Salon Saturday- Submission Process

So I am finally back to submitting my stories and now remember why I stopped. It’s kind of a job in itself. It took me almost two hours to submit one story to three journals and they were all via on-line. Add another hour, at least, if I had to print out each story, write and print a cover letter, print labels and run to the post office. Besides all the rejections I had accumulated, the time it takes to coordinate and keep on top of the submissions is why I stopped. But this is part of the writing life, getting your work read by eyes other than your own. So, submit I must. It’s just so tedious. Which markets are currently accepting work? Does my story fall within the word count ( a common problem since many of my stories come in at over 7000 words)? Can I submit on-line or must it go by snail mail? Then there is the criteria specific to my work: have I submitted this particular story to this particular journal already? Have I submitted a story to this journal during this reading period? Am I allowed to submit another story so soon? Have I received an encouraging response from this journal for a previous submission and so need to subtly remind them that they actually invited me to submit more work to them?

This involves all kinds of left brain, organizational skills, not usually a creative person’s strength. I’ve created and found some tools to help. I’ve started using duotrope.com as a resource to fins current market and as a way to track those submissions. Apparently they will even send you a notice if the response time has passed. But I am an old-fashioned gal. I still keep an actual address book as well as an actual day planner instead utilizing all the techno options available. So it makes sense that I also have charts that I created and printed all tucked in a manila folder in my filing drawer. I have one for each story, keeping track of where I submitted it, when, to whom, by what method, expected response time, result and my response (if I receive a personal rejection of any kind that warrants a follow-up thank you). Then I have a list of all the journals that I might submit to with the stories submitted written underneath, as a way to cross-reference and make sure that I don’t send a story to the same editor twice. My system works but I am not eager to work within it. I put it off. I do laundry. I mop. But ultimately I must submit my work. It’s just part of being a writer. Until I can afford to have an assistant deal with it, I’m all I have got. I am sure that there must be some other less complicated, less time consuming method for submitting stories out there somewhere if only I could find it. Some magic spreadsheet that can track and cross reference all-in-one. Or maybe I’m just dreaming.

Do you submit your work? On a regular basis? What’s your system? Do you even have a system? I would love to hear how other writers deal with this aspect of the writing life.

Books Read in January

“Await Your Reply” a novel by Dan Chaon
We are on our way to the hospital, Ryan’s father says.

I love his short stories, enjoyed his first novel and am back to loving his writing again with this novel. Miles Cheshire can’t stop looking for his twin brother who has been missing for ten years. Lucy Lattimore, longing to leave the small Ohio town where her sister is her guardian, leaves with her former history teacher. Ryan Schuyler learns that his life is not what it seems. I am amazed at how Chaon kept me enthralled by all three separate characters and their stories. The tension is pitch perfect. I am always impressed when a writer makes the story a page turner without sacrificing rich and complex characters along the way.

“Still Alice”
a novel by Lisa Genova
Alice sat at her desk in their bedroom distracted by the sounds of John racing through each of the rooms on the first floor.

I rarely cry as I read a book, but this story did it. Alzheimer’s is such an insidious disease and early onset is even more devastating. Alice is fifty years old, brilliant in her field of cognitive psychology and linguistics, married with three grown children when she starts forgetting things. At first she brushes it off as stress or menopause. But some part of her knows it is something more than that. She assumes brain tumor. She is not prepared for the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s and neither is her family. The story, seen through the mind of Alice who is aware of what is happening to her, explores what she and family and colleagues go through as the reality of the disease confronts them.

“I’m So Happy For You”
a novel by Lucinda Rosenfeld
Since Wendy Murman had begun trying to conceive, eight months earlier, having sex with her husband, Adam Schwartz, had turned into something resembling a military operation: spontaneity and passion were discouraged; timing and execution were everything.

I laughed out loud at this first line and throughout the whole book. Rosenfeld delves into the rich sometimes fragile sometimes dark world of female friendship. Wendy’s best friend Daphne is the resident basket case, involved with a married man, calling Wendy in the middle of the night desperate and Wendy knows her role. Wendy likes her role as the together friend. When their roles slowly begin to shift, Wendy’s whole identity and world shift too. At times I cringed as every passing petty thought that crosses Wendy’s mind is revealed to us. But as their friendship is revealed from both sides we see how it is a constant balancing act and we walk away empathizing with both Daphne and Wendy.

“Triangle”
a novel by Katherine Weber
This is what happened. I was working at my machine, with only a few minutes left before the end of the day, I remember so clearly I can still see it, that I had only two right sleeves remaining in my pile– my sister Pauline, she did the left sleeves and I did the right.

