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Saturday, February 22, 2020

 

Letting Caustic Comments Go

It never fails. If your book gets ten great reviews on Amazon and one stinker – which one do you feel the need to reread again and again? The stinker. “What did he mean by that? Did he even read the book?”

Or you’re feeling great about the progress that you’ve made on your novel/site/memoir/essay, and then you get a rejection with a scathing comment. “Undeveloped voice. I expected more.” Or it could be a simple, “liked it but not enough.” Date night with your significant other? Ruined. All you seem to be able to do is wallow.

Next time you get smacked down by a negative review or a simple rejection letter, remember that world heritage sites and natural wonders get cheeky negative comments all the time. That’s right, not even Stonehenge is good enough for some people. Here are some of my favorite snarky comments.

"My advice, if you want to see Stonehenge, is to look on the internet. What a lot of fuss about a few old stones!"

“Yes it might hold your interest for a second or two…until you realise that at about the same time 2000 miles away, the Great Pyramids were being built. Look at a picture of Stonehenge then book a flight to Egypt.”

But before you book that flight, you might want to check out the reviews of those pyramids. Not so great after all!

“It’s all lies I can tell you in seconds how it’s built there isn’t a wonder…It’s blocks on top of blocks. The only good thing about the Sphinx is it’s right next to a McDonalds.”

That’s right. The only salvation for this trip to Egypt was a McDonalds. Think about it. And yet no one had cordoned off either of these tourist destinations.

Mt. Fuji? The path up has nice scenery but the mountain itself is nothing special, the path zig zags and the toilets are really dirty. Mountains not your thing? Then maybe you’d prefer a canyon. But not the so-called Grand Canyon. “5 hour drive for a hole in the ground. Disappointing.” Fortunately, the park service hasn’t found the shovels or the dirt to fill the canyon back in.

Perhaps my favorite is this description of a Northern Lights tour in Iceland. “A cold and damp two hours waiting for the gases in the upper atmosphere to be ionized. No toilet. No food or drink. You would think a big company like this could control the elements.”

So the next time you get a disappointing response to your manuscript or book, just remember that even the Grand Canyon gets bad reviews. For all you know this person just had a really bad day because the Sphinx McDonalds was out of McNuggets.

Like the Northern Lights, so much in the writing world is out of our control. Fix yourself a nice hot drink, put your feet up and thank the heavens above that you aren’t the one who just got chastised for not cleaning the toilets on Mt. Fuji.

--SueBE
Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins  March 2nd, 2020. 

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Friday, February 21, 2020

 

Friday Speak Out!: Leaving New York

by Laura Yeager

It was 1985.

I was 22, and I had moved to New York because I thought I wanted to become a magazine editor. I’d won a prize in a fiction contest at Cosmopolitan. Since I had an in, Cosmo was the first place I applied for a job.

I needed interview clothes. I bought a blue, flowered, southern bell dress at Bolton’s for $39.99. The thought never occurred to me to invest in an interview suit.

The day of the interview, my boss where I was temping at The American Bible Society, a kind, older gentleman who was watching out for me (babysitting), said when I came to bring him his daily coffee and warm corn muffin, “Now that’s how a lady is supposed to dress.” He wished me luck, and I hoofed it over to the Hearst building on 57th Street.

The young, beautiful woman who interviewed me had advice to impart.

“Don’t become an editor,” she said.

“Why not?”

“You’re a writer. You’ll never get any writing done if you become an editor. Do you want to be unhappy for the rest of your life? Move back to Ohio and write.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. She wouldn’t give it to me.

But what the girl at Cosmo said was weighing on my mind. Should I leave the city?

I plowed forward. I moved from a college friend’s parents’ brownstone to an apartment in Park Slope, rooming with an editorial assistant at MS. Magazine. She occupied the living room, and I got the bedroom. The rent was $450.00 a month. (Those were the days.)

I didn’t have much to move--only clothes and a typewriter. I was still typing everything on a Brother electric. My room was furnished with a box spring and mattress and a creaky, old desk.

