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.
To those who are working on their craft, writing early in the morning or late at night, there might be a quiet voice whispering that once you publish your book, you're on the pathway to permanent success. Tom McAllister demystifies the process of book production and publication.
During the entire process of producing a book, the writer becomes a swirling vortex of neediness. First you’re begging for time to write, then you’re asking people to read and edit, then you’re querying agents, then you’re asking (oh god) for blurbs, then you’re contacting reviewers, then you’re emailing everyone you’ve ever met, then you’re posting on Facebook (again and again), and then you’re asking people to show up to some bookstore on a Wednesday night to listen to you read words at them. Later, you’ll ask them to write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Every day, you are making demands on people’s time and money. It’s terrible.
There is one key perspective McAllister asks the author to remember during the highs and lows of the writing and publication maze.
But it’s important to remember: nobody in the world will ever care about your book as much as you do. Very few will ever understand exactly what it means to you. Barrett goes on to cover submissions, rejections, acceptance of those rejections (a toughie, often), and acceptances. It’s a handy walk-through guide to the process and the follow-up, whatever answer you receive.
Although friends and family have the best of intentions to support you by liking your status on Facebook, tweeting about your book and/or showing up to your reading at the local bookstore, the likelihood of consistent support is perhaps, expecting too much. Instead, McAllister urges writers to focus on one important point:
I don’t think there is any way to convince all the people in your life to buy your book, let alone care about it half as much as you do. Though their validation feels great, it’s important to remember that it’s also not the point. As a writer, you need to approach every project with the understanding that you’re doing this work for yourself, and everything that happens once it’s in the world is out of your control. Whatever project you’re working on now doesn’t derive value from your friends’ approval, but rather from the love and energy you pour into it. You can do the work, and you can keep showing up, and that’s all you’ve got. Most of the time, it’s all you need.
Working on your craft and forgetting about the outcome will help navigate the slippery terrain of expecting external affirmation of your writing.
Jesmyn Ward on Weathering Rejection and Finding Her Stories, Katie Berrington (@KatieBerrington), Vogue
Jesmyn Ward may seem like a household name to most with the success of her novel, "Sing, Unburied, Sing." However, Ward characterizes the beginning of her career with a much different view.
I had a quiet start, novelist Jesmyn Ward says of the fledgling years of her career. Few really paid much attention to my first novel and so no publishing houses were beating down my door to publish the second book.
Ward pushed through those early struggles by focusing on her writing process.
I took the advice I was given and persisted and worked on my craft, Ward says of how she overcame the early struggles. My top priority is always working on craft rather than building connections.
When asked about advice for other writers on how to push through the doubt, she says:
Persist. If you stop, then you’re removing yourself from the conversation. You have to keep going and weather rejection until you find the person who will open the door for you. You have to hold up your end of the bargain. Become the best writer you can because nobody owes you anything; you owe that to yourself.
Ward's ultimate message is to keep working on your craft because you owe it to yourself and your writing.
The Mental Load: Honoring Your Story Over Your To-Do List, Felicia Rose Chavez, Brevity
In this piece, Felicia Rose Chavez analyzes what we choose over our writing. Chavez notes the reasons why we resist the writing and decide to pay attention to chores and everyday duties.
This everyday-ness has a name, apparently: feminists call it “the mental load,” the invisible managerial responsibilities that ensure my family never runs out of toilet paper.
The challenge of committing to the page is that writing requires time, gluts of time to hear nothing but your own words, to staff your chair as an independent agent and not a singular source of need. A lot of the time the mental load wins and dishes it is. But other times the writing in my head demands substance—there’s no saying no—and so I allow myself space on the page.
The everyday also holds its gifts, according to Chavez. In these places the writing can sprout and lead to an unexpected surprise, especially in the realm of creative nonfiction.
Creative nonfiction honors such complexity, allowing us to study our own lives for meaning. On paper, our experience has weight and substance, distance and perspective. We have offered our stories meaning. And those stories can serve as the beginning of a longer, more profound evolution of thinking.
So: what’s your story? When you’re alone, when it’s quiet and your mind wanders, what surfaces, over and over despite your best efforts? Psychologists call these “intrusive memories,” the invisible switchboard operations that ensure we never get over our childhoods. I call them “golden stories.” Not because they’re pleasant, necessarily, but because they burn bright.
It is a choice for every writer to determine what is most important - writing that paragraph or cleaning the dishes. I often lean toward immediate gratification and will head toward the pile of laundry instead of working on an essay. I find comfort in Chavez's advice on embracing whatever choice works best for that moment and removing judgment from a particular decision.
I’m always choosing. Which mental load is it today? Man the kitchen table and forgo the rest, knowing that if I choose writing over housework, I’ll suffer the physical manifestation of my to-do list, evidence that I’m a bad wife, a bad mother, a bad Chicana? Or else forgo the writing and suffer the heat-hot psychological cargo of golden stories burning bright?
It’s more complicated than I’m letting on, of course. There is no one or the other, just as there is no good or bad. Am I just a mom, or just a wife, or just a writer? All I can do is take a deep breath and try: try to get it all done without resentment; try to be honest and thoughtful and productive on the page, even if I’m out of practice; and most of all, try to not compare myself to my husband, because it’s simply not the same. It never will be.
Chavez illuminates the struggles that all writers (especially mothers) face when taking on multiple roles. I appreciated her lessons and the permission to sink into my choices, whether it is inking out another paragraph or cooking pasta for my family.
Somewhat Partial Reasons for Why I've Loved Your Writing Submission, Matt Broderick, The Review Review
In this post, Matt Broderick outlines why he believes a particular submission makes it past the editor's desk. Most journals receive several submissions and these tips can help guide you in making a particular piece publication ready.
Broderick urges writers to pay attention to what it takes to ground a reader. He shares this example:
Consider the following scenario: A stranger approaches on the street and offers you the adventure of a lifetime in a breathtaking new world of magic and wonder, but in order to get there, you must choose between two modes of transportation.
Option 1: Hail a cab to the airport, board a thirteen-hour flight (the entirety of which will be spent awake due to your racing thoughts and excitement), locate your guide, drive another twenty-four hours, step into a space shuttle and submit to cryo-freezing in order to preserve your body for the extensive journey to your final destination.
Option 2: Enter a phone booth, pick up the receiver, and find yourself instantly teleported to a new world, where you are greeted by a guide who is waiting to explain the risks and rewards of the adventure before you.
Ultimately, each choice will get you to where you’re going, but will I always be willing to tag along? Hint: Option 2 provides better odds.
He encourages writers to focus on opening lines and to treat it like the first bite of a meal.
Think of the best meal you’ve ever eaten, and furthermore, the first bite of that meal. I guarantee you remember it. The aroma, texture, and taste, all coming together in such a succinct manner that you’re almost left disappointed that you’ll never be able to experience that first bite again.
Hold the first line of your story to that same standard. Give me your favorite steak dinner, or French onion soup. If I pause for a moment, and go back to savor it again, you’ve already done something wonderful and I’ll be eager to reward you for it.
He continues to elaborate and discourages purple prose. Instead, he advocates that less is more.
I’d rather a story with sentences and paragraphs that crack like a whip over the bridge of my nose, than long-winding prose of twists and twirls, a ballerina stuck in slow motion.
Broderick offers others tips that serve as helpful reminders on what you want to do before hitting the submit button.
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!