publishing

Redefining “Writing,” and doing it every day/ by Nate Chang

I’ve heard a lot of writers over the years thumping the “write every day” bible. While I applaud their dedication and zeal in the service of our craft, I have a few issues with the daily writing philosophy. I tried writing every day last year. I got about six months in before I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I’d cranked out two rather expansive novels and got halfway through a third before the muse in my head started throwing empty vodka bottles at me and shouting at me to knock it off and let her rest for a little while. While your muse may be a bit more taciturn than mine, I have met few other writers who were willing or able to write 180,000 words in six months. Why? Because we burn out. Because the human brain can only sustain a good creative bender for so long before we either start cranking out garbage, give up, or something much worse happens.

Does this mean you can’t or shouldn’t write every day? Of course not. I only suggest that we reconsider what “writing” means to us.

Writing is Rewriting

Any editor, good friend, beta reader, or killjoy will tell you that while the first job of every writer is to write, the second job of said writer is to rewrite. Unless you just plan on letting your stories collect dust – a terrible waste – you’ll need to do some rewriting/editing/revising/whatever you want to call it. As I tell my students, “nobody just shits literary gold.” Not you, not me, not J.K. Rowling, nobody. Nobody gets it right the first time, and so it falls to us to go back through our work and make it better. Utilizing the axiom that writing is rewriting, our new definition of writing must include rewriting.

Writing is Brainstorming

IMG_3285.jpg

Sometimes we need to stop and consider what it is we’re doing. It’s all too easy to get lost in a moment that we love, blinded to the fact that we may be writing something that nobody but us will ever want to read. Maybe our writing has gotten stale, we’ve hit a wall, or one of a million other things has come up and rendered us creatively inert. In such times, it’s helpful to stop working on the main project and do a bit of brainstorming. Use a new document, that leather journal you bought but haven’t written anything in yet, or that scrap paper you’ve got here and there. Take a step back and let your mind work out the kinks in the big project, then go back to it when you’re ready. Fair warning: this may take a while.

Writing is Self-care

As writers, we often let our creative minds get the better of us, and we forget to take care of ourselves. We neglect going to the gym so we can get that extra 500 words in, or we “forget” to eat right because we can keep writing a little longer if we order a pizza so we don’t have to stop to cook or clean. We bail on family and friends because we procrastinated all day, and it’s only at 11pm that we start the day’s writing. It’s tantalizingly easy to shirk our needs and responsibilities for the high that fulfilling your creative needs brings. What’s worse, we may be working long and/or arduous hours in a soul-sucking job we hate that has left us naught but husks of human beings. Trying to write in such a husk-like state is, in my experience, ill-advised, as what comes out of my brain is embittered and anything but useful. Of course, all things in moderation. If “self-care” involves a pint of ice cream and binge watching Stranger Things again, it might be time to dial it back.

Writing is Publishing

I remember a scene in the film Amadeus where Mozart’s father Leopold asks him if he’s taken on any pupils.

MOZART: I don’t want pupils. I have to have time for composition.

LEOPOLD: Composition doesn’t pay.

While we’re not all teachers, the idea remains the same: if all we do is crank out story after story, how is anyone going to read them? Eventually, we’ll have to dedicate some time to writing query letters, working with agents and publishers, and the rest of what’s involved in sending our stories out into the world. Working toward getting your work to our readers is absolutely worthy of being called “writing.”

“Write” every day

Armed with our new definition of writing, we’ve got a much more manageable life ahead of us. While compositional “writing” is the cornerstone of what we do, living as a writer and “writing” must include something more. While I cannot advise writing every day, I heartily endorse writing every day.

29249905_10213612052033010_3077953669472190464_n.png

Nate Chang is a genderqueer author and professor of English, currently living south of Seattle, Washington. Their work has appeared in The Pitkin Review Literary Magazine, Paper Tape, and Soul’s Road: a Fiction Collection (although you might not know it was them.) They enjoy musty old books, weird comics nobody has ever heard of, and model tanks.

Wrote a book? Hang on, you're not done yet/ by Suzy Soro

SuzySoroQuote.jpg

Did you write a book or are you thinking about it? Whether you’re published by the Big 5, an indie publisher, or self-published, there is more work to do after you release it into the wild. Work that is much more tedious than writing it, which is already incredibly tedious. Writing a book turns out to be the easy part.

