Have you ever thought of writing a Chicken Soup story? I just came upon this idea because it was in the newsletter of my local writer’s group. I don’t usually think Chicken Soup for the Soul would want what I’ve got … but maybe they do, and maybe they want what you’ve got too. The reason I think they might is because their website has wide open submissions and guidelines that tell you just what they’re looking for.
And then there’s another thing. I’ve met two writers in person who’ve had a story accepted by them. They are the only major market I can say this about. All the other dollar a word markets I know of, I’ve met one or, usually, zero people who’ve sold their work there. So maybe CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL has higher volume. They also have another reason why they might need more writers. Their stories have to be true. And how many Chicken Soup Caliber events generally happen to one person? Jack Canfield notwithstanding …
So, check it out. I’m going to turn this one over in my head. Maybe I do have a story that would fit in a Chicken Soup book. And maybe … you do too.
I’ve thrown myself entirely into writing this summer, and have spent a lot of time researching, including about blogging, about writing magazine articles, about writing and selling novels, about the lives of great writers, and done all that trying to find out how to really succeed, not just mess around. For me, I think, my greatest potential growth area is to write on topics and in genres that other people will really want to read. So, these are my musings:
People want to read about themselves, but you can only speak for yourself, so, to get others to read, you must find something you share with other people. Whether that’s a hobby, a belief, a problem, an interest in a HBO series — other people read when they feel a connection, a reference point, and interest with what you’ve said.
Figuring out what you can create that others want is a lifetime challenge for writers, including really successful ones. Hemingway wrote his nonfiction book about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon, and was outraged ever after by the world’s collective yawn at what he perceived as his great masterwork. Unfortunately, his readers found his obsession with bullfighting confusing at best and repugnant at worst. Refusal to consider your readers seriously creates a lot of misery. Hem was still complaining about the reception of Death in the Afternoon when he died 20 years after writing it.
Who you portray yourself as being has bearing on whether people want to read your work. Again, Hemingway was a master: he portrayed himself as a war veteran, a huntsman, a ladies man, a man of the good life. And people flocked to his work. They wanted his life. They accepted the next best thing: reading his books. Again, Sylvia Plath portrayed herself as the smart, new girl of the 50’s, but not so independent that she didn’t have a man and children. Although she was not much understood in her lifetime, later readers, many of whom were women, saw in her the great paradoxes of their own lives and embraced her. There are some people in the blogosphere I think have done this self-portrayal successfully, and the reason I think they have is because I can so clearly remember who they are (my summaries of their personaes are in the quotes). Examples: LA, Wrong Side of 50, “New York Mama of a certain age,” Christian Mihai, “Eastern European Boy Makes Good”, and let’s not forget Tatiana Aleksina and Tony Single of the Literary Asylum, “Writers and Artists of the Daily Absurd.” You see, I remember them. That’s successful branding. But … do I even know what I would want someone to say about me? Uh-oh.
There’s a fine line between promoting your work effectively and shameless self-promotion. Basically, you can self-promote until people are bored. The advent of social media makes this a real danger. I have a very hard time knowing when to push on and when to shut up.
It would seem that more people want to write than ever before, and this means there’s almost more writers than readers. There’s no “but I’m an artist, I do what I feel,” not if I want to be successful. Perhaps you knew this from the beginning, but it’s been a challenge for me. People don’t actually care what someone feels, generally, unless they feel the same way. Back to item #1.
The topic you choose to write about has tremendous bearing on whether people want to read your work, but the quality of your writing bears on whether they ever want to read your work again. Covering a hot or salacious topic with poor, sloppy writing is very likely to produce work that could be called “trash.” Of course, if you’re desperate to be read, you can go that direction. But remember, you’re going to have to live with it, and with the opinion other people have of you, ever after.
We interrupt this serious blog about how to be a writer to introduce a cell phone text-based conversation of my six children, my son-in-law (Bob, married to Tiara) and myself about who believes in Bigfoot and who is a cynical non-believer who, if Bigfoot were a diety, they would be in danger of going to crypto-hell for their non-belief, but, since Bigfoot is at most a cryptospecies, their doubt of his existence carries no real fear of disaster.
TIARA: I need help deciding a debate that BOB and I are having. Is Bigfoot really a big hairy man with hormonal problems (and maybe gout) or is he not a human at all but his own species?
TIARA: Basically BOB thinks Bigfoot is a human or part
human, bit I disagree, he is unique and his own separate type. Thoughts?
BRIAN: He doesn’t exist
BOB: Yes he does. Haven’t you ever been to an RV park?
