Posts Tagged ‘Marjorie Hudson’
I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?
She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.
After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.
Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.
It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.
It is atypical that a writer gets anything published during a normal week and highly unlikely that more than one thing gets published. The first two weeks of April have been exceptionally good to me, so I’ve got new things to add to my list.
I received news that I am the 3rd place prize winner in the Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest, for my speculative fiction short story ‘Urban Wendy’. They will publish the piece in an upcoming issue.
For fun, I’ve included a few lines from the beginning of the story:
Marisol pulls another strand of red hair from a perfectly glazed Dunkin Donut, holds it up and looks at the stray bits of delicate pink icing clinging to the hair. Marisol reminds herself that her other team members working this shift don’t have red hair, nor does anyone else working here. Just like the icing clinging to the hair, Marisol knows that Wendy is trying to cling to her.
When Marisol announced she was leaving Wendy’s to work at Dunkin Donuts, two weeks ago, her co-workers warned her.
“Expect a visit from Wendy,” they said. Marisol looked at the goofy-looking freckled girl on the napkins she had passed out so many times to snot-nosed kids, harried mothers and dope addicts.
“She doesn’t like it when we leave without warning,” one of them whispered.
“You gotta to be kidding me. I’ll tell her a thing or two,” Marisol said. She filed their concerns of Wendy the phantom stalker, under ‘another urban legend’ and said good bye to the drab brown uniform, the never ending work of keeping the salad bar clean and organized, and sought her fortune among coffee and donuts.
* * *
A prose piece, ‘The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank’ that I wrote in 2010 found a perfect home at Trivia: Voices of Feminism, an online magazine. This piece was created for the wonderful ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel gallery (in Pittsboro, North Carolina), where writers are invited to write about art. Then the writer gets to read the piece and the artist attends, too, and remarks about the inspiration behind the art.
Sharon Blessum’s photograph (below) triggered a memory about a powerful dream regarding my grandmother and other female elders that I wrestled with for many years. In the piece, I tackle the metaphorical ‘poison’, given societal constraints, that many of our female ancestors swallowed, and how I integrate this knowledge into my work as a professor and coach.
We all need encouragement and support for our writing lives. And, the beginning of the year invites us to try out new ideas. Here is a list of strategies that have bolstered my writing life. May they support and inspire you.
1) Plan a Submission Party
In my first writing group, more than fifteen years ago, I learned about the power of holding at least one ‘submission party’ during the year. A submission party meant that we planned a date and we all brought our polished manuscripts, manila envelopes, our bundle of SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes –yes, back in those days you had to send manuscripts via snail mail and with a SASE!), and food and drink to someone’s house. We helped each other write query letters, find new markets to submit work, develop submission charts, and triple check final copies of stories. And, the best part of all, we’d each leave with several stuffed packets ready to mail to magazine and anthology editors and contest judges. These parties uplifted us and took the fear, dread and challenge out of submitting. And, they helped us get a batch of stories into the mail at one time.
At your next writers’ group meeting, suggest hosting a submission party during the first quarter of the year. And, if you’re not in a group (Well, you should be! When focused friendly people come together to support each other, they can produce incredible results!), then ask a writing buddy, if he or she would be interested in executing this idea on a smaller scale.
Reading your work in front of an audience is an invaluable experience for a writer. We can see when people lean toward us, laugh (one hopes at the appropriate places), and get a sense of how our words affect others. Readings help us to become comfortable with our work no matter what the reaction. We meet new friends and learn about the work of other writers. I did three readings last year (two of which I helped to create). In most places there are many opportunities to read your work in public—open mics organized by writing groups, in bookstores and cafes, writing conferences, and informal gatherings with friends. Practice, practice and practice some more.
How many readings did you participate in during 2012? Shoot to double this number in 2013.
3) Volunteer to Support and Serve a Published Writer That You Know
I have been privileged to accompany one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson, to several speaking events and workshops. I learned invaluable things watching a working writer deal with the public aspect of a writing life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.
Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. If you don’t know any published writers, this is a great way to connect with a local writer whose work that you admire.
Be a personal assistant, or driver, for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.
4) Strive for 99 Rejections
Years ago, Marjorie Hudson, shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should strive to gather at least 99 rejections. I sat in the workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I reached that number, no problem. Later, when I reviewed my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, in a serious and organized way.