Let’s review your pre-publication checklist:

1. Make sure your cover, when it’s thumbnail size on all your social media accounts, is readable. Unless Tom Thumb or a Lilliputian is looking at it, no one will be able to decipher your thumbnail except the people in the movie Downsizing. I’ve ignored this directive on both my books and will continue to disregard it because if people are staring at my thumbnail rather than reading my book, I’ve got larger problems.

2. Try and increase your social media accounts. I can hear most of you groaning, but it needs to be done. Publishers are reluctant to take on books if the author doesn’t have a substantial social media presence. Twitter is where I sold the majority of my indie-published book, Celebrity sTalker, and Facebook is where I sold most of my second book, Mommy Tried to Kill Me, which I self-published. While I still post links on Tumblr and Ello, I had to drop LinkedIn when they sent me a notice that my friend Steve had died and asked me to “Congratulate Steve.” I’m guessing their algorithm is stitched together with alcohol and sleeping pills.

3. A great editor is a key to your book’s success. But editors cost money and while you’re waiting for the Prize Patrol to show up at your door with your first check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse, find some beta readers who either teach English, have a Ph.D. in English, or are just know-it-alls. But beware of the know-it-alls as they might try to tell you that you spelled your name wrong. Do not use family, close friends, or people who owe you favors as beta readers. They thought your ugly Christmas sweater was pretty, remember?  I use people I interact with on social media that I’ve never met in real life. I ask them to be brutal and not to spare my feelings, which sometime during the writing of the book have vanished anyway.  

4. Run your manuscript through the online app Grammarly.com. It’s free, but you can update it to a more vigorous and painful version. The painful version may flash these words: 13 critical errors, 21 advanced errors. And while this may also refer to your love life, it will show you where the mistakes in your work stand out. It will also find unoriginal text by checking against a database of over eight billion web pages. The updated Grammarly, at $59 for three months, is a bargain. Say it with me, “Commas are not my friend.”

5. Climb Mount Everest. It’s the same as trying to browbeat people into reviewing your book. You need reviews if you want more sales so begin the quid pro quo with your friends’ books now so that you can hit them up when you publish. Good luck, Sisyphus.

6. Read your manuscript out loud and backward. According to some, it’s easier to catch mistakes this way. I was once stopped for speeding, and the cop asked me to count back from 100 by seven. I laughed because I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t.

7. Keep your day job.

 

Suzy Soro is a writer, standup comedian, and actress. You might have seen her on Seinfeld, in the episode where she got the last chocolate babka, ranked 25 out of all 169 episodes of Seinfeld. Or you might have seen her on Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry David calls her an asshole because she refuses to take off her sunglasses when we're inside eating lunch. Suzy has traveled the world doing standup comedy, working for both the USO and MWR, and she toured the United States and Canada with her own comedy group, Single, Married & Divorced. Her first memoir, Celebrity sTalker is about all the Hollywood celebrities she has annoyed over the years. Mommy Tried to Kill Me is her second memoir. Her work also appears in four anthologies, available on Amazon. Follow Suzy on Medium.

FinalFinalFlagCover.jpg

Publishing: Get rich quick? Nope, but there are rewards/ by Carolyn Porter

My book has been out for four months. I’d tell you to envision me sitting poolside at my new fancy mansion, checking an ever-increasing bank balance, but that would be a disservice to both of us. My editor is delighted with sales, and the book has gotten good reviews, but here’s the truth: I didn’t turn into an overnight bajillionaire. Quitting my full-time job is not an option. 

But I have reason to suspect people think otherwise. “Are you going to move?” both my husband and I have been asked. Repeatedly. “You still work?” someone remarked with surprise at a bookstore reading. A half-dozen book clubs have made the assumption I would be available any weekday for a leisurely afternoon gathering. And I’ve received cross-country invitations to speaking events, though the organizations expected me to cover airfare and hotel. It’s as if people believe I am equally flush with cash and free time.

I try to give them slack, though, and answer questions with kindness and transparency. I probably harbored some of those same perceptions before learning the realities of publishing. 

So, let me share a few things I’ve learned these last few months:

Publishing a book is a numbers game. 

In 2015, 338,990 books were published in the United States (new titles or re-editions).* That’s 928 new books every single day of the year. 38.7 new books every hour. One new book every minute and a half. By the time you’ve finished reading this blog post, two more books will have been published. Consider that fact with kindness because each new book represents years of work. Each new book represents an author’s total commitment to that project. It’s tough to compete with so many other titles on the market.

Publishing a book might not change your financial life. In fact, it probably won’t. 

