When you sit down to write, are you sometimes overcome with the thought that you can’t possibly have anything to say or add to an over-saturated market? That your life isn’t exciting enough to be interesting to anyone? That you have nothing of value to offer a public audience? Do you often put yourself and your writing down (“I’m a terrible writer,” “This [piece you are currently working on] sucks.”
If this sounds familiar, then you suffer from a confidence block.
This is a terrible and self-defeating feeling, but if you are willing to ignore it, there is a way to overcome it: Practice.
And practice in this case means writing and submitting your work again and again and again. Take an active stand in your own defense. If YOU don’t think you have anything to offer, why would anyone else think so? YOU are the one who must first believe that your writing has value.
Editors like to work with confident writers. Think about it – if you don’t present yourself as confident in your writing and your pitch, why would any editor want to take a chance on you? She has to believe that you have what it takes to see this project through.
Think about this in another context: The job interview.
When you apply for a job, do you pepper your cover letter with self-deprecation and doubt? Of course not. Because if you did, you’d never land an interview. Okay. So you’ve presented as a confident and experienced potential employee. Now how do you talk about yourself during the interview? Do you put yourself down and talk about how much you don’t know? Of course not. Because if you did, you wouldn’t have a job. Employers hire confident people who appear to be able to handle the job. Editors want the same thing.
You may not suddenly have confidence in your own work, but please stop saying such things out loud. Write your stories, submit over and over and over until an editor says yes, and build your confidence through methodical practice. There is no magic, or voodoo, or magic pixie dust that separates you from that confident writer whom you admire. The only difference is that person decided to feel unsure and write/submit her work anyway.
You can do this, too. Approach your writing like a job and practice until you feel the confidence you crave.
Each week, check this Monday posting for a selection of current calls for submissions, good writing advice from the interwebs, and legit writing job listings. Fear less, do more. And may we all have a productive and successful 2015!
Calls for Submissions
This looks like a good one – and they’ve got another interesting themed issue coming up called “Queering Nature.” But here is their description for the current call that closes Feb. 7:
“The Fourth River welcomes submissions that explore the relationship between humans and their environments, both natural and built, urban, rural or wild. We are looking for writing that is richly situated at the confluence of place, space and identity—or that reflects upon or makes use of landscape and place in new ways.”
Ah, The Writer’s Market. I wrote a column for their Writer’s Digest magazine years ago called “Freelance Success” when I was a freelance journalist. I’ve always had a soft spot for this company and their publications. So imagine my delight upon discovering this gem – a link that I shared with my Advanced Memoir participants this past weekend at the Murphy Poetry and Prose Getaway in New Jersey. It is good advice, particularly for you memoir-writers. Read and learn.
I happen to know lots of writers – some academic, some business, some creative – and some of these people would very much like to be paid (or paid better) for their writing skills and experience. In an effort to help them – and you, if you count yourself amongst the writing clan who want to be employed somewhere with a good salary and benefits, I offer this segment on legit writing-related jobs. Because there is NOTHING wrong with wanting a good salary and benefits – and no, you are not selling out. Writers deserve to be paid for our skills, so without further ado, check out this choice-sounding Publications Manager position with Corporate Accountability International located in Boston, Mass.
Writers are storytellers. No matter the medium or genre, writers work hard to craft delectable stories for public consumption. And we all know that some stories are better than others. So what differentiates a fascinating, compelling, riotous story from one that is just okay?
Moments of Reflection.
Something has to happen.
Make us care.
Stories work in academic writing, business writing, and creative writing, so over the next several weeks, I will be tackling each of the above ideas in more depth. But for now, look at the list and then look at a story you are writing…how strong is your opening line? Does it really catch your attention in such a manner that you can’t look away? When others read your opening paragraph, does it take their breath away or make them sigh or pause or gasp? If not, then back to the drawing board with you.
Create an opening line that snags onto your reader’s eyeballs, brain, and heart with double-barbed hooks and won’t let go. Stab your reader in the gut or make him chuckle heartily or make her so curious that she has no choice but to keep reading. No explanations, no meandering descriptions, no dull and flat verbosity to start your story. Hammer a statement. Get the reader’s attention. (Because if you are striving to publish, that reader will first be an editor and if you don’t catch HER attention, well, you’ve heard of the slush pile.)
Now let’s get 2015 off to a strong start by writing some amazing opening lines. Get to work.