I love Chris Offutt’s essay, ‘The Eleventh Draft’, where he discusses how he dealt with the fear of rejection:
“The notion of submitting anything to a magazine filled me with terror. A stranger would read my precious words, judge them deficient, and reject them, which meant I was worthless. A poet friend was so astonished by my inaction that he shamed me into sending stories out. My goal, however, was not publication, which was still too scary a thought. My goal was a hundred rejections a year.
I mailed my stories in multiple submissions and waited eagerly for their return, which they promptly did. Each rejection brought me that much closer to my goal—a cause for celebration, rather than depression. Eventually disaster struck. The Coe Review published my first story in spring 1990. The magazine was in the small industrial town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a circulation that barely surpassed the city limits. The payment was one copy of the magazine, and the editor spelled my name wrong. Nevertheless, I felt valid in every way—I was no longer a hillbilly with a pencil full of dreams. I was a real live writer.”
The common suggestion is for writers to have at least five pieces submitted at any given time.
Are you close to 99 rejections? Every time you receive one, think of it as a step forward in your writing apprenticeship. (BTW, holding a submissions party, regularly, can help you send out more material faster.)
5) Create Some Writing Affirmations
An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching The Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” Writers can benefit from using affirmations as our inner critics, judges, and evaluators are often uninvited guests during our writing sessions.
A decade ago, I made a tape recording of me saying writing affirmations. I was living in California, on a post-doctoral fellowship, not a member of any writing group, and accumulating rejections at rate that made me gnash my teeth daily. At that point in my life the inner critic often got the best of me. I needed something to remind me of my basic goodness, as a human being, and encourage me as a writer.
Listening back to them now, it’s clear that I don’t have that same inner wobbly feeling about claiming writing as a love, devotion, craft and profession. Nor do I have the same fears. But those early affirmations (i.e. I am a writer!), spoken with conviction definitely built a bridge from there to here.
Writing, speaking and even recording affirmations creates a powerful state of mind. Here are some to get you started.
6) Commitment Publicly to a Writing Goal and Ask for Accountability
As a coach, I know that to make long lasting positive changes, we need structure and accountability. Over the past year, I’ve seen many writers use their virtual networks (as well as face to face ones) to get support in meeting an important writing goal. Editor, author advocate and She Writes publisher, Brooke Warner publicly announced her intention of finishing a book by a certain date. She also asked for support to help keep her accountable while writing and this request yielded wonders!
What’s one writing goal you’d consider announcing publicly and asking for accountability?
7) Buy a New Subscription to a Writing Magazine and/or Literary Journal
Where do you learn about the field of publishing? How do you find out about new writers? We do this in many ways, through blogs, friends, librarians and visits to bookstores. However, writing magazines and literary journals can also play a key role in our professional development. You’ve probably been thinking about treating yourself to new subscription to a writing magazine or literary journal for some time. Do it! When I finish this post, I’m off to subscribe to Poets and Writers.
I’m new to the ‘blog hop’ world and excited to join in. This particular blog hop is making its way around the blogosphere. It’s called ‘My Next Big Thing’. I was tagged by North Carolina mystery writer Karen Pullen to answer 10 questions. Then I get to tag some other writers. Here we go!
1. What is the working title of your book?
I’m co-producing a literary zine with Beth Turner. It is tentatively called, ‘Chatmosphere’: The Arts and Cultural Buzz of Chatham County
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’ve lived in Chatham County, North Carolina for almost a decade and have been inspired by its unique character. Chatham County is full of farmers, artists, and green industrialists. At first, I wanted to do an edited volume that chronicled the history and stories of the county. I thought doing a zine, however, would prove much more accessible and fun, and would constitute a good first step to an eventual edited volume.
One day I was talking about this idea with my friend Beth Turner. We got really excited about doing this project together. We’re like the county in that we are a combination of “old” and “new” in terms of years living here. We’ve been involved in politics, the creative arts and community building. Beth is a regional non-profit organizer who was one of the co-founders of Girls Rock NC (www.girlsrocknc.org) and is also a commissioner on Pittsboro’s Town Board. (We both live in Pittsboro) Beth has also designed lots of zines through her experience with Girls Rock, a summer camp that empowers girls through music, feminist activism and history.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
A zine is an independent publication (pronounced zeen!) that can contain just about anything from manifestos to collages. A zine can also include recipes, poetry, art work, drawings, or comics. A zine is a hands-on production and can be as informal or as fancy as one wants.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Since this question doesn’t quite apply to my project, let me say a bit more about our process. Last year, we sent invitations to people to submit their work for consideration. I tried not to get too intimidated when I reached out to well-known writers and thought leaders. Everyone has been so nice and supportive of this project!
