Sunday, April 19, 2009

My So-Called Writing Life

Work’s busy, evenings I’m beat, and there’s always a lot to do on the weekends. I write for about an hour each morning before work on weekdays, and for a few hours on weekend mornings. So it’s easy to let slide an aspect of writing life that’s imperative to moving forward: getting published.

It takes an entirely different writing muscle to send out material for publication or agency placement. It doesn’t matter if you’ve attended the most prestigious MFA in creative writing program ever, all that learnin’ won’t help you place your brilliant writing. (Okay, an MFA can get agents’ and publishers’ attention more easily, but that’s another story for another blog post.) It’s after you finish your poem, story, or novel that a new sort of dogged creativity gets tested. Now it’s time to write the perfect query letter, research the agents and/or publishers that seem the best fit for your manuscript, and target the literary mags that best suit your stories. This is a full-time job. It can get immediately disheartening and even the small stuff can throw you off your game.

Recently I looked at my Excel spreadsheet where I keep track of my query activity on the novel front, and submissions on the story front. For "A Little Disappeared," the novel I worked-shopped at Grub with Ms. X, I have about five or six queries still out to agents and publishers. I have about eight or ten instances of stories or novel excerpts out to literary journals. Some of these have been out for over a year.

I realize, looking at the sent dates, that there’s a new publishing biz practice. No longer will an agent, publisher, or lit mag guarantee a response. If the answer is no, you may never get a response. I suppose I understand this behavior, as they are getting more and more queries and manuscripts, and have fewer and fewer employees to handle the slush piles. Still, that great big NO meant closure, allowed me to move on to try again somewhere else. Now, with no real NO to work with, I need to remind myself to move on myself after, say, three months.

I always try to stick to a self-imposed schedule: send out a story or query once a week. But, after a few weeks I always fall off the wagon, either because my writing isn’t going well or the rejections become overwhelming. I recently showed a new story to Liz. She had some good ideas, and I rewrote the story. Then had my writing group critique the story. I got a good response and also some great ideas on how to make it better.

So, for the first time in a few months, I’m excited about sending out writing again, and this is bleeding over into trying to again place "A Little Disappeared", and getting back to my so-called writing life.

Muse and the Marketplace Update

I was alerted this week to the workshops I will be attending next week, and I’m happy with the choices:

- Marketplace Panel: The State of the Industry
- Eternal Rocks Beneath: the Relevance of Setting, with Lewis Robinson
- Building Character, with Stephen McCauley


Robin said...

Dell -- I agree that it's a full-time business to send out your writing and disheartening when you wait for months for a response. One contest I entered cashed my check for the entrance fee but never got back to my with the results! I guess the only thing is to hang in there for the long haul. Would love to hear more about your workshops after the conference!

Dell Smith said...

I will let you know how the conference goes, both as attendee and as a volunteer.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

It's really tough for me to put on my marketing cap, but if I ever want any of my stories to be published, I best get to it. Thanks for this post! Good luck with all your writing and queries.

Dell Smith said...

It is like we wear two hats, a big, colorful, wide-brimmed one for the writing, and a constricting skull-cap for the marketing.

Liz (made in lowell) said...

Your dogged persistence at getting critiques, revising and sending your work out is inspiring! I know that is what it takes to be a witer, but not everyone can do those things, kudos.

Liz's Mom said...

How great that you have a new story written, and that it lifted your spirits. You have such good ideas about all this writing business, the creativity and the practical work of getting published.

And I love your writing.

Dell Smith said...

Thank you Liz, and her mom.