The Perfect Writing Group in 5 Easy Tips

May 20, 2019 § 2 Comments

WordyGirlsJeepBy Suzanne Roberts

Whenever I give a reading or a workshop, I’m usually asked this question: What advice do you have for new writers? I always offer the same answer. The first thing I say is that to be a writer you must be a reader. And I usually quote Samuel Johnson, who says, “’The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man (or a woman) will turn over half a library to make one book.” The second thing I say is to get into a great writing group, which can be more difficult than picking up a book and reading. I know this because I’ve been in some disastrous groups. I’m also currently in the best writing group in the world (not to brag … okay, I’ll brag). We call ourselves The Wordy Girls. I have thought about how we found each other and how we make it work, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. Limit your numbers. My current group has three members, and because it’s the right three people, it works. I would say no more than four or five. Any more than that, and you will get too much conflicting feedback on your work. My group is comprised of teachers, writers, and editors, and we are already reading and commenting on lots of pages. Reading too many pieces will make your writing group feel like work. Also, because we are all busy, scheduling meetings. even with just three of us, is sometimes challenging. And if you do what we do—give each other presents for meeting our writing goals—you will have to spend way too much money on gifts if there are too many people in your group. More on this later.
  2. Choose people whose work you want to read but also who you want to see. When the pages come in before we meet, I can’t wait to sit down and read them because the writing is so good. Choose writers whose work you want to read. Also, I love the people in my group, so I look forward to spending time with them at our meetings and retreats. This is another reason to limit your numbers; it’s not hard to find two people you like whose work you admire. It would be much harder to find six or eight such people. Once I was in a group with two women—one was ethereal and cerebral, the other was, shall we say, hedonistic. The hedonist wanted more body, more sensuality, more sex. The cerebral one wanted to stay on the philosophical level of everything—writing and life. Both were good writers; both had something to say. Truth be told, the hedonist was the more fun person; the cerebral one, the more careful reader. But in the end, they were terrible readers for each other; they couldn’t cross the divide to really see each other’s work. I sat on the sidelines, watching the wreckage. That little group didn’t last long. The moral of the story is that great writers, and even great people, don’t always make a great group. Some of it’s alchemy, but keep trying until you get it right, because it’s worth it.

Once you find your people, give your group a name and establish traditions. As I mentioned, we are The Wordy Girls, and one of our traditions is to set goals at the end of each meeting; these goals pertain to writing, revising, or sending out work. At the next meeting, we begin with our previous month’s goals, and if met them, we get presents from the rest of the group. We give small gifts like funny socks or journals, but you never want to come to a meeting and admit that you don’t deserve a present. By establishing traditions, you’re treating your writing group like the sacred space that it is.  Once you create the right group, you will learn each other’s themes, obsessions, and writerly tics that hold you back, things you may not be able to see on your own, and that is the greatest gift of all.

  1. Set clear and reasonable expectations. Because of our busy schedules, meeting once a month works best for us. We limit submissions to 20 pages, with a one-week window to read each other’s work. We sometimes ask the group if we can send additional work for feedback between meetings, which is super helpful, especially when we are on deadline. Also, be sure every member of the group has something important to contribute at the meetings and retreats beyond feedback and critique. One of our Wordy Girls is excellent cook (her gluten-free lobster macaroni and cheese is to die for); the other is an amazing bartender, who can whip up a craft cocktail like nobody’s business. I do my best to be worthy of the group. When I let my writing group read this, as I do everything I am about to put out into the world, they assured me that I am worthy. They said that I keep everyone on track (I am the keeper of the goals), make everyone laugh, take photographs, and motivate everyone to write and send out work. One Wordy Girls told me, “The motivational factor for me is huge. I want to meet deadlines for you, and I want to write better for you.” The same is true for me: my writing group makes me want to be a better writer, and so I am.
  2. Find people who are in the same place with their writing as you are. As I said before, everyone in my group has a graduate degree, we have all taught college writing classes, and we have all completed multiple book manuscripts. We are all in similar places in our writing lives, and we have similar goals, which is to say, we are all serious working writers. Find people who are in roughly the same place as you are. If you just finished your MFA, find writers in the same place as you are. If you are just starting out, attend local writing workshops or classes and scan the room for people you might like to meet with. And then stalk them, but nicely. There are at least three writing groups in my town that were born from my community college writing classes. If I had more time, I would create a Grindr for writers, but I don’t, so you will have to do this part on your own.
  3. Avoid the Drama Queen and the Green Monster: These two writers—I know you know them—are toxic for your writing group. There is no place in your writing group for drama or worse, jealousy. If someone in your writing group is interrupting the critique process because she needs to call her drug dealer, it doesn’t matter how great a writer or careful reader she is of your prose. She has to go until she deals with the drug dealer and the drug problem. If not, she will hijack your meetings. The other member of your group, who might be as brilliant as can be, but who must go, is the jealous writer. You will have to hide your successes, diminish yourself, and in the end, you won’t be able to trust her, even though she is brilliant. Trust me on this one. This person is even worse for your writing than the woman who is trying to score cocaine between stories. These are people who deserve your compassion and maybe even your friendship, but they should not be allowed into the safe space of your writing group. “All writers,” you might say, “are dysfunctional,” to which I answer you this: Not true! I should mention that the woman trying to score drugs has since stopped using, which has enabled her to finish her wonderful book, so timing could also be everything.