ANDREW: I agree with Brian
BRIAN: Thank you lol.
MOM: I think Brian’s point is salient the big question is does Bigfoot exist, not is he human or non-human. By definition if he’s a human, “Bigfoot” does not exist.
SCARLETT: I thought he was a different species, kind of like a gorilla but smarter.
MOM: By which do you mean Bigfoot is another word for what
Grandma Joanne calls “the garbage people?”
SCARLETT: Also, of course, he does not exist.
BRIAN: There’s a wonderful show on the history channel about a team of folks trying to hunt and kill Bigfoot.
BRIAN: Perhaps you should turn to that show for answers.
BOB: He just needs to get a haircut and a real job.
BRIAN: But they seem to be having trouble finding him, even after like 10 seasons.
MOM: “Wonderful show” and “hunting and killing Bigfoot” does not go together.
BRIAN: It’s called ‘Finding Bigfoot’ but I’ve heard some refer to is as “Not Finding Bigfoot.”
TIARA: You guys are not helping my case here.
BRIAN: He’s the missing link Tiara.
BRIAN: He’s halfway between.
SCARLETT: I want a picture of a Bigfoot person from BOB as proof.
MOM: I may be going out on a limb but I continue to think Bigfoot might be out there.
SCARLETT: The classic one definitely has an ape face.
TIARA: He is out there, and he’s not just some overlarge
trashy guy who lives in an RV!
MOM: That’s why I drink out of the “I believe” mug every morning.
BOB: They have a hairy chest contest on the carnival cruise,
I saw him there.
TIARA: Look, there are lots of ugly people out there but there is only one Bigfoot.
BOB: I saw him later on the lido deck in the buffet line.
BRIAN: He must have a lot of frequent flier miles.
BRIAN: Seeing as how he travels so much because so many folks see him.
TIARA: Maybe Bigfoot gets royalties from the show, and if
they find him then it’s over, no more seasons. So he went underground.
TIARA: Or maybe if he’s a gorilla but smarter the ASPCA people got on the History Channel’s case about “no animals can be harmed in the making of this program” so, can’t kill Bigfoot but can keep making money on more seasons.
TIARA: So I think the fact that they haven’t found him is just proof that they are smart enough to keep getting paid.
BRIAN: Papa once told me that of I can’t figure something out, I should assume it’s the answer that requires the least assumptions.
TIARA: Darn I forgot to add Papa to this chat. Someone needs to ask his opinion to get a quorum.
JOLINE: We all have some Bigfoot inside of us.
MOM: Speak for yourself.
BRIAN: Shut up Joline. Go study something
JOLINE: Bigfoot represents the fear of unknown, death is real and so is Bigfoot.
BRIAN: If you give me a 10% cut of ad revenue.
JOLINE: Go scrub the deck Brian!
ANDREW: Joline be quiet.
TIARA: Brian be polite.
MOM: Papa is in Italy he may be asleep.
BRIAN: I’m a GM2. I instruct others to scrub the deck.
TIARA: Ah ok. I’m sure he would have some good input.
JOLINE: Yeah BRIAN be polite.
MOM: I like Joline’s answer.
JOLINE: If Bigfoot is human where is his family.
JOLINE: He should’ve been dead by now.
MOM: There are many Bigfoots.
SCARLETT: Brian cracking out Occam’s Razor, but Joline you make me laugh.
MOM: Big Feet I mean.
BRIAN: Joline is saying Bigfoot isn’t real.
JOLINE: No he IS real.
MOM: You all weren’t there the day Tiara and I saw Bigfoot in downtown Fort Worth.
JOLINE: He just isn’t in the mountains somewhere.
VICTOR: I thought Bigfoot was last a monster truck.
BRIAN: I’ll have what mom had when she thought she saw Bigfoot.
JOLINE: He is in our hearts and minds tormenting us.
VICTOR: Less than human, but more than ape. I always thought he was the missing link. The missing link between ape and Neanderthal.
TIARA: Yeah, he’s not just a big monkey. Big monkey could
not have evaded capture all this time. He has street smarts.
MOM: Listen, Brian, it was the middle of the night, 4 a.m. actually. I could hear him breathing, this is not a joke.
TIARA: BOB do you think Bigfoot was outside our tent that night in Caddo Lake?
SCARLETT: You had better write this conversation up Mom or I
will be disappointed!
MOM: I will… Just you wait.
BRIAN: It’s hard enough telling my friends you believe in ghosts.
MOM: Tiara: No offense but Bigfoot is usually thought of as a California-Washington-Oregon-BC phenom. There’s not enough trees to hide Bigfoot in Texas.
