BOLO

Be On the Lookout.

I have a short essay in the “Circle of Kindness” column of Women’s World Magazine. It will appear in the June 14th issue of Woman’s World. On sale on newstands June 3rd to June 9th. (This coming week!)

Naturally, I’m pleased. One of my writer friends, while also happy for me, is frustrated that she has submitted often to this column, but not yet had an acceptance. It took me three attempts, with different essays, really not so many. So, just keep sending submissions in. And that goes for all our work.

Just yesterday, I got a rejection for a different piece. Some work will find a home, some won’t. But none will find a home if I don’t submit. Today I have two entirely new pieces ready to go. So, now I’m off to follow my own advice. Wish me luck.

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I’ll Take It

I’m please to say that my limerick was chosen as a runner up in the Saturday Evening Post‘s Jan./Feb. limerick contest. They don’t print the runners up in the magazine, but you can read my entry here, although you’ll have to scroll down a bit. Would winning have been better? Sure. But I often think of what Christine Cooper, Olympic Silver Medalist, said when asked by a reporter how she felt about not winning the top prize. “You could take all the joy out of life by always wanting something to be better.” According to the magazine’s web site, they get around 300 entries for their limerick contest each time. So, I’ll gladly take runner up rather than not have tried at all. After all, you can’t come in second if you’re not in the game. So, whatever your game, keeping playing!

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No. Just . . . No. Except Sometimes

NONaturally I was thrilled when I got an acceptance email from a terrific new magazine. The editor was abundant with praise. And the payment being offered was generous. But, I’ve been in the writing biz a while now, and while one always likes to hear compliments, I was reserving judgement. Sure enough, my caution proved justifiied. The contract they sent was for the purchase of ALL RIGHTS, plus copyright.

No. Just, no. This was a piece of writing that was just perfect for later inclusion in a collection or anthology, acknowledging the original publication, of course. I was not prepared to preclude that option.

I expressed my concerns to the editor and he couldn’t have been more charming. He offered an additional clause by which I could reprint the piece, after I had secured their permission. But, sadly, I explained, that clause didn’t really fix the underlying issue. The corporate entity would still own the rights and the copyright. So, again, no. Not in this case.

Most calls for submissions state in the guidelines what rights are being sought. If I had seen these conditions in the initial call, I would not have submitted at all. It would have saved everybody a lot of time and effort. Alternatively, I could have queried the editor about this issue in advance of my submission. That didn’t occur to me at the time, but it’s something to think about for the future. 

Have there been other cases where I’ve willingly sold all rights? Absolutely. If a piece is so specialized that I could never publish it anywhere else. Or if it’s not something that I could include later in a collection of similar pieces. If it was one and done. But, early on in my writing career, I made the mistake of selling all rights to one piece before I understood the implications of what I was signing and which I later regretted doing. Luckily it was a minor work and not a career maker. But it was a hard lesson to learn and an experience I hope I don’t repeat. Once burned, after all. 

Having said that, there may be instances where some of you, my writer friends, have reason to sign such an agreement. There may be cases, as there were for me in the past, where it’s worth it. Just know what you’re giving up. No one will be looking out for your own interests as much as you will yourself. Carry on, and happy writing!

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Under the Gun

I like this definition from somewhere on the web: “Under pressure to solve a problem or meet a deadline.” For we freelance writers, sometimes there is no deadline. While calls for submissions usually have one, “stuff” we just “want” to write doesn’t. And in those cases, that other “stuff” all too often never gets written. As another quote I read said, “One of these days is none of these days.” Unless you have a book contract, no editor is looking over your shoulder pushing you to finish that novel. So we have to create our own deadlines. Then we’re in charge of making sure those deadlines get enforced. After all, you can pencil in a “deadline” on your personal engagement calendar, but without some internal discipline, it may just float on by. Riding herd on yourself goes along with the territory of being your own boss. Once something does get written, submitted and accepted, then a few external deadlines may show up, such as returning a contract, or submitting editorial corrections. But other than that, it’s up to us individually to set our own controls. Having a writing partner helps. So do events like NaNoWriMo. There are ways to strengthen one’s motivation, in order to propel one to the desk. All of these help. Not every writer needs these tools. They just go to work every day and crank out material, good or bad. I wish I was one of them. Maybe someday I will be. But for now, deadlines, external or self-imposed, keep me on track. If I fail to meet them, as another friend once reminded me, I’m only hurting myself. Not something I care to do. 

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I Say To Myself “Be Sensible”

The ME in my head: Be sensible. You don’t need to lie awake all night, thinking up titles and working out plot points in your mind. Get some sleep.

Be sensible. You can’t keep up with your email as it is. Do you really want to sign up for one more online writer’s group?

