Thursday, October 22, 2009

Submitting Your Writing for Publication…. Ouch(?)

When it comes to writing, how many ideas do we have “on the shelf” that never come to fruition? I for one have a few. Because of the hard work and vulnerability that come with submitting for publication, I usually wait until I have a deadline and am forced to write. I have progressed and regressed in this area, often going through a phase of enforcing self-discipline with writing pretty staunchly for a few months, only to retreat back into my non-writing comfort zone when other areas of life get too busy.

Turning the Tide

I have come to realize if I only write when I have an assignment and a deadline, that's all I'll ever do and my contributions to our A/P writing ministry project will be minimal. I'm trying to prayerfully think through my motives and then push myself to not just write more, but also submit things. So… for me this meant setting a personal goal to submit three essays or short stories to literary journals between now and May.

My First Serious Writing Contest

So I am 1 for 3. Three weeks ago I submitted an essay to a literary magazine holding a writing contest. It was a big step for me because this wasn’t an assignment—I didn’t have to do it, and nobody would know if I wimped out and didn’t submit it at the last minute.

#1 – That’s why as step #1, I consulted a writing mentor. I explained where I was with the issue and got some much needed encouragement and advice from someone who’d already been down this road. Beyond the valuable advice, I also had someone to keep me accountable and ensure I went through with it.

#2 – Next I prioritized my life around the submission. I immediately discovered an invisible clause of Murphy’s Law: the contest deadline will always be at the worst possible time—in my cause in the middle of General Conference when we were swamped with an unprecedented amount of work at the College. My testimonial out of this is that you can write no matter how busy you are—if you really want to. I cancelled my personal life (no emails, phone calls, or going anywhere other than work/church/home). I set a schedule and at 11:00 each night stopped wherever I was with work and then wrote till 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. I’m not saying it didn’t almost kill me, but it got done.

#3 – I obsessed about every last word. I had trusted readers pour over the piece and give me very constructive comments to strengthen it. I read, re-read, and re-read over and over until I’d seen the work from every angle and was completely satisfied with it. The end result was the most genuine piece I’ve ever written—not just a neat idea I hammered out one evening, but something deliberated over and methodically crafted. In this step I learned the value of perfecting our craft.

It's Not So Bad

I’m relieved it’s over, but more so I’m really gratified for the experience. We make submitting for publication such a psychological thing because of the vulnerability and rejection factor. Maybe with all of that we've taught ourselves to unnecessarily dread the process. The bottom line, whether or not our work gets accepted, we're developing our craft and building a culture (helped along through this Word blog) that can foster other writers. And slowly but surely in Jesus' name, we are seeing A/P writers break into the literary published world and give our faith a presence.

Final Challenge

Dear aspiring writer, what are you doing to help give A/P culture a voice? What goal can you set toward releasing your work into the great unknown (yet beckoning) arena of the published word?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fact or fiction?

This week I’m making the jump to Word from Notes, trading places with Kent. So if you were looking forward to his post, hopefully I will not disappoint and you can catch Kent the next time around.

This summer I read a book which moved me more than any other I have read in quite some time – or maybe ever. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski is a tale about the human condition, of physical handicap and mental illness and revenge. The main character, Edgar, is a young boy who is mute and who lives and breathes for the special breed of dogs to which he and his family have devoted their lives.

But, alas, this is not a book report, so I will digress from telling the story and hope that you, reader, will make it a priority. (To steal a line from Bronte…..). Rather, I will say how fascinated I am when an author can speak so clearly to the human condition through a work of fiction. Half the time while reading Edgar I felt like I was reading some self-help book through which I could sort out my emotions and responses to life. Was this book fact or fiction? Or both? Now, granted I'm not versed in all the in's and out's of literature (remember, I belong on the Notes blog), but I have to wonder and the ability of an author to weave such truth into a story.

For instance, my favorite character in the book is one of the Sawtelle dogs – Almondine. Just saying her name brings comfort and sadness, even now. She is this sensitive, loyal dog who adores Edgar and almost takes on a human persona – and you find yourself rooting for her and thinking that if she were just there in moments of Edgar’s distress that somehow things would work out okay. How can an author take an animal and make it so human while still allowing it to keep it’s canine characteristics?

Then there is Edgar himself – this beautiful, mute child who ends up dealing with great tragedy in his life which in the end shapes him and causes him to grow and make difficult choices which will ultimately shape the outcome of the story.

Oh! I wish I could give away the ending – but that would spoil it. I will say that I grieved the ending of that book for a few days. I read faster and faster as I neared the ending – pacing the floor for the last few pages, hoping and willing the outcome to be what I wished for.

