Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Building a reputation (beyond writing and publishing)

Let me say this first: The best way to increase your writing reputation is to get published. Whether it’s publishing a well-received indie or self-pubbed title, or getting published in literary journals or widely-read magazines, getting your work out there, from what I understand, is the way to demonstrate that you are a writer of repute.

But sometimes, the publishing game can become a vicious circle. Publications may rely on name recognition or your past publishing history to determine whether or not to take your work, but how can you build that history if no one will publish you? While some of this advice may feel like putting the cart before the horse (i.e., giving marketing advice without having something to market), I do think that building your writing reputation can help you get off on the right foot when you start gaining traction with your writing.

To start, let’s talk about online relationships and network building.

This semester, I’m taking a course called Teaching of Literature and the Literature Curriculum, and it’s part pedagogy course, part literature criticism and analysis. One of the course requirements is to be somewhat active on Twitter, not just to extend the discussion from the classroom into public, online spaces, but to also connect with other teachers to share ideas, resources, and engage in some digital networking to inform our future teaching careers. We’re required to follow teachers on Twitter, participate in Twitter chats, and share our thoughts on English education using the course hashtag.

It has been really fascinating to use Twitter as part of a class, having used it in a personal and professional capacity. It’s helped reveal to me some of the aspects of social media that I’ve picked up somewhat unconsciously, and I’ve been finding some ways in which my use of Twitter for class can inform the ways I use Twitter for my writing. Engaging in hashtag games, Twitter chats, and more are all relatively easy ways to connect with fellow writers and also reach potential readers. There’s a lot of talk about having an “online presence” and the do’s and don’ts of being online (DO tweet regularly, but DON’T have your account be just purely promoting your book, etc.). But it’s more than just having a place people can go to find out more information about you and your writing. It’s also a place for you to go and find people who are doing interesting things.

All this said, there is still something to building connections offline; it’s a matter of meeting people where they are.

Working in social media, marketing, and communications, the main argument for using social media is that it is “where everyone is.” It’s where conversations and sharing are happening, and we should be meeting people where they are. However, there are still limitations to social media. There’s a minimum requirement for tech (a smartphone or laptop, a reliable internet connection, etc.) that may be difficult for many people to reach. The ethereal algorithm makes it so that it’s not a guarantee that what you share on social media will actually reach everyone you want it to reach. And then there’s the fact that people are in a love-hate relationship with social media right now, and the advice to occasionally disconnect from the online world becomes more and more prevalent.

Which is why I also recommend disconnecting every once in a while and finding in-person events to attend. This past weekend I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival and got to see a lot of different vendors and presses, even chatting occasionally with authors and asking questions about their work. I’ve also taken in-person creative writing classes in New York with Gotham Writers, and have been to events in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop space. Attending these classes and these events have broadened my horizons and also put me in contact with people who have become essential to my writing life (and my life in general), from new writing friends to mentors who believe in my journey as a writer.

Sometimes location can make it difficult to find events to attend. I’ve moved from New York City to Ames, Iowa for grad school, and there has been a dramatic change in the kind of access I have to writing events. However, I’m lucky that my university has a robust lecture and event series that I can take advantage of, and there are nearby cities that have more of the literary events that I’m looking for. Plus, in an area that might be bereft of literary life, it might be an incentive to start a new events series.

Another possible way to build your writing reputation is to volunteer in specific writing capacities.

This past year or so I’ve been volunteering as a reader for Empire and Great Jones Little Press for their three journals, Ember, Spark, and Zetetic. As part of my MFA I’m also reading slush for the journal Flyway, which is run by the program. These can help build my writing reputation because I’m part of these literary publications and am getting experience in this part of the writing/publishing process.

Other ways to volunteer in specifically writing capacities that I can think of: Teaching or running an after school writing program, being a Municipal Liaison for a local NaNoWriMo chapter, creating an in-person meet-up for writers at your local public library. All of these are great ways to build local connections but also demonstrate to others outside of these local contexts that you have experience and have immersed yourself heavily in this world.

All this said, remember to step back and appreciate the time and effort you have put in so far, and recognize your achievements.