The writerly camaraderie of the Wordy Girls has sustained me and my writing life over the last 15 years. I hope you’re able to find your own wonderful group of writers who will celebrate your successes, lament your rejections, and feed your writing life. And if you have another tip for creating and maintaining the perfect writing group, please add it in the comments.
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Suzanne Roberts is the author of the award-winning memoir Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail, as well as four collections of poetry. Her work has appeared in many journals and magazines, including, Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, Brevity, National Geographic’s Traveler, CNN, The Rumpus, Longreads, and The Normal School, among others. She lives in South Lake Tahoe, teaches in the low residency MFA program in creative writing at Sierra Nevada College, and serves as the current El Dorado County Poet Laureate. For more information, see her website at www.suzanneroberts.net or follow her on Instagram at suzanneroberts28.

 

 

In Defense of Themelessness in an Essay Collection

May 17, 2019 § 1 Comment

Randon Billings Noble author photo

Randon Billings Noble, in our May 2019 issue, explores the claim that essay collections must always be “themed,” and suggests that maybe the better question to ask is is not, Is the book saleable? but Is it sailable?

Here’s an excerpt:

During our proverbial New York lunch, right before she signed me, my once-upon-a-time agent asked what I wanted from my writing career—fame? fortune? —as well as what I wanted from this book in particular. I remember saying—so unguardedly, “I want to write a good book that people can read.”

In the years that followed—when this agent and I broke up, when my book was rejected by many more agents, and contests, and presses—I returned to this answer again and again. I return to it now when I wonder why The New York Times hasn’t reviewed it, why that literary festival rejected it, why that award didn’t choose it. I wrote a good book, and people can read it. That’s the main thing.

So if you are putting together an essay collection, I ask you to consider what your motive is in writing this particular book. If you already have a theme that drives your writing, that’s wonderful—follow it where it takes you. But if you don’t have a particular theme—and if you don’t really want to have one—take heart. Write the book you want to write, and then think about how it might be described, pitched, published and sold.

Randon Billings Noble’s full essay can be read right here. Do it.

Why You Should Keep Submitting After a Rejection Letter

May 10, 2019 § 4 Comments

ajonesBy Ashley Jones

“There just were not many great pieces. The best piece was one about a Japanese Sex Hotel,” she paused and looked me with wide eyes, “Japanese. Sex. Hotel.”

Rose and I went to Butte County for the weekend to help families with item retrieval after the wildfire. As our trip came to a close, we made conversation as we packed our bags. I tried to respond to her comment without revealing the sharp pain that came along with it.

Last year, I submitted a piece in every category of our university literary journal and Rose, along with the other department editors, accepted none of my work. At first, I did not take the news personally. After all, the entries are anonymous. Still, in that moment, I have to say, Rose poked my ego. To this day, she still has no idea. (So, this story stays between you and me).

She gave me a toothy grin. “You should submit a piece,” she suggested.

“Yeah,” I said with a quiet casual laugh. I folded my clothes and tucked them into a bag. I spoke slowly and unhurriedly. “I think I will.”

The first pieces I submitted, I considered to be some of my best work. These were poems, essays, and stories I spent hours over my keyboard with through the weeks. Hearing that these pieces were not enough for our university literary journal felt challenging. Hearing, from my friend, that they just weren’t great at all felt defeating. I struggled with feelings of shame and embarrassment.  Was I failing as an English major? How could I even call myself a writer?

It was during this time where I started to research author rejections and the commonness of it all. I learned Judy Blume, one of our generation’s most beloved authors, for the first two years of her writing life, received only rejection letters from publishers. Hearing this shocked me. At the same time, her struggle inspired me to keep chugging along. I brushed off Rose’s comments like dust off an old book.