Here’s a snippet from our invitation:
We are inviting submissions up to 1500 words* that play with the following questions/themes:
How would you define the ‘chatmosphere’?
What keeps you committed and passionate about living in Chatham County?
What brought you to Chatham County and why have you decided to stay?
We invite you to reflect and riff on:
What is ‘rural cool’ and how does it apply to Chatham County? Think about the areas that involve YOU, including but not limited to farming and the local food movement, creating community across difference; emerging green industries and technologies, the creative economy, the role of the arts in Chatham County (i.e. music, acting, writing, singing, etc), natural resources, the history and value of our rivers: the Deep, the Rocky, the Haw and, the Cape Fear, cultural heritage traditions, healing traditions, activism and the political cultures of our county.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript?
The ‘Chatmosphere’ is a space and attitude that blends together arts, the environment and passion unlike another other place in North Carolina.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
We are self-publishing this zine.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
We received our submissions in a timely manner. We are now in the process working with authors on their revisions and planning the design of the zine. It’s been a bit slower process than we imagined, because of all the things we have learned along the way. Our target goal is to have the zine out by the end of the year!
8. What other books would you compare this story to within the genre?
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
We want to showcase the talent in our community and break out of the literary and cultural shadows of Durham, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.
10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
We have some incredible writers who have submitted poetry and prose including Belle Boggs, Marjorie Hudson, Ruth Moose, Karen Pullen and Nancy Peacock. Contributors in the zine are writing on everything from the local food movement, the dissolution of a local African American church to the vision behind some of the most successful nonprofits in the county.
Now I’m passing the baton to some truly exceptional writers . . .
A fifteen year old girl who would rather watch baseball than do her nails finds her life turns upside down when her father has a heart attack and needs surgery, and in the process she finds her friendship with her best friend Joey becomes more, her relationship with her family changes and she learns she needs more than a boy as a friend to be happy.
Posting NOV 25
AND Nancy Hinchliff, whose next big thing is a memoir. A story about family and significant relationships and events that have a indelible mark on one young girl’s entire life.
Posting NOV 26
AND Olga Godim, doing a guest post-on my blog about her soon to be published novel (yay!) ‘Lost & Found in Russia’: One mother travels around the globe in search of her daughter, while another must delve deep into her heart to find understanding and acceptance.
Posting NOV 27
AND Kiersi Burkhart, http://prolificnovelista.com/, on her next BIG thing
Posting NOV 29
AND Edith O Nuallain, http://inaroomofmyown.wordpress.com/ on ‘The Artist’s Daughter’ (or an update about how the novel she is writing for the National Novel Writing Month contest is going)
Posting NOV 30
Follow the bunny!
Posted August 12, 2012on:
I don’t think I’ll stop smiling for a few days. I just received news that the anthology You Don’t Say: Stories in the Second Person by Ink Monkey Press is out and my story ‘Family Line’ is in it! The editor accepted the story a few months ago, but since I wasn’t sure when the anthology would appear, I kept my fabulous news mostly to myself. This is my first fiction publication and it ranks up there with other incredible life moments. To publish literally means ‘to make public’. To the aspiring writer, however, being published connotes acceptance and brings a sweet spot of satisfaction that someone else finds your work compelling.
Family Line’s history from beginning to end has been a testimony to the power of persistence, and the importance of asking for and receiving support. Here are a few things that happened along the way:
1) Last October, I noticed an announcement from our local library for writers of all ages to contribute to their first ever ‘Scary Shorts’ contest. Entries were 500 words or less. I knew nothing about writing ‘flash fiction’. I told other writers about the contest, but didn’t finish my story by the deadline. At the Scary Shorts event, I was happy watching my fellow writers read, but bummed that I didn’t finish my story on time while encouraging others to do so.
