Where writers choose to work on their craft matters. I was in a Starbucks today, meeting someone to sell some crafting equipment. (I decided to stop crafting anything but stories and poems because everything else is just a distraction.) As I stood there, I observed people sitting and working on laptops and tablets. Most of them had headphones on. Most were tucked into some dark corner, ignoring everyone around them so they could concentrate. One guy was spread out over half the counter and glared at me when I sat down, like my mere presence was disruptive to his workspace.
I wondered why these people bothered to come to the coffee shop to work at all. Maybe their homes are noisy. Well, Starbucks was noisy–and with some construction going on outside, I hope their headphones were noise-cancelling. Maybe their homes are too distracting. But the comings and goings of a busy coffee shop would distract me.
There’ve been so many times people have suggested I go and work at a coffee shop, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s not based on concern that I’ll seem pretentious–I don’t think I am pretentious and even if I seemed that way to others, it wouldn’t really affect me. It’s based on the fact that I don’t think I’d be as productive.
When I’m writing, especially fiction or poetry, any real-world distraction is detrimental to my focus, to my work. I’m usually searching my brain for the exact right word or playing out a scene in my head. The only place I can efficiently do this is closed up in my small bedroom. I go full-screen on my computer and ignore everything else if I really need to concentrate. For me, writing in public spaces is like inviting the public into my imagination while I try to sort out a story in there. It just doesn’t work for me.
Where do you write? If you’re not a writer, where do you work? If you work in an office, where would you prefer to work? Why?
I’ve always wanted to form some kind of writing community where hard-working writers can gather to improve their craft. If you’d be interested in that sort of thing–irrespective of any particular genre–please consider answering the brief questions below.
I’m in the midst of seeking more students to tutor. I enjoy that one-on-one educational experience and I’m looking to get more experience in the educational field. That’s not to say I won’t still freelance, but I’d rather do that on clientele basis rather than working for companies that need content.
Why the shift?
Realistically, I’ve noticed a trend over the last year of freelancing and that is that companies tend to expect more and more of their writers, yet the pay doesn’t increase to match. If I were working one-on-one with a client, my contract with that client would state that additional work would cost extra.
But my desire to shift gears isn’t just about money and expectations. I made the decision this semester that I want to focus more on education. To that end, I spent some time yesterday seeking out some new opportunities that I hope give me the opportunity to work with students, both individually and in class settings.
I won’t get into what they are now because I don’t want to jinx anything.
What changes am I making to my freelancing goals?
I want to focus more on editing and ghostwriting. I recognize that the latter may not really start to take off until I’ve published a novel, so I’m happy to be patient. I’ll continue doing editing work. I’m also not leaving any of the companies I currently write for at this time. I enjoy working with the people there and the work is fun, at least. But the trends of ever-changing expectations, as well as taking up writing time from my fiction or my blog have inspired me to realize that I need to be focusing my attention on education.
I’ll write more about this as I’m moving through this transition, but one thing you can count on: I will continue to offer the services listed here on my website going forward.
Last summer, a friend and fellow-writer told me about Patreon. It’s a crowd-funding site designed to support artists. I signed up, thinking it’d be the perfect place to share my creative journey in writing and crafts. However, the combination of those two passions soon proved too confusing for patron rewards and posting, and I shut it down to regroup.
This spring, I relaunched my Patreon, with a focus on writing only. Patron rewards are for everyone, and at higher tiers, split into readers and writers to ensure that all can receive something meaningful in gratitude for supporting my work.
You can click the link above, click “Donate” in the navigation menu, or watch the video below to learn more about the rewards and how to become a patron.
If you’re a creator who would like to try out Patreon for yourself, please feel free to use my invite code and then we can both get additional support.
A long time ago, artists were able to feed themselves because of patrons. Now, they have to be sales people in order to make money off of a finished product that can take years to produce. But, with Patreon, that can change—and it’s not all about the money. Becoming a patron means taking part in someone’s creative process. I’m a patron myself, because I believe in supporting those who want to contribute to the arts.
Are You Already on Patreon?
If you’re a creator, I’d love to connect! Comment below to share your Patreon, or contact me directly.