Even in traditional publishing, there are expenses to bringing a book to life. I paid thousands of dollars to a developmental editor, thousands more for promotion, and spent countless hours writing and editing—time that could have been spent pursuing paying client work. And I did all that fully aware of this frightful statistic: the average U.S. nonfiction book sells less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.**

Publishing a book requires fierce dedication, commitment and sacrifice. 

The writing process, especially while holding a full-time job, requires a complete, give-it-everything commitment to the project. Ready to give up television, time with friends, time working out, cooking for fun, or whatever it is you do for recreation? Writing a book requires hundreds—if not thousands—of hours of time at your desk (and inside your own thoughts) when you might otherwise be doing or focusing on something else.

Marcels-Letters-Cover-Mini.jpg

Publishing a book requires thick skin. 

I’m still trying to find the vitamin that will help me grow it. Ready for rejection? Multiple rejections in a single day? Ready for every single person you meet to have an opinion about the book’s structure/pace/ending/tone/content/language or cover design? Ready to read breezy reviews written by people who only seem to have a marginal comprehension of the facts of the story? Or those who judge the book against criteria of a different genre? It will happen. But if you keep in mind the reason that compelled you to write the book in the first place, the harsh opinions seem to sting less.

So, if publishing is financially unrewarding and emotionally taxing, why did I write “Marcel’s Letters”? It was important to tell Marcel’s story. I chose to commit time, energy, and money to the project to ensure his story wasn’t lost to time. Even if I never break even on the project, I will tell you it was worth every dollar, every ounce of effort.

Publishing a book has unexpected and delightful rewards.

Along the way, I’ve befriended other writers who are equally committed to telling their stories. I’ve launched myself far outside of my comfort zone. I’ve met passionate readers. I’ve seen both tears and joy (and tears of joy) on people’s faces as they talk about the book. I even received a handwritten note from my Kindergarten teacher congratulating me on writing a book. I’ve been buoyed by unexpected cheerleaders. I’ve gained a sense of satisfaction knowing for a few hours I transported people to a different time and place. I’ve been told I’ve inspired people to write, to design, to pay attention to typography, to think big. 

Do you have a story important to tell? Tell it! Start writing today. Go work on it now. Seriously. Right now. If that story inside of you is so big, so strong, so full of life that it is going to gnaw its way out of you with or without your help, figure out how to make time to write it down. Start crafting a work of literature, not just a number. Start cultivating thick skin. Start believing you can.

*. https://www.statista.com/statistics/248335/number-of-new-titles-and-re-editions-in-selected-countries-worldwide/

**. https://www.bkconnection.com/the-10-awful-truths-about-book-publishing

Carolyn Porter is a graphic designer and self-professed typography geek who designed the font P22 Marcel Script. Released in 2014, the font has garnered four international honors, including juried selections for the 2015 Project Passion exhibition, typeface competitions by Communication Arts and Print magazines, and the prestigious Certificate for Typographic Excellence from the New York Type Director’s Club. The book, “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate,” recounts Carolyn’s obsessive search to learn whether Marcel Heuzé, a Frenchman conscripted into forced labor during World War II—and whose handwriting provided the inspiration for the font—survived to be reunited with his beloved wife and daughters. Carolyn lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Carolyn Porter is a graphic designer and self-professed typography geek who designed the font P22 Marcel Script. Released in 2014, the font has garnered four international honors, including juried selections for the 2015 Project Passion exhibition, typeface competitions by Communication Arts and Print magazines, and the prestigious Certificate for Typographic Excellence from the New York Type Director’s Club. The book, “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate,” recounts Carolyn’s obsessive search to learn whether Marcel Heuzé, a Frenchman conscripted into forced labor during World War II—and whose handwriting provided the inspiration for the font—survived to be reunited with his beloved wife and daughters. Carolyn lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Finding success as a published writer/ by Crystal Barnes

IMG_2659.jpg

For those who write, whose goal it is to be an author of any sort, and who believe it is their calling, I believe they will never give up on making it their career. There will be no point to because they will never stop writing regardless of outcome; it is simply what they do.

While the writing part—whether it be essay, poetry, article, or fiction—often comes easy and is joyful to a writer, the other part—getting written work noticed—doesn’t always come easy, and isn’t always joyful to a writer, such as myself. The following are four values that I have come to learn are necessary for any writer to succeed in getting published and establishing a writing career.

Passion.

First, one must have passion. A writer must naturally have an interest—a joy in writing and want to do write whether or not they become published, receive recognition, or earn income from it. Passion will prevent or eliminate any discouragement that tries to set in when goals are not reached or hopes fall through. Passion is the driving force that picks writers up and encourages them to reestablish goals, ultimately pushing them to try again. 