I wrote new pieces and refined old ones. This year, when the time to submit came around; I submitted a piece in every category again.

A few months later, I received an email invitation for the “author party” without receiving an acceptance letter. Holding my breath, I emailed the editors back and asked if they chose one of my pieces to publish in their upcoming journal. I received an email back with the subject line “Sorry for the Mix up!”

I imagined the body of the email as another rejection letter compounded with an apology. However, when I opened the message, the editor-in-chief apologized for forgetting to send the acceptance letter which hid in her draft e-mail folder for weeks!

My roommates and I celebrated in the bedroom of our apartment. This is not uncommon. We rejoice when publishers send me rejection letters too.

So submit.

It’s all a part of the process.

After explaining her experience with rejection letters, Judy Blume put it this way,

“There is not a writer who hasn’t suffered.”


Ashley Jones is an undergraduate student in Los Angeles. Her work appears in The Haiku Journal and The West Wind. She enjoys inspiring documentaries, meeting new people, and teaching the kiddos at her church about the joy in following Jesus.

People Who Will Be Interested in My Book

May 9, 2019 § 23 Comments

Chelsea_B_BlackWhite (1 of 1)-11By Chelsea Biondolillo

This list was inspired by the bookstore events coordinator who wanted to know, “What is the target audience for your book (i.e. history buffs, scientists, gardeners, kids, retirees, etc.) and why do you think your book will interest them?”

PEOPLE WHO WILL BE INTERESTED IN MY BOOK

  1. People who were children.
  2. Anyone who has ever seen a bird close-up, or who has longed to.
  3. My mother.
  4. That one childhood friend who will probably skim the pages of a copy at a bookstore, to see if she can tell whether any of the essays are from the time in my life when she is certain she loomed large. Though she’s in there, she’ll never know where exactly, so she’ll decide against buying a copy.
  5. Those of us inclined to carry a stone around, for luck or company.
  6. My ex-husband’s second wife.
  7. People who thought it was going to be a book about birds. Half of them will give up halfway through and the other half will think it’s pretty interesting for a bird book that isn’t exactly about birds.
  8. That one acquaintance who reads literary nonfiction by women writers so he can impress the kind of women who read literary nonfiction by women writers (even though they all end up going “crazy” on him). He doesn’t know yet that my book might work against in him in that regard.
  9. People who pick up feathers, even though it is against the law to do so.
  10. Students assigned it in their advanced nonfiction workshops by professors with innovative and admirable pedagogy.
  11. People who don’t normally like nature writing, but who make an exception in my case.
  12. Women who at least one person has called crazy.
  13. Half a dozen people I met once and made an impression upon, most likely in my thirties, as I was more memorable then than I’ve ever been.
  14. Anyone who starts out their days with a lot of ambition and big plans and then finds themselves sinking into the mud of their memories, the things that were said to them, by them, over them, who finds that the view of the middle distance out a picture window can be enthralling in the worst way, capturing minutes and even hours of the day before you notice it’s happened. Something important is out there, you and I both know it, we just have to maybe look a little harder or for another moment or two to figure out what it is.
  15. Owners of tattoos they don’t regret, despite the side-eyes of a certain types on public transit and in long lines at the grocery store.
  16. Owners of lonely hearts.
  17. That other childhood friend who will read her name on a page and think at first that I have maligned her. A closer read will reveal otherwise, but there’s no telling if my book will get one from her.
  18. Anyone who has run away from something.
  19. A small cadre of lurkers who have quietly and steadfastly supported me through a lot of bullshit and a few parades. They probably won’t even tell me, until I run into them somewhere unexpected, and that will be a wonderful and endearing surprise.
  20. Readers inclined to possess pretty books. It is a pretty book, after all.
  21. Those few dearest, brightest lights who are hearts of my heart. Who bolster, cajole, inspire, comfort, and champion me. Who I bolster, cajole, and hopefully inspire and comfort right back. They will tell me that everyone should be interested in my book, and I will tell them I believe them.
  22. Those of us who ran the long way ‘round until we came back home again.
  23. Those of us afraid that home has been lost forever.
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    Chelsea Biondolillo is the author of the essay collection The Skinned Bird and two prose chapbooks, Ologies and #Lovesong. She lives and works outside of Portland, Oregon, in a house her grandparents built.

