Why do you want to write, anyway?

If Fitzgerald had my temperament, he could never have written even his first book, he would have gone straight to drinking.

Journaling with a fountain pen again …

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.

Why do you write?

Writer’s Block: What to say when you think you have nothing to say

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:

What is:

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. )

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.

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. 

It didn’t take very long for me to get ticked off at paying for submissions

Yeah, I have to admit.  The first month I decided to try it, I spent $73, most on entering three contests, which do tend to be pricey, but the rest on those $3 Submittable submission fees.  And after doing it, I didn’t feel as good as I hoped. 

The stats on the paid for subs aren’t really promising, yet, either, although I have yet to hear from most of them: 

Paid subs:  8, one rejection, 7 still out.  That’s 13% rejection, and 87% still in submission. 

Unpaid subs:  28, 5 rejections, one requested manuscript, 22 still out.  That would be:  17% rejection, 4% acceptance (count manuscript request as acceptance) and 79% still in submission. 

The contests still haven’t been called, and they could be a big deal, or no deal, but at this point, the pay-for-subs plan is still unproven.

As for my emotional response to putting almost my whole allowance in the submission payments pile, well, that’s just one more hurdle faced by being a writer.  As is Monday morning ennui. 

Need to get up and go to the library. 

Marcel Proust on the writer’s creation of fiction through fact and memory, and also, incidentally, rejection

The move to Colorado has left me absolutely busted, financially and to some degree emotionally, even as I feeimg_20181104_0706181487267935.jpgl a sense of victory and liberation to relocate to “the freedom lands.”  To sooth my jangled nerves, I have taken up listening to a biography of Proust while knitting.  Although admonished by a Facebook friend that doing so was “ like [reading] a Cliffnote’s version of A La Recherche du Temp Perdu (more conventionally known as Remembrance of Times Past).” I couldn’t find a full copy of the famous memoir-novel for free online listening, so I had to make accommodations.

The act of knitting while listening to a book is both relaxing and an extreme meditation on the writing.

Important writer’s knowings from Proust:

  1. “An I that is not I:” Proust created this formula for his masterpiece. It was at the time a new innovation.  First person narrators had been used before, such as by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre, but it seems that no one had yet created what I might called a semi-memoir:  A work which is partly factual, and partly fictional.
  2. Finding material: Proust handily changed a young man, Albert, into a young woman, Albertine, for the purpose of his love story.  Masking real people into characters, he combined others and renamed still others, basing whole families of characters on their real counterparts.  The anger and objections of people involved were predictable. Yet in this way he was able to write the semi-memoir and claim it to be fiction. It seems few were fooled.
  3. Rejection.  Proust was devastated when the first part of his work, Swann’s Way, was rejected by the foremost French publishing house of avant-garde works at the time.  But it seems the rejection was personal: the editor had met Proust and was offended by his social climbing and his dilettantish ways as a young man.  Thus the work didn’t get an unbiased reading.  This rejection occurred even though Proust proposed to pay for the publication. Proust was crushed and had to go with a newbie publisher.  This reminds me of how much matters extraneous to the work, such as personal impressions and thematic or subject specifics, can impact the reception of one’s writing.

Submissions Challenge Month Three: Accepting the hard work of writing; rejection statistics of the month

By the end of the month, I had run through my budget for submitting and was only submitting to free markets.

Submission Tracker 3It is now that I begin to see the real hard work of writing.  I mean, in order to get 22 submissions in 30 days, I had to pretty much work on the submissions challenge every weekend day and some nights.  Kindof like grad school.

Actually, it was grad school which made me believe I could do this.  It was clear from finishing grad school that if I was disciplined, I could carve a good 15 to 20 hours of writing/reading/thinking time out of the average work week, with short bursts of up to 40 to 50 hours in seven days.  Deciding to apply that kind of work load to writing was just the next step.

This month I have made 22 submissions.  I received two “warmer” rejections, each with an invitation to resubmit, from literary magazines.  I received five “stone cold” rejections, with one flash fiction piece getting a quick rejection twice.  I wrote “what’s wrong with this story” on its line on the submission tracker and stopped submitting it for the moment.

I did not get a request of any type from any of the four #pitchwars mentors I queried.  Although I’m sure I’m not alone, it was a disappointment.  Made me feel like back when I was in 7th grade, and I wasn’t one of the popular girls. Perhaps I will try again next year.  To the organization’s credit, they didn’t charge me or any other contestant anything, which given some of the other contest fees could be seen as quite generous.

Last month I wrote that I was willing to pay to make submissions and enter contests.  I spent $73 submitting stories this month, mostly for three contests.  In addition, I paid $8.50 for the Literistic List of the Month, which was pretty helpful.  During the second half of the month, I saw several more contests I might have entered. But it just cost too much. By the end of the month, I had run through my budget for submitting and was only submitting to free markets.  We get paid on the first of the month around here.  I had to cut back.

So, to sum up the stats:  9/22 to 10/22

Submissions:  22

Personal or warmer rejections: 2

Stone Cold rejections: 9, including the four from #pitchwars

Still in submission:  23, including six emailed and website-form submissions and 17 with Submittable.

Next month’s goal will be the original first month goal again:  30 submissions in 30 days.

And no, I am not doing NaNoWriMo.   I’m doing my submissions challenge until I get an agent or enough street cred that I’ve got editors who’ll just look at my work.

I admit this may take a while.