ego comes into play, and sometimes you just have to send your work to one of the “unattainables.” And hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Duotrope‘s “News” tab also provides links to new markets or those that have recently opened or closed to submissions.
When your work is rejected (and it will be – everyone gets rejected), look closely at it. Was it indeed as ready as you originally thought? If so, send it back out. If not, revise it. Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep sending.
I submit my work cautiously, as if editors are looking for excuses to NOT publish me. This means that I take my time and ensure that every piece I send out is flawless in appearance – no typos, no grammatical errors, etc. Unless a publication specifically requests more, my cover letters are brief and say very little but “thanks for the opportunity” and might at most contain a sentence or two regarding biographical details or previous publications. Anything else is superfluous – I don’t want to give them any reason to not accept my work.
Again, this is just my approach to getting published. I’m sure that other, more successful writers have better processes. And of course I ignore my own advice from time to time. Send out those poems. Good luck!
From Every Moment a Second can be found on Amazon.
The son of a career soldier, Robert Okaji moved from place to place throughout his childhood. He holds a BA in history from The University of Texas at Austin, served without distinction in the U.S. Navy, lived the hand-to-mouth existence of a bookstore owner, and worked in a library and as a university administrator. He lives in Texas with his wife, two dogs, some books and a beverage refrigerator stocked with craft beer.
He has never been awarded a literary prize, but at age eight won a goat-catching contest.
Recent publications include the chapbooks From Every Moment a Second (Finishing Line Press), If Your Matter Could Reform (Dink Press), two micro-chapbooks, You Break What Falls and No Eye but the Moon’s: Adaptations from the Chinese (Origami Poems Project), a mini-digital chapbook, Interval’s Night (Platypus Press), and “The Circumference of Other,” a collection appearing in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks (Silver Birch Press). His work has appeared in Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, Boston Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Panoply, Eclectica, Clade Song, Into the Void, High Window, West Texas Literary Review and elsewhere. Visit his blog, O at the Edges, at http://robertokaji.com/.
So you want to be a writer? Are you planning on working on the book-length manuscript for as long as it takes? And then market it to agents for as long as it takes?
How about being published in the meantime? Nothing is better experience for the novelist or memoirist than writing and publishing short stories or personal essays along the way. If you don’t have what it takes to go through the process successfully with short pieces, what makes you think you can do it with a longer story? Additionally, earning bylines along the way may help get your first book published.
Windy Lynn Harris has written the definitive book to help you get started. Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published provides valuable guidance for crafting and fine-tuning those shorter pieces, as well as providing a step-by-step plan for getting published. This system includes finding markets, preparing your manuscript, and how to submit those pieces to magazines. She even gives pointers for how to deal with rejection, an inevitable part of every writer’s life.
After you follow the advice in this book, I suspect you will have acceptances, too, as Harris’ information is practical and grounded in the realities of the publishing industry. I suggest purchasing a paperback copy and keep it at hand and well-notated on your desk.
I posted the above review for Windy‘s book on Amazon and Goodreads. But I’d like to expand on the idea of going short before going long. I know I’m going to step on some toes here. A huge number of writers go straight to writing book-length manuscripts. That’s great. They often self-publish and tend to learn from the experience and the books improve with practice. I’ve greatly enjoyed many books that developed from these origins.
But my philosophy is that the best way to learn craft is to start by writing short stories or essays and revising them until they shine. Then send them out and get some publications under your belt. While you are doing this read like crazy. Revise like crazy. Find experienced beta readers who aren’t crazy. I think this is what takes good stories and turns them into literature.
I hope to be back soon, yakking away. In the meantime, here’s a little writing advice from Annie Dillard:
When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things. Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split it up the middle–or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse, and you do not know about it yet, quite.
The Writing Life
Where she uses the word “book” you can substitute article, short story, poem, or blog post. It’s true for them all. The advantage to a blog post, of course, is who cares ;)? If you split your post, your readers will be willing to split with you (because they know you and are hanging out by the coffee pot, teapot, or Mountain Dew with you) or they will stop reading at the split and, if you’re lucky, drop by another day. But in more formal writing, you have to create a beauty of unity every time (even if it does so by disunity).
The structure of my life is temporarily forked, fractured, and threatening collapse, but I might be melodramatic because on top of everything else this month, I’m drinking all liquids today. Guess what for? Haha, that’s right. The dreaded C-word. It’s my first colonoscopy, y’all!