 

How Can Writers Confront Privilege? Read (and Write and Teach) About It

May 6, 2019 § 17 Comments

By LaRue CookLaRueCook_ATL2018_089cropped

I’m a cisgender, heterosexual white man who was raised in the South, a tick below middle class and near the second notch of the Bible Belt. Don’t worry. There is no but. I just think more people like me ought to own their privilege up front, outright. That’s kinda what my debut collection of essays is about: owning up to privilege as opposed to ignoring it or—worse still—apologizing.

Man in the (Rearview) Mirror is about leaving my job as a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine in Connecticut and moving back to my native Tennessee to become a full-time driver for Uber. All of this began in January of 2016, when I was thirty and had no idea that Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States. So, yeah, it’s about that, too—how my silence and ignorance borne out of privilege renders me as culpable as anybody for this current American predicament, to put it lightly.

Three book readings in, and I’ve introduced myself this same way—more or less—to an audience of mostly white people, from Atlanta, Georgia, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Portland, Oregon, the latter at an off-site event during my first-ever AWP conference. The following day I spent an hour signing books at my press’s booth as part of AWP’s humbling-ly massive book fair. To help funnel potential buyers to the table, my editor greeted people with a short pitch. (He’s a naturalized citizen from Trinidad, for the record.) Meanwhile, I was busy with my own PR song-and-dance when I overheard him say, “No, that’s the author. Wouldn’t you love to meet him?” I turned to see a young woman of color, whose seeming interest quickly drained from her face, upon seeing me. She said, “I’m sorry. I don’t buy books by white men.” Then she smiled and continued down the aisle. Nothing malicious. Very polite, in fact.

For the rest of my stint in Portland and since returning to Atlanta, where I’m a PhD student at Georgia State University, I’ve recounted that anecdote to fellow writers—of all identities. Some have scoffed, even rolled their eyes at the reductive logic. Most of the eye-rollers, admittedly, have been men. As for me, I’m not offended, didn’t even roll my eyes. Hell, first thing I thought: Now that’s an essay! Besides, I knew about this trend in theory, just had yet to experience it in practice. Which is why I’d like to consider seriously the implications of what that young woman said.

This is a blog called Brevity, so I hope you’ll excuse my lack of an exhaustive history on gender and racial inequality in literature, other than to cite a stat by essayist Sonya Huber, who is also the director of Fairfield University’s low-res MFA, of which I am an alum. Since 2000, only two of The Best American Essays have featured more women than men: 2011 and 2017. In ’07, ’08, ’10, and ’12, less than thirty percent of the writers were women. However, those numbers don’t take into account race or ethnicity, or how each individual woman identifies their gender. But I’m not certain those numbers alone can truly contextualize the lack of institutional inclusion in our industry: That series is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which is run by a guy named John “Jack” Lynch, a man who looks an awful lot like me. Same as Brian Murray (HarperCollins) and Markus Dohle (Penguin Random House) and John Sargent (Macmillan) and Michael Pietsch (Hachette). My point isn’t lost on you, I’m sure. Just as I’m sure you understand that it’s damn near impossible–if you’d like to sell even a couple hundred books as an indie author—to outrun the shadows of Jeff Bezos and Leonard Riggio. I can’t help but wonder if those men would consider their positions products of privilege, or of bootstraps being pulled up.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to speak to that young woman, to ask her if she only buys books published by Simon & Schuster, which is headed by Carolyn Reidy (a white woman, for the record). I would’ve liked to know that young woman’s thoughts on how we reconcile these white men and me, a person who simply enjoys telling stories, as I’m sure she probably does too. I imagine the ultimate question is: Should I be writing at all, or just reading and listening? How do white people write about privilege if their very words hold that privilege?

These questions loom large and are virtually unanswerable, but to censor them from being asked in these forums by the people who hold the power is to risk confining them to eye rolls or to echo chambers, where we can “unfriend” or “unfollow” those who might challenge us. And, to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, once we’ve done that, then, as writers, we’re finished, we’ve lost. Because we actually believe we’ve figured out the world.

So, later that day in Portland, after that young woman had said what she said, I visited the famous Powell’s Books. I bought a copy of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which I’m ashamed to say, at thirty-four years old, I have not yet read. But I will this summer, as well as C. Riley Snorton’s Black on Both Sides. And I’d say if there is anything remotely resembling an answer to the question of how I confront my white male privilege, then it is that, to personally seek out the experiences that are not mine and to bring them into the classroom.
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LaRue Cook is the author of the essay collection Man in the (Rearview) Mirror and a PhD student in creative writing at Georgia State University, where he teaches composition and intro to fiction. His nonfiction has appeared in such publications as ESPN The Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and The Bitter Southerner, while his fiction has appeared in Washington Square Review and Barely South Review, among other places. Find him at laruecook.com or on Twitter at @larue_cook or on Instagram at @cook.larue.

