Tag Archives: writing

Submit that writing!

(otherwise you’ll never get published)

large button reading Submit mounted on the wall

CC image Submit Button courtesy of johannes p osterhoff on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Has anyone else noticed that submitting work for publication involves a lot of decision-making?

You need to figure out which piece you want to submit. Which means you have to figure out if it’s ready to submit. Which means you need to make a lot of editing decisions, and before you know it, you might be sucked into a total re-write.

You need to figure out where you’re going to submit it. This involves the monumental task of finding places that publish. Do I want to publish online or in print or both? What genre am I looking at — or more than one? Am I willing to pay a reading fee? How much? Do I want to consider contests?

What are the deadlines? What are the guidelines? Do I need to trim words? Add words? What font and spacing do I need to use? Have I put the appropriate contact and identifying information in my piece (or refrained from using it if asked)? Dammit when was that deadline again? OK, next market!

Then there is the actual packaging. Find the submission website. Click through the options, enter the information, upload the file (this stage involves a revisiting of all the previous questions, as to whether the manuscript is ready, whether this is the best work, if I should edit it some more, if this is really the venue for me, whether I’ve formatted everything according to their guidelines, etc etc etc), SUBMIT.

This spring, I began the process of submitting in earnest. I’ve got all sorts of flotsam and jetsam pieces floating around, and I need to actually send them on their way. Along with a group of other people who were using each other for mutual support, I gathered to talk about places to submit what types of writing, and pulling together my choices for what I wanted to submit and where. The idea was to get at least six submissions out that day.

To be honest, I haven’t gotten to that last button yet [SUBMIT!], because I’ve been waylaid by all the other stages.

Dilemmas, dilemmas

First, I thought I had all these pieces ready. Turns out, I didn’t, because I rejected them for one reason or another. Only two or three were close enough to send-worthy, and even these, I wanted to edit.

Then I looked up a number of promising venues to submit these two pieces. That one sentence describes more than an hour’s worth of research — see paragraphs 3 and 4, above. Finally, I got my targets organized, and went back to my chosen pieces to make a few — only minor, really — fine-tuning changes.

The time for our group to meet ended, and I still hadn’t submitted a thing. That’s fine, I told myself. I can go home, have lunch, refuel the brain, and finish up the task from there.

You know what happened to that.

The death of good intentions in the fires of creative flip-flopping

My good intentions DID carry over, at least for a little while. I sat down to make the final polishing-edits on the one piece. The more I pulled it together, the better I felt about the prose, and I lost track of the time going by. When I got up for a drink of water, the afternoon was gone.

Damn. I had had other plans for the rest of my day. After all, I was going to submit in the morning, so all the rest of the hours could be allocated for other things.

That’s fine, I told myself, as I had to make a few phone calls and buy food for dinner. I have the rest of the weekend. I have the rest of the week — by next weekend, this will all be taken care of.

I could write you a list of all the other things I had to do during that week, but I won’t. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Research shows that we have a finite amount of energy for decision-making processes. Making a decision is a lot of work for the brain. We may start out fresh in the morning (or not, if you’re me, and the alarm goes off way too early), but throughout the day we deplete our stores of mental energy through use. Come mid-afternoon, I’m tapped out. Which is sort of sad, since I’m doing work for other people for most of the day, and my own time in the evening is then relegated to a period of vegetation on the couch, with a restorative book in hand or Netflix queued up on the computer… ah brainlessness… Pending the decision on what I’m going to watch or read, of course.

It seems to me that I’m just too stubborn.  My will will not submit.

== ==

What about you? Do you submit?

Euphemisms and Doublespeak: Here to serve you

Sometimes, my work space looks like this:

desk and tables covered with books and notes

Creativity at work

The space is like a notepad version of “Where’s Waldo.” Find the stationery with the story brainstorming list on it. Go ahead, take your time.

I call what you see here “creative chaos.”

What you can’t see in the picture is a lot of the floor. The floor gets very creative. At the epicenter of the creativity you can usually find my chair, unless it’s been a breezy day.

Merriam-Webster defines a “euphemism” as follows: “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant; also: the expression so substituted.” The word comes from the Greek euphēmismos, basically, speech that sounds good.

Another (accurate) description of my work space is, sometimes: an unholy mess. But that doesn’t sound nearly as nice as creative chaos. A good friend of mine used to joke about her messy room by plucking a desired item from an otherwise indistinguishable heap on the first try and announcing: “there’s a method to my madness.” I like that. The statement suggests intent. A plan. Decision-making.