Cosmopolitan called and graciously offered me the job of reading their slush pile.

Flattered, I took the freelance work.

The gig consisted of picking up brown grocery bags of manuscripts still in their manila envelopes at the Cosmo office, taking them back to my apartment, reading each story and making an editorial decision about the fiction. If a short story wasn’t worthy of passing on to a “real” editor, I attached a rejection slip to it and mailed it back to the writer in the SASE she’d sent.

I made a salary of 25 cents a manuscript.

Around that time, I found a part-time day job as an assistant to an arts fundraiser. I typed and proofed grant applications for various arts organizations around New York. The commute was long, 90 minutes one way, on the train. I hated it.

Things were going all right for about a week until I had to do laundry in Brooklyn. The nearest laundromat was two blocks away. I loaded up my clothes in my only suitcase and somehow made it to the dirty washhouse.

Let me just say, doing laundry at my neighborhood laundromat was not pleasant.

It was hard living in New York.

The job was going OK, I guess, but my social life, not so good. Basically, I had one friend, Sam.

One lonely Saturday in December, it was pouring down icy cold rain. I called Sam, who lived in Manhattan, and asked him to come down to Brooklyn.

“In the rain?”

“Yes. Come visit me.”

“Not in the rain.”

Life in New York was getting harder. I hated my commute on the subway, hated doing laundry, hated my lonely existence.

I left New York a week later and moved back to Akron just in time for Christmas.

Now if I think about it, if I’d never left New York, I would have never had the life I have now. It’s a good life. I live on a quiet cul-de-sac in a suburb of Akron; I adore my partner; I have a beautiful child.

I’m glad I listened to that young woman at Cosmopolitan. “Don’t be an editor. You’ll never have any chance to write.”

Out here in Ohio, I’m writing up a storm, but truth be told, GOD, I MISS NEW YORK!

I miss the wind whipping down the block on a freezing day, the pavement so bitter cold that it goes right through your cheap, black flats. I miss breakfasts in shiny delis. I miss the pails of red, purple and yellow flowers resting in water, the roses and the carnations and the tulips, in front of crowded corner grocery stores. Riding buses. The musicians playing a classical guitar duet. The dancers in the upper stories of buildings visible through plate glass windows, practicing pirouettes. Broadway shows!

Yes, I miss New York.

New York made me a little tougher and a lot wiser. In this big city, someone stole $650.00, the money from my first paycheck, right out of my blazer pocket, on 42nd Street.

Why did I leave New York?

* * *
Currently, Laura Yeager is writing regularly for curetoday.com, a leading cancer website, and psychcentral.com. Laura teaches writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop and at Kent State University. She is looking for an agent for her book The Prodigal Daughter, a collection of short fiction and nonfiction about bipolar illness.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, February 20, 2020

 

Don't Forget What You've Accomplished or I Wrote a Book

by Chris Schroeder (Flickr.com)
All right, Muffin readers, I'm here to encourage us all a little today. A lot of my recent posts have been about indie publishing or the writing process, and I thought I'd take a break from that and get a bit simple. Here's why.

The other day, my book, Finding My Place, was sitting on the kitchen table. I recently wrote a prequel for it and got great feedback from my critique group, but there were some details of this story I couldn't remember. So I'm rereading to make sure my prequel is in alignment. Anyway, there's my book, on the kitchen table, and I had this overwhelming proud moment of, "You know what, I wrote a book. And I had it published. Plus, I go to schools and kids and parents buy it. It's not even half-bad."

Then the next thought: Why am I so hard on myself? Why am I almost apologetic that I wrote a book, got it traditionally published, and want people to buy it and read it? Why do I downplay it when people say to me: You wrote a book. Cool! 

Well...I haven't talked to a therapist about that yet, but my guess is that I'm submerged in the writing culture where a lot of people have written a book, and some have had more success than others, more success than me. So, since so many people I know have done this same thing, maybe it doesn't seem like such a big deal.

