The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Marjoire Hudson

This month, I’m offering some tips that can support your writing practice mid-year.

Tip 2: Increase Your Submission Rate & Strive for 99 Rejections

Years ago, writer 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.

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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. Last year, I submitted pieces to a total of 21 different contests, anthologies, and literary journals, etc. Three pieces were accepted for publication and another story placed in a contest. And, I received my fair share of rejections. However, I also received a few lovely emails from editors who although declined the piece submitted, encouraged me to submit something else. The submission and rejection cycle is also one of building relationships with editors whose work you admire. Think of it as deepening your apprenticeship.

This year, I have submitted to 9 places and can claim an even higher rate of success with four pieces accepted for publication and an honorable mention in a contest. I’m hoping to beat last year’s submission record by the end June. The more work you have out, the easier rejection becomes. It’s also incredibly gratifying to take action in support of your writing life.

 
How is your submission rate going? Are you close to 99 rejections?

June is a great time to research new markets and submit to them.

BTW: Have you checked out my post on the ‘Magic Spreadsheet’ and how it can support your daily writing practice?

PS, If you’ve surpassed 99 rejections go and celebrate and also check out Mur Lafferty’s excellent podcast about going beyond 100 rejections and keeping the submission process fun and creative (Episode 317)

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When someone says they are hosting a ‘literary salon’, I’m never sure what to expect. There’s always prep work to do on my end: dress well, remind myself of five recent outstanding books I’ve read, remind myself to use good posture, and, of course practice a pithy answer to the “What are you working on?’ question. I’ve only been to a few literary salons and I think of them as opportunities to practice being a writer in public. Some literary salons are more like informal gatherings, hosted in someone’s home, with a newly published author; others involve having a lively conversation about favorite works and the state of publishing.

A few weeks ago, when writing teacher and friend, Marjorie Hudson said she was hosting a literary salon with Clifford Garstang, most recently author of What the Zhang Boys Know: A Novel in Stories and inviting me–I immediately said yes.  Marjorie and Clifford know each because they are both published by Press 53, and she has been an admirer and supporter of his work for some time. Garstang is the co-founder and editor of Prime Number Magazine and is also author of the well-known blog Perpetual Folly. I knew at this gathering there would be good food, a copy of the author’s book and a chance to mix and mingle with other writers.

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What I didn’t know is that I was that at this salon, we were going to be treated to a wonderful craft discussion about the concept of ‘story cycles’ and ‘a novel told in stories’. Marjorie Garstang2

Clifford talked for a few minutes about his own journey as someone who wanted to be a writer right out of college, then traveled to Southeast Asia and instead became a lawyer. Even while he was a lawyer though, he never stopped thinking about writing.  Twenty years later he returned to writing. Fascinating! I’m hoping you’ll get to hear more of his story here, later this summer, in an interview.

This is a brief summary of his very substantive talk:

With an interlinked set of stories a writer can create a ‘wide angle lens’ way of telling a big story that has the feel of a novel. He provided a broad typology of
‘story cycles’:

-Stories that are loosely connected in a collection

-Linked short story collections

-A novel told in stories—linkages are tighter (you’re really telling one big story)

-a polyphonic novel (multiple voices and points of view)

He said that the linkages among and across stories can be made in multiples ways:

-using a setting that ties all stories together

-using one character that appears in each story (but not necessarily as the main character)

-using one character throughout all stories that is a main character

-using a big theme that explores a group experience or worldview.

He gave examples of each type. I’ll name just a few:

God is Dead by Ron Currie Jr. (linked short stories that begins with the premise that God came to earth and died)

Dubliners by James Joyce (stories that are linked by theme and setting)

Accidental Birds of the Carolinas by Marjorie Hudson (loosely linked stories that examine displacement and community for people who move to the South).

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank (linked stories that follow one character)

One I would add to this list is Ursula Le Guin’s Four Ways to Forgiveness (interlinked novellas set in the future on two different worlds).

The other thing that Clifford impressed on us is that each type of ‘story cycle’ can create a different effect for the reader. Sometimes all the stories in a collection build toward the last story and a deep resolution, and in other instances with less tightly linked stories, there’s no final resolution, but the reader still senses that the “whole is greater than its parts.”

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Marjorie and Clifford had an engaging conversation about the process of writing interlinked short stories. Is it always intentional? Well, no… Sometimes you don’t realize that you’re writing a set of interlinked stories until you’re far along—you can discover it along the way as you ask more questions about your characters.

I loved his craft talk and now have a long list of new authors to read. The handful of writers in attendance at this literary salon ate great food and talked about the loves and labors of the writing life. A perfect day!

 

 

Yoga has been an integral part of my life for the past twenty years. I am a yoga teacher and have become increasingly interested in exploring the relationship between yoga, creativity and writing. I have noticed that many people often feel so fatigued it prevents them from making time for their creative life. Restorative yoga postures can help relax the mind and body which then leads to greater energy for creative focusing. The practice of writing and the practice of yoga also need similar things from us: patience, devotion, activity, silence and reflection.

Through attention to the breath and gentle movement, yoga can help release the body’s wisdom to nurture the creative process.

Over the past 9 months, my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson and I teamed up to plan a weekend beach retreat that would feature writing and yoga. Although I have taught ‘Yoga for Creative People’ workshops, what we were attempting to do was different. Marjorie would take care of the writing prompts and I would teach the yoga classes and intersperse meditation and stretching throughout our writing sessions. Marjorie is also a yoga enthusiast and understands the importance of movement for writers.