As a writer, I like “creative chaos” for additional reasons. The phrase conveys dashes of artistry, productivity, and a possible relationship to cosmological Big Bang ideas. All very nice, indeed. My creative chaos underlines the fact that I am very busy and important (thanks, Bridget Jones).

Euphemisms are great. Politicians and corporations use them a lot. My favorite corporate-related euphemism comes up all the time in the avaricious consumerist holiday season replacing Christmas every year. If you turn on the radio or your TV, or the YouTube video you are trying to watch gets hijacked by some ad, you’ll hear a version of this doublespeak. It goes something like this:

“Do you like to SAVE? Shop XYZ Company this holiday season!”

No one has yet clarified for me how purchasing something involves simultaneously saving my money. But maybe that’s why I’ve never had more than one credit card.

Job descriptions are great for euphemisms, too. Here are a few, along with their real-world translations, that make the rounds occasionally in an email forward (one of my former co-workers had the full list pegged to the corkboard above her desk; I love people with a sense of humor):

  • Competitive salary
    “We remain competitive by paying less than our competitors.”
  • Must be deadline oriented
    “You’ll be six months behind schedule on your first day.”
  • Must have an eye for detail
    “We have no quality control.”
  • Seeking candidates with a wide variety of experience
    “You’ll need it to replace three people who just left.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be recognized for my broad range of experience and ability to meet deadlines, than tasked with balancing a row of spinning plates while not earning much money.

The same kind of language manipulation happens a lot in the food space. “All natural” is one of my favorites. What does “all natural” mean? If you ask a flavor scientist, you might conclude that their answer has no bearing on your question.

I could write a lot about the ways we parlay language like a shield — which is kind of the point. Euphemisms are great. Not just for job interviews and food marketing, but also for Jane Austen and George Eliot. (What is the society in Pride & Prejudice if not one giant euphemism pond? Mr. Bennett: “I have not the pleasure of understanding you.” One sentence encompasses conflict, character motivation — and humor).

Euphēmismos — the tension between what’s said and what’s really meant. Which is the place that a lot of good stories and jokes come from.

Therefore, I deduce that I have some great stories coming out of this writing work space. If I can locate them in the pile of papers.

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Is there a method to your madness?  Let’s hear some of your favorite turns of phrase below.

housing development

Why I don’t like story outlines

(or planned communities, for that matter)

I lived in Colorado Springs for a few months when I first arrived in Colorado. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived. I had orchestrated my place to live through email and Skype, and had a few names of friends of friends that I could contact. But I was On My Own.

housing development

like a giant cornfield… image courtesy of GeekPhilosopher.com

I arrived a little over two weeks prior to the Super Bowl. Despite being a total newcomer to the area, I found myself partaking in the festive American ritual of The Party, courtesy of one of these friends of friends. It was located in the far-flung northeastern corner of the Springs, north of the Air Force Base, in one of the many housing developments that characterize most of the Springs’ residential arrangement.

For those who have never been, Colorado Springs roads are characterized by quite a few large, north-south routes on either side of I-25, and only a few good connections east-west, topography creating a bit of a road building challenge which results in bottlenecks. There is a compact downtown, and a small historic district called Old Colorado City (which was once a separate town), but most of the rest of it looks like a template for Suburbia.

Heading out to the party, making my awkward west-east connections, I drove past housing developments and strip malls. These followed a steady rhythm internally as well as externally. Neighborhoods often had limited entry and exit points via main roads; the web of streets within the neighborhood featured houses that were in many ways very similar to each other; sometimes there was a walking path nearby; sometimes there was a park in the area; in order to visit this park (if applicable) or any kind of store, residents needed to get in the car and drive to a parking lot or one of the strip malls or store groupings concentrated around a big-box mega-center such as Target. Each neighborhood functioned as an entirely discrete unit, which, however, was strangely isolated from practical things like corner stores, gas stations, and parks.

My Super Bowl party hosts lived in a development situated on a bit of a rise. Coming in from the main road, I was granted a vista to the west, where the sun was slowly setting, glinting over a sea of roofs which looked, from this distance, like the interchangeable pieces of a Monopoly set. Indeed, despite the red twinkle indicating storefronts for various malls, it looked like one enormous, homogeneous neighborhood. I was reminded of the overhead shots during the opening credits of the series Weeds.

It got me thinking. About planning and an adherence to logic and order. About variations on a theme (think music, the visual arts), and what makes some variations more pleasing than others. About organic growth (not like in your garden), and checklists.

