Submitting a Chapbook, Mourning a Chapbook

Well, I finally did it … I submitted my chapbook based on poems I wrote in November. It wasn’t even due yet — I had until midnight on the 31st. But I didn’t want it hanging around any longer. Or did I?

I’ve been carrying it around for days now, reading it over and over, marking it up, printing it out again. And repeat. Part of me was very ready to let it go, but part of me wanted to hang on to it … possibly forever? 

(By the way, I think that’s what was behind the grammar quandary I posted about early this morning … I ended up reverting back to my original and like it so much better. And then it was time to let … it … go.)

While I still had my manuscript — and was the only person who had it — I could polish it and love it as much as I wanted. The only critic it faced was me, and I was fairly kind to it. Now it goes out into the world to compete against so many others — the works not only of the other poets who posted their efforts throughout November, but of those who (perhaps wisely) eschewed the public display aspect and held them back. Who knows how many of them there are, and what utterly devastating poems they wrote? I don’t know … and it bothers me.

As I am putting something like this together, and while I await word about a judge’s decision, I always feel as if I have permission to hold certain hopes for it. Again, I can still love it. When a chapbook comes back rejected (as all of them have so far), it’s as if it ceases to exist. I don’t reread it and wonder what I ever saw in it — I just don’t reread it. Ever. I just shrug and move on.

A certain measure of that is normal, even healthy, if you are writing regularly. When you are first getting started, or restarted, each poem feels precious. Whether or not it is accepted feels like do or die, because you truly are not sure whether you will ever write anything that fine again. Or anything at all. When you’ve been going pretty steadily for awhile, as I have now, the momentum doesn’t give you much time to feel downhearted over your rejections. That’s a blessing.

But I wonder, at times, whether I’m too quick to mentally file those efforts in a reject box and say it’s because I’m moving on to other, better things. If I were honest with myself, might I acknowledge that part of it is the bad habit, well known among writers, of accepting the opinion of one editor, judge, or critic as the last word — especially when that last word is no

Maybe my next step as a writer is to learn to love my best efforts (not blindly, you understand — I’m talking about something akin to parental love here … wherein you love them, faults and all, and seek to help them improve where they can) even when they do come limping back home.

Maybe I’ll work on that between now and February 2 — that’s when I’m supposed to hear back about this chapbook.

 

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What I Really Need Is Subject-Verb Agreement

A poem of mine has a line in it that begins, “What I really need to save are breaths” I just spent many insomniac minutes trying to convince myself anew that it shouldn’t be, “What I really need to save is …” even though breaths is plural. It just looked so wrong. After consulting several grammar sites, I mostly had to concede — but I was still trying to fabricate exceptions. Somehow, it seemed different because the sentence began with “what.”

Then I tried a trick I taught a GED student I tutored years ago: Flip it around. Would you say, “Breaths is what I really need to save”? Well, no. But now, as I type this, it looks wrong all over again. Perhaps I should go back to bed. What I really need is/am/are sleep.

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Chapbook Challenge

I now have 20 poems, edited and binder-clipped. Are they the best 20 that I wrote in November as part of the Poem-A-Day Chapbook Challenge? I have no idea — but there they are, clipped together in such a fashion that I can flip through them like a book and see which poems will pair up on opposite pages. The next step is for me to carry around this binder-clipped wad for a few days, read through it until I’m sick of it, maybe make a few more edits, print the whole thing out again (sorry, Earth), probably undo some of my edits, and then finally send it off. Will this be my first chapbook that actually gets published? I don’t know … but as always, the work of putting it together has been a good exercise.

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Ask and Ye Shall Receive *Something*

The second I said out loud (or typed out loud, anyway) that I needed to bring in some additional freelance editing work, my wonderful friends began to respond. There were postings on Facebook walls, linkings in on LinkedIn, and various leads sent not just for me, but for James, too. A listing in a university online marketplace (also suggested by a couple of friends) led to a possible connection for some dissertation editing.

I’m still tying up all these various loose ends. I don’t even have my resume on LinkedIn. You know what? I never updated my resume after getting my current job. There’s still a hard copy of it tucked into the portfolio I carried with me to my interview — I just tucked it back in there, walked out the door, got the call that I had the job, and never looked at my resume again. That was ten years ago! Whether or not I’m able to make a go of this new venture (on top of all the ventures I already had going), I think it’s good that I have the impetus to sharpen up and make myself a little more visible.

