Tag Archives: Encouragement

Submit or Die: Join A Hashtag Community

You may have heard that in certain circles (largely academic), you must publish or perish.

Well, isn’t the same thing true of any writer? And if you are primarily a writer, and not, say, one who concerns themselves with the esoteric functions of some industry or industrial complex, then you really must publish or perish.

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Submit or die

And what do you need to do first, before you can publish? That’s right. Submit. So really, it’s Submit or Die. And that can mean several things.
You can submit your work to journals, websites, contests and the like. Or you can submit queries to agents, publishers or magazines to publish your articles. Really, the how or what doesn’t matter (I mean, yes, ultimately it does matter), because the bottom line is that you must submit something in order to get started.

There are many people who write and do not submit. They exist in a netherworld of anonymity, known as writers only to themselves and close friends and family (and sometimes, not even that). Sometimes, they think they are not good enough. Sometimes, they don’t think their work is ready or they say they simply don’t have time. There are as many reasons for not submitting as there are writers out there.

But the end result is that only those who submit get published. And those who talk about writing but do nothing about submitting are doing a disservice to their writing.

“So I played softball in high school for four years and utterly sucked at it. Like I was embarrassingly bad. That said, I stuck with it. Something about that practice of persistence in spite of continuous failure *read rejection letters*, has fully prepared me for my life as a writer. Thank You, Softball” – Sagirah Shahid

Recently, I saw a post by a poet friend on Facebook, telling how her experience with being bad at softball – but sticking with it – helped to prepare her for life as a writer. She graciously agreed to let me share it. Resiliency. Gotta have it.

But sometimes it’s easier to do other things, and no one will really notice, right? Well, that’s where a support group comes in. Encouragement and accountability might be the things you need to get yourself on a submitting track.

There are some who say that a true writer must write every day; but also some who say that you should just write whenever you can – but above all, make time for it. I have belonged to two groups over the past 9 or 10 months that have helped me do just that. They both offer Encouragement and Accountability. But no judgment.

The first one that I joined, and I would suggest everyone do this, goes along with the principle of writing every day. It is a monthly writing challenge, centered around a hashtag on Twitter, and I wrote about it here. The second one is a Facebook group that operates on the make-time-for-it option, called #1kTuesday, run by the talented and generous Molly Beth Griffin. Both encourage writing and have another thing in common: no judgment. We all have our demons. But we can still celebrate our successes, even the smallest ones, because small successes tend to pile up to be big successes.

Facebook group #SubmitSunday

What I would like to do is build up a similar kind of encouragement aimed at submissions. I will do this more on the model of #1kTuesday, with a Facebook group and a hashtag. I am calling it #SubmitSunday – though in reality there will be no penalty for submitting on other days. The idea, though, is that you will know as you are spending some time on a Sunday morning, afternoon or evening working on submissions that there are others out there doing the same thing. Make time for it.

And when you are done, you can head on over to the Facebook group and enter your accomplishment. I will ask anyone who is a member of the group to submit each Sunday (or any day) what they did, then I will tally them every Monday. It could be “Submitted to x number of journals,” or “Submitted “so-and-so” piece to x journal” or it could be “Worked on a proposal for a writing grant/residency for one hour.” It could even be “Researched markets with x resource for an hour.” It’s okay to do research, but Extra Brownie Points will be awarded for those who are actually submitting work, and who can name the piece and pass along the market that they submitted to.

Occasionally I will share resources that I know of and trust, and I would encourage others to do the same – places where markets, contests and grants are listed that others will find handy. I always share this kind of information with my students and it is nothing but a good feeling. If you are an editor of a publication or director of a program that awards grants or residencies to writers, I would love to see you post the details in the group or simply with the hashtag on Twitter. Open reading periods, deadlines for contests, requests for proposals – all is game.

I have already started the Facebook group, so please join #SubmitSunday. You don’t have to be a Friend of mine on Facebook, and you can invite anyone you want. Also, use the #SubmitSunday hashtag on Twitter (follow me there at @LindaWonder if you don’t already), and tell your friends! I hope that you can join me!

Joining the Writing Club

“I’m not a writer”

I have been teaching classes at the Loft Literary Center for about five years now, and there is something that I always run into. These classes fall on the career side of things – how to promote yourself, how to build an online platform, how to use social media, how to find speaking opportunities, that type of thing.