But to the rest of the world, not in the writing culture, writing a book and seeing it through to publication is a great accomplishment. And it should be to us too! We should not be apologetic that we want to share our creation with the world, that we want to find readers, that as children's writers, we want to get into schools and share our message and our books.

I told myself that day, "It's okay, Margo. You should feel proud. Of this book and all your books. This is tangible proof of a goal you set and accomplished."

But I'll be honest. I have to keep telling myself that. I'm a people pleaser by nature, and I'm trying to be a reformed people pleaser. It's hard. So I worry about everything I say and do way too much! Trust me, my friends are always saying things to me like, "Overthink much?"

When I have to ask schools if they pay for authors to talk or ask teachers to send home my book flyers or ask my newsletter list to write a review for me, it's excruciatingly difficult, and I have to force myself to push send. But I do it. I do it because I know it's what needs to be done for success and that other authors are doing it. I do it thanks to the book, You Are a Badass, which is so encouraging. I highly recommend it for anyone who has any of the difficulties I've talked about in this blog post today.

If you submitted a short story this week, that is amazing! If you finished your book manuscript, jump for joy! If you are holding a book you wrote in your hand, wow! Honestly, just wow! Yes, you'll have to get back to the hard work and turmoil of being a writer, but for a minute today, celebrate the amazing goal you accomplished. I know for sure that there are thousands (at least) of people with half-written manuscripts or who haven't even typed one word of a book idea. And you are no longer in this group.

Now, after you've toasted yourself, get back to work. And don't be afraid to ask someone to buy your book!

Margo L. Dill is a children's author, writing instructor, freelance editor, and WOW!'s managing editor, living in St. Louis, MO, with her daughter and dog. To find out more about Margo, check out https://www.margoldill.com. Margo's next class is Writing a Novel with a Writing Coach and starts on March 6! 

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

 

When Fear of Perfection Keeps You From Writing



It’s been a rough past couple of weeks. Do you ever get stuck in a rut where you have a lot of creative projects you want to work on, but you have no energy to do them? That’s been me for awhile.

I think part of it is that I have a stressful job. I even had an anxiety-induced dream the other night where the woman who replaced me at my old job was pointing out all the errors in the magazine I help produce now while laughing at me. I blew up at her and stormed out of the room, then instantly regretted losing my cool. Then I woke up from that dream angry with myself for being so worried in the first place. (For the record, I've never met my replacement but I clearly have some issues!)

In the past two weeks I’ve gotten two rejection letters from literary journals for a short story that I think is one of the best things I’ve ever written. One of those rejections was on Valentine’s Day, right as I was about to leave for dinner with my husband. That wasn’t great timing and I wish I hadn’t looked at my e-mail.

I have a podcast I need to be working on and another idea for a short story. But lately I’ve felt too discouraged to even open a Word document to get ideas down on paper. This could also be part of the winter blues I usually get, so today I told myself I was going to quit feeling sorry for myself.

I saw a great quote from a podcaster I follow that said “You have to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” I read it twice and let the words sink in.

This time last year I was absolutely miserable in a job I felt like I was failing at daily. I wasn’t sleeping. I cried a lot. I ate too much and leaned on alcohol more than I should have. After one night of letting my mind wander down the darkest path while my family slept, I knew I had to make a change. I sought out the help of a therapist and have been going to weekly appointments. Having a place to reaffirm my worth, work through painful childhood memories and vent about work stress has been a lifesaver. I got a new job opportunity that was more suited to my talents. I cut back the alcohol, started eating more mindfully and began writing daily goals and affirmations in a journal. I exercise at least 30 minutes a day five or six days a week. And I started sleeping again.

Today when I started wallowing in Misery City, I reminded myself of the above. People are truly excited about the podcast I’m putting together--it won't be perfect at first and that's okay. And Margo Dill has inspired me with her posts about self publishing. I have some great stories that I can put together in one anthology and produce myself. Once I launch my podcast, I can also launch my short story collection.

No, I’m not perfect and neither is my writing. But I haven’t done this much work on myself to quit now.