Dear friends, readers, blog followers, and passers-by,
This has been a rollicking, crazy-making, exhausting, exhilarating, productive, and fast-paced semester. I turned in my seven binders of evidence for tenure and promotion, wrote 64 posts since I started this blog on August 4, 2014, taught 90 students, and graded 230 papers and 90 presentations. Now that it is over, I must recoup. As I have recommended to you in previous posts, it is important to rest, relax, have fun, and generally recover from the madness of daily life in order to be a better writer and happier human. I am now proudly taking my own advice. My plans for the next month involve lots of self-care, cooking, movie-watching, lounging around in my pj’s, teaching at a writers’ getaway, and even having a grand travel adventure! Lots of relaxation and fun on the horizon.
Some business housekeeping: If you wish to contact me about editing services, writing coach services, or writing consultation, please email me directly at amandamorrisphd (at) gmail (dot) com and we can certainly have a discussion about your writing needs and how I can help after January 15.
Fellow writers: If you have a topic that you’d like me to address, please leave a comment on this post or email me and I will be sure to add your topic to the 2015 queue.
Happy Holidays everyone, and please be sure to take some much-needed downtime for yourselves. You’ve earned it!
See you in 2015!
This is the season for resolutions. So many people resolve to create unrealistic expectations for themselves that they enter the new year destined for disappointment. When it comes to our writing practice, let’s think more realistically.
Know when to quit.
“What?!” You bellow. “I am a writer! I will NEVER quit!”
That’s good, dear reader. But hear me out. You’ve come along this far, whether you were with me for the past few months following my writing prompts and practical posts, or whether you just happened by this morning. Breathe. And consider this:
Perhaps you’ve been working on a novel for years. Or a series of novels. And have been rejected by one hundred publishers. “But J.K. Rowling and Stephen King were rejected more,” you moan, outraged. True, but are you really as good at writing novels as J.K. Rowling and Stephen King? Really?
If the answer is objectively yes, that you just haven’t found your niche, your publishing home, and an editor to recognize your endurable genius, then please, by all means, keep on keeping on. But just maybe…
…maybe you should consider quitting the novel for now. Switching genres. Trying something else for awhile. Perhaps attend some writing workshops. Or a writing class to work on craft in a more formal environment. Or join/start a writing group to get more substantive feedback on your novel because…horror of horrors…what you are doing clearly isn’t working.
I would never advise anyone who is driven to be a published writer to quit writing, but I would recommend that if that person is writing in a genre that doesn’t seem to be working, he or she should take a break, quit that approach for now, and try a new direction.
Plodding down the same well-worn path when that path isn’t taking you anywhere is counter-productive. If long-form fiction is your thing, why not try writing a long-form story for a literary journal instead of tackling a large novel? Or maybe ratchet back to short stories to work on concision and tight prose?
Maybe your subject matter isn’t working as well as you think it is. You love romance novels, but all of your efforts have failed? Friends politely smile and say, “That’s interesting,” instead of “Oh my god! That’s amazing! How did you THINK of that?!”
Perhaps your heart is filled with poetry, but when you write it, the words come out lame and limping.
Sometimes re-evaluating what we write and how we write it can be a useful exercise. Quitting one genre or style or subject might lead you to the successful genre or style or subject – something that is a better fit for you.
If you’ve worked at this particular genre/style/subject/form for years and had no success? Time to quit and try something new.
Take on the new year with vigor and determination not to tread the same inadequate path. Commit to trying something new or expanding your education in the craft in order to improve. Quit whatever isn’t working and by the end of next year, you will see positive results.
The happiest of holidays and a most productive New Year to you all.
Fellow writers! You might have seen previous posts about this workshop and now it’s crunch time. I need a few more participants to fill the workshop – three seats. I suspect that at least three of you are working on a creative nonfiction project that would benefit from this intensive workshop weekend. If you are working on a memoir-in-progress (at ANY stage! Even if you just have a few chapters – or some islands!) and want some feedback as well as some inspiration, please consider joining me for an Advanced Memoir Workshop this January in New Jersey.
I know, the Jersey Shore in JANUARY?! Yes. The Stockton Seaview Inn is beautiful, spacious, and warm with terrific service and good food. When I taught at this workshop weekend last year, I was so impressed with the congeniality of fellow staff and all of the writer-participants. Everyone was fully engaged in the writing process and brought a high level of enthusiasm and insight to every session.
If you want to be around like-minded writers and focus 100% on your memoir-in-progress (no matter where you are in that process), join us in New Jersey in January! It may be just the jolt you need to keep going. So don’t buy a new TV today – buy yourself a productive writing weekend! :) Hope to see you there!
(Note: My workshop is limited to ten participants so that we can really dig in to everyone’s works and have super productive discussions.)