DarkStormy

Invariably, in any one of my classes, as we go around the group and do a little pre-class discovery, the same thing crops up. At least one person – and usually more than one – will indicate that the project they are working on, having written or at least hope to promote does not really qualify them as a writer. They always start out by saying, “I’m not a writer, but I wrote this book… “ Maybe it is a collection of stories their grandfather told, maybe a memoir about their childhood, maybe it is a series of essays on living in the northland. One woman collected and edited 2,000 of her mother’s letters, wrote introductions to each chapter, footnoted the whole thing, collected photos (including getting permission where necessary) and then told me she wasn’t a writer.

writers-group

My response to them is always the same. “You are a writer. Get over it. Own it.” I feel like they will not make great strides in promoting their project until they take ownership of it and realize that it came out of their own head. Never mind that it was a collection of letters, or stories someone else told them on the front porch, or just a little column that they scribbled for the weekly newspaper. It’s all writing – fiction isn’t the only thing that counts – and I want them to accept that.

I have always written, and I have always self-identified as a writer. I always saw myself sitting at a desk writing. There was never any doubt that my career would have something to do with writing. But then, it often did not. I wrote copy. I wrote press releases. I wrote tons of blog posts, social media posts, and articles. Still, that’s writing. Except when someone asks what you do, and you say you are a writer, and their question is always, “Would I have read anything you’ve written?” And the answer is well, no, not unless you’ve read the Cold Weather Rule brochure for the Public Utilities Commission, or the many press kits that I’ve written over the past several years, or perhaps the series of job search posts I wrote over the span of a year and a half for a careers blog. And no, they hadn’t.

Still, I couldn’t blame them. Because I knew there was something else in me, something else brewing. I just didn’t know what. Imagine my surprise when I finally started writing a big project, and it felt like I was butting into the club.

The Writing Challenge

Oh sure, I’d taken my stabs at writing a novel. I had started several when I was younger. I even tried to write a play once. I did NaNoWriMo in 2009, and barely got half way before I realized that the inane dribble I was spouting was going nowhere. I just wasn’t feeling it. I always maintained that I was a poet and essayist first.

Then this past April, I did a blog post challenge. I wanted to kickstart this blog, and it was somewhat helpful in doing that. But most of all, what it taught me was that if you are going to write, and you need to write every day in order to write, then you had better make it a priority, and you had better do it first thing. And it’s helpful to have support, accountability, and check-ins. So that’s a great lesson learned.

Still, I didn’t have an idea for that great novel. Then one night I stayed up late to watch a show on PBS on one of my favorite topics – ancient peoples. This one was about a series of discoveries just made in the last couple years, of Neolithic villages in the north of the British Isles. At the very end, the host made a comment and used a phrase that seared itself right into my very brain. I watched the end of that show with my mouth hanging open. I knew that I had a story.

I thought about it for a few weeks. Then I saw the August Writing Challenge hashtag (#AugWritingChallenge) on Twitter (there are other months, too, just check the website). I went to the website and read the whole thing. It was already August 1, and I didn’t have time to write anything that night, so I started the next night. I had already written the opening scene (or at least the first scene that came to my mind) on a legal pad. I typed it out. I typed some more. I got over 1000 words that first day. And I’ve been loving it ever since.

Giving Yourself Permission

The idea is to write at least 500 words a day, every day, for the whole month. There is an online participation log, and shout outs on Twitter. I love the log. I get to see all those numbers marching across the row, for every day I have written. There are a few zeros on there, but there are far more that are over 1000 words, and I know it will take a while, but it feels great. And the shout outs are really sweet, too. What better for someone sitting alone in a room with the blinds drawn on a summer day?

And now, hey. Guess what? I’m writing. I’m writing nearly every day. I’m writing this novel, and I’m writing blog posts for this poor neglected blog, and articles on my Books column on Examiner.com, and things that I have long promised to other people.

But sometimes, when I post my word counts on Twitter with the hashtag, I still feel like I’m play-acting a little bit. Like maybe those ‘real’ authors out there are going to somehow call me on it. I fall into the old trap: “I’m not really a writer, but I wrote this book.”

But that’s not true. I’m not play acting. I’m actually doing it. I’m giving myself permission. So, to quote another Twitter hashtag #TenThingsNottoSaytoaWriter, my contribution was “Would I have read anything you’ve written?”

Not yet. But some day, you just might.

Find me on Twitter at @LindaWonder and @PubBones and let’s talk about writing… !

Y is for Yoda

Many of you may have seen the strange little illumination making the rounds online, of the curiously Yoda-like figure appearing in the manuscript from the 14th century. There is no explanation for this. It is just pure nerdery.

yoda-in-medieval-manuscript

I don’t find this all that surprising. I happen to have a deep affinity for Yoda. My favorite Star Wars quote (and I’m sure the favorite of many of you) is “Do or do not. There is no try.” This is what comes up any time you search for a Yoda quote (I know, I just did it). It is by far the most likely candidate to appear on a t-shirt or coffee mug.