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve published, or maybe your social media growth is stagnating for one reason or another. These periods will happen, and it can be a great time to reflect back on all that you have done so far to build up your reputation as a writer. View them from a different light, share the memories with people on social or in person, and use them as a way to focus where you want to go from here.

What do you think? What are other ways writers can build their writing reputation (aside from publishing)?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Advertisements

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Keep a little of your self for yourself

I’ve been grappling with the “Write what you know” adage again. Earlier this month, about midway through the third week of classes, I made a list in my journal of “Things I have learned in grad school so far.” At the top of that list is this little note to myself:

Keep your interests and passions alive…Not everything you experience has to be fuel for your creative fire. In fact, it is probably best if that’s not the case. I am all for going out and experiencing life and drawing from your well of memories to inform your creative work. But keep a little of your self for yourself.

I know that the old saying of “Write what you know” is largely a matter of being able to convey truth in fiction. “Write what you know” means using your knowledge to inform a story, making it more believable to the reader, and doesn’t necessarily mean that you must write solely based on lived experience.

But the idea still persists that writers, to some degree, must use their lives and their memories to fuel their creative works. Pushing this idea, though, can quickly become problematic.

I think of this tweet thread from the poet Chen Chen:

When I read this tweet thread, I couldn’t hit the retweet button fast enough. And I feel that this idea may work in reverse: Not only is there the presumption that minorities have more trauma to write about, but when they do write about trauma, they must be writing from personal experience.

Do my experiences (some of which, yes, aren’t all sunshine and daisies) inform the stories I write? Yes. My stories are often built up around something I’ve done that I then twist, change, and alter until I’m not writing about a memory but something completely new. Still, I sometimes worry that, although I am writing fiction, readers may try to “decode” the story by retracing my steps to find the original sliver of my reality that served as the starting point, and then take it one step too far to try and decode me. While I don’t strictly believe in the “death of the author” mode of performing literary criticism, I don’t particularly enjoy the idea of people trying to pass judgement on my life through the medium of the stories I tell. That’s unfair, I think, to all stories that writers write.

I’ve deviated a little from the first lesson I’ve learned in grad school: Keep the passion for things outside of writing alive. I worry, sometimes, that the idea of creative burnout isn’t taken seriously enough. Not only are writers overworked, with the constant hustle of the publishing game and all of the necessary tasks that pile up in order to make a living as a writer. But there’s an expectation that writers, and all creative types, must perform some kind of self-immolation in order to be a “real” artist. Everything about us is fair game for the works we produce. But we can’t complain about how heavily this weighs on us, because artists have the “luxury” of pursuing passion rather than pragmatism.

Don’t buy into it. Keep a little of your self for yourself.

What do you think? Is everything in a writer’s life fair game? How do you find the balance between your writing life and your personal life, if such a balance exists?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Melt

A few weeks ago, my partner and I listened to an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain about a phenomenon called summer melt. Summer melt is what happens when a student who has matriculated at a university fails to make it to the first day. They “melt” away in the summer because their finances fell through, or their plans changed, or other reasons that may or may not have been in their control. And in the weeks between listening to that episode and leaving for Iowa, I had summer melt on the brain. Constantly.

Summer melt felt like a real possibility for me. I feared that I wouldn’t pack in time, or I wouldn’t be able to afford the relocation, or that there was a mistake and my acceptance had been revoked. I feared that I would end up putting so much time and effort into something that just wouldn’t work. It kept me up at night. It made it harder to actually accomplish the things that needed to get done. But gradually, once I was no longer working full-time, once I packed up my bookcases, once I booked my flight, once I paid my university bill, once I made a number of incremental steps towards the start of the semester, the fear of summer melt faded.

Yesterday was the first official day of classes at Iowa State University, but the luck of my schedule meant that I didn’t have any classes to attend. And today I only had one class, a seminar on sustainable agriculture. Having made it to and through my first class, I finally feel like the fear is gone altogether.

