On Introspection

Writing a book takes a lot out of you. I like to think of it like I have a mental reservoir of words somewhere, and writing a book uses that reservoir. It’s exhausting and mentally draining and that’s amplified by the fact that I was also finishing up my semester while writing. Querying is an emotionally stressful process. In the midst of all of this, I think it is so important to take some time for myself and do a few projects before starting on a new book.

I already have the idea for the book and part of me is itching to write it but I know that it’s the most ambitious project I’ve taken on, and I need to give my mind some time to rest. So I’ve been working on my 100 Book Summer project (I read 7, I’ll post about them in the next few days) and working in general, and doing a few things around my apartment. But I’m also taking some time to re-evaluate my goals. This is something I do every six months or so, and I think it’s a nice system to have.

So I have a planner and in January, I wrote down my goals for the year, and a few long-term goals that I’m working to achieve. So far, I’ve crossed out half of my yearly goals (publish a poem, publish a story, write a book, make Dean’s List, etc.) and I’m making decent progress towards my life goals. I don’t want to keep working on a goal that I no longer want, though, so I take this time to do some soul-searching and see how my wants have changed since the last time I thought about them. Then I write these down, and I usually write myself a letter saying who I am, what I like, what I love, and what I want. I keep these letters in my email.

It’s so great to have a physical record of everything I’m trying to achieve and what kind of person I am when I’m working towards them. It’s also good reinforcement that it’s okay to fail or abandon certain dreams. Sometimes they’re not your dreams anymore and there is nothing wrong with that. And it’s amazing to look back at my goals from, say, freshman year and see how much I have changed over the years – and how much I’ve accomplished. It really lightens the feelings of failure that come with being a college student in the twenty-first century.

I hope this inspires all of you to go write down your goals! You’re more likely to achieve them if you have them on paper, I’ve heard, and putting things on paper is apparently one of my favorite things.

On Submitting Short Fiction

I think I’ve talked about this before (maybe not?) but I’m an assistant editor for a literary journal. Over the last few months, I’ve read roughly 200 stories. This is my first gig editing/selecting short fiction, so I’m happy to share some things I’ve learned with you!

  1. Don’t get discouraged if you get rejected.

I cannot stress this enough. Our submissions opened on March 1 and I am on a staff with nine other fiction editors, where we each get assigned anywhere from 12 to 25 stories a week. Sometimes we’re doubled up, sometimes we’re not. Basically, because of the volume of submissions, if I don’t like a piece by the end of the first two pages, I’m probably going to pass on it. A lot of stories are passed on. To be honest, I’m really only supposed to approve five to ten stories out of each hundred to move forward, so we have to be incredibly selective. Sometimes, it’s nothing against the writing itself, but the piece might not fit our mission statement. For instance, if I read something told from the perspective of a younger kid or something that’s obviously religious, I’m going to pass. It just doesn’t fit with what we publish. I can’t say this enough, but go back and see what the journal has published before to see if your work fits. This is actually important.

2. Please, for the love of God, follow the submissions guidelines.

We specify that the submissions should be blind. I cannot tell you how many submissions have names on them. My editor is chill and doesn’t check or tell us to downvote those who have identifying information, but it always makes me roll my eyes a bit. If a journal specifies that submissions should be laid out a certain way, there’s probably a reason. Please please please read the guidelines before submitting. And please do not submit something in Courier font with 2-inch margins (why does anything need 2-inch margins??).

3. Grammar is so important.

There have been stories that I connected with but I ultimately passed on because they just weren’t well-edited. Take the time to make sure you’re presenting the best possible story that you can. You’re making yourself vulnerable by giving me this little piece of your soul – don’t you want it to be as close to flawless as possible? I’m actually insane, so seeing a lot of typos in a piece instantly makes me dislike it. Sometimes if it’s well-reviewed by other editors, I’ll read all the way through, but I generally don’t advance those pieces myself. Take the time to have a friend look over your work for you before submitting.

4. Submit to multiple places.

This probably sounds like it goes against my mission statement point, but editing has taught me how ridiculously difficult it is to publish a short story. Not going to lie, it’s a confidence boost after getting so many rejections myself. You don’t suck – there are just a lot of writers out there. Submit often. Have a working portfolio on rotation so that as soon as you get a rejection, you can edit if needed and fire another one out. I strongly recommend subscribing to the CRWROPPS-B list (Google it) to find out about submissions opportunities year-round.

5. Have confidence.

If you don’t believe in your writing, readers won’t, either. Honestly, this is the most important lesson I’ve learned both through writing and editing. Believe. In. Yourself. Make it happen. Set some goals and go out and crush them. Publish all the things. You can do it.

 

 

On Beta Readers

This time around, I am adding a step into the editing process that I probably should’ve considered last time. When I finish a book and edit it, I usually only pass it around to a few close friends for opinions. I don’t want to take chances on this manuscript, and I want opinions from people who aren’t afraid to hurt my feelings. I’m a member of a few different writing forums and I’ve noticed people seeking out beta readers in the past. I decided to give it a try. I beta read a story for someone, just to get my feet wet, and so far I’ve primarily done swaps since then.

Beta readers are AMAZING.

I’m usually blind to the flaws in my story (unless they’re structural because I’m actually pretty good at completely restructuring a manuscript). Even if I give it some time to air it out, I’m too close to the prose to genuinely find a lot of nit-picky errors. My beta readers asked questions that I haven’t even considered, and beta reading for other people has been genuinely enjoyable. It’s a great eye-opener to see how many incredible writers there are out there.