But what does it mean? What can this strange little hippy-dippy gnome-like creature teach us? If you haven’t seen the film, let me enlighten you (no, really, I know there are people who haven’t!). Yoda teaches Luke to become a Jedi by a method similar to that used in the Karate Kid (I know, really dating myself now, huh). Performing seemingly unrelated and mindless repetitive tasks and proving once again that wisdom is wiser than a punk kid. Yep.

And it works. Yoda teaches Luke that indeed, a rock is no different than a spaceship, in terms of what you want to move. It is just a thing. Size doesn’t matter. Just believe you can do it, and there. Bam.

By now you are thinking, what does this have to do with writing? Well, aside from the beauty of the illuminated manuscript pages, a lot. The main point is to keep going. Do not look over at the next person and say they are doing it better. Do not compare your work to a spaceship. Do not think that this is too hard. Do not give up.

It’s a lot harder to do than to say, I know. But it is a fundamental thing. At AWP (honestly, last reference to AWP, I swear!), The Loft Literary Center had a booth where you could write down an item, seal it in an envelope, and leave it in the basket, and then you spun a wheel to take an envelope. The color the wheel landed on corresponded to the color of the envelope you could take. The messages were written on the color of paper corresponding to the type of message it was. I wrote a message of encouragement (yellow). When the wheel landed on purple, that meant I got to choose a six-word story from the basket of envelopes (a purple envelope). A bit complicated, but the upshot of the story is that I wrote a piece of advice on my paper, put it in my color-coded envelope, and then tweeted it out to get people to come to the booth. My advice: Don’t give up. The only difference between a writer and an author is the author didn’t give up.

AWPLoft game

It’s true. How many times have you heard the story of a writer who trudged through the motions for years? How many tried countless agents (well, not countless – they always know exactly how many!), sent out dozens of manuscripts, tried again and again, to the detriment perhaps of all else? Famous story: When Stephen King got the letter that Carrie had been accepted, he had just had his phone shut off. There are many many other stories like this.

And yet, Fahrenheit 451 was written on a pay typewriter, in the basement of a library! How did he even have time to do corrections? How many people today are writing a classic using their library facilities? To judge from the folks using the banks of machines at my local library, I would say not many, but I would also bet that I am wrong. There is always a way to do something that you really want to do.

Like Yoda says: Do or do not. There is no try.

How can you accomplish something unless you actually believe you will be able to accomplish it? How can you be successful without visualizing that success? How do you continue to try without believing that you will succeed?

The answer: very hard to do. You almost cannot.

Just Do It. Oh yeah, there’s another slogan for you. But you don’t need another slogan. You don’t need a ‘Wax on, wax off’ teacher. You just need to believe in yourself.

P is for Patience

The idea of patience in publishing is a double-edged sword. It requires patience to publish traditionally, and it requires patience to successfully self-publish. Note that I say successfully self-publish, while traditional publishing requires patience no matter what the outcome.

When publishing traditionally, it is necessary to have patience to wend your way through the labyrinth of hurdles you will encounter: how to write the book, get an agent, see the book sold (patience, patience), and wait for it to come out, all while still maintaining your online platform and hopefully writing your next book. I recently had a client who, while giving a presentation, was asked, “How long did it take you to get an agent?” His response: “Lucky 151.” He had compiled a list of appropriate agents, and had submitted his query to 150 agents before receiving a response. Now that’s patience.

But it paid off. His book was released in October by an imprint of Penguin Random House that specializes in mystery, and he received great pre-publication reviews. He has made the finalist round of several awards around the country, and even carried home many of them. He is, of course, having a ball, but he also approached this methodically and carefully. He knew he needed help; he had a day job that he didn’t want to give up, and he couldn’t navigate all the way himself.

There are many other stories of the travails of successful authors. The internet is replete with rejection letters of famous authors. One letter to Dr. Seuss read, in part, “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” What do these best-selling authors have in common? They didn’t give up. Some of them actually went ahead and self-published (you have to imagine, out of utter frustration). Beatrix Potter was one of these. We wouldn’t have The Tale of Peter Rabbit if she had given up.

Now, as to self-publishing, this also requires patience, in order to do it successfully. It is my belief that in order to be a successful self-published author, you must follow the blueprint of the traditional publishing houses. This can be very difficult, especially since many people who self-publish do so explicitly because they do not want to wade through the morass of the traditional publishing maze, taking the year or more that it typically takes to do so.