Patience.

Second, a writer must have patience. Patience will allow writers to cultivate works that can stand on their own for years to come, much like a garden. If a writer lacks patience, most, if not all actions and decisions will be impulsive and poorly made, thus likely leading to failure. Patience makes a significant difference in areas such as self-publishing, which requires creating a clean and polished body of written work. It also means developing a solid and strong marketing strategy, including established professional connections, and a significant and active audience. Establishing those things alone take time—even obtaining the right resources and finances to create a professional body of work. Although some writers have found publishing success with a small audience or few resources, if you look deeper into their stories, they still exercised patience to market their work well.

IMG_2652.jpg

Fearlessness.

Third, one must not fear what lies ahead, or fear the unknown. Writers can’t be afraid to share their work with the world, including making financial sacrifices, especially in the area of self-publishing where writers benefit by creating something that looks professional and stands out. Writers also shouldn’t be afraid to invest in travelling to events, such as writing conferences. Of course, writers should take well-thought-out and purposeful actions. If one feels in their mind, and even heart, that they must do something in order to reach their goals, fear of letting go, fear of what others think, or fear of the unknown, should not get in the way.

Humbleness.

Fourth, writers should develop humbleness. Learning to accept and hear feedback is not always easy, especially when negative. However, that skill is essential to developing fearlessness. Being humble means being able to accept criticism or negative responses of your work without being defensive or giving up. Some criticism is good because it can bring to light aspects of writing that may not be connecting with others. Humble writers are able to open their mind to see things that may not have been obvious early on. Of course, all this is useful when you receive constructive criticism and not vague criticism, such as “I don’t like this.”

Another point—negative feedback is inevitable, especially as your audience grows and your work becomes more known. Some may even provide constructive criticism that you may not agree with. But at the end of the day, it’s best to take this feedback with a grain of salt and move on. You as a writer know your work best. Decide what to do with the feedback you receive. But anticipate these things, don’t take them personally, and use this feedback to build fearlessness and grow as a writer.

In Conclusion…

IMG_2681.jpg

Building an audience and getting your work read by others takes time—it doesn’t happen overnight. I learned to never forget, to never lose the reason why I began writing in the first place—because I enjoy it. To me, writing is my outlet to set my mind free and express how I feel about others, things, and myself. It is my chance to create a world—a life that I don’t necessarily have or live, but envisioned myself to. It is a chance for me to face challenges that even as I write, I don’t know how those challenges will pan out. Your writing should be genuine—you should have fun. If you don’t have that, then nothing else will surface. Don’t see your audience as a number—a goal to obtain. See them as an important community to interact with, get to know, and learn from. Any successful audience is one that is responding to what the writer does, whether that audience is big or small.

But quite possibly, the most important thing I have come to realize is this: writing (especially creative) is more of an art form than that of a technical form, which must meet certain criteria and follow guidelines in order to be adequate enough to be presented to the audience. When writers focus more on the business side of writing, such as seeking agents and publishers, writing can lose its art and start to be tedious work, as it once became for me. There is no wrong or right way to write a story or poem, as long as it’s readable and free of grammar errors. To me, there is no such thing as an unintentional silly story or poem because you never know what readers will like. Who knows, your off-trend and unique story could start a new trend as others have done before.

Crystal Barnes is a writer and blogger on her website, Writer’s Bounty (www.writersbounty.wordpress.com). She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association and a book reviewer for Bethany House Publishers. She is seeking representation for her contemporary fiction stories and lives in Saint Paul, MN.

 

 

Turning Angst into Art: The Story Behind the Writing of Clear Out the Static In Your Attic/ by Isla McKetta

When I’m not writing I’m angsty. When I’m angsty I’m not writing. It’s not a good circle and it can be a hard one to escape. But sometimes, just sometimes, I’m able to harness all that angst and turn it into a full manuscript. I’ve actually done this three times now, this is the story of the book that’s been published, Clear Out the Static in Your Attic: A Writer's Guide for Transforming Artifacts into Art.

Working in marketing can be an interesting way of getting inside the mind of an audience and honing your writing to make the most of all the triggers available to you as a writer—from the heightened sensitivity of stretching time during a momentous scene to knowing which words you can ____ out without affecting a reader’s understanding of your text. Writing for marketing can also be a soul-deadening experience of feeling like you’re pulling puppet strings rather than connecting with human beings. It gets worse when your department of four is suddenly shrunk to two but the workload is not.