Using My Own Rejections to Motivate Students

April 30, 2019 § 4 Comments

jorgensen trioBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

“Your life is filled with gripping tales,” I tell my high school creative writing students. “Scour your life for dramatic moments, emotional scenes or frightening experiences and write your own stories. Write well and a publisher may want to share your stories with the world.”

When my sister qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games, suffered a flat tire in the triathlon, and proclaimed her goal to win gold in 2016, I took my own advice. But the tale was so big I needed a book. I partnered with my mom, Nancy Jorgensen, who had published two books in the field of choral education (From the Trenches: Real Insights from Real Choral Educators and Things they Never Taught You in Choral Methods).

After my mom and I completed our manuscript, we submitted it to publishers, agents, and editors. The rejections packed our email and mailbox, forcing us to ask, Is our memoir good enough? Does it have a place in the market? Will anyone want to read it? Despite rejections, our answers remained yes, yes, yes.

In my classroom, I projected a tweet from YA author Erin Hahn (@writer_ep_hahn): “Every author you respect was told no. Their email alert dinged and it was bad news. They entered their work into a contest and heard crickets. They cried buckets over a bad review. They felt inadequate. But they didn’t stop writing and you shouldn’t either.”

The tweet resonated with my students. I asked them to discuss their own rejections. I advised them to revise and submit elsewhere and then took my own advice.

Our memoir, Go Gwen Go, starts in 2010 when USA Triathlon recruited Gwen for a sport she never heard of. She rebuffed them at first, but eventually dabbled in swim-bike-run and surprised herself with success. She quit her job as an accountant to train full time. As she pursued the Olympic dream, our family agonized over her bike crashes, her relocation abroad, and her competitive losses. But, we celebrated her new skills, races won, and finally Olympic gold.

More than a sports tale, our memoir is a family story. I envisioned mothers, book clubs, and memoir fans delving into our family’s story. I saw my students enjoying how this is a book about the magic of possibility—that a 24-year-old accountant could remake her life into a dramatic athletic career.

The book explores themes of risk, the courage to invent a new life focus, and the unconditional family support that makes extraordinary accomplishments possible. Readers enter the secret world of Olympic training, professional coaching, international travel, sponsor funding, anti-doping requirements, athlete nutrition, and sports physiotherapy. They are privy to the personal life of a professional athlete, complete with medical crises, weddings, divorces, and holiday celebrations.

Gwen is followed by 42,000 fans on Twitter, 65,000 on Facebook and 138,000 on Instagram. They want a glimpse inside an Olympian’s life and the family that brought her to the pinnacle of sport. They want to peer inside sponsorship, agents, media tours. They want to know what it’s like to experience the Olympics, your sister/daughter the gold medal favorite.

After seeing Hahn’s tweet, I googled “rejected manuscripts famous authors” and saw a list that included Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, Louisa May Alcott, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King, Sylvia Plath. Many were told their ideas would “not sell” and “I wonder if any publisher will buy it.” I would not compare myself to Vonnegut, Hemingway or Alcott—or have ideas of grandeur for my own manuscript—but I was reminded that rejection connects all writers.

One rejection letter called our manuscript “delightful” before admonishing: the book won’t sell. Another editor said we submitted “a very worthwhile submission, particularly in memoirs” but reminded us that “because of the limited number of trade and regional titles” he would have to decline.

Each rejection challenged my mom and me to keep writing, keep believing, keep working. And to keep reflecting, perfecting, polishing. What should we cut? Where do readers want more information? Should we combine our voices? Does it have a place in the market? Will anyone read it?

I shared the rejections with my students. I projected letters and chapter drafts and talked about how I felt. I reminded my students (and myself) that writing is an art form, with different audiences reacting differently to each piece. I said, “Writing is not a science, so it can always be updated, modified, changed. You just have to keep working, keep pushing forward.”

Almost two years after we finished our manuscript, Meyer & Meyer Sport, Europe’s largest sports publishing house, said they too believed—that they wanted to publish our story.

I am thankful for Hahn who reminded me it’s okay to feel inadequate, but to keep believing, keep writing and keep working. And that’s the message I relay to my students when they doubt themselves and ask, Is my writing good enough? Does it have a place in the market? Will anyone want to read it?

