what hasn’t worked for you?

graffiti -- cartoon blackbird standing upright, wings pushed behind Sending you big love and encouragement today — Fridays, as you’ll remember I recently decided, are my writing days. They’re supposed to be days that I devote just to my own writing stuff, and not to workshop stuff or day job stuff or other people’s writing stuff.

So far today, I’ve spent about 30 minutes on my own writing and 4.5 hours on reading the local weekly cover to cover, weeding through email, reading facebook, researching computers, making tea and breakfast, following friends’ facebook links to other websites that needed in-depth exploration, a day-job work conversation (which was with a friend, but it was about work, and either way, it was not about or doing my writing), playing with the computer to make the monitors work right, making more tea … so, maybe I should say more honestly that Fridays are devoted to procrastination.

I’ve been devoted to writing since I was 6, and wanted to be an ‘author’ since I understood that that’s what the people whose job it was to make books were called. For the past 10 years I’ve been writing with some desire for publication, and have had some stuff published. I’ve written with many people in that time, and have learned some stuff about publication from their experiences, too.

Here’s what I’ve learned doesn’t work to get your writing published:

– leaving it in the notebook and expecting an editor to manage to find it when she’s randomly flipping through the pages while she waits in a long line for your bathroom during one of the big parties (that you actually never throw);

-typing it up and leaving it on your computer and hoping that an editor will somehow break into your machine from afar, across the Internet,  just because she got the idea that you must have good stuff in there that you’re not sharing and she must use any means necessary to find it;

– spending the better part of a day (that you’d originally planned to spend doing something else, like going to the dentist or depositing your paycheck or going on a date) getting a piece ready to send out to a call for submissions because you realized that the deadline was at 5pm that day, and then discovering that the deadline was actually a year or — OR realizing that the piece had to be usps-mailed and received by the deadline, not emailed — OR getting fed-up and discouraged with the piece (and depressed by and for your future) and thereby missing both the deadline and your date;

– hoping that somehow playing on facebook or reading blog posts or creating reading lists on Amazon will somehow convey to the world that you are a thoughtful, risky, innovative writer whose words deserve a book contract and six figure advance…

These have been among my favorite and most used methods of trying to get published, and I can report to you now that they have been uniformly unsuccessful. What attempts at publishing haven’t worked for you?

Today I’m going to try that one last method that I attempt much, much less frequently — actually sending a piece of writing to an editor.  Wish me luck.


Today’s prompt (and write!) — “13 ways of looking at a blackbird.’ Pat Schneider re-introduced me to this prompt, and I’ve offered it with each of my three workshops this week.

Create a short list of things or places that are interesting to you or your character or bring you or your character joy — try not to think about this too much: rubber bands, icicles, teacups, etc. The more ‘mundane’ the better!

Then take as your model Wallace Steven’s poem “13 ways of looking at a blackbird” — choose one of the items on your list, take 20 minutes and write a number of small ‘ways of looking’ at that thing. (When I’m doing this exercise with an erotic writing workshop, I like to use Letta Neely’s poem “8 ways of looking at pussy” as our model.

Here’s one of the writes I did to this prompt this week:

10 ways of looking at a candle

bright yellow flicker strobing my too-early morning eyes

quiet heat holding up the corner of the altar and i kiss the glass with my 2 fingers and name this flame for you

this one burns hotter than that one, honey — it’s ok if you yelp when the melt hits your skin

one more flicker in an angled raised platform of glass votives here in this church — I take the stick and pull flame form one to light the other. Might not be my faith but it is my mother’s, so I offer her prayer in a language she can understand

little pointy face pushes to find the source of the heat and singes whiskers

when the long holiday table is weighted down with the meal, we turn down the overhead lights and let the edges of platters and good once-a-year silver glitter and glint in the silence

somewhere there’s a picture of us holding the shamos together to light the menorah that first year in our new house — your crazy fat wrought-iron art piece menorah on the stone hearth — and every year now I miss the ritual I left behind, and I still think of kissing good luck every time a candle burns out and the warm smoke spools up from the wick

it doesn’t feel like another year older unless I’ve had at least one, plus a song

the kitchen smells like honey as I pour melted beeswax into the glass jars we found at the yard sale — a year from now, outside Denver, the thick fluted glass will split when my father’s wife lights the wick I set into the wax, but for now I am proud to have created something so sturdy and functional and sweet.

if you put it here under this dusty pot, we can keep looking at the stars while the water heats for tea

Thank you for the ways you can laugh at yourself, how you keep your own faith, and for your words. (Your words, your words!)

3 responses to “what hasn’t worked for you?

  1. What doesn’t work for me is not seeing myself as a writer. Listening to my mother’s old opinions of my writing- (as a child I’d come home from school to find my hidden writing torn up or thrown away) doesn’t help at all.

    Looking at my writing as selfish and wrong and taking time away from ____ or _____ and ______ isn’t helping either. Allowing people in my life to sabotage it isn’t doing me much good either.

    I work hard at forgetting every interesting call for submission I hear about or putting it in the wrong place and if I am working at one- I do my very best to fight finishing the piece in wildly devious ways. Getting to the point of sending it out is so uniquely terrifying- it’s actually easy to see why I work so hard at not getting there. I need to get braver.

    Thanks for posting this Jen. I always see you so clearly as a powerful, brilliant, generous writer. It’s comforting to hear that you struggle with some of the same things I do. ;)

    Thanks for sharing your struggle and I can’t wait to see you conquer it because I know you will. I’m absolutely sure of it.

  2. The only thing that has worked well for me is the “pay yourself first” approach: everyday, no matter what else I have to do that day, I start my day with 40 minutes of writing. (I don’t even open my browser until I’ve done this.) On the days I have more time (days I don’t teach), I can build up to 3-4 40 minute sessions, with a ten minute break in between. Research shows that 40-45 minutes of focused intellectual work is the ideal, and then most of us mortals need to pull away and take a break. It also trains you to leave and re-enter a piece quickly, and keeps you fresh and “hungry.”

  3. Thanks so much for the chuckle.

    I’d like to take this moment to celebrate you deciding and creating a day to your writing. That’s such a huge, huge thing to do. I love the way you honor yourself and your writing in this way.

    Starting a new regimen can sometimes take a bit of time and, that’s part of the process. Celebrating each step that takes you in the direction of your dream goal is one way to make the move a bit easier – so I think.

    And I am not denying any frustration you may have around your procrastination when I celebrate how inspiring you are to write this and write about this.

    And, now that I know my submission won’t hop from the open window it’s been sitting in for a week into a formatted word document then onto the site waiting for my submission, I have to go.