I would suggest emailing back and forth a couple of times, especially if you’re trying to build a partnership with the other writer. It might also be helpful to exchange a couple of chapters first to ensure that you’re interested in the material and will be able to finish the manuscript in a timely manner.

If you’re thinking about getting more involved in the writing community, I would recommend joining a forum like AbsoluteWrite. NaNoWriMo is also a great option, and the forums there are fun to look through if you’re bored or seeking inspiration.

On Reading

Hi yes hello. If you’ve been following along with my ramblings over the last few weeks, then you have probably discovered that I am stressed out by the querying process. No surprise there. In the midst of all of this anxiety with the production side, I feel like I’ve lost sight of the reason I’m doing this in the first place – I really really really love books. A lot. I grew up in a family of readers. According to my parents, I learned to read before I was two. Some of my earliest memories involve books. Since I’ve been spending so much time reading and stressing, I have completely abandoned reading.

It’s time to change that.

I have the feeling that every issue I’m having with my writing can be solved by reading more books and learning from those who have already been published. “Learning from those who have been published” is a bit of a shitty way to put it. I want to learn from the people who tell the best stories, the people who take words and turn them into beautiful worlds and glimmering landscapes, the people who have made my heart flutter and imagination explode over the last twenty-one years.

I’m going back to my roots, so to speak. I have created a challenge for myself. I love books and I have this habit of buying a lot of them at once, and not reading them for a long time. Classes end on April 21st for me. Starting on April 22nd and going until the first day of next semester, I am going to read 100 books. I’ll call it my 100 Book Summer. I just went through my room at college – not even my room at home, where a lot more books live – and I have 55 unread that I’ve collected over the last year or so. ¬†They are books of poetry and fiction and non-fiction, classic and contemporary. I feel like this will be a good way to restore my shattered sanity. I’ll still be writing and editing too, of course,¬†because I don’t know how to function when I’m not actively creating.

I’ll try to post a weekly update or so on how I’m doing but we all know that I’m bad at consistency. Comment if you have any recommendations!

On New Projects

Once you’ve been working on something for as long as I have (8 years, anyone?) it gets to the point that it feels like the only thing you’ll ever be able to write. I’ve started a few other projects over the years and abandoned them, always coming back to that one thing. It got to the point where I was pretty sure that that was the only story I had in me, which is a shitty conundrum for someone who wants to be a writer.

My sister is graduating in April. For a gift, I wanted to write something for her. Not something that’s non-fiction or tells everything that is to tell about our relationship or anything, just something that echoes how much she means to me but also tells a cool story (spoiler alert: it’s about mermaids). It didn’t start out as a novel but it took on a mind of its own.

I’ve been working on it for about a month and I have a rough draft completed that I’m editing. It has been such a refreshing experience to just sit down and write without any previous drafts or notions of how the plot should go. With my other book, I got myself into this spot where I wasn’t even sure if I liked writing anymore because I was so tired of the technical, business side of things. Now, it’s just like words are flowing and things are happening and it’s getting me back to the root of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. It’s definitely been a learning experience.

For one, it’s restored my confidence in myself. I’m not a one-trick-pony, believe it or not. I do have the ability to come up with a new story and watch it blossom across a page. So if there are any other writers out there who are completely and utterly demoralized and stuck: try something new. It doesn’t have to be a novel. Write a short story or a poem. Experiment with voice. But write something, just to remind yourself that there’s more than this.

On the End of All Things

Well, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind semester. I’ve had a pretty okay time with school, even though I’m extremely distracted by the fact that I’m also working towards getting a book published. One thing that I’ve noticed about the end of my college career is that it feels a bit like classes are getting in the way of me trying to do my real job (reading, editing, etc.). I was looking forward to finally being able to graduate. So I’m finishing up a semester early, in December, which gives me a good chunk of time to focus on writing before I go to grad school. I thought that I’d come to terms with all of this and moving on with my life. Yesterday, I applied for graduation.

I wasn’t expecting it to be as bittersweet as it was. I’m beyond excited to get a degree – I mean, I put all the work in, and now I’ll be getting the proof of how much I’ve done here. At the same time, it’s a huge step. I want to go to grad school in the U.K. so this begins the countdown for my time in the U.S. as it stands.

I’m at this point in my life where I have this cluttered jumble of everything that I’ve done and everything I want to do and I’m trying to put it all together to move on with the rest of my life. Like I have part of a degree, an unpublished book, less than a handful of published work, a couple of internships, and some editing experience. How do I put that together into a career? Don’t worry, I’m figuring it out. This is just a realistic check in everything else that’s happening outside of the querying process.

Thanks for reading. I hope this isn’t horribly depressing – I do have plans! Finals are coming up and I’m stressed. Nice little down to earth reminder that I’m a college student.

On Querying

So. I did the thing. I wrote the book. I edited the book. The book has taken roughly a million hours of my life away. But it’s okay.

I value honesty and I try to be as honest as possible here. Here goes nothing: querying sucks. Boy oh boy, does it suck. I am one of the least patient people in this universe and it’s just this huge waiting game.

For everyone that doesn’t know, querying is the part that comes after you write the book and tear it to shreds. You write a letter that represents your book as elegantly and eloquently as possible and then you send it out to a bunch of agents (after carefully researching every aspect of their lives and what they look for in a book) and then you wait. And wait.

And wait.

Sometimes, they get back to you requesting partial or full manuscripts. Sometimes they reject you. And sometimes there is no response at all. While I understand the need for this, it’s still a bit disheartening. But I digress.

So this is the phase that we’re in now. There’s been some great commentary so far, which is good, and I may or may not read portions of the book every night so I’m sending out the best product possible. Is anyone else in the querying stage? Let me know so we can commiserate together!