We’re getting another nor’easter tomorrow. We just had one Friday. All winter there’ve been almost no storms and now we’re getting hammered. Thanks, March.
The good thing about the likelihood of being trapped indoors all day is that there’s plenty of time for writing, even if we lose power–though I’d rather we didn’t because it’s not going to be warm and most of my writing resources are on the computer. Of course, I could write by hand and then type it up.
At any rate, I won’t be going anywhere tomorrow because even if we get mostly rain, the winds are going to be severe.
Earlier this year, I was happy to host a guest post by Sarah Foil about why she writes. I thought today would be a great opportunity, almost one-half through my second MFA semester, to talk to you about why I write. Each of us has our own reasons, our own inspirations, and mine are two-fold.
Why I Write: I’m An Artist
When I was in high school, I participated in a program called the Center for Creative Youth, or CCY. This program invited high school students to spend five weeks on campus at Wesleyan University over the summer, working with artists. I focused on drawing, because it was my strongest visual art.
CCY was a great program. I had fun, learned a lot, and got to explore some other art forms as well, such as storytelling through sign language and ballroom dancing. Regular practice with drawing led to some strides made with that skill, but then I put that skill aside. Why? Because I wanted to be a paleontologist. Art was just for fun at the time. I’d wanted to study dinosaurs since as far back as I could remember.
I considered myself skilled with drawing dinosaurs. I wish that I still had some of those drawings, but I said goodbye to them when I went through my first minimalist craze.
Anyway, that was back in the late nineties. In 2003, I decided paleontology wasn’t for me. More accurately, it was the math that wasn’t for me. In my program, I needed to pass calculus in order to obtain a geology degree. I’m still not sure why that was, as I recall using geometry and trigonometry in geology, but no calculus. And wouldn’t you know it? My brain just couldn’t process that kind of math.
I also happened to hate going to school where I was. I felt like a number, and after a particularly harrowing experience with the administration at my school, I felt like the worst sort of number a person can feel like: the kind that comes with a dollar sign.
I decided to transfer. New school, new major, new life. Unsurprisingly, I went back to the arts and decided to major in art education. How fast I learned that drawing is the only kind of fine art I had any raw talent in! After a year which included student observation hours, I had an existential crisis–how could I possibly teach students how to create their best fine arts when I lacked both the skill and passion to pursue any but drawing?
Caveat: Looking back on my younger self, I could have done some career research to discover that there are plenty of paths for those who can draw. Part of the reason I didn’t explore those paths was because of lackluster advisement, but I own the other half of that. At that time in my life, I was not good at advocating for myself.
By 2004, I was three years into my undergrad career, and essentially undecided. That’s when I fell in love with art history. I was required to take the first survey course, and in a class most students use as nap time, I flourished. My parents and I agreed that it was time to settle on something, regardless of career outlook, and just get my degree.
In the next two and a half years (yes, I took five and a half to get my BA), I learned a lot about art, artists, history, culture, and myself. I learned that I love learning. I learned that I love writing. Not only did I love writing, but I felt I had a spark of talent.
In January 2007, I graduated with my B.A. in Art History. I knew that I wanted to pursue writing, and while I’d discovered this in time to write for the university newspaper for one semester before graduating, I did not discover it in time to make a convincing case to change my major and stay in school for yet another two years–even if I was footing the bill via loans.
What followed was six years of taking writing courses on the side while I tried not to be broke and unhappy with my career trajectory. I worked in a number of jobs, usually offices with 9-5 roles and cubicles. There, I learned that environment is not for me. I was unhappy, and broke.
In 2013, I made a decision. If I was going to be broke all the time, I might as well be happy. Why not go for not being broke and sacrificing my happiness? Because being unhappy, to me, just isn’t worth it. What makes me happy is writing, so I enrolled to study English and Creative Writing, and in 2015, I earned my M.A.
From M.A. to M.F.A.
Is one writing degree enough? Sure. Many writers–stellar ones at that–don’t have any writing degrees. Many of them, or maybe all of them, are lifelong learners. They didn’t take on thousands in student loans to pursue learning their craft. So why did I?
