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Writerly Roundup — November 2015

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.

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Photo by Jena Schwartz

This week, Tin House published On Pandering, which was originally delivered by author Claire Vaye Watkins (@clairevaye) as a lecture during the 2015 Tin House Summer Writers' Workshop.

Watkins explores with admirable honesty her deep-seated motivations for writing--who she is writing towards, who are the voices in her head--and the metrics she unwittingly uses for writing well. From being dismissed as a "girl," not a "writer," to the tendency to simply "watch boys do stuff," to falling into the trap of feeling like she has nothing to write about once she becomes a mother, she finds the drive to measure her self and her worth against the standards of the white male literary establishment to be troublingly entrenched. In what, at times, reads more like a battle cry than an essay, she bravely exposes this latent inferiority complex and emerges ready to confront and challenge the norm. The piece is insightful--and inciteful--and undeniably thought-provoking. Below are some powerful excerpts:

I'd been under the impression that since I wrote, I was a writer, period. If I wrote bad I was a bad writer, if I wrote good I was a good writer. Simple as that. I was, I knew, every bit as ambitious as Kyle Minor and Stephen Elliott. I loved books just as much as Kyle and Stephen did, read as much as they did, and worked just as hard to get the right words in the right order. But now I was confronted with Google Groups listserv proof that, to Stephen, Kyle was a writer and I was a drunk girl.

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It was Toni Morrison who pointed out that Tolstoy was not writing for her, who said she was writing toward black women. It makes you wonder, Who am I writing for? Who am I writing toward?

Myself, I have been writing to impress old white men. Countless decisions I've made about what to write and how to write it have been in acquiescence to the opinions of the white male literati. Not only acquiescence but a beseeching, approval seeking, people pleasing.

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I am trying to understand a phenomenon that happens in my head, and maybe in yours too, whereby the white supremacist patriarchy determines what I write.

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Pair the above with this piece that ran in The Guardian this month about the renaissance of the essay in the internet age. The accessibility and interconnectedness of the internet creates the perfect medium for the essay form, and, argues Lorraine Berry (@BerryFLW), it is American women (for example, Gay, Solnit, Daum, Jamison, Nelson) who are capitalizing on this.

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In The Ultimate Guide To Getting Published In A Literary Magazine, Lincoln Michel (@TheLincoln) provides the most comprehensive, refreshingly straightforward overview of the lit mag publishing industry I've come across—demystifying the slush pile, the editorial process, submission strategy and more. Throughout, he emphasizes the tall task of getting accepted to one of these prestigious publications, but also the importance of persistence and patience. One of my favorite lines:  "…in the long run if you write good work and you submit consistently you will find a home for it."

And a passage that I found particularly compelling:

There Is No Rush
Most young writers — myself included back in the day — rush to publish. They want to feel validated and get some assurance that their work is publishable. But there are no extra points in literature for publishing young. Lit mag editors don't know or care about the age of their submitters. Book buyers don't care about how quickly you published your first story. If your work isn't ready, wait until it is.

The piece is laced with humor and wisdom and is as enjoyable to read as it is useful.

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Brevity and Assay Journal are both running excellent synopses of lectures and sessions from the NonfictioNOW 2015 conference, which was held in late October in Flagstaff, Arizona. Here are several links to posts that stood out:

How to Make a Cake out of Cupcakes: or How to Turn Your Essays into a Book by Steven Church (@StevenWChurch);

The View from the Slush Pile (Parts One and Two) by Jen Palmares Meadows (@jpalmeadows);

And here is a link to the comprehensive coverage at Assay.

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For those brave souls participating in NaNoWriMo this month, this Writer's Digest post of 30 Tips for Writing a Book in 30 Days by Jessica Strawser (@jessicastrawser) was widely shared and may contain helpful nuggets to get you across the finish line--or to draw on even after November comes to a close.

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I'll leave you with a little humor this month:  Many of us may flip past dedication pages when cracking open a new book, but 22 Times The Dedication Page Was The Best Part Of The Book, compiled by Beth Buczynski (@bethbuczynski), will make it seem worth your while to pause and take a look.

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Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!


Dina L. Relles is a writer with work in The Atlantic, Atticus Review, River TeethSTIR JournalBrain, Child Magazine, Full Grown People, The Manifest-Station, The Washington PostThe Huffington Post, and elsewhere. You can find more of her work on her own site, Commonplaceand you can connect with her on Twitter She lives in New York with her husband and children. Dina is a former blog editor for Literary Mama.


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