Be sensible. Do you really need to spend money on yet another “how-to” writing book?

Be sensible. You already subscribe to three book review journals. What can you possibly get from this newly launched one that you aren’t getting other ways?

Be sensible. You don’t need to jump up in the middle of the night to jot down that brilliant, perfect iambic line that will be a brilliant, perfect line for your next sonnet or villanelle. You’ll remember it in the morning. It’s too outstanding for you to ever forget it.

The ME in my heart and soul: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Also: Give it up. I’m not listening. You don’t get it. You never have. Come back and talk to me when you’re supportive, on board, and have faith in my goals. See ya then.

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Archives

Now that I’ve finally acquired a decent file cabinet that matches the oak furniture in my office, I’m faced with a wake-up call. I’ve finally gather all my writing notes, ideas, sketches in one place. I’m talking about notes from decades of writing, stabs at writing, first drafts, works-in-progress, and manuscripts submitted over the years but not accepted. These I have hopes to perhaps revise and send out again, as new markets appear. The wake-up call is the sheer volume of “stuff.” A jumble of unorganized, sometimes barely legible attempts and ideas. So. Decisions have to be made. But how? How do I know what to keep? What still has legs? And how to make it accessible? There’s no point in preserving any of it if it’s not in useful, identifiable order.

Most of us have this problem in one way or another. For a lot of us, it’s photographs. For others it’s recipes. Travel mementoes. Records that chronicle the lives of our children. This list goes on and on. Or, perhaps you’ve been confronted with the boxes of papers and other items when a parent has died. They never got around to putting things in order, either. Understandably so. It’s hard work. It’s decision-making, sorting, labeling, organizing and figuring out the best way to store it all. It’s nostalgic and sometimes tear-inducing.

At least my “writing notes” project doesn’t make me cry. But sigh? Yep. And yet, as I’ve mentioned before, also glad. It’s obvious how much better a writer I am now than in the beginning. And I still find seeds of some pretty good stories in all the dross. Stories that at the time, I just didn’t know how to write. I have a better chance of succeeding now. But, while they may be good ideas or memorable details of a scene or character, they won’t do me any good unless I flesh them out, develop them and give them meaning. Hard as it will be though, like writing names and dates on the backs of all those photographs, I have faith that it will pay off in the end.

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Defending the Perimeter

My late cousin was the worst. She was the most unselfish woman on the planet, devoting all her time and her considerable energy to volunteer activities that benefited seniors, the library, civic causes, the charity thrift shop. She battled hunger and poverty. She won accolades and gratitude from every direction. All well and good. BUT—she constantly tried to enlist everyone else, including me, to live their lives the way she did. I get it. She cared passionately about all these causes, so passionately that it was inconceivable that anyone else could have any other priorities, any other agenda. Her most effective ploy was “We need you.” Now, who doesn’t want to be needed? It’s flattering. She would embellish that by saying that my skills were exactly what was most lacking, the one skill that no one but I could provide. And, I admit, at first I fell for it. I joined a volunteer board of trustees that was in my field. That wasn’t enough. She always wanted more. She even chided me for dropping out of the library’s book club. She was afraid if membership fell off, the club would disband. But, why was it my responsibility, or even hers, to keep it going? If there’s not enough interest, you can’t prop it up artificially. (As it turned out, the book club is just fine and thriving.) If I declined her requests, as I began to do, she would enlist other people to do the asking. Now, I loved my cousin. I respected and admired what she did. But (again, a “but”), I wanted to write. And being committed to writing means I must, want to, and will say “no” to other things, whether it’s controlling my insatiable urge to read, or balancing alone time with the human need to socialize, or saying “no” to requests for “help” like the ones presented to me by my cousin.

Of course, there are cases where, in fact, you can’t say no. If you’re a parent, or if you have animals that depend on you, or if you have a job that you need to earn money. Your health and safety. Those demands will always require a “yes.” All the extraneous requests? You can choose.  

Here’s the thing: many, many people can, and do, perform the work of these volunteer groups. On the other hand, no one can do my writing but me. If I don’t do it, it will never get written. My work may be meaningful or not. It may be effective, inspiring, entertaining, or not. Yet, if I forego writing, who will do it for me? No one. I can’t say, “Okay, I’ll sort the clothes for the homeless, while you write my next mystery story.” It doens’t work that way. Still, it’s hard to say “no.” We have to learn to say it with kindness and politeness, but with firmness, or at least the ability to keep saying it until our message gets heard. I saw an anonymous quote that helps me. “It’s easy to say “no” when there’s a deeper “yes” burning inside.” I’m not sure it’s ever easy, but remembering my deeper “yes” strengthens me when I’m tempted by the agendas of others.

