The Arrogant Author

Totally talking about myself here. It’s funny that I can feel like the worst writer to ever put pen to paper yet at the same time be incensed when someone criticizes my writing… let along rejects it.

Because secretly I think I’m the bomb. I’ve had just enough success to make me … well, not honestly humble.

And it makes failure burn baby.

I write something, you know just toss it off, maybe edit it a bit and send it in. And there’s a sureness in me that sets me up for that pain.

Back, about a million years ago it seems, I took an intro to English at what is now Southern Indiana University. My professor was Dr. Thomas Rivers. He was cool, and probably so damn bored teaching basic essay structure to kids who were supposed to already know basic essay structure. But he was funny and I liked his class. I was an Accounting major. I didn’t like Accounting. So I looked forward to English 101 with Dr. Rivers. Then came our first big assignment. I procrastinated and at zero hour I tossed off the essay (on weeds) and turned it in. (At that time in ancient history I had to type it..on a TYPEWRITER!). And I waited.

The essay came back a few classes later. I sat in my seat (in the back of course) and my eyes filled up with tears. I couldn’t breath and I wanted to run out the door (which I was also very close to).

Failure? Far from it. A++ YOU CAN WRITE. It said. Once we all had a chance to look at our papers and our grades Dr. Rivers started class. And he called my name. He asked for my paper back (which did not have one red mark on it anywhere.) And in front of the class he held it up. He read it. And then he asked for my permission to keep it as a teaching tool for future classes.

I was beyond floored. I was speechless. I was happy yes, but mostly I was terrified.

I ran into Dr. Rivers a couple days later in the commons and he asked me to come to his office hours. He gave me my first copy of Strunk and White. He offered to work with me. And he was very happy I had taken his class.

I dropped the class two weeks later. I’m 54 now and I’m still terrified that was the best thing I”ll every write.

But I’m arrogant about it too. Because it was in there. It was from me. I wrote that. I earned that. And I somehow expected every piece from then on to be THAT level of perfect.

When it’s not that level I’m devastated and full of insecurity and doubt.

And that’s been my mistake. Since those days at USI (then called ISUE) in 1983. Yeah I copped to it.

What I’ve learned that got me into the a couple magazines.

  • Keep going. I didn’t and I should have. I would have learned a lot from a heaping helping of disappointment.
  • Write every day. It’s a muscle, this gift, but it atrophies if you don’t use it. My arrogance said it was always there for the taking. I took it alright, took it for granted.
  • Hold the piece like it’s going to be awful – sort of weird advice maybe. but I’ve sent in a lot of stuff before it was ready. If I’d have waited a week, re-read it, I would have been aware of the flaws. Or more of them.
  • Get some flippin deadlines. I’m so much better with deadlines. I focus and think things through but not over think them.
  • Get some damn humility! Not humiliation. Let people other than your mother read your work. Get in a writers group and be confident, but don’t act like you’re a gift to the group.
  • Read for someone else. Seeing how to help them be better helped me objectively see how to make my work be better
  • Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, they say, it’s thinking of yourself less. When I thought of a piece I’d just submitted I realized my mind goes right to the accolade, the raves, the validation. I forget to focus on the voice of the piece and the sharing of that story or article for what it has to offer. I wrote it for a reason. The idea came to me for a reason. I just have to focus on the voice.

I did go back to school. Finally. Graduated from University of Iowa. With professors just as amazing as Dr. Rivers. They’d also seen they’re share of good writers. It is Iowa afterall. And their input and CRITICISM was and is invaluable. Obviously more so than the raves. At least for me.

How bout you?

Addressing rejection

I entered a short story contest a few months back. I expected to place. I truly did! The field was small and I liked my piece. It carried weight, that snapshot of life vs plotted out action arch, characters where solid.

I didn’t win. I didn’t place. No honorable mention. Not even a participation ribbon.

This surprised me. Took me very much aback actually! In my writing life I’ve been used to a decent amount of success. In school (about a million years ago) I was touted as a breath of fresh air among struggling writing students. I was even mentored.

That success scared me. I even dropped out of college once because of it. I was afraid one day I’d produce writing that wasn’t fawned over. Pieces that weren’t held up as teaching tools to future struggling writers. That weren’t acclaimed. That were rejected. That didn’t win.

Like the piece I submitted to said competition.

So what happened? I’ve pondered this for some time and if, like me, you’ve come across your first real failure as a writer, let’s chat.

