Tag Archives: submissions

You Mean, You Have to Practice?

“A thousand books on tennis won’t improve your serve, but a thousand serves will.”
~ Rick DeMarinis, from an excerpt of his article printed in The Writer, November 1985, and reprinted in the November 2010 issue.

~

As I sat in a hallway at work the other day, I overheard someone practicing the tuba. The music climbed the scale with perfect tone but then squealed and tumbled into low vibrations, like the sounds of a diesel truck unwilling to start. I flashed back to a recent conversation with my son.

“Mommy,” he said, “I want to play the trumpet.”

“That’s excellent!” I cheered. Then, I rattled off stipulations and requirements that he ignored until he heard the word “lessons.”

“No, mom. I don’t want to take lessons. I just want to play the trumpet.”

Oh.

Right.

My son and I are not so different in that way.

“I just want to write a novel.” How many times have I said that before?

In the beginning, I didn’t have time for books about the craft or a writing class or advice about failed first novels.

“I just want to write,” I repeated.

But, writing – like tennis or trumpet playing or…anything, really – is rarely done well the first time or the first hundred times. To hone my writing skills, I needed diligence, a willingness to learn, and a daily commitment.

And, I needed to practice.

I understand that now, so I practice my writing in several ways.

1. Morning pages. Every day I write one to three pages — of rants, self-doubts, or goals for the day. Often, I start off by reminding myself what day of the week it is, a challenge in itself sometimes. Occasionally, I record a milestone, like a draft complete or a short story’s Honorable Mention.

2. Letters to my best friend. Inspired by Lynn at The Letter Jar, who is on a mission to compose 365 letters in 365 days, I began writing letters to a dear friend with two small children. Phone calls are near to impossible when you have small kids at home. Besides, a hand-written letter is a treasure after a long day of laundry, meals, and redirection. While it’s a different kind of writing, it draws out my creative side just the same and often leads to story-telling. Plus, I reconnect with my dear friend in an old, and more intimate, way.

3. Writing exercises. Every other Wednesday, I face a strict deadline to post a story, by midnight, based on a word prompt. While the deadline is self-imposed, I have good reasons why I don’t blow it off: 1) I am motivated to write something new, 2) I stretch my writer’s mind by forcing myself to write outside of the box (a psychopomp might stand at your death bed wearing a hooded cloak or he might just show up in a Mets cap), and 3) each attempt at the exercise reinforces my commitment to writing.

4. Submitting. I’m not talking about submitting to my inner editor or the lackadaisical attitude of my muse some days. I mean, that whenever and wherever I can, I submit a completed story. I’m a firm believer that there’s much to be gained in the practice of writing cover letters, following submission guidelines, and crafting the ever-painful three sentence bio.

5. Reading. Nowadays, on top of novels and short story collections, I do read books and magazines on and about writing. Then, I translate my experience as a reader into my perspective as a writer, by writing a post about an inspiring article or interviewing a guest author.

6. Writing workshops and Author Readings. Workshops help me grow as a writer in the areas of craft and in giving and receiving feedback (which complements all lessons learned about writing). Also, when I attend an Author Reading, I learn the art of not sweating buckets or passing out while standing at a podium, in front of a roomful of peers, reading your story.

(Lordy.)

What kinds of exercises help you practice your writing?

[tweetmeme]

Curiosity, Minus the Cat

Writers, by nature, are curious people.

We are always searching for the who and the where and the what, digging up answers from our psyche – or the psyche of an imagined character – to create story after story.

We question other writers, too, asking How do you do it? How do you survive the absence of your muse? What do you say to someone who doesn’t write, who rolls their eyes to find you hiding in the basement – again – huddled over your laptop?

How do you spend your days? We want to know. To answer this very question, Cynthia Newberry Martin hosts a guest author once a month. Every bit of detail I read in those posts either inspires me or connects with me in such a way that I find the confidence I need (yet again) to call myself a Writer.

So, it should be no surprise that writers get tagged now and then with three questions or twenty-five or (this time) eight. Suzanne Conboy-Hill and Ann M. Lynn both tagged me, and it’s taken me way too long to respond. I can whip out a flash fiction story in half a day. But, ask me something about myself, something I should be able to answer easy enough, and the first response you’ll hear are crickets.

“Me?” *nervous laughter*

SO, here are eight tidbits of information about me, along with links to three other writers whom you might want to check out for yourself. No formal tagging here – I took too long, game’s over I’m sure – just simple recognition.

And, thanks Suzanne and Ann, for the questions!

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have?

Telepathy. There, I said it.

I won’t lie. I obsess about every submission I send out. Wouldn’t it be lovely to know the second an agent or an editor picks up my submission with their very own hands?

Yes or No. Yes or No. One flash of a thought in their minds, and I’m on my way – to strangle my muse or to celebrate. No wait times, no checking and re-checking the inbox, no more stalking the postman.

2. Who is your style icon?

If we’re talking wardrobes, then I’m in trouble.