2) I saw a speculative fiction contest in March 2012 (by a contest that shall remain unnamed), and used that deadline as an opportunity to spiff up my story. The premise is that a fifteen year-old boy from the Bronx is off on a trip to visit his cousins in North Carolina who he considers backwards. They tell him about a book of spells that they claim an ancestor used to free the family from slavery. Of course, the boy is dubious and havoc ensues from there.
My original draft was 500 words and was told in the second person. I’d become obsessed with writing in the second person after reading Kevin Canty’s short stories.
This contest had a flash fiction category with a 500 word limit. Perfect! I took the story to my prompt writing group (with only a few days to spare to deadline) got feedback on it, but was still having trouble bringing all the elements together. Majorie Hudson, the teacher, stayed with me after class and offered insightful suggestions. She became the first ‘godmother’ for this story. I left, revised and submitted my story to the contest. Woo-hoo! I had a great feeling about the outcome.
3) My feeling evaporated when I received the following email from the contest administrator a few days later:
I am sorry to tell you that we inadvertently lost your entry, so that it was not included in the judging. This has never happened before (and we have taken steps to ensure that it does not happen again); part of the problem was that a different M. Berger also entered the contest, and we conflated your entries. Your story is very strong and well-written; it would certainly have been sent on to the final judge, which make this doubly unfortunate.
We will process a refund for you; again, I apologize for the error, and hope you will enter again next year.
What???? Crushed describes the state that I stayed in for a week after this notice. All that work, I thought, for nothing! I put the story aside worked on other things.
Thank goodness I’ve become obsessive in reviewing calls for stories for anthologies, contests, literary journals, etc. A few weeks after the contest debacle, I saw an anthology call for short second person stories. Perfect! Woo hoo! I sent my story off again with high hopes.
4) I received a note from Mandi Lynch, the editor that said, she and her staff liked the story very much, but felt that the story was too short and they weren’t including it in the anthology.
5) I sat there breathing very hard looking, at this email, for a long time. I believed in this story. I believed in its original premise, crisp dialogue and good characterization. So, I mustered up some courage and thought, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before—ask the editor for a second chance.
I wrote her a short and direct email:
Thanks for your email and interest in my story. Would you be willing to take another look at it, if I worked it up to about 1500 words or so? And, if so, when would you want to see it? I’m taking a bit of a gamble here, but thought I should ask. Thanks for your time!
6) I was able to email this editor because I’ve been taking good care of all those inner critics and writing gremlins. I could have lapsed into a fatal version of ‘This rejection proves that you know nothing about writing. No one is going to want this story. Give up, etc.”
Mandi, the editor, responded quickly and said yes she was willing to take a second look at it. She was in a time crunch, so I had a little over a week to get her something.
7) Then I panicked! I had to take a good story from 500 words and expand it into 1500 words and ideally something she would consider publishing. In a fever I began work on it and realized that because of the deadline I was going to have to do something else that I hadn’t done before…ask for help from different places. I asked my monthly writing group to look at a draft of the story. I felt uncomfortable asking for help on a story out of our regular cycle. But, I did it. I also posted my story on my online writing community with SARK (Write it Now with SARK), also a big risk given that I didn’t have a shared face to face writing history with them.
8) Support flooded in from all corners! Writers from the monthly group gave amazing feedback. They even appreciated being asked! Several folks from the WINS group also gave thoughtful feedback and encouragement. People were rooting for me to revise and submit this story.
Finally, I took the story to my evening writing class with Melissa Delbridge. I read it to the class, got feedback, but still struggled with the ending. After class, Melissa suggested we look at the story together. I protested as I didn’t want to take up more of her time. She said not to worry and then we sat there and she read my story out loud—line by line—and together we examined the areas that weren’t working. Can I tell you what it means when a writing teacher takes the time (after teaching a two hour class no less!) to sit with you and give you her undivided attention? All I could do was say thank you profusely and sail away into the night. Melissa was the second ‘godmother’ to ‘Family Line’.
9) I revised my heart out and made Mandi’s deadline. The next day I received an email from her. She loved the revision and I was in the anthology!
10) Lessons: Never give up on an idea that you believe in. Remember editors are people, too. They can be open to looking at revised work. Be willing to revise until the work sings. Ask for support, even when it make you uncomfortable. Ask for support from people that you haven’t asked from before. Receive all support graciously. Believe you are worthy of it. Celebrate your success with your creative tribe. Repeat!