This is why self-published books often aren’t available as advance copies, why they don’t have firm release dates, and why there are now often not even print runs. With print-on-demand (POD), you may save yourself from having boxes of books stacked up in your garage. But not having a release date or a print run also leaves you with less of a commitment, and this is transparent to the media.

I know, there are self-published authors out there who have done well without following the usual timeline of traditional publishing: advance copies out six to three months ahead of publication, reviews in all the major industry pre-pub journals (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, et al), a media campaign that ensures the largest portion of interviews and appearances the month of the book’s release. It’s possible to be successful if you have a great platform and method of distribution.

But while self-publishing may soon overtake traditional publishing in pure numbers, it will take longer for the entrenched media to adjust their methods. I, as much as anyone, would love to see some new innovative way to capture readers’ attention. As we all know, though, it does not take just one big hit, but many, many drips over a condensed period of time to stick in the minds of readers. And this, again, takes patience.

I’m not saying that everyone should publish traditionally, but I am saying that they should take a cue from the traditional publishing world to get the attention of media. And then, the beauty is that you can do things quicker, even with the advance copies. And you retain all of your artistic control. Often, it comes down to what you want to spend your time doing.

There is a great big world of readers out there. You can reach them if you take the time to learn how. Amanda Hocking had a built-in audience, selling her stories online (admittedly poorly copyedited), until she decided that she wanted to spend more time writing than answering emails. Now she’s with St. Martin’s Press, so she can focus on what she does best. Seriously, though, read the interview down to the bottom: that’s the key.

The only difference between a writer and an author is time. And the only difference between a successful author and an unsuccessful author is equal parts patience and tenacity.

I is for Inspiration

Do you ever just run out of things to write about? Do you ever feel like you’re just typing and that what’s coming out is bland and boring? Do you need a fresh injection of creativity juice?

I rarely if ever have gotten what they call ‘writer’s block.’ I typically sit down and write when I get an idea. I know that many people say that it’s better to have a scheduled writing time, and I can see where that would be helpful (more on that later).

But sometimes, even in the middle of a project, I feel like the page is just not alive. At this point, I usually abandon the project and move on to something else. I’m not writing under contract and I don’t have any deadlines. But if you are a writer who has to come up with ideas due to definite obligations, you may need a shot of inspiration now and then. Oh, what am I saying? Everyone needs inspiration!

There are many ways to change up your writing. I have a pack of 52 Creativity Cards, which include writing prompts and activities, called “52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity” by Lynn Gordon. It’s basically a book in card form. The form is nice because the cards change it up. I also have a little writing prompt pamphlet that I got from the Loft Literary Center. It has some great little suggestions. And it’s so portable! And there’s always a good post on the Loft blog, The Writers’ Block.

Some of my favorite places to go for inspiration are books. On my desk I have a copy of Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. It is the text of a commencement speech that he gave in 2012 at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. It’s beautifully laid out with design by Chip Kidd, and it is full of inspiring take-aways, like ‘Don’t work for the money.’ Gaiman says that whenever he has taken a job just for the money, the work has been uninspired and unsatisfying. He also goes into detail about how he broke into writing (which wouldn’t work these days, unfortunately), and how he set his goals. It’s a lovely little type-designed book, in which I find inspiration just by flipping it open to just about any page.

The other book I have on my desk is a darling little hand-made book called From Tiger to Prayer by poet Deborah Keenan. It was published by broadcraftpress, a press run by her former students. This is hand-bound with a unique paper cover. The book is full of different types of prompts, like she will give you a title and you have to write that poem (“Look at These Altars”). Or questions to ask yourself. Exercises to do with visual art. Lots of questions. So good. I was fortunate enough to take a class with Deborah Keenan back in the old days, and I can attest to her wisdom and expertise. And gentleness.

One other place that I love to look for inspiration is the website run by Hazel & Wren, a sister duo that clearly have a dedication to literary arts. Hazel is a graphic designer, and she does a feature each week called Three Things. Because Hazel is a visual person, she uses three images to spark her writing prompt. Sometimes you are left to yourself to just let the images take you, but sometimes she will ask a specific question or give you something specific to do. This is great if you are inspired by art. Well, and who isn’t?

Other things you might try include writing your character’s bio, writing a scene from a different point of view, writing out an interview with a character, or somehow visualizing a scene or setting, whether you draw it or make it out of Legos.

Hope these ideas help you create that spark! We all need a little help from time to time. What inspires you? Where do you turn for inspiration?