  1. It was inevitable.  Cold hard truth.
  2. I was arrogant. If you’re all puffed up it hurts worse to get the air knocked out of you.
  3. It wasn’t personal. Yes my work is me, no my failure on this contest isn’t a definition of me or my ability.
  4. I. was. rusty.

Of the 4 things above what can I address that would make the experience a benefit instead of a reason to retreat into Netflix for two weeks (or more), trying anything to drown out the negative self-talk going on in my head.

Well. All of them of course.

Inevitability

The more you put yourself out there the more chance of rejection. Law of averages. Not every judge, not every agent, not every editor is going to see my work as the next coming of Hemingway. AND even if I were, it may just not be their preference.

To be hones this wasn’t my first rejection. It was the one that took me off guard.

Like slipping  on ice. If  you go out side on an icy morning, say twice a year and don’t fall, you may think you’re a gifted ice walker. If you go out 20 times and don’t fall you start to take that ability for granted. If you then go out 40 or 140 times… you’re going to be surprised when you biff it. But you probably are going to biff it. And someone will see and snicker into their mittens as they ask if you’re ok.

The solution isn’t to hide for ever from an icy driveway or sidewalk. The solution is to fall gracefully. Because it will probably happen again. Some day, somewhere, some cursed February.

How? Accept the possibility of falling every time. But GO OUT ANYWAY!! Just tread carefully. Which brings us to the next…

Over Confidence

But this is my new Saturday Morning Blog-jot and my timer just went off.

Next week: The Arrogant Author

Iowa City Book Festival Time!

My favorite time of year in Iowa City is FALLLL!! And while everyone is clamoring for the best tailgating space and cramming in to Kinnick to watch the Iowa Hawkeyes beat whoever dares to enter, I’m preparing for the biggest event of my year…

Iowa City Book Festival!

October 1-7, 2018

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Iowa City is just as famous for the literary culture as for it’s football, in my book even more so. After all, it is literally why I moved here!  Iowa City is home to the one and only Iowa Writer’s Workshop; a program that has turned out such literary giants as Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, T.C. Boyle, Jane Smiley, and Marilynn Robinson.

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The first American City to be a UNESCO City of Literature. And is still one of only 20 to have been bestowed the honor!

So books around here are kinda a big deal! And my favorite time is Book Festival! I’d already perused the bookfestival website the second the author lists came out and, as per usual, was wowed by the quality and diversity of the authors coming to give readings.

46 this year!! And wonderful range of fiction and non-fiction, genre and literary, political and essay. I was having a hard time trying to figure out which authors I’d like to go hear when I noticed a post on my facebook page.

Volunteers Wanted.

And I realized. I LIVE in IOWA CITY! I don’t have to go to this venerated event. I can BE A PART of it!!  So I signed up.

I will be introducing an author. And I will have to work hard not to fan girl out. Authors are my quarterbacks, my rock stars! And I can not wait to meet:

 

Sunni Overend author of The Rules of Backyard Croquet

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She will be reading on October 6th @ 11:30 a.m. MERGE, 136 S Dubuque St, Iowa City, IA 52240

I’ve been  racking my brain to remember where I’d been introduced to this book. It wasn’t the local book store (also a famed Icon in the city) Prairie Lights. It wasn’t walking through Barnes & Nobel on my way into the mall. It had to be on the review sites I follow because The Rules of Backyard Croquet is an Australian book and it will take me a little time to get a copy! (it’s on the way!!).  I hope that the festival changes that and it will be everywhere soon!

There’s still plenty of time to plan a visit but if you can’t, follow along here:

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If you get to come out, stop in and say hi! I’d love to meet you!

Writing Through Writer’s Block

Blocked?

I have been, and then not, then yes.. but mostly I doubt and I can’t write. Which I supposed is blocked.

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I have recently acquired a wonder tool against block. A writing partner.

Someone else who is writing, fighting, plodding, running wild with ideas and it has been fantastic. We meet about once a month to review where we are, or commiserate on where we’re not.

Recently, I hit a patch where I was frustrated enough and filled with so much doubt I was read to call it quits. Be a reader. Enjoy y’all but retire from the game. My writing partner had some helpful suggestions.

Write.

Well, duh. I thought. My inablility to do that to my own satifation is the whole issue. But my project wasn’t what she thought I should be writing about.

Rather, she said, speak to your demons.

