Vision and Revision: a guest post by Jacob M. Appel

  Jacob M. Appel is an American author, poet, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Education at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, where he is Director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry. He is also the author of four literary novels, nine short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery, a thriller, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas. 

 

 Vision and Revision

            Once I had the pleasure of chatting with a well-known sculptor whose preferred medium was marble—and I couldn’t resist asking her what happened if she made a mistake.  I had expected her to respond with an earnest observation about the planning required to prevent such a calamity: measuring with calipers, modeling in plaster, etc.  Instead, she laughed and replied, “Why do you think the Venus de Milo is missing her arms?”

Fortunately, writing is far more forgiving.   A loose plot line can always be tightened or a more original rhyme found to end a stanza.  Would-be authors are taught early on that Hemingway wrote forty-seven different endings to A Farewell to Arms and Fitzgerald continued to revise The Great Gatsby even after it had been typeset, that Auden had the audacity to alter “September 1, 1939” after publication and Moore grappled with the text of “Poetry” for five decades.  In contrast, writers publicly (although falsely) believed to eschew revision—Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara—are often derided accordingly.  One can still hear the disdain of Capote’s quip about Kerouac, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

In modern western culture, and particularly in the United States, revision has claimed a hallowed position.  Nearly every writing course I have encountered incorporates an emphasis upon revision, a belief that multiple drafts are essential to the writing process.  Maybe this reflects the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, or the Edisonian notion that genius is 99% perspiration.  Unfortunately, many aspiring writers take the wrong message from these lessons.  It is certainly true that revision has a valuable place in the writing process.   However, that does not mean that vision isn’t also necessary.  Nor does it mean that, just because great works require revision, revision necessarily leads to great works.

Grace Paley frequently observed that she did her best writing in the bathtub.  Her point was not, of course, that she had to worry about getting soap suds on her writing pad.  Rather, she was suggesting that she thought through her stories in depth before she put pen to paper.  Having a sense of where you are going in advance helps you get there—both in life and on the page.  Anyone who has ever planned family vacations with young children surely knows this:  It is far wiser to book a hotel room at Disneyland or Yellowstone prior to departure than to hop into the station wagon and drive until one finds an appealing destination.   For John Wayne and a few inveterate literary explorers, the open road may be alluring.  For many writers, it is the sure path to hours before a blank computer screen.  That is not to say that a writer cannot change paths or make discoveries as she writes—for the creative mind, that is inevitable.   But choosing the Goldilocks moment to transfer words from one’s soul to one’s hand—not too soon, not too late—is one of the skills that separates the skilled writer from the amateur.   And, fortunately, it can be cultivated.

I urge my students to take time to reflect upon what they want to say, and how, long before they consider saying it.  It is easier to erase a sentence in one’s mind than on one’s parchment. (There are a few exceptions, like Dostoevsky, who managed to weave his revisions and even his mistakes seamlessly into his prose without any undoing.)  Either Will Rogers or Head & Shoulders once warned: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  That is as much true regarding the impression you make upon yourself as the impression that you make upon others.  Once you’ve committed yourself to a word or idea in print, you’ve often moored yourself to a particular course.  Needless to say, there are limits to how much one should wait before setting down your internal epics.   As either Aristotle or Voltaire or my Great Aunt Sadie once warned, “Don’t make the perfect an enemy of the good.”  But the good, thought through in advance, can prove the mortal foe of the mediocre.

A photograph of the hardcover of The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M. Appel

Jacob’s novelThe Mask of Sanity

The fetishization of revision often leads writers to forget one of the craft’s most important principles:  Quit while you’re behind.  I firmly believe that anyone with the passion and commitment can write valuable and inspiring poetry or fiction.   Yet that does not mean that every particular poem or story can be transformed into a work of value and inspiration.  Sometimes, the materials themselves don’t cohere:  the author had chosen the wrong structure or genre for this particular idea or the underlying plot simply isn’t compelling; other times, the material is worthwhile but the author is at the wrong point in her journey to share it most effectively.  Knowing whether a story or poem is working is a talent.   But recognizing whether a story or poem can work is a far more crucial skill.

