Here I am with my second book out, and I've been asked to share what I've learned along the way so that YOU can bypass the errors I made and fly.
Let me clarify The Way I've Traveled—short version: from taking a few online writing classes, to the first published short story ("Cartwheeling" in South Dakota Review), to grasping the courage to get an MFA (Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, Whidbey Writers Workshop), to more stories published, to a revised thesis collection that became a published short story collection (Feeding Strays), to a few editorial gigs (SmokeLong Quarterly and the Los Angeles Review), to more publications and a few honors to yell about: (Glimmer Train Fiction Open Award, two Pushcart Prize nominations, and an Editor's Choice Mid-American Review.
To lately, a looming question: what next?
In order to avoid facing what next
Gladly, I say, gladly will I speak of my oopses.
How about four mistakes?
- Heaps of coffee do not necessarily beget greatness. While one may consider caffeine a substance producing a rev-rev go-go-go finish-the-novel sort of state, it may instead, create grouchiness, lack of focus, broken teeth from clenching (count 'em: six), and a shaky waste of a good afternoon while recklessly paging through literary magazines and waiting for the over-buzz to recede.
- Submitting tons o' material to tons o' magazines is not so brilliant. Unless you research the magazines for the appropriateness of their needs in relation to your work, do not send. Read the magazines for their style, their needs, their authors, their content, their taste, their prize-winning pieces. Read several issues. Trust me on this one.
- Terrific ideas that float into your head right before bed WILL NOT be remembered in the morning. At least in my case, they vanish. Same with while driving, hiking, biking, showering. The ideas disappear and rarely visit me again. Must carry pen/paper almost everywhere.
- The internet is a great resource and a monstrous blood-sucking time-waster. Stories will not get finished and submitted by someone else. Only you.
But let's not wallow in the muck of blunders. There were also so many wonderful encounters to howl about along the way.
For instance, four magnificent things that surprised me:
- Other writers (for the most part) are supportive, fabulous, encouraging, and full of knowledge. Thus, writing does not have to be solitary unless one wishes for solitude. For me, there have been many authors who have been generous with their time and their willingness to share work (exchange stories for suggestions and critique).
- The better-than-cocaine high of having a story published can instantly make a person a submission addict. Acceptance letters and the celebration afterward can be worth more than the shiniest, heaviest bucket of gold.
- Reading submissions—as an editor, a reader, an editorial assistant, etc.—for a literary magazine is perhaps as important a literary education as the MFA itself. At least for me. My knowledge of the following grew by mountains: common slip-ups, overdone story ideas/plots/character scenarios. I came to appreciate and value the rare sight of truly unique writing.
- Speaking of submissions and acceptance letters, as an editor, let me mention the pleasure of finding a terrific and distinctive story. Sending out that acceptance letter—knowing you're going to make someone grin and run for the phone to share their news—is nothing short of priceless. It's the best part of the job. Second best part: reading literary magazines, scouting for talented writers, finding a story you wished you had found first and published in your magazine. Then, sending that author a fan note, hoping they've got a spare and tremendous story for you.
Of course, there is always more. More missteps, more joys. But I've listed the biggies, the ones that might help, the ones that might excite. May your own writing journey be eventful and unexpected.