From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

EVERYTHING is research. Everything.

Right now I'm sitting in a motel in Fillmore, Utah, because their was a blizzard so bad they shut down the freeway, not that we could see anything in front of us anyway. I have never seen winds and snow like that. It was INSANE! My mom and sister were totally freaking out, but I have to admit, I thought it was kind of awesome. We were on our way home from a trip to Vegas, which was also awesome. Anyway, the point of this is that while my mom was praying that we would survive and my sister was stressing about not getting home, I was thinking, I could use this in a story. Not that my experience is unusual or would make the most interesting part of a story. But every experience we have counts as writerly research, at least I think so. You can go anywhere, meet anyone, and it counts as research. That is one of my favorite things about being a writer. That is also one of the reasons to have a notebook with you at all times. Jot down everything. It will come back to help you later. Dreams, names, interesting logos, things you see while your people watching, places you get stuck in the middle of blizzards, and who you get stuck with. Talk to people. I need to do better at this one. My mom is a pro at it, and sometimes I just like to sit and admire the ease with which she can relate to and communicate with complete strangers. That is a good skill to have. Talk to people, get their stories. Live your own stories and write them down. You will be glad you did.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why-am-I-not-on-the-New-Yorker-twenty-under-forty-list-and-oh-my-gosh-I-only-have-three-years-to-catch-up-to-Tea-Obreht Syndrome

Do you have it? I know I do. Unfortunately. Let me explain. A while ago the New Yorker put out a list of the best or most promising twenty writers under forty years of age (check the list out here). Almost all of those on the list have MFA's, many from the Iowa Writers Workshop, of course, and many of them have not only been published in the New Yorker but have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories. Tea Obreht is one of these, and she's the youngest. She was born in 1985 (meaning she is barely 25 years old) in Yugoslavia. An excerpt of her novel that is coming out next year was published in the New Yorker and then anthologized in Best American non-required reading in 2009 (so she was even younger), and she has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories 2010 and 2011. Did I mention she is only twenty-five?

I gave this spiel to my roommates and one said that Tea had a head-start on me because she was born in Yugoslavia. I think she has a point, which begs the question, how does one catch up to the experience level of someone born in Yugoslavia? Then again, Tea doesn't have the experience of growing up in the incredibly exotic town of Provo, Utah, now does she? I say that with sincere sarcasm, hoping I'm not deluding myself into thinking my life experiences could be as literarily worthy as hers, and knowing that they are because everyones is. To sum up that incredibly convoluted sentence, Provo, Yugoslavia, doesn't make a difference as long as one can write what they've got, and everyone's got something, right?

In case you couldn't tell, I'm partially writing this blog to work through my own syndrome, but hopefully it will help you all as well. See, it really doesn't matter that I'm not on the New Yorker Twenty under Forty list, or that I haven't been published in the New Yorker or anthologized in Best American Short Stories. Neither were Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, and they're pretty much awesomer than all of those twenty under forty combined (no offense, Tea, I do genuinely like your writing). I do hope that the New Yorker type people of the literary world will one day love, award, veneer, respect, study, analyze and publish me, but even if they never do you will still find me sitting at my computer writing until my fingers are too arthritic to move, which just means its time to hire a typist.

But still. Look for me on the next list.

Sarah Allen

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Creative Writing Submissions Strategies

The process of finding magazines to submit to, determining what magazines are better than which others, analyzing what magazines would your work fit in, and fussing over submission guidelines can be almost as daunting a task as writing the piece your submitting. There are several strategies as to how to go about doing this, and as I'm sort of in the middle of a paradigm shift as far as my own submission strategies, I thought it might be something useful to bring up.

I'm always intimidated by the big-name magazines, and have next to no faith that I'll be accepted. I think most writers are that way. But I'm starting to think that its not a good idea to let your intimidation keep you from submitting to these magazines. In the past I've thought that maybe it would be a better idea to work from the bottom up, and build up a resume of lesser literary magazines before I start really trying for the big ones. I've changed my mind. I say, if you are really serious about this literary game, and producing the absolute best stuff you know how, then get out the big guns. Submit to the dang New Yorker. Look in the index of Best American and see what magazines those stories were pulled from and submit to those. Yes, it will take a lot of time and rejection, especially at first, but the sooner you start pounding at that brick wall the sooner it will start to crack.

This strategy brings up two questions for me:

Because I can expect to get tons of rejection from these magazines, how do I know when to give up on a piece? I asked my professor about this, and he said 40 rejections is a good rule of thumb. Personally, I feel like if you like a piece you should never give up on it, but if its rejected forty times, maybe its time to take it back in for some renovations.

What do I do with what I call my second string work? Pieces that I still feel good about and stand behind, but that I recognize maybe aren't as good as my best. I'm still unsure about this one. One possibility is to work it and work it until its first string ready. Another is to submit it to the top tier magazines anyway, because you never know, maybe those magazines would think it is your best. It's impossible to be objective about your own work. And the last possibility is to submit it to second-string magazines, and maybe build up your resume that way.

But have confidence. Don't be scared to get your work to the top people in the literary world. Thats how you become a member of it. Another tip my professor gave is to make sure you simultaneously submit where appropriate, because just think of the math--if you get rejected 27 times before your piece gets accepted, with a minimum of three months (which is very minimum minimum), thats a lot of time. So get your stuff out there, keep it out there, get it to as many people as you can and get it to the best people you can.

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen
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