Thanks to my creative tribe: Tim, Melissa, Marjorie, The First Thursday Writers’ Group, “The “Girls Monthly Writing Group, DJ, Cathy and Michele and others on WINS
You Don’t Say: Stories in the Second Person is available from Amazon
Over the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to practice being ‘a writer in public’. Often aspiring writers write behind closed doors and without many opportunities to get publicly affirmed about their writing efforts. It’s hard to claim a writing identity if one isn’t widely published. If you’re working 9-5 and writing at night (or on the weekends), there’s little time to go to readings, writers’ conferences or open mics where you can be a writer in public. However, a bit of practicing being a writer in public provides a wonderful psychological boost, lessens isolation, helps you understand the business of writing and can form part of your writing education. You can also claim a writing identity without embarrassment and thwart imposter syndrome feelings with a bit of practice. Here are some observations and tips:
Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Attend Writers’ Conferences
I attended the spring North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference. It’s a one day affair that includes craft workshops, lunch with an author, faculty readings, a panel with editors and an open mic reading. I’ve attended this conference before, but this time I was with several members of my core writing community; people who I knew well. We encouraged each other to embody being a writer in public.
–Practice your pitch before you go. Whether you’re working on a memoir or a collection of short stories, you need a 2-3 sentence description that engages the listener and that rolls off your tongue. You need this pitch not only for when you are lucky enough to bump into agents and editors at a bar or in the elevator, but in order to talk with fellow writers that you’ll meet(who may be able to support you in a variety of surprising ways). This is your way of making a good impression on people, so don’t leave it to chance. More likely than not, you’ll feel tongue-tied, anxious and inadequate if you don’t role play ahead of time. My writing friends and I practiced our pitches on the ride to the conference. For great ideas about learning how to pitch and deal with any fears or anxiety that might arise, see Eric Maisel’s Living the Writer’s Life.
–Bring a short polished piece to read for open mic. Many writing conferences feature an open mic program that you can sign up for when you arrive. A writer is always working on something and should always have something to read. The piece that you read should be short and polished, somewhere between 5-8 minutes. My friend and writing buddy, Santa Al is working on a memoir about his twenty year career as a professional Santa and he signed up and got to read during the NCWN conference. He received wonderful feedback from audience members and successfully peaked people’s interest in his work. This year, I didn’t read and I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t take time to prepare anything. Reading in public makes it that much easier for fellow writers to walk up to you, introduce themselves and ideally tell you how much they enjoyed what you read.
–Visit the book exhibit and chat up folks, and bring mints and use them, especially at the end of the day. At a good writers’ conference everyone is tired at the end of the day. If you’ve had a successful time you’ve met other writers, learned new craft techniques, and heard heated exchanges about the future of publishing. By the end of the day you’ll probably head over to the book exhibit which is where you’ll find editors of small presses (and sometimes big presses), literary journals and magazines hanging out. You want to walk up, fresh-faced, with some energy left and have a friendly chat. The last thing you want to worry about is bad breath.
My writing friend Whitney and I made our way to the book exhibit an hour before the end of the conference. We happened upon the Press 53 booth, a unique small press devoted to publishing short story and poetry collections. Press 53 is also the publisher of the works of our beloved writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson. Kevin Morgan Watson, the publisher greeted us and immediately made us feel welcome. Full of energy, he engaged us quickly. While I was trying to talk about the finer points of speculative fiction and whether he publishes it or not, I couldn’t help but wondering, Wow, is my breath kicking it? Don’t let this happen to you! Bring mints and use them.
Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Writer: Support a Published Writer
I was invited by my writing teacher, Marjorie, to drive and accompany her to a speaking event. We drove to Winston-Salem, visited the offices of Press 53 and hung out with Kevin Watson (I made sure to have fresh breath this time!), and were hosted by Vijya, a local aspiring writer and gracious host.
(Kevin Watson and Marjorie Hudson)
We had dinner, got settled and were off to the event at the public library (part of the ‘Road Scholar’ program of the North Carolina Humanities Council that helps bring writers to local communities). Marjorie’s talk focused on mosaic writing in nonfiction that incorporates historical detail, memoir, and fictional interludes as her Searching for Virginia Dare does brilliantly. We came back to Vidya’s house and got to listen to Marjorie and Steve Mitchell (a new Press 53 author) talk about the writing life and the challenges of book promotion. The next day, we were up and on the road to Barnhill’s Books, a thriving small bookstore that also sells local wine and art, where Marjorie did a lunch with author event. During this trip, I felt privileged to glimpse a working writer living the writer’s life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.