Have you ever let fear of perfection keep you from putting pen to paper? How do you break past that barrier?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also blogs at FinishedPages.com.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

 

Tips for Tracking Your Submissions

I reached my 50th short story submission over this past month. I'm trying not to focus on the fact that the majority of these submissions are rejections. That fact aside it's been absolutely essential for me to keep track of where I've sent my stories, especially because not all stories are submitted via Submittable.

First, let's go over a couple of reasons why you need to keep track:

1) It helps to know where you've sent a story.

Once my writing ego has calmed down a bit, I like to look back at where I've sent my stories. Recently, I did this and I immediately realized why this literary magazine rejected my writing. I read over one of their issues and I realized none of the pieces matched the type of stories I told. As I rounded the bend at 50 submissions, I have realized that the often told advice of "read the literary magazines you are submitting to" is extremely essential.

2) It helps to keep track of how many places have your writing.
If you are submitting to more than one place, it's really helpful to keep track of where you've submitted your story. The majority of literary magazines I send to will tell me that it's fine to submit the story multiple places, but make sure to tell them if the story gets published elsewhere. The only way I'd be able to do that is by keeping track of where I've sent the pieces.

I'm sure there are many more reasons as to why you should, but those are my top two reasons to keep track. So, let's talk about what exactly you should be noting down. For me, I have a submissions spreadsheet (probably one of the few ways I've ever used Excel outside of work). And I don't know how everyone else keeps track, but here is what I include in mine:

The Date Submitted
The Title of the Story
The Name of the Literary Magazine or Contest
When I Can Expect Results

Aside from that, a few other things you may consider adding:

The actual website of where you've submitted (Funny thing is, I've noted the literary magazine name before and then later realize can't find it. So the actual website link is important).

How you submitted it (My first instinct is to check Submittable, but many places accept email submissions and some other places.)

Whether or not you've simultaneously submitted this story (Although I submit most stories simultaneously, I like to make a special note when I haven't. This is important if a story was specifically written for a contest or something along those lines).

So, I hope this helps you keep track of your own submissions. What else would you suggest adding to a submission spreadsheet?

Monday, February 17, 2020

 

Under Pressure

I'm a David Bowie fan. And I loved Queen. Because those iconic voices were stilled too early,  we have to be content with listening to CDs and watching documentaries and movies based on their lives.

What could be better than David Bowie or Freddie Mercury? A song that features both of them, of course.

I was thinking of the song Under Pressure after I finished Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s most recent novel... as I mourned the last line on the last page (because that meant there would be no more of the story to be enthralled by)... as I recommended the book to my daughter and several friends (with spittle spraying from my mouth, I was that enthusiastic).



As I savored the book (alternately binging and fasting) I enjoyed the reminders the author gave me and the lesson he taught me.

For one, this book (like his earlier Freeman) shows the author's double committment. What's more important--craft or plot? Should lyrical lines overshadow the story line? Or, will the reader overlook lines that don't sing across the page if they're served up a compelling plot? Pitts juggles both with amazing dexterity.

This is an epic tale just like Freeman. There are several characters in The Last Thing You Surrender who are true heroes. They're bursting with courage, with bravery in the face of the unimaginable. The story zigzags from United States to Japan and Germany and then back to America. It's told from the perspective of several different characters.

The lesson I learned, as I sat and lapped up Leonard Pitt's lines, was this: Ease up when the pressure gets too high.

The timing is critical. Only a writer with a deft hand knows exactly when the reader is at the edge of their seat. Only a gifted writer can get the reader almost to the point where they can't take any more tension, where they can't tolerate any more sorrow... and then they back up. Pitts does this. He's woven threads of horrific loss and what seem to be insurmountable odds into the tapestry of this novel's journey until the reader reaches the edge of a cliff. There seems to be no other choice: leap into the abyss of what must be incredible sadness...

... But with Pitts, there is another choice. He eases back, switches to another character's storyline for a while, so the reader gets a bit of respite.

