I realize that I have a fear of leadership as The Critique Group materializes

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?

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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 meeting myself. 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.

So scared to be starting a writer’s critique group today

Happy and scared at the same time …

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?

  1. what if no one shows up
  2. what if people show up and they’re bored
  3. 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.

The Submissions Challenge Month Six, during which I discover, to my happiness, a list of Free Submission Search Engines, and to my slight dismay, the Rejection Wiki

Okay, I fell off the wagon and didn’t write a submissions challenge update during month five. Month five (December) I made twenty submissions and not much happened in the acceptances category. Well nothing actually. I did pass one hundred subs.

In month six, I really fell off the wagon, and only made fourteen submissions, with the same zero acceptances. But, in the desert, there are discoveries to be made, about the world and about yourself …

Most interesting news this period: I discovered with the help of Julie Reeser’s Patreon (follow her on Twitter at @abetterjulie) the dreaded Rejection Wiki. This is a website where writers have posted the various literary journals’ form rejections, and the truth is some of the journals invite everyone to submit again.  

Everyone. That means if they asked you to submit again, you’ve got to check the wiki and see if the invite means anything.

Does the invite suggests anything about their feeling toward you as a writer? Or, God forbid, do they just appear to be willing to read more pieces for an accumulation of the $3 submission fees?

I’m talking about you, Ploughshares.

On the other hand, some rejections were more helpful. Baltimore Review gets a shout out for giving me and all other declined submitters a nice roundup of online search engines for journals, so that we can continue looking for our literary-journal-soul-mate. I excerpt their email below:

“See long lists of other publication possibilities at New Pages, Poets and Writers, Every Writer’s Resource, Yahoo Neo Groups, and The Review.”

Thank you Baltimore Review. I appreciate this.

Finally, the question arises: Should one keep submitting? I haven’t really lost interest, and I steel myself with the memory of how Sylvia Plath submitted to Seventeen Magazine no less than forty-seven times before being accepted. But in the New Pages blog, I found a link to another perspective:

The Year I Gave Up on Submitting to Literary Magazines, in Women Writer’s, Women’s Books, by Annette Gendler. Gendler decided that literary magazines were to be given up on, because the acceptance rate was so low. She decided to concentrate on consumer publications and book publishing, which have worked well for her.

Well I can’t argue about the low acceptance rate. Although I do hope to see that improve for me sometime in the next decade. Nevertheless, I feel drawn to the freedom or writing for these literary magazines, which allow you So Much Latitude in what to create. So no, I have to say, I’m not close to quitting.

I kinda hope you’re not too. And if not, Gendler has a free Writer’s Workbook you can get for signing up for her email newsletter (request form at bottom of page). In this workshop there’s lots of reflections about projects, plans, what’s working, what’s not.

Alexander Chee on Writers and Time …

“I think writers are often terrifying to normal people — that is, to nonwriters in a capitalist system — for this reason: there is almost nothing they will not sell in order to have time to write. Time is our mink, our Lexus, our mansion. In a room full of writers of various kinds, time is probably the only thing that can provoke widespread envy, more than acclaim.” — Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical novel, “Imposter,” pg. 192.

I worry greatly about time, its passing, its use, and most vexingly, its waste. I am amazed by the time-preserving zeal of Chee, who describes going over his shelf of books to find some to sell to buy lunch, because a writing check did not come in. I don’t know that I ever went that far …

At the end of the weekend, time mocks me: Did I write enough? At the end of a month, I ask myself: what have you actually been doing all these days?

I see a note in my journal, December 20th, “Going back to work … uneasy about that … ” Was that already six weeks ago? It seems like yesterday. And why did I take time to write such banal words that honestly are repeated again and again throughout the journal?

It’s that damn job, cluttering my mind with stuff that must be done but is so boring that no one but the most dedicated literary writer could turn it into art. Will I have time to write what I feel actually needs to be written? Can I even think up what that is?

I think about our local Shut up and Write group, in which we take an hour and write without speaking, without interruption. I always save this time for the most difficult writing projects, such as editing my WIP. But that’s a whomping hour a week. The rest of the time, I’m on my own for self-discipline.

Alexander Chee is right. He is right about saving time for writing, and right about time’s value. It only remains for us to become as singleminded as he apparently is about obtaining and cajoling and demanding and buying time to write.

One problem is, that you can no longer sell books for food, books have lost their resale value. You have to sell other parts of your kit. Maybe I can take my designer clothes to Plato’s closet. Or breed dogs? Or something. Anything that doesn’t take time away from writing.

TV can jump the shark, but should my own writing?