MOM: Why would you tell your friends that I believe in ghosts? That said, there’s no doubt I tend towards credulity.
BRIAN: I’m just messing with you Mom.
BRIAN: I apologize if it sounded mean.
BRIAN: IMO Bigfoot is as likely to be in Texas as California.
Or in your closet or under your bed.
JOLINE: Bigfoot is in your dreams and your subconscious.
He’s running through your blood when you feel anxiety before making a speech in
front of people you respect, or when you’re getting ready to meet your online
girlfriend of 2 years, hot_girl22, in person for the first time
BRIAN: Joline are you okay?
JOLINE: Well thank you for asking, Brian Francis.
MOM: If there’s anyone there who has an online girlfriend I want them to admit it now.
JOLINE: I’ve been isolated and alone for most of this summer but I think I’m handling it with aplomb.
JOLINE: I can say in confidence that the only one who could possibly have an online girlfriend is Andrew. Guess we know now why he plays tanks so much
ANDREW: You two suck.
JOLINE: You tell us Andrew!
JOLINE: Is Texas_tank_gal04 more than a friend?
TIARA: Mom does Bigfoot frequent swamps? Or is that someone else?
BRIAN: Andrew has enough girlfriends in real life as it is.
TIARA: We have lots of those in Florida.
ANDREW: Why you!
ANDREW: Why you bully me!
TIARA: Yeah I find it hard to believe that Andrew would have to go online to find someone.
JOLINE: Because I love you (hearts) and I can’t wait to see you in a week.
MOM: They just miss you Andrew.
ANDREW: [Posts dog picture, prompting Brian and Scarlett to
do the same]
TIARA: [Posts link to FBI analysis news article]
TIARA: See – reasonable people believe!
VICTOR: [Posts picture of screen in room displaying news]
I don’t know why I am this way. I take heart in the fact that, according to Douglas Adams in Life the Universe and Everything, the kind of people who *want* to lead shouldn’t be allowed to. So maybe, since I don’t want to lead, I should?
Have you ever wanted to start a writer’s critique group, but been afraid that it wouldn’t work? I was … After all, not only did I have to invite people I didn’t really know and risk their not coming, I had to lead the meetingmyself. My first choice with regard to leadership? I prefer to follow. I *can* lead, if there is no other way, but I tend to surrender the leadership of any given project at the first opportunity.
I don’t know why I am this way. I take heart in the fact that, according to Douglas Adams in Life the Universe and Everything, the kind of people who *want* to lead shouldn’t be allowed to. So maybe, since I don’t want to lead, I should?
There was no opportunity to be part of a local critique group without organizing it myself. I waited almost a year to find one, or for one to spontaneously form itself for my convenience. No dice.
So I had to be that person, the one who organizes something.
The day we were to meet, I went down to the coffee shop early and set up the table, and waited. This shop, Daz Bog, had already earned my gratitude by offering us a free room. I bought a coffee with soy milk.
Several people had emailed and said they were coming, so I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t be the only one there. But I now realized that was only half the problem. I was not just afraid of being stood up, I was afraid of leading a group.
When the writers came and sat down and looked at me, I took a big breath. Could I do this? At that point, there was really no alternative, or no easier one, than just doing it, so I began by introducing the format, explaining the order of reads, reading my own work for critique and running the timer.
And it was successful. All who wanted to read their work did so and got critiques, and enthusiasm was high. I was impressed by the seriousness and skill of these writers. “Thank you for doing this,” several said when it was time to leave. We agreed to meet in two weeks.
After it was over, I was pleased, chuffed even. And I began to think how I could make what had somehow become Fort Collins Writers Critique Group stronger, better, more effective, more prestigious. I had originally planned to shove the leadership off on someone else at the earliest possible moment. But did I really want to do that?
Maybe … this small critique group success was just the beginning of something bigger. I rolled that around in my head, smiled. This was better than I expected. This was something good.
I have spent some time trying to organize a critique group for local writers. I have gone to writer’s groups, canvassed people I meet, taken emails and phone numbers, attended the NCW conference, reserved a room, sent a group email invite, corresponded re questions about the group, made an agenda, sent a reminder email … and now I have to go down there and convene the group.
I’m scared. There’s no other way to describe it.
Even though I’ve done what needs to be done. Even though I’ve been to dozens, maybe hundreds of similar critique groups in the past. Even though I’ve got a plan of what to do, the papers are already printed, put on the clipboard, ready to go …
Who am I to start a critique group? As I realize that I am just this side of having a panic attack, I wonder if this is why so many worthwhile things don’t get done: they’re just too scary, and yet, why? What’s so scary about it?
what if no one shows up
what if people show up and they’re bored
what if I do something really stupid and everyone notices.
