May 05

Going to Readings is Good for Your Health and Ego

Poet Erin Belieu read at Washington University's Duncker Hall last night. Full house; did my heart good to see it. She read "In The Red Dress I Wear at Your Funeral," the climactic long poem from her critically acclaimed new book, Black Box. I am so glad I went. It was good in all ways for my health as a writer.

At least once every two weeks I attend a literary reading or event in order to stay current, to learn, to enjoy, to listen to the hot new poets or honor the hot old ones. Always I keep a notebook and pen at hand, because it seems that poems attract poems -- at readings, the whole room fills with them, like butterflies -- and I want to capture my share to take home. Some of my best ideas for prose and poems are conceived at readings. It's a stimulating environment, full of thoughts and ideas: totally writer-friendly.

That said, I like Ms. Belieu's poems, but at their best they are only about 5 to 10 percent better than mine -- a great boost to my confidence. And on the way home it occurred to me that no matter how painful, the end of a love relationship is not at all like real death. That metaphor originated with court poets who wrote for the elite. We in the wealthy USA use that metaphor to lend drama to our lives. Anyone who has seen death knows that by comparison, a love relationship gone bad is bubblegum.
Jan 18

Small-Press Editors Tell All, Feb. 11th

Small and/or independent presses are THE way for the un-agented writer to get published. The last four authors I edited all published their books with small presses, and others I didn't edit got their first books published by small presses also (smart enough to know they hadn't a prayer with the big ones). So have a prayer. Find out what small presses look for when three small-press editors discuss this very question at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on Friday, February 11, at 6:00 p.m., in Lucas Hall 200. The UMSL MFA Program presents a panel of publishers from independent presses specializing in books of literary fiction and poetry. Alex Schwartz from Switch Grass, Ben Furnish from BkMk, and Jon Tribble from Crab Orchard will discuss and answer questions about what they look for in manuscripts, how to submit, what to expect, and more. Free and open to the public. Call (314) 516-6845 for more information.

I urge all writers in these changing times to continually update their knowledge about publishing, especially from firsthand sources such as these editors. Take advantage of a great privilege that will cost you nothing.
Jul 18

I Get the Going Rate

Just to let you know: I am getting the rate that I asked for, the going rate! I forced myself to grow up and ask for what I am worth after 30 years of writing and 20 years of college teaching.

Now I see that it was always a matter of growing up. And asking for what I want, and not settling for less. I had to step out of my comfort zone. My old comfort zone was about half the going rate. Isn't that pathetic? But now I am a grownup. A professional who finally asks for and gets paid a professional rate. It's a wildly new feeling. The air I breathe feels different. I have more energy. I have more confidence!

Don't know what to charge for your writing-related services? Consult the chapter "How Much Should I Charge?" that appears in the front matter of every annual Writer's Market. In the 2006 Writer's Market, that chapter begins on page 68.

Whatever your comfort zone is, whether financial or artistic, I urge you to try stepping out of it.
Jul 06

I'm Booked

Neighbor says: My sister's daughter is having a wedding shower Saturday at the VFW Hall; you will drop in, won't you, and say hello to Marie and give your blessings to the bride?

Writer says: I am booked.

Relative says: I've tried for an hour and I just can't get the inkjet cartridge out or the new one in. And I've got to get this thing printed by tomorrow. You're into computers, right? You can come over tonight, can't you?

Writer says: I am booked.

Dear Writer: You're working on a book, aren't you? (Who isn't?) Then you can confidently say -- when someone tries to railroad you into doing something you didn't promise to do, aren't obliged to do, never agreed to do: "I'm booked."

Your score doubles if you use that time to work on your book for real.
Jun 24

Do Real Writers Write Every Day?

It is said that "real writers write every day," but of course that is a myth.

I once was in conference with a famous writer. (It was E. L. Doctorow.) The first thing he asked me was, "Do you write every day?"

I said, "No. I have to work."

His manner changed. I understood that my answer had disqualified me in some fashion; that it proved I was not truly committed, and had no future in the big leagues. The rest of the conference was perfunctory.

I didn't think it was a rude question at the time. I had read, over and over, that some writers were "too lazy" or "not disciplined" if they did not get up two hours earlier in the morning or use their after-work time to write. I tried those things, for about three days each, and couldn't see straight, much less think straight.

"Do you write every day?" E. L. Doctorow is a fine writer. But that question proved he was not a teacher.

Maybe writers who do nothing else can and should write every day, but writers with responsibilities other than writing can get too burnt-out. Tired. Depleted. And if you feel that way -- you are exactly what you feel like!

The following coping idea came from a writer with a full-time job. She tried writing in the evenings, but at best put in a spotty half-hour. The results were not worth her efforts. Weekends had to be spent on housework and errands. So she told herself:

Okay, no writing Monday through Friday. Period. You are not to go near pen and paper on those days. Writing is permitted on the weekends only -- and then only if you feel like it.

The first week she rejoiced in her freedom from the mental burden of "writing every day."

By Friday night of the second week she could hardly wait to get to her computer. She did her housework and schlepping on weeknights, didn't short herself on sleep, and on Saturday and Sunday, rested, she got good chunks of time to sit down and write. She's a real writer.
Jun 21

The Green Light for Creative Writing

EXERCISE: 1. Close your eyes and picture a traffic light, any type you want. 2. Make the light turn green. 3. Hold the picture of the green traffic light in your mind. Try to hold the picture for at least 15 seconds. 4. Picture the green traffic light whenever you think or hear stuff like this:

"I can't get an agent" "Writers never make money" "Nobody wants the kind of stuff I write" "Artists are doomed to be outsiders" "I wish I'd been born with another talent"

Gently, shine the green light on these thoughts. You have a green light to write -- whatever you want -- and be great.

Having trouble picturing a green light? Draw a traffic light. Draw rays coming out of the green lamp.

Every time you see a green light, no matter where you are, tell yourself, "That's the green light for my writing."