Okay, so My Crazy Ex Girlfriend went too far. It was somewhere in there where she got a viral online video going of her 911 call she made after burning her own house down in response to losing her two guys in one day. The friend having an abortion as a matter of practicality and Greg leaving on a jet plane after calling his and Crazy’s relationship ‘excrement’ was a downer too. What happened to the girl in the cactus suit who, despite all the zaniness, evinced such a joi de vivre?

Or was this unpleasant breaking up and rejecting current cycle of the miniseries just the flip side of freedom? Scary thought.

I didn’t feel close to her anymore. Her teddy bear with the face of her crush pasted on it was no longer cute and creative, it was, as my mother would say, pathological, the period jokes were juvenile, the poop jokes downright incomprehensible.

I started watching this miniseries, mind you, as a way to game my writing. I was going to use it to stimulate me to think of the possibilities.

Clearly, after watching #CrazyExGirlfriend I could see: you could do almost anything with your plot, and people will, more or less, believe it. In fact, people might want you to do the unexpected with your plot. They might want things that could literally never happen in real life.

But there’s a danger in that freedom. Some plot twists might be too much for some readers. Or viewers. There’s a fine line between thrilling the reader and having them say “oh no, too dark, too gross, to morally bankrupt.”

Suspension of disbelief is the thing. When the characters seem too schizophrenic, the ironies too perfect, the tragedies premeditated, and all the foreseeable endings hopeless, the reader may just cash in. As I thought I was going to.

But then … I began to miss these people. I wanted to know what Valencia would do next. Peeing on Josh’s electrical equipment was the crass act of a 4 year old, but … surely the writer would let her recover her dignity?

Could I trust the writer? I wasn’t sure. I think I’ll go back just once more. But that’s it. Any more betrayals, I’m finding another miniseries.

The WIP: The beginning 50 pages, and the rest of it

I was getting ready to make a pie for my son, and as I was standing in the kitchen peeling apples, I reflected that three agents have seen the full of my novel, and that I’m not sure whether they got past the first 50 pages or not. 

But it’s worse than that: I was reading at at writers.com and found that here, too, the first fifty pages of the novel were the focus of a class taking 6 weeks, in which instructor Sandra Novak posted “if those first 50 pages, which lay the groundwork for the entire plot, aren’t working, more problems will often mount up … “

The whole thing is a concern.  And while, I would argue, for the type of book that changes the world, the first fifty pages are rarely the focus (ever heard anyone claim that “that first fifty pages in War and Peace, without it, the book wouldn’t be the same) nevertheless, books which never get published never become the Great American (or Great Anything) novel. Thus, the first fifty pages merit special consideration. 

So what did I do?  Started rewriting my first fifty pages.  I wasn’t sure about taking the class (the temptation to do so was tempered by the $360 price tag) but I stored the possibility of the class as something that could be purchased with my Christmas money.

As for the rest of the novel, the last 250 pages, well … it’s better than the first part.  I don’t know if this is typical and I don’t know if it’s good or  bad.  But I knew this already, from when the book went through the workshop.  So … the goal is to get the first 50 pages up to the speed of the rest of the book.  And start submitting again. 

The Submissions Challenge Month Four, in which I get more positive overall results. A list of four things I’ve learned so far through this process.

The fourth month’s challenge, in which I decided to submit 30 stories in 30 days, was the most intense of all the challenges yet.  I can now report the stats:

I submitted 21 pieces to journals of various types.

Also, I submitted my novel query to 11 agents.

My results:

One literary journal acceptance! Also:  one agent request for a full of my manuscript.

Nine rejections, four with kind notes or invitations to resubmit.  Twenty items from the challenge remain in submission, along with a dozen or more previous subs.  The full of my manuscript was rejected after two weeks. However, the agent gave me some helpful advice and was quite cordial.

How do I feel?  I feel like I’m getting somewhere.

I went back and read my entire #submissionschallenge thread.  Seeing that I’ve gotten faster and stronger on submitting is really encouraging.  Important learnings in the last four months:

1) Sources for markets:  submittable, literistic, duotrope, and blogs which list magazines winning the Pushcart Prize such as this linked post at TheJohnFox.

2) You might want to consider paying for submissions since the economics of the situation have changed.  Then again, maybe not that often.

3) Multiple submissions, yes. It’s okay, really. If a piece isn’t submitted to four markets, the process of submitting, for me, is not complete.

4) Editors and agents are real people and they love literature as much as you do.  And yes, they are reading what you send them.  Perhaps the best introduction you can give as a new writer is that you know of their work and respect it.  I found this out by including what I appreciated about the literary magazines I was researching and by including details gleaned largely from @twitter in manuscript queries, particularly the #MSWL thread.