So how does one know whether a story or poem can work?   One question to ask is whether, as you are writing, you find yourself with too many or too few ingredients.  An analogy I often share with my students is self-assembling an exercise bicycle—inevitably, one of life’s greatest challenges.   If you try multiple times and find yourself with excess parts and wheels that don’t spin, or too few parts and a hollow pole for a seat, you might consider repackaging and returning to the supplier.  The same is true with writing.  Sometimes, the pieces just don’t fit together.  Accept that.  Move on.  Live to fight another day.  I say this as a writer who has spent thousands of hours writing manuscripts that should have been scrapped after fifteen minutes.  Revision is often necessary, but it is rarely sufficient.  No writer wants to be lauded as a “revisionary.”

It has become a trope in creative writing to place original drafts and revisions of famous works side by side to admire the radical changes imposed by the authors between drafts.  That is often a rewarding exercise.   But I exhort students that they should admire the vision of the original as well.  Exceptions do exist:  The Ray Carver-Gordon Lish Complex, for instance.  (Editor Gordon Lish is often credited with line editing Carver’s stories to create the spare, crystalline prose we now know as Carveresque.)  Yet it is usually the magic of the original draft that still enchants in the final form.

Revision, in other words, is an essential tool—but it shouldn’t be a crutch.  I am very wary of writers who plan on revisions at the outset, of students who assure me, “I’ll fix that later.”  To my thinking, that is like planning for a second marriage at your first wedding.  The responsibility of the writer is to get it right the first time.  And then, in the revision, to get it even righter.

#WriterInMotion ~ Final Thoughts

WIM A Storys Journey Banner

I entered the Writer-In-Motion Challenge hoping to get some big break-through information from a professional editor. I wanted that sword that would cut down rejection and get me to YES!

Truth is, I got more than that. I got, “Wow, Maria, the voice in this is amazing!”

Voice. That magical, unteachable thing. That how do I get it, thing!

And then I got– Now take out a lot of it. You have to choose.

The fun part is, it made sense. It was not that hard to choose what to keep. I even asked my mom who never reads my blog and she and I agreed on the way to cut, but she still wanted the first one (blockade).

This story was huge. It could be a novel. I over-wrote, over-double-wrote, for the first time. I am usually concise in my writing, like the lyricist I am, but for some reason this image created a real idea on so many levels that I care about.

The original word-count cut wasn’t easy, but it was a great exercise and I think the final cuts I made, were personal experiments to see how people would react. I chopped in unnatural ways and my readers did not find them interesting or experimental. They were awkward. Something to think about for future awkward characters. I know how to make a reader uncomfortable.

Overall, I think I learned that having to prune so many words, I was able to get to what was necessary to the story.

Thank you again to my critique partners and editor for their time. And thank you Writer-in-Motion for the experience.

 

 

 

#WriterInMotion : The final draft

Writer in Motion Week Four

This week I received feedback from professional editor Jeni Chappelle of Jeni Chappelle Editorial. Jeni is the co-creator of this challenge as well as #RevPit on Twitter. I want to thank her for her time, encouragement and suggestions.

Here it is. The final draft!

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on Josette and me.

Who is it, Daddy?” the child said from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day,” the man said.

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you. I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile door.

What?” he yelled.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced Social Services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass, telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out, axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. A sudden square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace,” the man was saying. “He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel-and-coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

The man addressed me cautiously, “Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

Did you hear that, Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

Eugene tried to interject. “But–”

And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

She jumped off the settee, startling the dog and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut, and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned to me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran back outside.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open.

I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.”

She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

 

Fun news!

While I was writing this post I received an email informing me that Writer Shed Stories: Vol. 1 which includes my story “More Than He Could Chew” is now available in paperback.

#WriterInMotion: Critique Partners’ Feedback Revision

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Three

This week was exciting. I sent my story to two people and received their stories to critique. Based on their feedback I made revisions, creating this new draft of my story that will now go to a professional editor.

Before talking about the changes, I want to thank Neta of NetaQBlog and Nicole of The Usual Bookspects for the time and consideration they put into critiquing my story.

Because I had to cut so many words out of my original draft, I experimented with some cuts that I thought might be interesting. Turns out they were just awkward. Luckily, my critique partners suggested some other lines I could cut, so I could reword the awkward places and smooth them out. They also pointed out some areas that needed rewording for clarity.

Now the newly revised draft:

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on us.

Who is it, Daddy?” we heard from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day.”

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you, I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile blockade.

What?” he yelled like an axe hitting a trunk.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced social services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. Suddenly, a square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace. He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel and coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a Toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

“Did you hear that Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

“But,” Eugene tried to interject.