My demons. So I thought about it and came up with 10 questions to write through writer’s block:

  1. What do you love about your favorite books?
  2. What did you love about writing when you first started?
  3. How do you feel when you read something wonderful?
  4. How do you feel when you write something you like?
  5. How do you feel when you read something you think is  not great writing?
  6. How do you feel when you write something you think is not good?
  7. Who do you compare yourself to when you don’t like your writing?
  8. When you dislike your writing do you doubt your skill?
  9. When you have doubts why do you doubt the project or your talent?
  10. If you love to write and have a passion for it, do you BELIEVE that is reason enough to continue to pursue writing?

Because I’ll clue you in.. the answer to that last one? Is yes. If you have a passion. If you love writing but you find yourself stuck. Doubting. Frustrated. Blocked… write these. Not from the writer, not from the reader, not from the teacher or the audience, but as the person who has something not everyone does, a love of story and the desire to communicate it.

Who knows, you may just find a facet of character or a storyline in your answers that will rocket you right through the toughest wall. Letting that creativity loose!

 

Graduate of the University of Iowa

I’ve finally done it. I’ve completed my Bachelor’s degree AND I’ve gotten what I really wanted. A Certificate in Writing from the University of Iowa!

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I didn’t walk for my graduation. Because my daughter graduated on the same day with her traditionally earned degree in Secondary Education. She’s now a certified High School English Teacher.

With my Certificate, I am going to finish the novel I worked on, and find a wonderful agent who can help me place it with the right house.

I am also getting involved with the writing community in Iowa City and all the opportunities to encourage fellow writers that it offers! I believe it is important to stay around fellow creative people. Artists, and writers, and musicians and craftsmen. Their energy fuels my energy!

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Book clubs too are great places to keep in touch  with the pulse of the literary world and how readers are feeling about literature, weather it’s old, new, or in between.

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and of course, I am carving out dedicated time to write. New stuff. and different dedicated time to re-write, to edit, to revise when the heat of the moment has passed and I can look at the work analytically.

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But above all, I am going to enjoy! I went to college with every good intention at 18 like a good girl… and now at 51, that journey is finally finished. … or maybe partially finished.

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There’s always graduate school. Wouldn’t an MFA look nice?

 

 

Mission Creek Festival – Welcome to Iowa City

It was the first nice weekend of the year. It was the first big festival of the Iowa City festival year. And it was one of my first weekends in the area! Mission Creek Festival was like my welcome to Iowa City.

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A smorgasbord of cultural events focusing on literature and music, this event was never on my radar before but certainly right up my ally!  (for more details: http://missioncreekfestival.com ).

I’m sad to say that as a new comer to the area, I don’t really have anyone yet to go to these types of events with so I was only brave enough to venture to a couple venues. I attended a panel discussion for Iowa writing students made up of professionals in the publishing industry.  Wonderful discussion on the opportunities in that career path and great insider tips for those who are, like myself, hoping to get published. My favorite panel topic was ‘what not to do’ or “did you have any authors who turned you off right away?”.

  1. Always be gracious!! These are industry people who are typically overworked and underpaid and it is wonderful that they can take the time to consider your piece at all. Make them feel appreciated
  2. Get. Their. Name. Right. One of the panel was the amazing Kristen Radtke and she said she has writers misspell her name…and it’s right in the email address. Lazy and rude!
  3. If you use a form cover…make sure you change the house reference. There was an instance where the opening sentence was correct, but later in the cover it said “I would be honored that xyz house would consider my work for inclusion.” except it was the Wrong House! The panelist said she emailed back “well you should email them then..”.
  4. No mass emails. Janaka from Black Ocean said there was one that was a mass email that didn’t even bother to BCC the others in the group. That was ugly.
  5. Pitch it elevator style. No more than two or three sentences explaining the piece. Short and surgically  to the point!
  6. Focus the pitch on
    1. why you…credentials, publications, expertise or experience
    2. why now…what makes this readable at this time
    3. why this house…especially this one. be selective about the fit!
  7. Proof read. Proof read. Proof read!! Have someone else do it too, sometimes you’re just too close to see the errors.

Aside from the sage advice and fascinating anecdotes of the panel, I was wholly impressed with the crowd size and attention of the mostly early 20’s crowd that was standing room only at the venue at FilmScene and their extremely astute and mature questions! There is talent dripping with intelligence out here boys and girls. Get ready!

After that LitCrawl kicked off and I was able to partake of at least one venue’s offering. And it was stellar!

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I attended the event hosted by White Rabbit of wonderful poets presenting their work to a packed house! A well deserved packed house! The readings were amazing. I was in 7th heaven.

Except for the whole, attending alone thing. But hey, next time maybe I’ll have found some folks to rub elbows with and I’ll have a new social circle to spin in around Iowa City as well as at the festivals.