You’ll just have to read it for yourself – and I do hope you will.

Monday, October 12, 2009

All the Difference

I'm intrigued by turns of phrase that change meaning depending on perspective and context.

Just and the Unjust
We normally think of the scripture that God sends rain on the "just and the unjust" as meaning that bad things happen to all. But that's because modern minds think of rain as negative. In the original Biblical context, it meant that good things happen to all. In a primarily agricultural society, rain was a definitely good thing.

The Messiah
I'm reading a book on spiritual growth called Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson. He describes the Last Supper and footwashing scenes in the gospels through the disciples' eyes in ways I hadn't really thought about before. Jesus' words " I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you" and "Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14: 18-19) are comforting to us. Words of peace and hope. But to the disciples, they were disheartening words of disillusionment. They knew Jesus was the Messiah but they had expectations for him to publicly and triumphantly deliver Israel from her oppressors and reign. Jesus' words were communicating to them that that wasn't going to happen.

The Road Not Taken
That passage from Secrets of the Vine reminded me of a literary example, that widely anthologized and oft quoted poem by Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken":

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I grew up believing the poem to be uplifting, especially the last two lines, as lauding the decision to take the road that "wanted wear" as virtuous and adventurous. But with further enlightenment and further examination of tone, I came to the conclusion, as do the usual world-weary critics of literature, that it was actually one of regret, or at the least, a sobering reflection on the irrevocable nature of, once made, our choices.

Not to end on a downer. It's just that I'm fascinated by how differently one thing can be interpreted by many.

P.S. Get the scoop on the Nobel Literature Prize winner here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Freelancing A Dream

I’m enjoying a special thrill of freelancing: seeing my byline in a prestigious (albeit niche) magazine. The Writer is the oldest continuous writing magazine in America and the November 2009 issue features my contribution to its best-known regular feature—“Why I Write.” (It's at the very bottom of the page.) Plus it pays real money.

After I got over the initial euphoria of achievement, I realized how easy the entire process had been; I knew I had to share it:

1. Find a well-known author to interview—this is easier than it seems if you’re near a major metropolitan area. Many bookstores and libraries publish their upcoming author visits in advance. Visit their web sites often. If you’re not near a metro area, attend writing conferences.

2. Query the big magazine (and some little ones)—Email the appropriate editor at The Writer (or big name magazine you’re hoping to appear in) to see if they’re interested in the interview. If they are, you’re in. Caveat: This assumes you’ve studied the magazine to understand their needs.) Query some smaller magazines and web sites as well with the same inducement. IF they all say yes—O blessed day—just use different quotes and styles for each publication.

3. Snag the interview—Google the author’s name + “agent.” Email the agent/publicist a short message that includes what magazine(s) and /or web sites you’re conducting the interview for, as well as literary clips (book reviews, interviews, essays) you’ve earned to prove you’re serious.

4. Conduct the Interview—Read the author’s latest book(s) to ask intelligent questions. Ask for a contact email for follow-up.

5. Write your Article(s)—Follow the magazine guidelines. Contact the author with follow-up questions. Most writers I’ve dealt with will email you back (instead of talk over the phone).

6. Submit the Article

7. Smile when they ask for rewrites—That means they’re going to publish it.

Two Notes:

  1. I’ve used this process before and been rejected by The Writer (and other magazines). That’s why you line up more than one publication.
  2. I emailed The Writer last June, 2008 and was told there was a backlog for my feature if I was willing to wait. I reminded the editor in a short, friendly email of my interest around January 2009 and he contacted me in the Spring that it was scheduled. It’s taken over a year, but it’s worth it. It’s on newsstands now.

Yours can be on the newsstands soon. It’s that easy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Win $5,000 on Your Story

Dear Friend of TMR,

Haven't submitted to our 19th Annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editors' Prize contest yet? You're in luck. Because server outages affected online entries for several days, we’ve extended the deadline for contest entry to October 9. Don’t miss your chance to win $5,000 for your short story, essay or poems. This year's contest offers over $15,000 in prizes -- $5,000 per genre in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Past winners' work has been reprinted in the Best American series. Each entry is $20. All entrants receive a one-year subscription to The Missouri Review either in print or in the new environmentally friendly digital format, which includes bonus audio content. You can enter online or by mail. For details, check out our webpage:

Thanks to everyone who has entered. We look forward to reading your submission!

All our best,

Kate McIntyre and Joe Aguilar

Contest Editors