“And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

“Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

Josette jumped off the settee, startling the dog, and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned on me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open. I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.” She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

#WriterinMotion Week Two: revision plan

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Two

For once, I overwrote. I have a story that needs to be told in less than half as many words, so I thought I’d spend a little time and create a plan for this first revision.

This Week’s Revision Plan

First steps:

  1. print out the story
  2. read aloud
  3. highlight best lines/parts
  4. cross out parts I don’t like
  5. ask questions to get to the core of the story
  6. write logline/ elevator pitch/ summary
  7. increase conflict
  8. explore possibilities
  9. re-write

Questions to get to core of story:

  • Who is this story really about?
  • What does that person want more than anything?
  • What is in the way of getting that desire?
  • How will she overcome the conflict?
  • Was the desire, once achieved, really what she needed?
  • How has the ordeal changed her?
  • Why is this story important?
  • Why do I want to tell it?

Next steps:

  1. Repeat first steps 1-4
  2. focus on opening line: try at least ten other possibilities. Have I drawn the reader in with a whisper of everything to come?
  3. focus on ending: try cutting last line, last paragraph, try adding a paragraph or two to find real ending. Have I left the reader wanting more; feeling something, thinking?
  4. focus on dialogue: are the voices unique? dialogue as tight as possible?
  5. focus on setting: does every description do double duty (mood, symbolism, character development)? Is every object there for a reason? Have I described for the reader what I see in my head, really put it on the page?
  6. focus on characters: play with unique, concise descriptors (think pessimistic moustache). Does each character jump off the page? Can the reader relate to them, empathize with them?
  7. focus on the senses: have I created vivid experiences using all five senses? Are there sounds, smells, textures, tastes as well as sights? What associations am I trying to elicit in the reader with these choices?
  8. focus on sentence variance, sound and rhythm
  9. focus on sentence clarity: am I really saying what I mean to say?
  10. focus on word choice: strong verbs, specific nouns
  11. hunt for and remove over-used words
  12. hunt for and remove clichés
  13. print out and read aloud as a final spell-check, specifically for homonyms and other small errors computers don’t catch.

 

Looks like an overwhelming amount of work, but I have a week and many of the next steps will be revisited over the next few weeks of revisions as well. I’ll probably add to this list as I work. I hope you find it helpful. If you have revision checklists or processes that you would like to share, feel free to add a link in the comments.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Writer In Motion: A five week writing and revising challenge

Levi at work

Summer is here. The weather is gorgeous, but sweaty-hot. Levi and I are adjusting though motivationally-challenged. He gets away with napping and bathing all day, but my stories won’t write themselves. So, I found a challenge to keep me working through August.

For the next five weeks, starting August 1st, I will be participating in the Writer In Motion blog project. I’m excited to give it a try.

The Challenge

I will receive a prompt on August 1st and write a first draft of a story. Then I will revise it to a piece of flash (up to 1000 words) and read and provide feedback with other participants.

I will be posting each version here as I revise and talk about my revision process, so you can join in the experience.

By the end of the five weeks, I hope we’ll have learned how to turn a draft into an amazing story and be able to apply what we learn to our other work.

Anyone and everyone can participate. I hope you’ll join me.

 

Are You Ready for #Writober?

colorful skulls.jpg

photo by Maria L. Berg

October is almost here and I’m excited. I enjoy many fun writing events in October. And this year I’ve added the planning pages and submissions, and The Writer’s Games. It’s going to be a very busy month here at Experience Writing.

Writing Challenges

Short Stories

The Writer’s Games‘ second session is half over. I just submitted my story for the third event. I recommend joining in when the next session starts in April if you haven’t tried it yet. It is free to participate and you receive feedback from three separate judges on each entry. Each event provides a writing prompt on Friday evening and you have to send in a new story by end of day Monday. Each challenge has stretched my creativity and the feedback is encouraging and thought provoking.

Flash Fiction

I didn’t have time to do #Writober last year, so I’ll go back through the images I collected and choose the best ones to add to this year’s collection #Writober4. For those of you who don’t know, #Writober is a fun writing challenge that was originally organized by J.S. Nagy a.k.a. @BrassGoblin over on Wattpad. The challenge is to write a piece of flash fiction (he wrote 101 word stories, I wrote stories under 1000 words) each day of October inspired by a spooky, creepy image. I enjoyed it so much that first year, I decided to keep it going. I created a collection of images on Pinterest. This year’s collection is #Writober4. I’ve numbered each image for the days of the month. I hope you will join me.