I don’t remember fearing summer melt when I was going into my undergraduate years. Maybe it was because I didn’t know about it, so ignorance kept me from fixating on it too much. Maybe it was because my younger self felt more invincible, more invulnerable, and I didn’t think about the things that could go wrong as much as I think about those things now. Maybe it was because I had seen my siblings start their college careers, been with them from move in day through to their graduations, before I had to start that process myself. Or maybe it was because I had spent a few days in New York for an orientation session over the summer before the semester started. Maybe the three days of orientation, enough to get me to fall in love with the city, gave me the confidence I needed to get my act together and make it to the fall.

Whatever the reason, eight years ago, I didn’t fear summer melt. Instead, I only suffered from anticipation, impatient to start my first semester at college.

During the final few months of living in New York City, it took an enormous amount of energy to be able to see the city with the same level of optimism, the same feverish pursuit, that same kind of love that my eighteen-year-old self had. Much of that had transferred to my graduate program, even though I hadn’t visited the college or really knew what I was getting myself into by going to graduate school. My prediction is that in three years, or six years, or another eight years, when I’ve earned my degree and am making the next big leap in my life, I’ll have that same feeling of wanting to catapult myself into the future.

And I’m sure I’ll fear melting again.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Learning how to write, part two

When I wrote this Author Toolbox Blog Hop post back in January, I had just finished submitting the last of my graduate school applications. Once I got my sixth and final confirmation email that my application materials were received, I immediately thought that I would get flat rejections from all six programs. All of the doubts and worries about not getting in anywhere filled the vacuum that writing samples and personal statements had left behind. So I put together a learning plan to improve my skills and be in a better position to get accepted the second time around.

But then in March I got a call from my top choice school, Iowa State University, telling me I was accepted and also offered the Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship in Creative Writing. By that point, I had fallen behind on most parts of my plan, but I was still writing regularly. Fast forward to the past few weeks wrapping up loose ends with my job while also saying my goodbyes to New York City and the people in it. I’ve been barely writing at all because of how much I had to get done before moving.

Now, I’m in Ames, nervous and excited and ready as I’ll ever be for this new phase of my writing life.

There are countless articles, blogs, and pro/con lists about the MFA degree and whether or not it’s “worth it.” When I read through some of these things as I was making the decision to apply, the only thing I became certain of was that there’s no one true answer to the MFA question, no hard Yes or No. I had to decide the “worthiness” on my own, and eventually I decided that yes, I wanted to pursue this. For me, my reasons for applying boiled down to:

  • Wanting to throw myself into writing to see how far I could go with it; an MFA environment can give me the time, space, and support to experiment and learn.
  • Wanting to meet more writers like me, who were seeking that same time, space, and support to learn and grow.
  • Wanting to go back to school for a graduate degree; a fully-funded MFA program fit the bill.
  • Wanting a change of scenery; as much as I loved New York, it was getting a little overwhelming.
  • Wanting a way to transition from my current career path to something in publishing, whether as an author or editor; there are obviously many ways to do this, and an MFA program can be one of them.

Classes start next week, and so far (before I’ve even officially started the program) I feel confident that I’ll be fulfilling all of the wants I’ve listed above. Already I’ve met some of the members of my cohort, all of them friendly and fascinating, and Ames is definitely a change of scenery from New York. We’ll see in three years if my feeling is right.

Do you have a degree in creative writing? What do you think of creative writing programs in general?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Duotrope and the resume of failures

I regularly review my resume about once a month, not because I’m always actively looking for a job, but because it’s generally a good idea to keep it updated. My job responsibilities might have changed, or I might have some professional achievement that I want to put on there. And every time I do this review and update, I also think about the things that I want to put on there.

I want to have more publications to list, I want to add more soft and hard skills related to writing, I want more relevant experience to show how my professional life has developed and changed. And when I think about the things I want on my resume, I think about the work that I need to put in behind the scenes to get there.

Alongside the resume I regularly update, I have another document that gets a similar treatment that’s almost like my resume’s shadow. It’s my resume of failures, and it’s a concept I came across a few years ago from scientist Melanie Stefan, Ph.D1. The title is pretty self-explanatory: This is a document of my rejections, not just from literary magazines, but from other things like colleges, fellowships, and other things I’ve applied for and didn’t get. There’s the saying—”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”—and this document shows me all of the shots I did take.