I don’t want to get into a discussion on the relative merits and drawbacks of planned living communities, since that’s not the focus of this blog, but I do see a connection between this type of reliance on planning in the physical world of infrastructure, and in fact within companies, and planned art.

Almost everyone that has set out to tell (write) a story, whether short or long, at one point probably considers the question: would it be wise/profitable/advantageous/required/etc to have an outline, a sort of blueprint, so that I have a basic idea of where I’m going and can make sense of the act of getting there?

And in fact there can be many pros. The more complex the subject is, or the greater the number of characters, or the longer the story is, the more helpful it can be to have a kind of cheat sheet for organizing our thoughts. But in my experience, the difficulty is then in keeping this cheat sheet in its proper place. Because it can become very tyrannical. No, so-and-so is supposed to be here at this particular time, and he has to feel this way about this, otherwise we’ll lose the whole plot…

And then it seems to be inevitable that just a little farther down the road, the story gets really hard. It’s like a three-year-old in the supermarket, throwing a tantrum.  It doesn’t like anything I’m suggesting, the characters are in a torpor (“Hey, you tell me where we’re going!”), and, despite the fact that there’s a Plan in place, nothing makes any sense anymore.

Know the feeling?

Every time I try to plan something, it doesn’t work out. The story withers on the vine and calcifies. I can water it as much as I want; it’s not going to bloom. But the outline was so logical! It was meant to help me out. What’s going on here?

Good stories, in my experience, have a life of their own (this is what I mean by organic). The problem with outlines is that they often act like the bait on a spring-loaded trap, which when I reach for it, drops an iron cage over the lush garden of the story with a sign mounted on it: Caution! Agenda at Work! And then I can’t get at any of the plants. I can’t prune what needs pruning, and uproot the weeds. And I sure can’t plant anything new.

I think in the Springs they were mostly overtaken by the growth in the population and the need to provide housing. I surmise there was an army of planners requiring X type of services for Y number of people, and that there was a budget. But I couldn’t help regretting the loss of an actual neighborhood. With a corner store that I can walk to, to buy a sandwich and a newspaper.

That’s the dangerous thing about having story outline, in my view. It becomes the budget; it becomes a checklist of requirements. Blueprints are great for many things. But they don’t leave a lot of room for new stuff.

An Artistic Statement for Writers Part 2

Feeding the Roots

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the absence of information I was able to find about creating artistic statements for writers. This week, I’d like to offer my own thoughts on why this might be, why I think it’s important for writers to create one anyway, and ideas for scaffolding this tool.

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Artistic statements for writers are treated differently than artistic statements for visual artists. Visual artists are advised to create their artistic statement around a body of work — if not their whole oeuvre, then a distinct, thematically-linked portion. Writers are encouraged to create an artistic statement for a small, specific purpose: a particular project, or an application for a literary grant.

I agree with the usefulness of creating a unique statement for literary grant applications, but it is not the same thing as the artistic statement is for visual arts. Visual artists create artistic statements for public purposes: gallery exhibitions, portfolio preparation. Writers, if they do create artistic statements separately from individual applications, may do so from a more private desire to conceptualize a particular writing project for themselves.

While I think that’s useful, we writers are cheating ourselves if we never create an artistic statement that addresses the totality of our relationship with our art. Writing is a process of discovery — of ourselves, as well as our characters or our topics — which can only make our future writing better. I got some fascinating insights about my vision by creating my own artistic statement — although it was never meant for public consumption.

The bonus for creating a writer’s artistic statement is that we can poach that language for many other materials: personal websites, event bios, press releases, and so on.

A writer’s artistic statement is about vision. Visual artists have to drill down with words.  Writers need to get words to coalesce into something bigger.

What about you? Have you got a vision? How do you know?

Ideas for scaffolding an artistic statement for a writer: feeding the roots

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I like Natalie Goldberg’s analogy of good writing as composting. It involves the mingling and enriching of disparate-seeming ideas over time. The first thing to do, therefore, is brainstorm.

I’ve shamelessly stolen a lot of the structure of the following from Molly Gordon. The questions about writing are my own.

Take a few minutes and think about why you write. How did you get into writing? How do you feel when work is going well? What are your favorite things about your work? Jot down short phrases that capture your thoughts. Don’t worry about making sense or connections. Use a pen. Don’t delete, cross out, or throw out that sheet of paper to start fresh (in other words: no editing!).

Next, make a list of words and phrases that communicate your feelings about your work and your values. Include words you like, words that make you feel good, words that communicate your values or fascinations. Be loose. Be happy. Be real. These are all potential compost ingredients. It’s no time to be selective.