Poetry

It’s also time for #OctPoWriMo,  fall’s event for those who enjoy National Poetry Writing Month. There are great writing prompts every day. This year I’ve taken my participation a step further and volunteered to take on three of the days. I’ll be your host on October 10th for the theme “Touch”, October 20th for the theme “Mountains or Oceans”, and October 27th for the theme “How Did I Get Here?” The overall theme for this year is “Diving into the shadows to mine for gold.” If you haven’t participated before, head over to OctPoWriMo.com and learn all about it.

Reading Challenge

Until I took a look at my post from #Writober2, I had forgotten about Readers Imbibing Peril. It’s a fun reading challenge to get readers in the autumnal mood.

Planning

And as if that’s not enough fun for October, it’s also the beginning of the fourth quarter of the year and I need to catch up if I’m going to meet my goal of 100 rejections this year. During my hiatus, I reformatted the pages in an attempt to use up most of the white space when printing it out as a brochure. I also decided not to use images of the journals, but to add my own photography and art as visual writing prompts instead. These next couple of months will be my final push to finalize my design. Any feedback is greatly appreciated.

If you’re ready to send out stories right now, there are Oct. 1st deadlines at:

See you tomorrow

And so it begins. I hope you’ll join me throughout the month. There will be new posts here every day of October with poetry, micro-fiction, prompts and so much more.

The Planner Experiment: May Week 2

pink rhodies small.jpg

My new focus on contests brought me to something fun. Literary Taxidermy is having a contest in which participants write a story that starts and ends with lines from a selected work. This year’s selection is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The idea of the contest is to start with the first line of Mr. Bradbury’s story and create something completely different that then ends with his last line. I already have a ton of ideas. I think I’ll write drafts for at least three of them, maybe more.

Other interesting contests I found were:

Jerry Jazz Musician’s Short Fiction Contest  This site is looking for fiction that incorporates aspects of jazz music.

Online Writing Tips Story Prize This contest is free and offers a £100 prize. There’s no theme or genre. Enter any story of 1000-4000 words.

This Week’s Pages

May Week Two.png

2019 Planner May Week Two

I think part of my frustration last month and why I kept getting behind on the pages was I wasn’t making the time to use them. This week, I’m renewing my efforts to completely fill in the pages each day with the goal of three submissions every day. I hope you’ll join me. I look forward to hearing about your journey to publication. I hope the daily planner helps motivate you to submit your stories and poems.

Happy Reading, Writing, Planning and Submitting!

The Planner Pages: Changing course

March week three pages

The Experiment

This month is flying by and I have very few submissions to show for it. My main issue is trying to read enough of each journal to get a feel for it and then when I’ve spent so much time reading the journal, I decide I don’t have a story that fits.

I’ve been debating if I want to continue to list deadlines, or reading period openings and I have officially switched to openings. This week, I finally convinced myself to submit to a magazine only to find they had closed submissions early due to too many submissions. I’m seeing more and more that journals that use submittable will only take a certain number of submissions per month due to costs which makes their deadlines indecipherable. I am also finding that I procrastinate, so deadlines are not really helping me plan ahead. It makes more sense, for all these reasons, to start looking at journals by when their reading period opens. So, after this week, I’m changing course.

This means I will have to redo all of the pages from this quarter for next year, but it was all an experiment, so I’m glad I’ve come to this decision now instead of in the fall.

Reading Discoveries

Though I have hit a slump in my submitting, I have made some fun discoveries through continuing the experiment. After reading an interview with the editor of Hinnom Magazine, I picked up a copy of The Nameless Dark: A Collectionby T. E. Grau. The first story, “Tubby’s Big Swim” is thoroughly entertaining.

In Blackbird I enjoyed Miniature Man by Carrie Brown and was excited to read This Is The Age of Beautiful Death by John Dufresne. I have read and enjoyed John Dufresne‘s books on writing and recommend them often. It was fun to recognize an author I admire as I was reading through the magazines.

In Shenandoah, I enjoyed Tender by Shruti Swamy.

I hope you’ll make some time to treat yourself to these great stories.

The Pages

Here are this week’s daily planning pages with new writing prompts and magazine information: 2019 Planner March Week Three

I hope you are finding the daily planning pages helpful, informative, and motivational. What do you think of the writing prompts I’m making up? Have you tried any of them? How are your submissions going? Do you think you’ll reach 100 rejections this year?