For fashion guidance, I depend on the goodness of my friends. Friends with money and with taste. I accept hand-me-downs without hesitation, because – left to my own devices – I am a fashion disaster. So, if you see me wearing something sassy and in style, you can assume I got it from a friend.

3. What is your favorite quote?

It’s difficult for me to choose a favorite quote. There are so many great ones that I love about life and about writing. I latch on to one quote that strikes me on a particular day, but the same quote might not mean as much to me the next day. So, here’s one I’m holding onto this week from Mary McNamara’s recent article in the Los Angeles Times:

…[I]f you’re a writer, you don’t write for money or fame or a chance to dish with Oprah Winfrey. Basically, you write because when you’re not writing, you’re even more cranky than when you are writing.

Yep.

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

“Ever?” I have a terrible memory. That’s one reason why I write — because I forget the things I insist on remembering. Recently, though, my favorite compliment came from my daughter who’s almost four.

“You look beautiful,” she said. Her eyes traced my outfit from head to toe.

She ignored the three blemishes on my face that might suggest I’m fifteen and not forty. Then, she stopped at my feet and gave me the eye.

“Except for your shoes,” she said.

She’s anti-Birkenstocks, and her comment reinforces my answer to number two above. Left to my own devices….

5. What playlist/cd is in your CD player/iPod right now?

Every year, Fall throws me into a melancholy mood. One of the ways I survive that mood is to play lilting music that rises and falls and lifts and carries. Ingrid Michaelson has been on my mind a lot. But the other day, this song struck my fancy:

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

A night owl. Late night hours are the most quiet times at my house. Plus, I’m just lazy before the sun comes up.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

To this I say Achoo!” and “Pass the Claritin.” I love them both — from a distance.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

I am forever running out of time. When I decided I wanted to pursue my writing for real, I knew I would have to do it during those moments in between — moments that are fleeting as soon as they start some days. And, I like hard and fast deadlines.

There you have it, more than you wanted to know. Now, along with Suzanne and Ann, here are three more writers whose blogs I read and tweets I follow — for inspiration, for lessons in the craft, and/or for a good laugh:

I’m off now, to practice my telepathy.

I’m sending you messages right now to leave a comment and retweet this post (stack those stats).

Just kidding.

(Sort of.)
[tweetmeme]

Back Online and Dreaming

I’ve had little time to write lately, and that disconnect is beginning to wear on me.

Today, I stared at a blank screen.
The blink
Of the cursor,
A taunt.

“Write something. Anything.” I told myself.

I searched through my files for an old writing prompt to stir me into new material, and I found this one from an online course I took with Ariel Gore:

Allow a beautiful vision of your life to come to mind.

As cliché as it sounds, this is a great time of year for me to reflect on the past and envision the future — especially when I sit in front of a screen and wonder, what do I, little writer that I am, have to offer?

Reflecting on the past year, I see that I passed more benchmarks in writing this year than in the past:

  • I saw my work in print on the pages of a few different publications.
  • I “met” several writers online who offer encouragement, support, and excellent feedback on my work.
  • I wrote almost every single day, in the form of a post or a rewrite or morning pages.
  • I signed on to Twitter and found an even greater pool of resources and authors online.

Small successes, I tell myself, are as important as signing with an agent for a three book deal (though maybe not quite as exciting).

This year, I dream:

  • I find time to write every day — not just minutes pieced together here and there but good, solid, time.
  • I see myself opening my email to a message from a literary magazine, saying “yes.”
  • I watch my hand reach into an envelope and pull out a check for a story published.
  • I envision holding a finished manuscript, passed through the virtual hands of beta readers, reworked, and queried.

Then, I imagine I put down my manuscript and turn away. Let the story go, I tell myself, and let it land where it may.

I step outside into the brisk air of early summer. The wind raises goosebumps on my arms, but the sun warms my back. With bare hands and a spade, I dig in the ground for a while. I turn the soil. I wake the earthworms. I plan a plot of fresh herbs, tomatoes, maybe some wildflowers.

What do you envision this year?

Do you calendar your creativity?

It’s raining today. And, rain makes me pensive.

When I think too much, I generally come up with too  many questions. Lately, my mind keeps cycling through the same topics, and I’m not coming up with any clear answers. So, my fellow writers, I’m putting my questions out to you.

It’s fall. The leaves are changing. The air is crisp. It’s harvest time.

And, in the writing world, the time is ripe for submissions. Several great literary magazines open their windows for unsolicited manuscripts or essays. Writing contests abound. Where do I start? How do I prioritize? How much quality writing time can I squeeze into my schedule?  I formulate my writing plan on Monday. On Tuesday, I change it.

How do you plan? Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe you just write whenever the story strikes, about whatever rises to the surface. Maybe writing contests and calls for submissions never figure in to your plan.

Really, I want to know.

  • Do you open your calendar at the beginning of the week and pencil in an hour or two of writing every day?
  • Do you work up a stack of great stories you’ve written before you ever look at calls for submissions?
  • Or, do you siphon through the list of writing contests and your favorite literary magazines or sites first, and then challenge yourself to write a story that fits?

Better yet, do you waste your precious writing time trying to figure out your perfect plan for writing?