Well … yes, all those things. But look, I’ve got this desperate need for a critique group. And I think some other writers around here do too. So I’ve got to step out in faith, in hope, and I guess to be cliched, in charity, too, because it’s not just for my benefit, it’s for all those who attend.
Crossing my fingers, getting ready to take my briefcase-purse and go out the door … got my “cool grandma” clothes on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’ll update soon on how it went.
If Fitzgerald had my temperament, he could never have written even his first book, he would have gone straight to drinking.
Why do we write? I ask this of myself sometimes. The answer is obvious, for me, perhaps as it is for you: I can’t stop.
Yesterday, the yoga teacher asked us to consider that our strengths become our weaknesses and our weaknesses become our strengths.
I thought about this, and how I tend to go too hard and then despair. This goes for writing as well as yoga. There have been times, too, in my life when I quit writing: when we moved to Canada, and when I began teaching school. At these times, I had too much stress and exhaustion.
At other times, there was another struggle: I love to write but I hate being rejected! And I can’t write for publication when I’m stressed out. If Fitzgerald had my temperament, he could never have written even his first book, he would have gone straight to drinking.
But there was one time I wrote because I was stressed. It was because I needed hope when we came home from Italy. I tried to write three pages on lined paper, every morning, with a fountain pen. I did this in total silence, before the kids got up. This practice somehow lightened my mood.
There was no submissions or rejections in journaling. I was totally alone with this writing. Though I occasionally suspected Leo was reading my journal, in general I felt safe with saying what I wanted, confident that any decipherment of these papers would happen in terms of my grown children reading the words after I died, and that would happen only if they had significant perseverance and interest and patience with cursive handwriting.
When I feel better, I think about writing a novel, a memoir, a blog post, an article for publication, but when I’m low, it’s all about writing for myself. A shout into the future, saying: “I’m here.” And perhaps that’s where it all flows from. When I want to be published, it just means the pain level is lower. that I feel safe in expanding my horizons. But when I feel low, I write for myself.
I’ve just added to this list after attending Gayle Brandeis’ excellent talk on the history and practice of essay writing at the NCW Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. Search engines are listed in terms of number of markets indexed. With the exception of Duotrope, they are free resources.
Duotrope — the venerable journal search engine. Free trial. Paid subscription is $5 a month or $50 a year. 7000 markets.
New Pages Searchable database of places to publish from well-known literary magazine about literary magazines. 1500 markets.
Poets and Writers. From the well-known and well established magazine about writing. About 1200 markets by my reckoning.
Entropy’s Where to Submit List — a free list of submission opportunities is updated every two or three months from Entropy, an online literary magazine and “place to engage with our writers.” 200 or so current listings.
Yahoo Neo Groups has the CWWROPPS listserve from which you can receive daily emails with new submission opportunities. Recommend you opt for the daily digest. 11 new posts in the last week.
Submittable Check out their Opportunities tab for some places you can submit. To find the Submittable page of the many journals that use this service, however, you have to search on the journal’s name and “submission.” Specific journals’ submission pages are not searchable from within the site. The opportunities list can be long, but many of the most prominent upcoming opportunities are not listed; it tends to the less-well known and to the fee-charging markets.
Writer’s block. It’s a dangerous amount of the time. I find myself on twitter, checking email, listening to You Tube. I see what I am doing and get serious and make myself start editing something. Then I get the email from The Common, the wrap-up on their online writing prompts program I bought in January.
I and some other writers paid $15 for this program. The editors sent us two writing prompts a week for ten weeks. At the end, you can submit your best story to a special portal for free (The Common usually charges $3). I’ve done a good job of working up the first week’s prompt, and in fact have two credible essays. But I didn’t even start on the second week’s prompts. Why?
I open the email of second week prompts, look at it. “Write about a place that makes you ambivalent?” Well, yeah, that would be my whole life. I am ambivalent all the time. Some days, I wonder if, although sure I am now alive, how much longer it will last? Will I run out of time before I’ve written something good enough?
Well, if it takes me ten weeks to respond to one week’s writing prompts, maybe.
I am getting the idea that Writer’s Block is something that happens because you psyche yourself out, you allow yourself to think that you’re not ready, you don’t have the right idea, you need to check Twitter one more time, organize your submissions list … read something for inspiration.
That’s why Shut up and Write is so wonderful. That’s where I go once a week and do nothing but write for an hour. Except last week. I didn’t go because it was snowing. That was my excuse.