–Volunteer to support a writer that you know—Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. Be a personal assistant or driver for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.
-When you sell books, bring a nice tablecloth—Marjorie brought along a white tablecloth to cover the ordinary table set up for me to sell her books. That simple item elevated the feel of the room.
–Chat up bookstore managers and owners. They are a wealth of knowledge! They sometimes are also writers. Ask them about their work and tell them about yours.
(Marjorie doing a book signing, and above-hanging out with the manager at Barnhill’s)
Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Read Your Work to an Audience
And finally, Marjorie held a reading for her students at the wonderful McIntyre’s Fine Books. Since June 2010 writers have been meeting with her in a variety of venues to generate new writing from prompts, work on revision and make their writing dreams come true. She printed up a program, brought food, and invited the writing community. It was an elegant, professional and supportive event. Few writing teachers would make the time to support students like this and her students are incredibly lucky. I read two poems. They were both poems I read before but not to a big formal audience. I enjoyed reading and hearing the compelling work of other aspiring writers.
(me, reading my work)
- If you get to read your work in public, be gracious if someone compliments you on your writing. Don’t say that you’re not really a writer because you’re not published yet (or published widely), or let any negative comments about your work leak out. Shine in the moment.
So, how have you been practicing being a writer in public?
(Photo credit Jesse Akin)
I am so honored to welcome writer Ann Wicker to The Practice of Creativity. I met Ann through my writing teacher Marjorie Hudson. Marjorie gave a workshop at the Weathers Creek Writing Series located on a beautiful farm in Iredell county, NC and I attended her session. Ann co-founded this series that brings writers together in an intimate setting. I’ve gotten to know Ann through her witty blog, ‘That’s All, She Wrote’. Today she gives us a glimpse into the life of Mildred Wirt Benson, ghostwriter of the Nancy Drew series and prolific creator.
Even voracious readers of mysteries probably don’t know the name Mildred Wirt Benson. She was a journalist and author whose work included more than 130 books and countless contributions to magazines and newspapers.
Her first story was published when she was 14, and she went on to help defray college costs at what was then the State University of Iowa by selling short stories. She became the first woman to be awarded a master’s degree in journalism from the same institution in 1927.
But her most famous work was, for many years, anonymous. Although Edward Stratemeyer created the idea of Nancy Drew, a bright young woman who solved mysteries, it was writer Benson who brought the character to life in the first 23 books. Stratemeyer, as part of the process of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, created characters and outlines for the various series and then hired freelance writers to actually write the books. Versions of these characters remain popular, including the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Tom Swift and others. Her role was revealed when she testified in a 1980 court proceeding about the books produced by the syndicate.
But Benson was also more than just a ghostwriter for Stratemeyer. She wrote different types of books, both fiction and nonfiction – and she remained curious about the world all her life. After that first story, she never stopped writing until she died in 2002 at 96.
When I was young, I loved the stories of Nancy and her pals. She drove a roadster, she was curious, and her dad was great. As Melanie Rehak says in her book Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, “The trick to this is that she does it all in the name of rising to a challenge, a quality that most people wish they had but can only hope to approximate.”
Nancy’s self-reliance was something to aspire to – and Mildred Wirt Benson, through her writing and her life, showed many of us the way.
– Ann Wicker
Writer and editor Ann Wicker was in the newspaper and magazine business for many years. A graduate of Davidson College, she also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte.
Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas was an idea she took to Novello Festival Press. This nonfiction anthology features stories and essays about the rich legacy of music in North and South Carolina.
Wicker is co-founder of the Weathers Creek Writers’ Series, which offers one-day writing workshops in a log cabin in Cleveland, NC.
In addition, she works with individual writers as an editor and coach. She has been a presenter at the South Carolina Book Festival and the Southern Festival of Books. Her work has appeared in Creative Loafing, SouthPark, Charlotte, Lake Norman Magazine and elsewhere.