In general, it’s a good idea to keep track of submissions and the final decisions, if only for purely practical reasons. You want to make sure you’re not submitting multiple times to journals that don’t take multiple submissions, or making sure you’re not breaking guidelines around simultaneous submissions. For data and tracking like that, I rely on Duotrope2. Duotrope is a database of projects, publications, and even literary agents for writers and artists to submit work to. The site has a number of tools to track your writing and can also calculate stats like acceptance rate and turnaround time. A $5 monthly fee lets you create an account and access all of the resources available. To me, it’s worth it just to be able to keep track of submissions, though the calculations are also extremely useful.

However, although Duotrope is a powerful tool to help me keep track of my submissions, I still have this resume of failures. Because like my normal resume, I feel galvanized to try and add to it. It motivates me to take more shots, because even if I fail, those attempts still have a place to go. I turn a failure into a success, and that helps me continue writing and submitting.

What about you? Would you consider building a resume of failures? What helps you stay motivated in pursuing writing?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Notes

[1] A CV of failures, Melanie Stefan, Ph.D., Naturejobs.com

[2] Duotrope.com — from the site: “Duotrope is an established, award-winning resource for writers and artists. We help you save time finding publishers or agents for your work, so you can focus on creating. “

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Practicing voice

I’ve just finished reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein), and if you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend that you do. But among the many virtues of these books, one that really struck me was the voice.

Over the course of the four novels, I became so familiar with the voice of the point of view character, a woman named Elena Greco, that I felt myself unconsciously starting to write in it. (I often have this tendency to imitate; I fear the day I might meet my current celebrity crush, Tom Hiddleston, and accidentally do a bad impression of his accent.)

I decided to fully commit and try on the voice for myself. At first, I tried to spice up my own, personal journaling about my real life by writing about my day in the voice of Ferrante’s narrator. The narrator—not the character. To me, this distinction is crucial. I felt that writing from the perspective of Elena Greco would be somewhat restrictive; an Italian woman in her 60s probably wouldn’t have much to say about my life. I wasn’t looking to write from a total outsider’s perspective, but rather wanted to imitate the intimacy, the attention to detail that Elena projected on her friend Lila’s life, and on her own experience. So I focused on what the narrator sounded like, the word choice, the sentence structure. I focused on what details the narrator drew out and described facial expressions, attitude, the atmosphere between characters.

Voice experimentation and practice through imitation isn’t unheard of, but I hadn’t really done it in the past. Now, having written through this exercise a few times, I can see how useful it is to help me pick out what makes a writing voice unique. Hopefully, that means I’m improving this aspect of my own writing that can be difficult to pin down but is so necessary to great storytelling.

What are your favorite ways to work on voice? Let me know!


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

P.S. The header image is a photo I took of the third Neapolitan Novel. I was on a work retreat and had trouble falling asleep, so would read basically until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I woke up one day to the sight of the book in bed with me.

P.P.S. Another thing I’ve been enjoying is Elena Ferrante’s column in the Guardian. Check it out: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/series/elena-ferrantes-weekend-column

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Learning how to write

When I took a step back at the end of the 2017 to think about what I wanted to accomplish writing-wise in 2018, I reflected on the times I felt most excited about writing. As I was making my list, a specific trend emerged: I was most excited about writing when I felt I was learning the most about it. Whether it was through reading blogs in the Author Toolbox Blog Hop or taking classes with the Gotham Writers Workshop1, learning about writing inspired me to write more.

So I’ve decided to be more intentional in my writing goals for 2018. Yes, I have my word count targets, submissions milestones, et cetera, but I’ve decided to incorporate more writing practice into my, well, writing practice. As much as I like to think that I can learn writing simply by doing it—by writing short stories and novels and revising and rewriting and repeating the cycle over and over—the classes I took last year helped me realize the value of writing just to practice a particular element of storytelling.

For this blog post, I’ve decided to share the current iteration of my learning plan for 2018. This will likely change as I figure out what’s realistic in terms of daily tasks, but I’m excited for what I’ve laid out so far.