When this happened to me, I had the good fortune to be working with a fellow writer. Rebecca Bridge went to Iowa for poetry which means not only did she have the writing chops, but I was also deeply intimidated by her.

So when Rebecca saw the Write Bloody book contest was looking for how-to books on writing and that she thought we could write one together, I flattered, inspired, and scared.

I was feeling down and pretty certain I had neither the luck to get accepted nor the energy to see another book through to publication.

But things at work were going from bad to worse and I needed an outlet or I was going to spend every night for the rest of my life weeping. I took Rebecca’s lifeline and we started conceptualizing the book. Most writing prompt books are simply ways to get writers’ brains started, and the format is relatively straightforward. We wanted to do something more to make the book more memorable/marketable, to give beginning writers something to hold on to, and to make the book fun for us to write. I never could get the line “static in my attic” from “Channel Z” by the B-52’s out of my head and we worked around that, thinking about all the things that might be in an attic and how those could translate to interesting exercises for writers.

We were lucky that the publisher was looking for a proposal to start because we had one month to get that in. We wrote an introduction for the book and six exercises. We also took a clue from Write Bloody’s personality and created a list of selling points in the quirkiest but savviest ways we could, from “We use our MFAs from Iowa and Goddard to write really good words that people like reading“ and “There are two of us which means we can cover more speaking engagements“ to “We stole the title of this book from the B-52s.“

It worked! The contest ended on March 31. By April 9, we had an email saying that we were among 20 finalists and they wanted the final manuscript (including at least 50 prompts) by May 15. Fifty prompts is a lot of prompts to write, especially on such a short timeline, and I’ll admit that Rebecca and I stole more than a few minutes of work time for brainstorming and writing. Rebecca is more creative than I am and I’m better at deadlines so we played off our strengths throughout this process.

We still struggled to come up with the full list and sometimes wrote things that were terribly duplicative. But we kept working on the book and found a form that worked. The prompts started to separate out into three categories that mirror the writing process: Inspiration, Carpentry, and Finishing Touches. Each prompt included a little essay about where it came from or how it related to our work, the prompt itself, an example using our own work, and a list of books that exemplify the technique at hand. The reading list was my idea. Not only did I find the annotation process extremely helpful in grad school but recommending books to people is my favorite thing.

We finished! On May 15 we looked a little like this:

 

And on June 12 we watched this video anxiously to see if we’d been accepted:

Round about 2:25 there was a big exhale! We’d done it!

There was a lot of back and forth with the publisher and polishing the book over the next year, but by April 2014 Rebecca and I had our book in our hands. That’s not to say it’s been a great commercial success, most books aren’t. But when I open the pages of Clear Out the Static in Your Attic: A Writer's Guide for Transforming Artifacts into Art, I still get the “I can’t believe I made this” thrill.

And success attracts success. Somewhere during the year we were editing Clear Out the Static, my thesis was accepted for publication by Éditions Checkpointed in Paris as Polska, 1994.

Lessons I’ve Learned

  • When you’re feeling awful, grab at the things that feel like opportunities, even if you don’t think you’re completely up to them.
  • Break your project into manageable chunks so you can see the next endpoint clearly. That gives you roadmap and a chance to reward yourself along the way.
  • Put yourself on a tight, but achievable, schedule. A little pressure can help you work through the hard parts.
  • Help others when you can. Whether you choose to collaborate on a project or just use each other as touchpoints on a lonely journey, a buddy is invaluable. Some of my best writing buds are the ones who manage this retreat and this blog. Although I usually do my best writing on my own, we all help each other out when we can and I’d be lost without them.
  • Project the best of yourself into the world, even when you’re feeling badly. You want a publisher or agent who wants the you you want to be, not the one who thrives on nursing you through misery.

Submit!

If you’ve turned your angst into art and that art looks like performance poetry (no writing prompt books this go-round), try submitting to this year's Write Bloody submission contest. The deadline is July 21. You can do it!

No matter what form your writing takes, write. And when life is too hard to write, do it anyway.

Isla McKetta Isla McKetta is the author of   Polska, 1994   and co-author ofClear Out the Static in Your Attic: A Writer’s Guide for Turning Artifacts into Art. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Goddard College and reviews books at  A Geography of Reading . Isla makes her home in Seattle.

Isla McKetta Isla McKetta is the author of Polska, 1994 and co-author ofClear Out the Static in Your Attic: A Writer’s Guide for Turning Artifacts into Art. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Goddard College and reviews books at A Geography of Reading. Isla makes her home in Seattle.