(Photocredits from the following sources University of Iowa Library’s Special Collections, Mildred Wirt Benson website)
During the last decade fitness experts have touted the importance of developing a strong core. A well developed core (the muscles that run the length of the trunk and torso), stabilizes the spine and pelvis and contributes to balance and strength. The core helps us transfer powerful energy outward to the rest of the body. Looking back, I can see that in 2011, I metaphorically worked on my writer’s core. This included paying attention to the craft of writing and strengthening a self-care system to support my writing life. Shaping my writer’s core afforded me a new level of emotional fitness than I had ever experienced before.
In toning my writer’s core I committed to reviewing the scaffolding of writing (e.g. plot, dialogue, setting, scene building, etc), taking classes and workshops that explored the process of revision, the structure of successful memoirs and key components in writing for children. This allowed me to return to my writing with a generous attention to the shaping of each paragraph and scene in ways that I was unable to do before.
For years, I labored alone with my writing or joined writing groups that were dysfunctional. Despite these past experiences, I developed decent skills on giving feedback and support. Prior to last year, however, I didn’t know how to ask for support or even what kinds of writing support might be good for me. That has changed dramatically. 2011 was my year for developing layers and layers of yummy writing support. Some fell into my lap and others I actively sought out.
February: An acquaintance approached me to be a writing buddy; I accept and we meet monthly to share writing progress, fellowship and encouragement.
April: I’m asked to join two monthly critique groups. I accept. We share similar commitments to writing and neither group is dysfunctional.
May: I discover She Writes! Joining She Writes has been one of the most rewarding experiences of receiving writerly support.
July-December : I join creativity writer SARK’s online writing program WINS(Write It Now with SARK), and her online community AHA (A Haven and Accelerator for Writers). SARK offers profound knowledge about how to deal with pesky inner critics. I highly recommend this innovative program!
This unprecedented year of support has helped me transform several writing blocks (i.e. all or nothing bursts of writing, procrastination and perfectionism, fear, etc) that I have struggled with for as long as I can remember.
Communing with so many writers and participating in several writing communities also gently shifted my focus from an exclusive one set on individual publication to recognizing and celebrating the courage, camaraderie and confidence that comes from being part of a community of writers. I want to write not just for personal advancement, but also to be in conversation and build rapport with writing kin. I’ve gotten equally invested in other writers’ success as well as my own. I’m becoming a better writer, but also a more generous one, too.
Part of toning my core was also to openly explore and write about the difficult feelings that can stop us as writers including rejection, jealousy, envy, competition and anxiety. Blogging about new ways to cope with rejection and openly discussing this topic with other writers was a great strengthener.
A February workshop I took from my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson, also shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should have gathered at least 99 rejections. I sat in the workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I have reached that number, no problem. Later as I was reviewing my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, all year, in a serious and organized way. By taking this challenge on, I ushered in plenty of rejections but also a second place prize for a poem in the Word and Sound International Writing Competition, and other writing successes. As SARK says, “If we’re not getting rejected, we’re not stretching far enough.”
In training the physical core, one has to undertake lots of demanding moves: plank, side plank, crunches and push-ups and do them consistently. In 2011, I also worked on the hard things that didn’t feel so good in the short term like developing a daily writing practice and embracing a new perspective on revising longer projects.
For 2012, my intention is continue to strengthen my writer’s core by…
–maintaining and sustaining layers of support ( being active in She Writes, meetings with my writing buddy, continue participating in my three writing groups, and finish round 3 of WINS)
–continuing to work on the craft of writing by taking additional classes
–striving to make it to 99 rejections this year!
–moving forward with a consistent writing practice
–practicing an attitude of revising longer works with delight instead of dread
I wish you a strong writer’s core for 2012!
*This post appeared appeared a few weeks ago on She Writes
I’m in a pleasant state of shock to have just learned that my poem “Ode to Shari Belafonte in her Calvin Klein Jeans” placed 2nd in the poetry category for the 2011 Word & Sound International Creative Writing Competitions sponsored by the Albert Anthony Foundation! It also carries a cash award!
As I was reviewing a pile of mail, I spied my self-addressed stamp envelope that I had sent as part of my packet for the contest in June. It was fat which is not always a good thing. Sometimes the envelope back from a contest is fat because they are sending you a list of winners (which you’re probably not on) and promotional material for next year’s contest.
I was thrilled, however, when I did see my name featured among the winners.
My writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson constantly encourages her students to submit our work even in the face of constant rejection–it works!