Well, after taking some workshops and one-off courses, getting my M.A. was like learning there’s a world outside of my own little bubble. It opened my mind. Not only did I thirst for more of that, but I want to teach at the college level, and while many can do so with an M.A. or even a few novels under their belts, I discovered in 2015 that schools want to see that incoming teachers have experience (not surprising). The best way to get that experience was to go back to school and become a T.A.
I’m loving that, by the way, but just as exciting for me is the opportunity to study with talented mentors who are guiding me to become a stronger writer. Would I have learned many of the lessons I’ve learned so far studying solo, or just through the practice of my art? Probably. But it would have taken a lot longer, and I might have missed out on something. Besides, thrusting myself into this M.F.A. program has forced me to do what I didn’t between B.A. and M.A.: Put my art first.
Being an Artist
As an artist, it’s my job to hold a mirror to the world. It’s a cliche saying but I’ve always liked it because I personally believe that reflection and growth is the purpose of life. If the sole purpose of life was procreation, why did we bother to evolve past the amoeba stage? Being an amoeba probably isn’t that exciting, so I’m glad we’re humans, but if we’re humans for any purpose, it’s the expansion of our minds.
I write in order to do that for myself, and hopefully, for others. I write because I’m an artist, before I’m anything else. I write every day, in some capacity, because I believe in improving my skill as an artist more than I believe in any other pursuit…so I’m broke, but happy.
Why I Write: Lineage
My father wanted to be a forest ranger. I didn’t know this until my mid-twenties. In fact, I didn’t know what he’d wanted to be because he didn’t often talk about himself, his thoughts, his feelings. He liked to talk about politics. He liked to philosophize. But rarely, if ever, did his own self come out directly in those conversations.
I remember the day he told me he wanted to be a forest ranger. He was counseling me to find a good 9-5 job that would pay me a decent salary, benefits, give me vacation days, etc…and write on the side. I explained to him that I just wasn’t happy with that situation. His initial response was, “Work is work, not because it makes you happy. If it made you happy, they would call it play.”
I responded that writing is work, but it makes me happy because it feels like I’m giving something back to the world. Then I asked what he’d wanted to be, and he told me about his dreams of being a forest ranger.
He gave that dream up in order to afford to raise a family. I have two older sisters and we grew up in a comfortable setting. I don’t ever remember a time when I was a child when I had to wonder how I would be provided for, and I’m so grateful to both of my parents for that. I know, as an adult, that such a narrative isn’t common, and even though we didn’t grow up rich, many children have to worry about how they’ll eat or whether home will be safe for them. The fact that I didn’t is a mark of my privilege, true, but also a mark of my father setting aside his forest-ranging dream to work in sales.
But I don’t have children to look after, nor have I ever planned on having children to look after. I’d like to think that if I did, I wouldn’t be so selfish so as to put my own dreams ahead of their welfare. As I only have myself to look after, I’d rather focus on the immaterial needs that I crave rather than material comforts. I get by, but I’m not raking it in, either. Sometimes that causes stress in my life, but I’m willing give up financial surety and comfort for the opportunity to write more.
For the opportunity to make writing my vocation, not my avocation.
A Promise Made
In June 2016, my father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Recovery wasn’t on the table, but he hoped that with chemotherapy, he could live out the rest of the year. However, on September 9, 2016, his battle with that disease and the chemo ended. This was the most devastating thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m so similar to my father in so many ways, and we were close–his loss hit hard and took us by surprise, as not three months prior to his diagnosis, he seemed fine.
Before he passed, I made him a promise: That I would immortalize him through my writing. My dream of practicing my art became, in that moment, not just my dream, but a promise. A vow. As much as I write for myself, I write for my father, and for his memory.
Why Do You Write? Why Do You Read?
Why do we do any of the things that don’t immediately serve some survival need? Because, my friends, we’re not amoeba. We’re humans, and as I said above, if we can’t expand our minds, then what are we doing here? I’m not saying that’s the only reason for living–there are many–and I’m not downplaying raising children. For those who want to raise children, I think it’s wonderful and beautiful to give so much of oneself to someone else.
My goal in sharing this post with you is, in part, to let you know me a bit better, reader to author, so that when I hold up that mirror, you’re willing to take a peek and examine what you see in the reflection.