Specific workshop details:
What Matters is Not What Happened: Advanced Memoir Workshop
Writing workshop in New Jersey
January 16-19, 2015
Led by Amanda Morris
Using Vivian Gornick’s famous line about “what matters,” we’ll investigate the best way to tell your story in this advanced memoir workshop. With your own memoir-in-progress as a springboard, you will explore the importance of seeing your first-person narrator as a character in your story, experiment with writing exercises and discuss your new work. Be ready to submit 2-3 pages on which you need feedback by Dec. 15 (or if registering after that date, submit within a week of registering). The workshop leader and participants will read each submission before the Getaway.
*Limited to just 10 participants.*
“As a first-time attendee, I was very impressed. The hotel was beautiful and everything was so well organized. My workshop leader, Amanda Morris, was full of energy, interesting, encouraging and inspiring. I would come back just for her, but I very much enjoyed the whole experience!”
~ Susan, Newtown, PA
In my classrooms and workshops, I strive to create safe, welcoming writing communities where individuals feel free to explore ideas, stories, and concepts without judgment. After all, we need those spaces to get started. The judgment – of editors, professors, critical friends – will come later. But in the beginning, we need that soft, friendly embrace where anything is possible and everyone loves you. Let’s go there together.
When my schedule allows, I will post writing prompts for you to play with. I encourage you to write something and to share those initial efforts in the comment section, or even your response to the prompt – tell us what happened when you sat down to write. After all, some of these prompts will lead you down a path toward publication – I’ve seen that happen often enough to be confident in that statement.
Give it a try! :)
Writing Prompt: Inspired by #tbt
For those not in the know, #tbt stands for “Throwback Thursday,” and is often cited on such social media networks as Facebook on Thursdays when people post old photos of themselves or family and friends. This week’s prompt is inspired by this idea of honoring the past.
First, without thinking too hard or too long, write down your favorite food. I know you have about a hundred, but what’s the first dish that pops into your mind when you read that sentence? Write that food down.
Second, close your eyes and think about that food. Recall all of the juicy sensory details – how it smells, how it is prepared, how it feels in your mouth, how it makes you feel, where you usually eat it.
Finally, think about the happiest experience with that food you’ve ever had. It might have been yesterday or twenty years ago. But it is important that you focus on that one, most memorable, most exciting, most happy moment.
Now write that moment. Bring it to life and make us feel it with you; make us love that food and that first experience with you.
If you are a writer, you will be rejected. Not once. Not twice or thrice. Hundreds of times over decades of writing your guts on a page. And sometimes the reason you are rejected is entirely subjective – the editor, the editorial board, the publisher, the agent – just didn’t like what you wrote. It has nothing to do with the character, detail, and depth of your prose – they just didn’t like it. Personal preference. Think of your writing as cilantro or opera – some people will love it, some will hate it. Such is the writing life.
Subjectivity gets an unnecessarily harsh rap in the publishing world. We writers bash editorial subjectivity ruthlessly, and yet we claim it jealously for ourselves. Hmm. Something rotten in the herb garden here. We hate it when applied to our work from an external source, but we demand our right to it when we review others’ writing. See the hypocrisy?
The fact is that most of the time your work will be rejected because it just didn’t fit what the editor was looking for in a particular issue, as long as that work is, in fact, extremely strong, well-composed, and grammatically sensible for its purpose. All else being equal, the editor may love your piece, but knows that it just doesn’t fit. I recently received such a rejection for a piece I wrote and submitted as a blog post entry on a literary journal’s web site. They announced a call for posts, a friend shared the link, I looked over the submission guidelines and decided that my piece wasn’t a precise fit, but I wanted to give it a go just to test the waters. Turns out, within a few hours, my piece was rejected, but the editor called it a “very provoking read” and wished me the best in finding a good home for it, explaining that their scope was focused more on stories with clearly defined broader cultural connections.
I was glad to receive this response and immediately sent that piece off to another journal for consideration in an upcoming issue (not a blog). Currently, my Submittable account shows “In Progress” for that journal, which is good news. It hasn’t been rejected yet! However, if it IS rejected, I know that it may be because they just didn’t like it. And that’s okay.
Being rejected for subjective reasons HAS to be okay. We writers must accept this as part of our reality and stop fighting so hard against it. If you hate cilantro, you don’t want other people demanding that you eat it anyway. So think of your prose as literary cilantro – some will love it; some will say it tastes like soap. Your job as a writer is to keep pressing on until you find the editors who love your type of cilantro.