Part I: Back to the basics

I recently took a trip through memory lane and looked at essays I wrote through my undergraduate years. Aside from the numerous lab reports (all of which I’m really proud of; I put a lot of work into those and it really showed), there are only two, maybe three, essays that I felt were decent pieces of writing.

So I’m re-immersing myself in the world of expository writing. While this isn’t strictly improving my fiction writing, by re-learning expository writing I hope that I’ll be a more effective communicator overall. Plus, expository writing doesn’t have to be a bone dry subject. I’m taking advantage of MIT OpenCourseWare2 and will be going through the syllabus for the class Writing and the Environment3. It won’t be a perfect imitation; I have limited access to some of the main textbooks and I won’t have the same kind of collaborative environment found in a college classroom, but it’s a start.

And I’ll be spacing out the readings and assignments like I’m taking a real college class4. My first assignment is “due” next week. Hopefully by the end of April I’ll have a few halfway decent essays and have a deeper understanding of composition, all while learning more about environmental science.

Part II: Daily practice

As I mentioned earlier, one of the most useful parts of taking the Gotham Writers classes was having regular exercises that focused on a specific part of storytelling. The exercises would never go on for more than ten minutes, and though I very rarely incorporated what I generated in those exercises into a story, the practice pieces informed the stories I did eventually complete.

So I’ll be including short, ten-minute writing exercises as part of my daily writing routine. I’ll be planning out my exercises at the beginning of the week, writing down the daily prompts in one place so that I don’t have to spend too much time every day hunting for a decent prompt. This also allows me a chance to think about what story element I want to practice. This month is all about characters, so I’ve been compiling decent character-building prompts. Though I often make my own prompts (I’ve often found writing prompts to be largely disappointing; more on that subject in a later blog), I’ve found some decent character prompts through resources like Writer’s Digest5, Poets & Writers6, and Writing Exercises7.

Part III: Reading more intentionally

Every year I set my Goodreads challenge8 at 50 books, and every year I’ve failed to reach that goal. (To be fair to myself, if I actually took advantage of the “reread” feature on the site, I think I would actually reach the 50-book goal. However, I don’t think my annual reread of the Harry Potter series really counts; I want to read 50 new books every year.)

This year, my goal is still 50 books, but I’m also going to be more intentional with my book choices. As nice as it is to read widely, in genres I would normally have no business reading (the Outlander series is a guilty pleasure of mine), I also recognize that I must have a deeper familiarity with my chosen genre of literary fiction.

So this year I hope to focus on reading American literary classics, contemporary literature, as well as more nonfiction. In addition to being more focused in my choice of reading material, I want to regularly reflect on the books I read. I’ve done this informally for years, in my journals and in the odd book review blog, but I want to be more systematic about reflecting on my reading. Nothing too heavy, just answering questions like “What made the book an enjoyable read?” or “What did I not like about this book?” or “What do I think of the treatment of the subject matter?”

Why am I studying writing?

2017 was a mixed bag of writing for me. Some highlights of the year included taking classes with Gotham, volunteering to read submissions for a few literary publications, and starting to submit my own work to literary magazines I’ve been reading regularly. But I also failed in a few ways that were disheartening. I started several blog posts only to let them languish in my drafts. I wrote 40,000 words of a new novel during the first half of the year, but I haven’t added any more words to it since June. I missed deadlines for literary magazines. I failed the aforementioned Goodreads challenge. I failed all my NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo attempts in 2017, whereas I blasted through them in 2016.

To me, my failures were all clues that something needed to change about the way I was going about writing, and figuring out the patterns of what excited me most has helped me decide what to change. Plus, there will never be a point in my life where my writing reaches “perfection”—whatever that is. Writing will be a lifelong pursuit, and I will be constantly learning new things in order to keep growing as a writer. This learning plan that I’ll be testing out this year will hopefully extend beyond this year, into the rest of my writing career.

What about you? What are you learning this year?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

[1] Gotham Writers Workshop

[2] MIT OpenCourseWare

[3] Writing and the Environment, Spring 2005

[4] Google Calendar of W&E “due dates”; follow along if you’re interested!

[5] Writer’s Digest Weekly Writing Prompts

[6] Poets & Writers

[7] Writing Exercises

[8] My 2018 Goodreads Challenge