Happy Reading, Writing, Planning and Submitting!

The Deadlines: Collecting and organizing

short story submission planningI made a breakthrough over the weekend. I entered the information I’ve been collecting about different literary magazines and their reading windows into a spreadsheet. Now I can easily sort all of the reading periods by deadlines and what month I want to include them in my planner. I also added spreadsheet pages for contests, paying poetry markets, anthologies and community events.

Sifting Through

I found some more submission sources. Along with Newpages, Poets and Writers and Submittable listings, I’m using:

The Review Review

CLMP Community of Literary Magazines and Presses

As there are thousands of literary magazines and I only intend to introduce 365 in my planner, I decided to begin my exploration with magazines that pay their writers. I noticed that many journals are now using Submittable and charging a submission fee. I feel like it won’t be worth my time if I’m losing money for my efforts,  so my focus is on journals with no fees that pay writers anything at all upon publication. I was happy to discover that there were more paying markets than I thought and separating my spreadsheets into fiction and poetry revealed even more opportunities if I can muster enough courage to submit my poetry.

Proof of concept

The first month of the year isn’t over and I’ve already missed a ton of deadlines for both reading periods and contests. My research has revealed that the journals that pay the most have tiny reading periods of only days per year. I was also shocked to see that the The Pushcart Prize XLIII: Best of the Small Presses 2019 Edition (The Pushcart Prize) is already at my local library. How is that even possible?

I began to get frustrated and overwhelmed, but I reminded myself that the purpose of this research experiment is to be prepared for next year. The missed deadlines this month and the beginning of next only support my theory that a successful submission is planned well in advance.

A new problem

Journals charging submission fees and contest entry fees aren’t the only monetary issue I see with my heightened submission plan. Each journal expects submitting writers to become familiar with past issues before submitting. Many journals provide some stories to read online, but most suggest that one purchase an issue or get a subscription.

I understand that the journals need to make money and it’s important to read what the journal prints. I want to read as many literary magazines as possible, but if I was to purchase 365 magazines at fifteen to thirty dollars an issue, I would have to spend between $5,500 and $11,000 only to read one issue which isn’t really enough to get a feel for a publication as a whole .

I want to make money, not go into debt, so my submission goals are now limited to journals that have story samples available online, journals I can find through my library system and journals that have stories in collections that I can get from the library like The Pushcart Prize and The Best American Short Stories.

With all the time it takes to read enough short stories to familiarize oneself with literary journals, I don’t know when submitting writers find time to write. I’m hoping, through this experiment, it will all click by next year. I’ll be familiar with the journals, know the deadlines for the ones I want to submit to and have a year’s worth of stories to submit. Ah, I really am a dreamer.

Staying Flexible

Though I made some of my January goals, I changed my mind on others. I started writing the possession story for the Dark Regions contest, and I still like the idea, but I didn’t want to feel that dark right now, so I let that story go for the moment.

I read some of the winning stories from the Nelson Algren Short story contest in The Chicago Tribune archives, but I still want to read more of his work and write a story specifically toward that contest, so I put that off until next year. From learning about Nelson Algren, I’m also learning about Studs Terkel. I’ve noticed that there are literary magazines inspired by these gentlemen. I look forward to learning more about them.

Though Sixfold sounded interesting, with everything else I’m doing right now, I didn’t have time to read everyone’s entries, so I put that off for another time as well.

Through my deadline collection, I also found many February first deadlines that I will put on the January pages for next year, but not stress over for now. I want to have time to get familiar with each of the journals and not send stories out only because there are deadlines. Everything about this process is showing me that I’m on the right track. Submitting stories is for planners.

The Planner Pages

With February fast approaching, I’ve worked out some more rough draft pages. I want to start each quarter of the year with large goals for the three months. Then each month will have more specific goals and a list of specific deadlines for that month. Here’s what I’m going to try for the First Quarter and February:

first quarter planning page left                               first quarter planning page right

february plan page left                                             february plan page right

I hope you will download them and experiment along with me. I’ll be adding more deadlines to the February Deadlines page as they come up and will update accordingly. I look forward to your feedback about what you like and don’t like about the design and content as well as whether you find the format motivational.

If you know of any deadlines to add to February, please let me know in the comments.

The daily pages for the first week of February will be posted on Thursday.

Happy Reading, Writing, Planning and Submitting!