Continue your exploration by answering these questions as simply as you can. We’re not editing yet — let it all hang out:

What is your favorite genre? Why?
Do you ever play with other genres? Why?
Do you like to begin your work from a grand idea? from a small detail? from a character/person? from place? Why?
Do you prefer to write long-hand or using a computer? Do you use a digital recorder and transcribe thoughts and notes? Why?
What do you do differently from the way you were taught? Why?
What inspires you?
What patterns emerge from your work?
What do you like best about what you do?
What do you mean when you say that a project has turned out really well?

Go back to your word list. Add new words suggested by your answers to the questions above.

Choose two key words from your list. Look them up in a dictionary. Read the definitions, and copy them, thinking about what they have in common. Look your words up in a thesaurus. Read the entries related to your words. Are there any new words that should be added to your list?

Write five sentences about your relationship to your work. Be truthful. How do you feel when your work is going well? How do you start? How do you know a piece is done?  What do you want your readers to experience?

Take as much time as you need to brainstorm. To get good dirt, you’ve got to add a lot of material and keep turning it over. If you’re patient, it’ll do all the work for you.

Can you smell it? What are some words that you love?

An Artist Statement for Writers

Part 1

Recently, I’ve started looking into grant applications for writers. Nearly all of these require an already-produced body of work, which is unsurprising. What I hadn’t thought about, but what is also quite logical, is the inclusion of an artist statement.

image courtesy of geekphilosopher.com

Most of the information that I’ve been able to find on artist statements focuses on or pertains to visual artists, such as the scaffolding/thought process that Molly Gordon puts together on her website here. I thought hers was an excellent exercise. My only quibble, if you can call it that, is my wish to find something like this tailored for writers. Molly’s outline contains questions about the medium the artist uses, or what tools, or the part color plays in the work.

Despite the fact that I am no visual artist, I went through the exercise myself, and highly recommend it. It helped me open up my mind and explore my thoughts and feelings on my art. (Personally, I have to fight a tendency to begin editing my work almost as soon as I have a sentence or two down on paper or on the screen, which immediately puts up creative blocks and walls in my work before it gets anywhere.) As I did so, I toyed with the idea of re-purposing Molly’s outline for a writer. For example, “selecting materials” pertains obviously to the visual arts: acrylic, oils, stone, textiles, etc. For a writer, it would make more sense to think about what form or genre or type of writing they are focusing on: short stories? creative nonfiction? poetry? novels? memoir? How does the kind of writing affect its structure? “Tools” may be the computer or longhand for a first draft, books as reference or inspiration, note-organizing software, and so on.

Then I thought, if something like that could help me, surely others could benefit from it also. And: surely something like this already exists.

I began searching for an online resource like Molly’s for writers, and I’m still looking. Maybe it’s a search-engine ranking thing, and the search results are keyed into visual arts; perhaps there is something way down in the search rankings that refers to writers, and if so, it’s a crying shame that it’s so well hidden.

Maybe there’s a bias towards explaining the artistic statement to non-writers, because their area of focus has nothing to do with words.

Maybe I’m just not looking in the right place. (Always possible.)

But maybe it doesn’t even matter. Why should that stop me from putting together my own  outline or suggestions for a writer’s artist statement? The fact that one novel exists doesn’t stop the lot of us from writing more. The fact that one short story got written doesn’t mean none of us can ever write another. Talk about throwing up obstacles to creativity.

In Edward Burger’s recent article about the importance of unstructured thinking, he talks about organizing our reactions to ideas into three categories: positive, negative, and interesting. The premise is that we judge an idea, and whether it is a failure, based on a previously conceived notion of what success is, despite the fact that some of the most revolutionary ideas were unintended and unforeseen consequences of something else that “failed.” For me, the artist statement definitely falls into the interesting category. I’m not sure exactly where it’s going to go, and it might end up someplace else (apologies to Yogi Berra).

So in my next post, I’ll share what I’ve come up with — a starting point, a series of ideas around the construction of an artist statement for writers. Your thoughts, and your friends’ thoughts (and the thoughts of your cats and dogs) are welcome. (Just no hairballs, please.)

In parallel with this, I am still on the hunt for resources, exercises, templates, or examples of writer’s artistic statements already available. If you have any links or suggestions, please shoot me an email through this website or leave the information in the comments. The more sources, the better. I’d like to put them together in a follow-up post or otherwise organize them under a resources page (TBD) so that they can benefit other writers.

So let’s get to it! What do you think? Got any ideas about artist statements for writers? I’d love to hear feedback from visual and other artists, too.