Last weekend, we traveled to a retreat center in Emerald Isle, NC and met the ten amazing writers who signed up for this weekend of exploration. About half of them had some knowledge of yoga and about half had never done yoga.

Each day of writing was interspersed with gentle yoga postures, meditation and breath exercises that support the creative process.

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We also came up with an original way to talk about stages in the writing life through exploring the chakras. ‘Chakra’ is the Sanskrit word for “wheel”. In yogic wisdom, the chakras are identified as an energy system in the body (from the spine to the top of the head). Each chakra is associated with particular talents, skills or gifts.  They are often described as colorful vibrating balls of light.

We used the chakra system as a way to metaphorically reflect on aspects of the writing life. When we gathered to do our daily writing, we had 7 candles that reflected the 7 main chakras and lit the appropriate candle to the exercises we were doing. Understanding the chakra system is complex and detailed. We, however, just wanted to give the participants a taste of the chakras and how they could think about their writing in new ways. The writers in the room were so open to what we had to offer. Marjorie and I lucked out!

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One of the writing and chakra exercises that helped participants go pretty deep was looking at the 3rd chakra.

Briefly, this chakra physically corresponds in the body through the solar plexus. It is seen as the seat of personal power and as medical intuitive Carolyn Myss notes it is “our personal power center, the magnetic core of our personality and ego.” (Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing). The color associated with this chakra is yellow and emotionally it corresponds in the body to willpower, commitment, persistence, inner authority, personal responsibility and our ability to stand up for one’s self.

In introducing this topic, I led a guided meditation, asking participants to imagine the strength of the sun in their solar plexus.

Marjorie then read a short passage from To Kill a Mockingbird where Jem (the brother of Scout who is the narrator) runs to Arthur “Boo” Radley’s house (Boo is a strange reclusive character). She invited folks to freewrite for 20 minutes on either:

1)      The bravest kid I ever saw or 2) A time when I was afraid- and acted with courage.

People had the option of writing nonfiction or fiction. Stories and poems of exile, bravery, immigration, leaving difficult situations,and of standing up to inner and outer bullies poured out of the participants. Almost everyone in the room chose to write about a personal experience.

A little later, we talked about how important the message of this chakra was in relation to our writing lives. Marjorie and I asked for them to reflect on: What are your commitments to the writing life? Have they changed over time? How have you stood for your writing life? What shape do your commitments to your writing life take?

These are fruitful questions for writers and creative folk. In order to be productive and gain confidence, we must create structure and accountability in our creative lives. We must have the perseverance to keep going in the face of rejection and the daily grind of life. We have to make decisions about how to stay committed to a particular piece of writing (or creative work), when it feels like we have revised it for the 99th time and it is still not finished. Although we can keep an eye on the marketplace, we must draw on our inner authority to write the things in our heart that desire expression.

Sharon Blessum, one of the poets in the room, and I had a great discussion about how this chakra related to her writing life. She’s been writing all her life, so it’s not that she struggles with the commitment to sit down and write (often a challenge for beginning writers). But, the issue is that the fruits of her commitment to writing now perhaps requires a different level of support. Sharon realized that she’d been functioning like an isolated ‘Lone Ranger’ character in relation to her creative life. This practice has often left her feeling tired and frustrated. I suggested that the isolated, solitary mystical artist archetype is one that may require updating. I also suggested that maybe the commitment required for her writing life now is realizing that it’s OK to seek additional support to help her organize and create a pathway for her work.  This can be accomplished through writing coaches, workshops and even a virtual assistant. We both felt like this was useful territory to explore further. The next day, she delighted the group by sharing a poem that emerged from these reflections. I’m so glad she gave me permission to share it here:

HI HO SILVER

I am a Lone Ranger
I ride Silver
too fast
too many directions
because smoke signals
are in neon lights for me
even invisible messages
stop me in my tracks
challenge me to manage
this earthplane incarnation
while riding bareback
with full backpack
of paper and pens
to write every gd*%&  word
God is giving me
from the seven directions

I need a Tonto

Tonto would say
go away
mortal one
go away
pray
rest
I will
mail your poems
walk your dogs
feed your horse
clean your house
brush your kitty
publish your books
arrange your readings
massage your feet
manifest your vision

you go drum
flow on the river
I’ll be sure the sun
comes up

stand
stretch
breathe
up-dog
down-dog
lion
cobra
headstand
oh my

read the not-rejection letter
write
rest
above
all
rest

I’ll
keep
the world
spinning

©Sharon Blessum May 19, 2013

The workshop was a great success on multiple levels. Marjorie and I coached each other and offered the participants fresh ways to think about the writing life. People left with hearts open and pens drained (at least temporarily). I got to work with a dear friend and mentor and get a taste of how I can support others. A great way to kick off the summer!

I hope that you’ll take a moment to explore the writing prompts that we used. You may surprise yourself remembering your own acts of bravery.

For 20 minutes freewrite about:

1)The bravest kid I ever saw or 2) A time when I was afraid- and acted with courage.

For 20 minutes freewrite about:

What are your commitments to the writing life? Have they changed over time? How have you stood for your writing life? What shape do your commitments to your writing life take?


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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