An idea is forming in my mind. What is writing and what is not:
Drafting, retyping, editing, revising, submitting, to a limited degree, researching for submitting. Journaling. Blogging.
What is not:
Going on social media. Reading books. Listening to music. Knitting. Checking email. Staring at a blank screen. Deleting bad work.
So: What to do? Do the stuff in the “What is” list. Do something productive. There’s nothing more depressing than realizing you slipped off into the “What is not” territory and now the potential writing time has been used up by reading something in the New Yorker about that Assange character getting dragged out of the Peruvian Embassy. That has nothing to do with my life, and I suspect it has nothing to do with yours either.
(We interrupt this blog post to say after all that checking, I finally got some email. A rejection from a prestigious magazine. I guess this is better than a rejection from a small one. This energizes me, makes me mad. That’s it, I will go out to the library and study their journal, figure out where the confluence of my writing and their publishing may lie, wait a decent interval, and submit again.
Is this getting ready to write, or just more malingering, more writer’s block? Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take me ten or more weeks to develop this new piece. )
This month was a better one. I had one short story accepted, and got an assignment to do a pre-book-publication author interview for a literary magazine. I also was able to volunteer to help our writer’s group with an anthology we are creating, which at last put me on the “other” side of submittable.com: the editing side.
That said, I only made twelve new submissions this month. So I failed to meet the challenge of putting twenty new subs out there. I am not going to beat myself up; I will do better in March, especially since this week is my spring break. I have about 37 active submissions on Submittable.com right now and perhaps a half dozen others still out by email.
I wanted to talk for a minute about “quality” of submissions. What I mean by that is two things: how many other people are vying to put their work in a given journal, and how well your work is matched to the journal. I always read at least one story and one poem from journals before I submit, and if I don’t like them or don’t see any similarity between the work published and my own, I don’t submit to them. This means that I have to research probably three to four journals for every one I submit to.
Back when I was freelancing in print magazines for money, I used to rate the submissions from 1/1 to 1/10 or so. That was my perception of the likelihood of acceptance. So a 1/1 submission was a good idea to a journal I already wrote for. I could expect to get the assignment, and if I didn’t, I could ask the editor for something else and would get it. A 1/10 submission was something less likely to be accepted, perhaps to a journal I didn’t know as well, a national journal, etc.
These literary magazine submissions of stories an essays, so far, are about 1/40, I would say. And some of these journals are small; God only knows what your odds are with Agni, or Paris Review. In all honesty, I’m not sure my work is ready for those markets. But I don’t know, so I still submit.
Am I discouraged? No, because I think of this as a learning curve, and I am convinced that the most important part of this submissions challenge is developing new work and developing a submissions routine.
As my work improves, as I believe it will, and my submissions routine becomes more effective, I feel my project will be more efficient. But even if it isn’t, I am primarily, at this point, loyal to the art of writing. That is the benefit of the literary magazine project, and for the artistic freedom this affords, I am grateful.
This morning, I’ve resumed my weekend pass time of listening to Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust while knitting. This exercise is part of my 2019 resolutions, “Read literature.” Of course, I’m not actually reading, I’m listening, but I grant myself that it’s just about the same thing.
Proust gets to the heart of character’s feelings in small details. It is fascinating to watch his groups of people, who for a whole chapter may sit and do nothing except talk about each other at a dinner party, and how he hones in on the emotional moments of life — the instant when a woman loved acknowledges that she has a special relationship with the speaker, before a crowd — or the moments when the author simultaneously gives the reader the character’s inner turmoil and their outer speech or behavior.
Proust is the high priest of slow explorations. He goes deep into the psyche by exploring the most minute of the details which compose interior thought. As his character Swann creeps up on the window of the woman he loves, knowing that she’s entertaining someone else in her room, Swann doesn’t know the exact character of the interaction — but he has a healthy fear — and the reader squirms with him as he’s unable to look through the slats. Should he tap on the window, as he has been wont to do in the past, to let her know that … He knows? Or should he slink away …
The reader is totally immersed in the mind of the decision-making character. It is a technique to be considered: giving the character the time, and the permission, to explore their feelings just as a real person does. The second-by-second exposition makes Proust’s people unbelievably real, but it does more than that: it allows us to recognize ourselves in them, creating a strong reader-character identification.
And then after all that, it gives us an idea of how to write about our inner feelings, if we dare to be that naked in front of the reader, as Proust’s characters and by extension the author himself have already been. It reminds me of another famous novelist, Hemingway, suggesting that writers just open a vein and bleed.