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Moving On

I once knew a “writer” who had written a book. That’s it. One book. And not because she died young, or anything like that. She kept re-writing this one book. She kept submitting this one book, to agents, small publishers. Every time she got a comment, she’d rewrite it based on that, hoping that would do the trick and get her an acceptance. Or, she’d see a new book out that, in her mind, was similar to hers and she’d rush off a query to that small press. This went on for at least 20 years. To my knowledge, (and I did ask), she never wrote anything else. Never attempted anything else. Didn’t seem interested in writing anything else. All her efforts, all her beliefs, all her hopes, were tied up in this one work. She also wrote strictly on her own. She never took a class, joined a group, or had a critique partner. She never hired a developmental editor or book doctor to try to figure out the flaws in the book that was keeping it from generating any interest. From a mutual friend, I learned the plot of the novel. And believe me, it was the most cockamamy, unsalable . . . well, that’s just my opinion. The last time I saw her, she had simply given it all up. Not from discouragement. She had fallen in love and seemed no longer interested in writing. So, was she a writer? Or just someone who wanted to publish a book? If you are a “real” writer, would you, could you, ever really give up? We all beat our heads against the wall, or walls. One wall for me is not having the skill level to say what my heart is aching to say. Another is finding ways to keep the momentum going when I’m on a roll. Still another is shoring up my belief that my work has value. But I am not so blind or fearful that I don’t ask for feedback, seriously search out weaknesses in my efforts, and try new things if what I’m doing doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. I know the strength that comes from associating with other writers, especially ones who are better than I am. I spend time reading those writers and those publications that I want to submit to. What are those folks doing right? The healthiest thing that I do, I believe, is to let go of anything that is just not working, that are dead ends. Old pieces that seemed so perfect at the time, but now seem like amateur drivel. Genres that I’ll just never be good at. Topics that no longer interest me, or heck, were never that compelling to begin with. Occasionally, those old efforts give me a lift by reminding me of how far I’ve progressed. A few have salvageable bits. But mostly they just weigh me down.  I have moved on and the world has moved on. One popular definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.” I may be crazy. I just don’t want to be that kind of crazy.

 

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Can I Handle Being a Pest?

If I have to, yes. I used to spend hours agonizing about how to approach an editor, or the owner of a micro-press, with questions, requests for updates, clarification of certain points in the guidelines. I didn’t want to “bother” them. They’re so busy. They have other writers, vendors, computer issues to deal with. I was raised not to put myself forward, so I’m usually uncomfortable speaking up. Finally, I got tired of the hamster wheel in my brain. Just ask. I tell myself, if you’re not sure, ask. If you’re still not sure, ask again. Did I turn some of those editors or publishers off? Without doubt. But I’ve decided it’s better to risk that than to either stew in uncertainty, or turn them off by not following their preferences. On the other hand, once things are clear, I follow rules. If a publication says wait three months for a response, I wait three months. If they want a certain format, I follow those instructions.

I also used to refrain from asking questions after talks or panels, thinking my ignorance of some basic thing that absolutely everybody already knew but me, would be met with scorn or exasperation. But then I decided, this may be my only chance. If people scoff, so what. I’ve also learned over the years, that if I’m confused about something, very likely someone else is as well. And if I speak up, they’ll be grateful that I did it and they didn’t have to. Or maybe the question hadn’t even occurred to them until I gave it voice. And guess what? My biggest fears have never come to pass. My concerns and questions have been treated only with respect and also with the precise missing piece of knowledge I needed.

Nobody’s born knowing this stuff. We all have different pieces of the puzzle, and luckily we can also count on each other, our fellow writers, for information. We share advice, tips and leads, on forums, in groups, and in private email exchanges. There’s a line between being pointlessly shy and being a pest. But this is my work. Like someone said, no one will ever care about my writing as much as I do. So, I risk a negative response if I’m a pest. But the whole business is about taking risks. At least let me take the risks that give me a chance of success.  

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Do It Anyway

You may be familiar with the Kent Keith poem, popularized by Mother Teresa, that contains the line “Love them anyway.” It goes on to mention setbacks, disappointments and obstacles, to which the response is to continue to do the right thing, anyway. I feel that way about my writing. As in:

The competition is staggering. I write anyway.

I’m not at the level I want to achieve. I write anyway.

I rarely get a response. I write anyway.

I’ve used up all my good ideas. I write anyway.

I get tired of trying. I write anyway.

I wish I had more time. I write anyway.

All my work seems so ephemeral. I write anyway.

Sometimes it’s hard. I write anyway.

Whatever happens or doesn’t happen, I write anyway. 

I write anyway.

Just this: I write anyway.

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