Tuesday, October 28, 2008

WH's Upcoming Call-Outs to Writers

In September, I issued WH's First Call Out to Writers, and printed the results (Writers on rejection)  earlier this month.

I'd like to schedule this as a regular feature because I enjoy hearing from other writers and feel I have a lot to learn, especially from better-published writers. In order to give writers a longer period in which to respond, I'm listing the topics for the next two Call-Outs below, along with a request for ongoing information on online writers' tools. 

Please send your responses to me via my email thebethblevins -at- gmail.com, and put  "Writing Home" in the subject line so it will get through spam filters. Please reply to one topic per email to make it easier for me to know what you're talking about. The deadline for responses is given with each topic.

If you don't work as a professional writer (i.e., write for money): how do you reconcile your writing life with your career? Do you work in a related field, or in an environment that totally takes you away from pen and paper (or computer) all day?  Do you find things in your workday to write about, or does your writing come from a totally separate part of your life and experience? How do you make time to write?

How do you keep track of your submissionsand publications/contests to submit your work to?  In my August 4 post, I wrote about the wonderfully tactile way that writer and instructor Nancy Naomi Carlson keeps track of her submissions. I'd like to hear if there are other ways to do this, which writers have found easy or especially beneficial. I'd also really like to know how you keep up with all the contest deadlines out there, if you regularly submit pieces to contests.

What are your favorite writers' magazines, web sites, blogs? How do you use them? Why do they particularly appeal to you?  Your responses will help me add links to a list of writers' resources in the right column of this blog. Feel free to send suggestions anytime and I'll add them as I receive them; unless you say so otherwise, I may sometimes print the comments you send about the resources in occasional blog posts. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

The danger of not writing on paper

From childhood until early adulthood, everything I wrote was on paper. Journals, poems, love letters unsent—I kept them all in boxes and file folders, and managed to take them back and forth across the country, even though my means of transportation was bicycle, bus or plane and I lived in a series of small, rented rooms where storage space was at a minimum.

In the last couple of decades I've written almost everything on the computer and, despite living in houses with attics and closets, I haven't bothered to print most of it out. Except for letters printed once and sent off, and stories printed for submissions, the rest of it sat on a hard drive somewhere. I assumed it would always be accessible if I backed it up.

An article I read in a writer's magazine a couple of years ago warned that writers shouldn't assume their hard drives won't crash or their houses won't burn and suggested the best and cheapest means of backup would be to create an email account just for the archiving of writing. First draft, you send an email to that special account, final draft, another email, with draft status noted in the subject line.

Easy enough, I created a "beblevinsarchive" account on Yahoo and have been sending copies of my pieces to it ever since. Until yesterday, when the email bounced back with the message: "This account has been disabled or discontinued."

I checked online and got this explanation:

Your Yahoo! Mail account is no longer active.
Why is my account inactive?
Yahoo! Mail deactivated your mail account because:
• You have not logged into your mail account during the past four months

It also said "All email messages, folders, attachments and preferences have been deleted and cannot be recovered."

So, just sending messages to a Yahoo email account is not enough to keep it active. I don't even remember what I sent to the account, so some of it may be gone forever.

OK, I'll just back my writing up on some kind of external storage medium. But here's what gives me pause: I have an article I wrote years ago for a graduate journalism class, which I'd like to find again since it included an interview with Sy Syfransky, publisher of The Sun. I can't find a paper copy of it; the only copy I seem to have of it is on a floppy disk—a five-inch floppy disk which I no longer have any means of accessing.

Even if I manage to transfer that disk (via a company that does such things) to a three-inch floppy disk or a flashdrive, I wonder now how long it will be before they are outdated and equally hard to access.

Today I created an "Archive" folder on an Internet email account I check on a regular basis, to which I can send copies of my writing for storage. But I'm also going to get some boxes ready, restock the printer with ink and paper, and get ready to churn out "hard copies" of things I've written in the last decade. Maybe some of it wasn't worth saving anyway, but I'd like to be the one to make that choice, not a machine.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Watching the blogs scroll by

If you want to get an idea of how many blogs there are in the world, I recommend watching the list of fresh posts on Google's Blogger.

Whether you have an account on Blogger or not, you can access Blogger's Dashboard. There, to the left of the sign-in boxes, under the Blogger logo, is a scroll-by of blogs that have just been updated, e.g., "Blogs Updated at 10:45 PM." Each title appears for less than a second (on my older laptop, the titles post as a scrolling list instead of individual titles flashing on and off). If you don't sign in, the list never stops rolling by. Titles appear in English, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, etc. If you tire of the list, or a title piques your curiosity, you can click on the title/link and go right to the freshly minted posting.

What's amazing it that not every blog that has been updated in the world makes a half-second appearance there. I tested this by dating a post on my cooking blog ahead by two minutes. Then I signed out and went back to Dashboard to watch for its title, but it never appeared.

After I waited for my blog update to appear, between 2:56 and 2:59 p.m. last Thursday, I lingered and watched the following titles scroll by (there were many more, but these were all that were memorable, or that I could write down quickly enough):

Dee Dee Myers Photo

Anal Sphincter Cramping

Hazel Gordy

Newman S Own Charity

Citizens Against Government Waste

Jim Lehrer

Dude on the Run

Debate Analysis

How to spot a Gucci fake

Gay white men naked

Papa Was a Rolling Stone

Strategic Tanker Mission

Roger Junior

Gay Prisoner Penpals


I find the scroll-by mesmerizing. Since I discovered this feature, I often pause at Dashboard and wait awhile before I sign in. At its best, each title represents a human being expressing themselves (whether through essays, poems, minute accounts of their quotidian lives, photographs, drawings, etc.). I say this even though some of the titles are yucky (in five minutes of watching last week, there was more than one Lolita-themed blog) and some are obviously commercials for business offerings.