 

Saturday Scramble

Since I work full time and pursue my writing in the hours that aren’t dedicated to being the corporate cog that I am, Saturday’s are a precious commodity. This Saturday doubly so.

We are nearing the end of the semester and the crush of writing to complete is a constant pressure. I need to get a decent 10 – 16 more pages done on Independence for Advanced Fiction.  This piece is both my life’s achievement and nemesis. I want it to be done. That’s what I want. I’m not getting it done. That’s my big problem. I don’t think one piece of this story has flowed smoothly. I have not ever had that moment other authors talk about where ‘the characters just took over and I just couldn’t type fast enough..heeheehee…I had it down in like about a week.” Nope. Not Independence.

I’d be ashamed to admit how long I’ve been working on this story. Just to think of it makes me want to snap all my pencils in half and delete Scrivner.

It’s been so long that now it’s personal. It’s this damn book or me. I have to wrestle it out to not feel like a literary failure. Independence can not win.

But once it’s out, Independence will be a winner.

huh. whaddya know about that.

Writer’s are weird…

 

THAT time again..

Writer friends, you know the time… Revision time.

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I’m working on the Bay Town books right now. Revision is such a tame word for the work that needs done on them. Or the time it will take. Silly ole day job goes and gets in the way right now too.

I’m talking major overhaul here and frankly… I’m intimidated by the whole thing.

So I’m here, mouse in hand, begging for some sage advice. Writers! Ahoy there! When you are afloat on the sea of revision in the eye of the hurricane that is writing a book, with the far wall approaching, WHAT tools do you use in the revision process?

Do you play with POV, do you write out the chronology? Do you map characters? Do you do all this heavy remodeling on screen or do you print out?

I’m new to Scrivner having used WriteItNow in the past. I keep hearing that Scrivner has more functions. Unfortunately (maybe) for Baytown 1: Into Each Life, it will have to live on WriteItNow since Scrivner won’t import their files. Or maybe this program I’m using will be just fine!

If I’m over-thinking this, let me know. I tend to believe perhaps I am. Since I have a blog post written yet nothing revised on Into Each Life. (Good indication of major brain freeze and procrastination)

Which brings me to another point. What about procrastination? In my heart of hearts my deepest desire is to write. But it’s exhaustive and daunting at times and it’s difficult to clock in that seat time. I feel like in order to produce work I’m practically morphing into another world when I put my brain to my characters and story. When I’m done for  session, or interrupted, which is more common, I feel as if I’ve just returned from a demanding dream, nearly a nightmare, a fugue state, if you will.

My only strategy against looking at my work as Sisyphus looked at the rock is simply immersion therapy. I have to do the work and do it consistently!!… again… for those who just scanned to here… CONSISTENTLY!! Do It Daily. That means every day. For at least a set time. 30 minutes, an hour? Carve it out. If it takes me 15 minutes to morph into the story, then I carve out 45 or an hour and 15 to write. If I’ve got story hangover for 10 after I’m done, I tack that on.

What I’ve found when I do this… and No, I don’t always do this (more on this later)… is that it doesn’t take me as long to morph. It doesn’t leave me as exhausted and I perk-o-late better. My story sticks with me and my waking brain can play with it even while I go about other duties. (But not at work, don’t worry Boss, I’m always focused on work there! *cough cough)

Sometimes though, sometimes… it takes the fugue to break through from an ok piece to something greater. It takes that soul immersion.

Writers! Do you find this? Do you schedule? What else works? Carry a notebook? Give Siri notes? Let’s hear from you!

While I solicit advice, I also know that when it comes to writing, whatever helps make your work better is what you do. What ever tactic, or method. What ever time or type. Print the whole bad boy out or work on a dual screen or on your laptop. With a crowd of people or workshopped with your writer’s group, or alone with Game of Thrones soundtrack in the background. (which is me, today,  and actually counter productive to Baytown which is not very Thron-ie at all.)

These revision have sat here, ruminating, for months. I’ve meant to get to them. I really have. It’s a course called the Art of Revision in my curriculum at University of Iowa that, to continue the Sisyphus-ian analogy, got me to put hands to boulder and start pushing.  I’m excited to be back at work and back in class and looking forward to a productive fall as well. It’s one more step to seeing what I can do with all this. As old as I am it just may be too late to be looking, but at lest I’ll never have to wonder.

I’m also hanging out with baited breath waiting for the release of the Wapsipinicon Almanac with my essay in it. And hoping I can volunteer to appear at readings.. like the one that will take place at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. That would be a bucket list item for me for sure!