Life Cycle of a Book

book-cycle-finalMore and more, I hear from people who are confused about the next steps in the publishing process. I hear from other folks in publishing that they are constantly getting queries about this. And I see deer-in-the-headlights at conferences and luncheons, classes and meetings.

It is confusing. There are so many terms to remember. So many players. What does an agent do? What can I expect from a publicist? How do I find a publisher? What about self-publishing? Reams have been written on these matters. And now, bytes and bytes of information is available. People need answers, they need resources.

Well, that is what I have set out to do here. Admittedly, it is taking a bit longer than I thought. I have not had the time to spend on this that I had hoped I would have. (I had the time, but of course it was eaten up by grief, sickness and sorrow.) And the time I did spend was taken up by technical difficulties that I had not anticipated (who knew?). There are lots more things that I will be including in this website coming up. Please stay with me.

But here is a lovely little graphic that might help you right now (from the fine folks over at Publishing Trendsetter). So on this, Good Friday, I wish you renewal. I think spring is coming, it really is, and I wish you hope and happiness in your endeavors. And I hope that I can help you on your publishing journey. Please do keep checking back. I’ll get this puppy running soon!

Your Own Olympics

OlympicsI love to watch the Olympics. I’m all about inspirational moments (yes, this means I also watch the Oscars and milestone events, like Jay Leno’s last show). This particular Olympics seems chock-full of stories of those who have persevered or overcome perceived obstacles like age and location, and the folks who have not rested on their laurels.

I’m talking about you, Armin Zoeggeler, the Italian luge racer who has won medals in six consecutive Olympics, which is a record for an individual sport. He is 40 years old and just won a Gold medal yesterday. Then there is Shiva Keshavan, the Indian competing under the Olympic flag because India was suspended by the IOC from competing. He has no coach, no track – he trains on a sled on wheels, whizzing along the streets. He is the one who fell off his sled on a practice run but was able to get back on it and finish the run – at something like 80 miles per hour. This guy doesn’t give up.

There is the Canadian snowboarder from Saskatchewan who trained on dry hills, because his home is so flat. There is the Norwegian who won Gold in the Biathalon at the age of 40. There is the Russian who competed in his seventh Olympics and at 42 became the oldest to ever win an individual medal in Olympic history (beating out the Norwegian Biathlete from the day before).

Everyone knows about Yevgeny Plushenko, who at 31 years old is the grandfather of figure skating, and who helped lead the Russians to the Gold in the first-ever Team Ice Skating competition. He said, “I try to forget all my titles. I want to open a new page in my book.” And this seems to be the key – who can make progress without trying a new trick now and then?

Plushenko said, “Four years ago I couldn’t imagine doing a quad in competition. Now I’m planning on two quads.” Well, he didn’t end up doing both of them, but he wasn’t afraid to try. Sage Kotsenberg won the first-ever Gold medal in Slopestyle with a trick he had never tried before: a Back 1620 Japan. For those of you wondering, that’s four and a half rotations in the air, corked (off-axis) and landed on your non-dominant side (backwards). He seemed as surprised as anyone, but certainly happy.

There are many more stories like this, of course. Who could ever forget the Jamaican bobsled team? This time, they lost their luggage en route, but it eventually showed up. Still, it didn’t seem to phase them; other teams offered to loan them clothes and equipment. The main thing is, that not a one of these people was afraid to try. They all forged ahead. They tried new things. Sometimes, they came back from defeat. Sometimes, they changed their attitude. In the end, they are all winners.

You can do this. You never know until you try. Make your own next chance, and win your own Olympics. Learn the new software, try the new tactic, make the new connection. Me, I confess I’ll be watching a lot of these stories unfold over the next two weeks, but I’m going to carve out some time to get my own game up to world-class competition level, too. What’s holding you back? What can you do today to bring your game a little further along? Where will you be in a year if you don’t do it?

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month? It started on November 1. You can sign up for free on the NaNoWriMo website, and then, if you complete a 50,000 word novel (presumably coherent) during the month of November, and upload it onto the site, you will receive a certificate and other goodies.

I tried this once, and it’s a great exercise, if nothing else. But honestly, they should do it some other month. November is a terrible month to be taking on a project like this. But someday, I’ll do it again.

What I learned before is that you have to do your prep. There are all kinds of planning aids available, and there are even meet-ups in some cities where writers can hunker down together and type away as a group. The common wisdom is that you need to write 4,000 words a day. Heck, who can’t do that?

It’s all about being part of something bigger. If you want to try it, it’s not too late. Get on over there, check out the forums and sign up for your very own NaNoWriMo.