Do you enjoy historical novels? This one immerses you into battle... into the racially divisive South... onto a Japanese POW camp... Do you enjoy a tale of sorrow and (some) healing? The Last Thing You Surrender has it. As a writer, would you appreciate a lesson on how to handle tension in a novel?

Read the latest from Leonard Pitts, Jr. You won't regret it.


While Sioux has not surrendered hope for one last snow day (hey! She's a teacher), she also hopes you pick up a copy of The Last Thing You Surrender. In her spare time she freelances, keeps her fingers crossed when it comes to her recently-completed manuscript, rescues dogs and reads. If you'd like to read more of Sioux's stuff, head over to her blog.





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Sunday, February 16, 2020

 

Kelley Allen, 2nd Place Essay Contest Winner, Shares Difficult Times With Us

We welcome Kelly Allen today! She won second place in the Q1 2020 WOW! Creative Nonfiction Essay contest with her essay, "The Hole," which you should drop everything and read right now here. Then come back to read more about Kelley and how and why she wrote this essay. (Plus, consider entering your own essay into the next contest here!)

Kelley is a nature enthusiast who volunteers at a South Florida preserve and enjoys writing interpretive guides and educational materials. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resource Conservation from Cornell University and spends as much time outdoors as possible.

She has been writing since she was thirteen. Her mother tells the story of Kelley, before she could talk, sitting in her crib, pointing at family members in a photo book and babbling about them as if telling stories. She has been a member of The Backroom Writers for 20 years, but has only recently begun sharing her essays with the public. Her work has been published in ReVisions (a college anthology) and The Sun Magazine.

She lives with her husband and son in South Florida.

WOW: Congratulations on winning second place in the creative nonfiction essay contest with your essay, "The Hole." "The Hole" is a very personal essay about a difficult time when you were young. Was it hard for you to write this essay and make the choice to send it into our contest?

Kelley: Thank you! I am thrilled that my essay won second place. This essay was especially hard to write because of the strong emotions involved. The subject is controversial, and there is a lot of shame associated with the decision I made so long ago. In the end, I decided to submit it to WOW’s contest as a litmus test (if you will) to see if my approach to writing is headed in the right direction.

WOW: I hope that you see how much your writing touched the judges, and I'm sure everyone who reads it will agree. You chose to tell this story of your life in an interesting way by focusing on a hole in the wall in your parents' basement and work in the desperation and loneliness you felt at this time of your life. Why did you make the choice to start with the hole and title your essay "The Hole"?

Kelley: The hole in the wall was the only concrete detail at the time. It grounded me and held my focus when it felt like everything had fallen apart. The story begins there, with me sitting on the bed, staring at the hole. Then, through the course of remembering the experience, my focus shifts to the hole inside me and what that means. Titling the essay “The Hole” just seemed to follow.

WOW: The title is perfect, working in the physical hole as well as the emotional hole. What advice do you have for WOW! writers who are struggling to write about difficult periods of their lives using the format of creative nonfiction?

Kelley: Let the words come. Put any possible future readers out of your mind and focus on the feelings and the immediacy of the story. Write about your truth and worry about what people may think later. There is always time to edit after the words are on the page.

WOW: Great advice! Let's talk about some of the information from your bio. What are the Backroom Writers, and how do they support you on your writing journey?

Kelley: The Backroom Writers are a critique group in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. They are the first readers of my work, and they always find something I missed. They push me to be a better writer, and I am profoundly grateful for them.

WOW: Your bio also mentions that you just recently started sharing your writing with the world--even though you've been writing since you were a young teenager! What caused you to make this choice? We are glad you did--obviously--because your beautiful essay made its way to our site!

Kelley: I recently moved, which effectively cleared my schedule and gave me an office. Then I took some writing courses, which inspired some short essays. I’m refining those now. The book-length manuscripts I’ve pecked at for years are tucked away in a drawer.

WOW: We hope that you will share more of your writing with the world. You have a gift! Thank you, Kelley, for your time today. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Kelley: Keep writing! One sure way not to be published is to not write.

WOW: That's so true! 

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