Next time.. I’ll get into that whole Why-I-don’t-always-do-what-I-know-works thing. You know… the I should do this, or I should do that. You should join me for it!

 

 

 

Ya win some…Ya don’t

Yes I was super pumped about the positive experience with the Almanac. Riding that I saw a tweet saying there was a contest ending  that day for a well respected literary magazine that shall remain nameless to save my chagrin.

I happened to have a nice little literary piece that I thought might do pretty darn well. So I quickly submitted it. And giddy me wrung my hands for months happily awaiting the time for the announcement of finalists and then winners. But I didn’t exactly know what that time was.

Curious, I visited the website to look for information. Now this illustrious publication is produced in conjunction with a famous writers program at a state university. Aside from being distracted by some links to some amazing pieces, I found the link to the contest.

I couldn’t find a date per say. But my eye was caught by a HORRIFYING sentence. Remember how I just said ‘I quickly submitted’. Well I meant that. I very very quickly submitted. I submitted SO quickly I didn’t read all the rules. I read hardly any of the rules.. Ok OK I didn’t read the fuckin’ rules!!

“Student’s of (insert name of state university with the illustrious writing program here) are NOT ELIGIBLE!” *emphasis on bolded capitalized words is mine. I wish it had been theirs*

Not only was I not going to win, I was not going to be considered, I probably wasn’t even going to be read, and I wasted an entry fee,

but most of all… I’m embarrassed before my peer group. I’ve made an unprofessional and bumbling error for which I feel ridiculous.

My question to the two blog readers out there… do I write and rescind my entry? Do I write and admit my mistake? “Sorry I don’t care about the fee, but please disregard my entry?” “Sorry I was blinded by the looming deadline for a publication that has my utmost respect and is on my bucket list to be included in?”

I liken it to meeting your celebrity hero. How many times have we heard the stories of literate, normally eloquent people saying the most cringe worthy things when face to face with the object of their admiration? Like at an after party when, a tad over inebriated, I turned and stepped on someone’s foot and said. “oh God I stepped on you!” and looked up into the face of John C. Reilly. Yes, Wreck’ em Ralph, Step Brothers, John C. Reilly.

Yup. That’s me. Miss Grace, Miss Debonair.

All in all, I think it’s not a career killer. The mis-entry, not stepping on John C. Reilly. But then, what do I know 🙂

Wapsipinicon Almanac

I’ve seen it for years. Of course I have. It’s published just a few miles from here. But many of you haven’t. And, sadly, many of you won’t.

It’s the Wapsipinicon Almanac. A small independent press literary publication. And it’s a treasure.

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Now right off the bat I better say that I felt this way even before the acceptance of my essay for next years issue. (which I simply could not be prouder of!)

Full of essays, short fiction, memoir, and op ed along with some good ole fashioned almanac advice, the Wapsipinicon Almanac is delicious from cover to cover.

“well if it’s such a treasure,” you say, “why won’t I ever hear of it?”

There’s a specialness that goes oh so much deeper than the stellar writing and poignant eco-conscious writing. It’s the physical being of the pub itself. You see, Tim Fay, the publisher, editor, and main man at the controls, prints the Almanac on a century old letter type press. By hand. Once a year. He has some help with the setting, but 99% of the operation is in his hands start to finish. Which results in a fantastic publication of limited number. So get it quick if you want it!!

Liz Zabel at the Cedar Rapids Gazette wrote a nice article a couple of years ago covering all the intricacies of what lengths Tim goes to and what a labor of love it is.

(read it here)

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With such an undertaking Tim wants (and needs) to keep it simple. I’m sure it would have been a coast to coast sensation with a little slick marketing and some top pro reviews. He would have been buried in submissions! As it is it’s on the radar of the esteemed Iowa Writer’s Workshop of pubs to watch for current literary voices. (YES! Iowa Writer’s Workshop!!)

He’s stylistically visioned as well. The advertisments in the pub all adhere to the minimalist theme he’s held for 30 years. Simple lines, simple style. Clean. beautiful.

I’ve always wanted to grab the latest issue and do an Almanac Ad Tour and just go visit all these wonderful sounding places that know Tim, know the Almanac, and believe in both. How fun would that be!!

You can read more about it, more about how to get your hands on a copy, and more about the Tim and the letter press process in Tim Fay’s own words here at the Wapsipinicon Almanac’s website  

I’m still on cloud nine that I’ll be one of the contributing alumn!!