Yes.

You just need to find precisely the right publisher who will believe as much as you do.

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Elizabeth Jorgensen’s memoir, Go, Gwen, Goco-written with Nancy Jorgensen, is available for pre-order. Her shorter works appear in Wisconsin English Journal, Azalea and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She has presented on sijo (Korean poetry) at National Council of Teachers of English, Wisconsin State Reading Association, and The National Consortium for Teaching About Asia. This blog post was inspired by Jorgensen’s blog for Marquette University’s College of Education.

 

RX: Self-Promotion for Writers

April 25, 2019 § 10 Comments

Case_Jennifer_PortraitBy Jennifer Case

OVERVIEW

When I was in high school, ready for my first part-time job, I remember walking into grocery stores, or through the hallway of the indoor mall, willing store managers to notice me. I fantasized that I wouldn’t have to go up to the guest services counter and do the humiliating task of asking for a job application. Instead, something in my eyes and my open, receptive face would hone them in. I could just stand there, fluorescent light shining on my head, and they’d say, “Hey! We need a new garden clerk/barista/baker, and you look perfect. Would you like a job?!”

SYMPTOMS

No manager, of course, ever approached me. In the end, I had to ask the customer service representatives for applications and make sweaty, follow-up calls, but this, in many ways, is how I also felt about book promotion. I wanted the end result—decent sales and the right kind of readers—but the means of obtaining that attention…? I was a high school student all over again, staring at a list of emails I needed to write, cold calls I should make, and people I should have been networking with six months ago rather than now. I sat there, frozen, not so much with fear, but something heavier and more stone-like.

CAUSES

The irony of the publishing industry doesn’t escape me. Writers tend to be introverted. They spend years observing the world, sitting alone, writing and rewriting their manuscripts, and yet that first year after a book is published, they are supposed to metamorphose—suddenly and completely—into sparkly, bedecked extroverts, fully capable of contacting all the important media outlets and confidently, but unassumingly, convincing others that this excerpt/interview/craft piece/reading is worth attention. As Sarah Fawn Montgomery wrote in her post on this blog, there’s a madness to book marketing, and it can be brutal.

POTENTIAL COMPLICATIONS

As well-documented by many:

  • A tendency to stop responding to emails. Or to respond with over-enthusiasm and too many exclamation points.
  • Sheer exhaustion, often leading to hermitism or the reclusion of oneself in backwoods cabins, teaching jobs, or volunteer work.
  • A shrill rise in the voice that others interpret as—and may in fact be—desperation.
  • Overuse of social media.
  • Accusations of shamelessness and subsequent loss of friends (especially on social media).
  • Humility, whether reactionary or innate, potentially leading to a book that falls into the great void.
  • Paralyzing self-doubt.

TREATMENT

Usually nothing more than bed rest, long walks outdoors, and plenty of (nonalcoholic) fluids. In severe cases, and when privilege and means allow: a publicist. Most cases, however, will resolve with the following home remedy:

  • After each painfully arranged reading you give at an independent bookstore, purchase a book. Let them form an ever-increasing stack on your nightstand. Then, in moments of self-doubt, set aside your own work, your own hopes for your work, and simply relish the work of others’.
  • Read more in the next year than you did in the two years before. Read books that have nothing to do with your own projects and do not help you understand your market or competition. Read the award-winners but also books by smaller presses. Read books written by writers with very different lives from your own.
  • Allow yourself to get caught up in these books. Stay up late, turning their pages. At times, shorten your own workday to instead simply read. Memoirs, essay collections, novels, poetry: try them all.
  • Let these books remind you of what made you want to write in the first place. That there is a purpose for their existence beyond sales figures and self-promotion. A purpose that has nothing to do with the egos of writers, but with something larger: The joy of reading words on a page. Of digging into complex truths. Of appreciating the lives of those around us. Of simply being a reader.
  • Repeat as many times as necessary. Bank account/work obligations/dependent children non-withstanding, there is no risk of overdose.

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    Jennifer Case is the author of Sawbill: A Search for Place (University of New Mexico Press, 2018). Her essays have appeared in journals such as OrionMichigan Quarterly Review, Literary Mama, Fourth River, Sycamore Review, and Zone 3. She teaches at the University of Central Arkansas and serves as the Assistant Nonfiction Editor of Terrain.org. You can find her at www.jenniferlcase.com.

 

 

 

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