Esther Gottesfeld is the oldest survivor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire. She has told the story so many times over the years and yet there are still questions such as how did she survive. The story alternates between Esther’s retelling of the fire and the life of her granddaughter, Rebecca and her genius musician/composer partner, George. The story of the fire is fascinating and I couldn’t help but imagine the same kind of novel being written decades from now about 9/11. I was really moved by George’s dedication to his art and the process involved in composing music that moves so many people. I loved this: “Do you the tension in the leap…It’s not just two pure pitches, but the relationship between them that gives it musical meaning. The leap is where we feel the significance.” It applies not only to music but all art.

“When Wanderers Cease to Roam” A Traveler’s Journal by Vivian Swift
January is the warrior month.

Heather Sellers raved about this book so I couldn’t not pick it up for myself. I was not disappointed. It is a book I will read again and again, a companion through days, months and season. It is beautifully written as well as illustrated. What I love is how she finds the beauty in the world right in front of her after she spent so much of her life traveling to exotic places. Now she is in one place and yet she still sees the world through the eyes of an explorer.

Some of my favorite lines:
– “What it takes to get through January is what it takes to get through life.”
– “Everyone has lost something precious.”
– “Take the worst day you had in January and repeat it 28 times. That’s February.”

Salon Saturday- Love

So much of my time is spent in a somewhat adversarial stance with my writing. I want to write but don’t. Or I don’t write “enough”. Or I am not published in the “right” places. Or I get stuck and avoid my writing by doing anything other than face that page.

It didn’t start out that way. It started because I fell in love with reading and somewhere along the way I fell in love with creating my own stories. Then a little further down the road I got in the way of myself. I started judging my writing and my so-called lack of credentials for writing. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day tomorrow I’m going to focus on what I love about writing and reading and creating.

I love:

– the sound of my pen flying across the page.

– being cocooned in my office with a cinnamon candle glowing in front of me, the space heater warming my feet and a cup of soy chai to sip.

– hitting upon that perfect sentence or verb or image or telling detail that reveals so much.

– discovering something new about my characters or story.

– going to writing retreats and immersing myself for a week in the writing life.

– reading books I love and underling lines I wish I had written and instead of feeling despair I feel inspired.

– freewriting. It’s so, well, freeing. It’s playing with words. I think I often forget that element of play and end up taking myself way too seriously.

– going to the coffee shop to write and eavesdrop and mingle with the world,

– going to readings of authors I adore and picking their brains.

– showing up to a story with little to no expectations and being surprised by the progress I’ve made by the end of a writing session.

– finally stumbling upon the inevitable ending to a story.

– finishing a story even if takes thirty revisions to get to “the end”.

– seeing my byline- I’m not gonna lie- that feels good.

– reading how other writers maintain, nurture and sustain a writing life.

How about you? What do you love about writing?

Salon Saturday

Becoming a Writer

I began the year with the intention of writing for at least five minutes every day. I actually started putting in my time before January 1st because I like to build up some momentum to propel into the new year. I am happy to report that I have indeed written for at least five minutes every single day this year. Usually I end up writing for much longer than that. But some days it is only five minutes, Part of me thinks what difference can five lousy minutes make. I don’t always make huge progress on my story. I don’t always learn something new. But showing up for those five minutes keeps me connected and, more importantly, open to the story. To the characters. I find myself thinking about them throughout the day. Any snippets of conversation I hear become possible conversations in my story.

Ron Carlson once told the class I was in about a time when he decided he would write at least one sentence everyday for a month. He started off great, usually writing more than one sentence but certainly meeting his daily goal. Then he had a busy day. A long day. He found himself exhausted and in bed when he realized he hadn’t written that sentence for the day. He says he became a writer in that moment. In that moment when he hauled himself out of bed, went down to his computer, turned it on and wrote that sentence. I had such a day myself. It had been a busy day. An exhausting day and I thought I’d catch up on my sleep by going to bed early. I started to doze off when it hit me. I hadn’t put in my five minutes. Part of me was like, “So what? What’s five minutes?”  Then I remembered Ron’s story and I turned on the light, pulled the notebook out of my drawer and wrote for five minutes. I don’t remember what Iwrote or if I ended up using it. But I do remember that I did it. That I got up out of bed and wrote. I showed up. I remember that as the moment that I became a writer.

How about you? Is there a moment you remember when you became a writer? Do you think such a moment even exists? If it hasn’t happened yet, what do you imagine it would look like?  Feel like? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or a link to your blog.