It's almost equal to a world population clock--which seems to imply that there are seven births per second (I got this figure by refreshing the page several times while using a stopwatch!). There may be more blog postings birthed per second than there are human beings being born since Blogger isn't the only blog host in the world. I appreciate the newness of the postings noted at "Blogs Updated at..."; it's almost like we're there just after the moment of their birth.

10 minutes later—
I wrote the above and showed it to my spouse before I posted it, since I wanted to get his take on the blogosphere. He went to Dashboard and rather than watch the blog titles roll by, he started clicking on the titles. At 11 p.m. on a Thursday (which is when I'm actually writing Friday morning's post), he noticed that a lot of blog titles started to scroll by with women's names: Mari's Blog, Lawanda's Blog, Cathy's Blog, etc. He clicked on one and it led him to "hornymatches.com." He clicked another and it also led him to "hornymatches.com." Both times the page showed women supposedly from our local area in Maryland (though some of them looked like LA porn stars so I'm not sure they were really Baltimore or Silver Spring gals). Not only had the robot figured out how to benefit from the Dashboard scroll-by, it also figured out immediately where we live.

So, Dashboard is a lot like the world. Creative, intelligent voices mix in with the commercial and crass. There is integrity and exploitation, the inspired and the mundane. But unlike the physical world, the Dashboard scroll-by (and also Blogger's "Next Blog" feature) lets me peer into what is being thought in those physical spaces without my having to even knock on the door.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Writers on rejection

These are some of the responses received to the WH Call Out on how writers deal with rejection. Strangely, no men wrote back, only women, which makes me wonder if male writers face less rejection, if they blow it off more easily than women, or they just don't want to talk about it—?

Nan K. Chase
Since I'm writing for money, not for deep self-expression necessarily, I don't take rejection personally. A rejection at the "pitching" stage is due to:
  • poor research about the market
  • poor query (weak lead, errors)
  • weak story idea
  • etc.
Rejection farther along is due to the same things, plus wrong word count and generally poor writing.

Analyse the mistakes, fix them, send it out again. And don't take it personally—it's important to always get over yourself.

Nan K. Chase's books include Asheville: A History (McFarland & Company, 2007) and Bark House Style: Sustainable Designs from Nature (Gibbs Smith, 2008) with co-author Chris McCurry. She lives in western North Carolina.

Kim Dana Kupperman
I file the rejections I receive (I have a thick file that corresponds to my ever-thickening skin). It has long been a dream of mine to wallpaper a bathroom with these rejection letters and notes. I don’t own my own home or bathroom so the project is stalled for the moment. However, the plan would consist of making a collage with the rejection slips for each piece next to the cover of the journal in which they finally appeared.

I’m now at a point where, if I receive a handwritten note from an editor, I consider that a “good” rejection. Only writers could come up with the notion of a “good” rejection! But seriously, those handwritten notes are an invitation to keep going and keep submitting. An editor (who penned such notes to me and then finally accepted my work) told me that authors who received such notes were called “legendary” amongst staff at the journal while writers whose work was accepted were welcomed as “family.” I really liked that distinction.

Rejection is a way of life in this adventure called writing. I use it to remind myself that what passes as “good” writing is a matter of individual taste. Today’s periodical literature is so exciting because it’s not being chosen by one or two editors, but by hundreds, all with a different aesthetic. What doesn’t work for one editor will for another. I learned a long time ago that being rejected doesn’t mean I am being rejected, it means my work—as I submitted it—doesn’t light up the heart of the particular reader or (as is the case at many journals) group of readers.

For more on Kim Dana Kupperman, see the Writing Home Writer Profile about her.

Angela Render
I used to keep the rejections in a file folder until I moved and decided they weren't worth hauling to the new house. Now rejection doesn't bother me at all. I think the key to dealing with it is to remember that the person did not reject YOU. They rejected a piece of writing that might not have been mature yet, or that hit them at an inappropriate time. Two weeks earlier or six months later and it might have been accepted. Since timing is so important to getting published, it's worthwhile to resubmit a piece to a place that's rejected you if:

1) The editor has moved on to another job.
2) A world event has suddenly made your piece timely.

Angela Render is a professional web developer who writes historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and cross-genre romantica. For more information, visit her website: AngelaRender.com.

Lalita Noronha
I treat rejections the way I do my weight. I go up and down with the process; I may slow down, but I never quit! First I read every word of the rejection letters, even the boiler-plate replies, wipe my tears (it’s true!) and then faithfully file those treasures. Then, I return to some of my favorite quotes:

"Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate... but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins."
--Franz Kafka

"I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, 'To hell with you.'"
--Saul Bellow

"This girl doesn't, it seems, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."
--From a rejection slip for "The Diary of Anne Frank" (as quoted on http://www.thinkarete.com/quotes/by_teacher/Unknown ).

Born in India, Lalita Noronha is a research scientist, teacher, poet, author and an editor for The Baltimore Review. Her literary work has appeared in over 40 journals, magazines and anthologies. Her short story collection is entitled Where Monsoons Cry (Black Words Press, 2004). Her website is http://www.lalitanoronha.com.