But I ask you to think about why you do anything that you do–especially where the arts are concerned. We need the arts in our lives, in this world, but what do they mean to you? What do they give you? Ask from you? What are you willing to invest in order to flourish your relationship to the arts–any arts?
Last semester, I wrote a story titled “Hunger” about the end of life. I took a chance and submitted the story to three top markets that were open at the time:
The Paris Review
The New Yorker
I didn’t expect to get an acceptance from any of them, and in fact, have received rejections from the first two. These days, The New Yorker is so inundated that they don’t even guarantee a rejection anymore, form or personal. Rather, they ask that after 90 days, if you haven’t heard from them, you assume a rejection.
That day is tomorrow, and I’ve still heard nothing. It’s pretty safe, I think, to presume a rejection.
The Nature of Rejections
I’m not bothered by this, especially as I didn’t really expect these markets to accept a story from someone they would consider an unknown. Even with the publishing credits I have, I’d be surprised if my story was even read. So, why, you might wonder, did I bother sending it to them?
I think it’s almost as honorable to get a rejection from top markets as it is to get an acceptance because it’s proof that you tried. The trick is not to let rejections bog you down. For the stories I’ve had published, there were at least ten rejections on average before they were accepted.
Editors (and their assistants) might reject a story for a number of reasons:
It’s just not strong enough
It doesn’t fit their publication
They’ve recently published something similar or are planning to soon
None of these reasons are personal–not even the first. I’m going to prove it to you, so sit tight and keep reading.
Your Story Isn’t Strong Enough
“Hunger” is a pretty big tear-jerker, I think. Of course, I’m likely biased considering how close I am to the events of the story, but I’ve been told this by others who are unrelated. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. I haven’t looked at it since late November, but I’m sure I’ve learned new things that I could use to strengthen the text.
And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Then, I’m going to submit it to another market (or selection of markets depending on who is open for submissions at that time). Would I re-send it to the three markets above that don’t want it? No. Because their rejections are form or presumed, I don’t have the insight to know why “Hunger” didn’t grab their attention. I certainly don’t want a rep for wasting editors’ time–better to move on to other markets.
It Doesn’t Fit Their Publication
Okay, if this is the case, on your own head be it. If you’ve never read a publication you’re submitting to, then you shouldn’t submit to them unless they’re brand new and you have no access to their previous issues. Of course, sometimes it’s prohibitively expensive to get back issues of every publication you want to submit your own work to, but there are forums out there where you can get used copies from other folks.
Learn about what editors want, and then try to send them that. You might not always be on the same page, but don’t leave this up to guesswork.
The Editorial Calendar is Not Your Friend
If a publication has recently published a story just like yours and you missed it, well, that happens. Try to get your hands on more recent back issues if that’s feasible to determine if you’re sending them something fresh.
That said, sometimes stories are set for publication down the line and they’re of a similar topic to yours. The editorial team might not tell you if this is the case, so you might not know until months later you see that a story with the same theme as yours is printed in their publication.
There’s absolutely nothing you can do about this. Sorry, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
Why Bother Submitting to Top Markets?
Why not? No pitchfork mob is going to show up at your door for doing such a thing. Besides, why not take pride in your work? I used to submit to smaller publications first and thought that someday, when I got good enough at writing, I’d be ready to submit to the larger, more well-known publications.
We call that fear, folks. Or at least a lack of confidence.
But here’s the thing–submitting to these publications probably lit a fire under me to make this story as strong as I could possibly make it. As I said, I might be able to strengthen it now, but when I sent it out in November, it was my best quality work. I could not have produced anything stronger with the knowledge and skill I possessed at that time.
You can always submit a story to other markets if it doesn’t get in with the big kids, and you’ll probably have a better chance of acceptance because you aimed high.
I had a professor who recommended submitting a rejected story to another market within three days of receiving the rejection. This is a fantastic suggestion that, when I was actively writing and submitting before my MFA, I followed with strict adherence.
Now that I’m in school and working on so many projects, it may take more than three days to revisit “Hunger.” But, I will be submitting it elsewhere until someone accepts it. Some stories just have to be told.
Who Has Rejected Your Work?
If you’re an artist of any kind, you’re probably deeply familiar with rejections. Maybe you’ve received so many that they fill you with pride instead of shame (how it should be). So…who has said no to your work?