Just to be perfectly clear, I love my current job and am grateful to have it. I’m not looking to replace it and certainly don’t want to do anything that imperils it. I’m just looking at the two weekdays off I have, plus all my other “leisure” time (ha!), and wondering if there’s a bit more I can do to see my family through its current financial crisis.

Thank you, friends, for all you’ve done and continue to do. This is not an easy time, but your connections, advice, and support have already added up to *something*. It’s all still taking shape, but I remain confident that James and I will be able to cobble something together, and maybe one connection will lead to another and another, and then … Well, you know the rest. (In case you don’t — James needs a job.) Actually, I am not at all confident in the middle of the night. I can’t tell you the whole truth, or even call my bete noire by its full name. The closest I get is to call it “impending economic uncertainty.” How’s that for euphemism?

On the creative front, the 21 poems that I needed to pare down to 20 instead ballooned to 31 and stayed there for a while. Nothing like backward progress. I finally got it down to 20, and now I *just* have to edit them. 

I got the news that I didn’t win a contest (and its $1,000 prize), but there’s still one more publication I haven’t heard from, and 2011 was already a pretty good year … on that score, anyway.

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December’s Projects … Aside from Making Christmas Magic, of Course

First of all, now I know how to post a photo or text here at WordPress — but not both. Please bear with me as I learn my way around …

What I meant to tell you about the two rosemary-themed kitchen decor items in my previous post is that they hung for years in my mom’s kitchen. Her name was Rosemary, so I put these up and to the right of the desk where I always write (in the dining room, where we also do a considerable amount of living). It’s like she’s watching over me, and possibly reading/critiquing over my shoulder. She would not like that I said she was critical — but she was at least as much of an editor as I am. When we finally got our wireless set up, I pictured myself making the most of my newfound freedom by writing from, gosh, another room within our two-bedroom condo. Nope. Almost without exception, here I sit, typing in the dining room. Creature of habit.

This month, my main creative task is to put together a small chapbook from 10 to 20 of the poems I wrote last month for the Writer’s Digest Poem-A-Day Challenge. Chapbooks are something I’ve considered to be a logical next step for me, but they’ve proved to be a tough nut to crack. I have yet to succeed in getting one published — but I’ve found that putting them together is a good exercise, at least. I’ve now pulled together 21 poems that I like pretty well. The last cut is always the hardest.

As for writing, I’m trying to stick to my new rule of writing one poem per day. This can be tough, in both directions. I don’t always feel like writing a poem (in fact, I’m pretty tired right now, and look what I’m doing instead). There are also times when I want to write one after another after another, in hopes that if I rub enough sticks together, something will catch fire. But I learned last month that if I do one — and only one — then I focus my writing energy on it rather than on a handful of lesser attempts. It’s also more manageable once I’m in another revising phase. Trust me, you don’t want to pick through a pile of 80 to 90 poems you barely remember, a few of which *might* be worth something. For December, anyway, this seems like the way to go.

I’m still awaiting word from one more publication and one more contest entry. I have decently high hopes for the former and near-zero hopes for the latter — but it’s still fun to imagine winning it. After that, all my wandering strays from 2011 will have come home, and it’ll be time to look ahead to a new year … whatever that will bring. 

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What I’m Up To

I don’t know whether I’ve “made it” yet as a poet, but I’ve at least reached a level where there are enough acceptances to offset the rejection notices (though those do still arrive, and do still sting a bit). In the past year, I’ve had poems in Literary Mama, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and the Aurorean. Others will appear this winter and spring in Alimentum: The Literature of Food, Cider Press Review, and Exit 13.

Now that I feel like I’ve (somewhat) hit my stride, I’d really like to help others do the same. One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve read through various literary publications (not necessarily the ones listed above) is that every now and then, you’ll see a typo that lifts you right out of the flow of the piece for a second. Whether it’s a misspelling or one of those tricky homophones or near homophones (affect/effect, adverse/averse, etc.), I find it a bit jarring, and then it’s hard to settle down into the piece again. Now, the fact that I’m reading them means that typos, incorrect word choices, and other errors don’t always prevent a good piece from being published. But don’t you cringe a little when you realize you’ve submitted something with errors in it — and there they are, irrevocably in print?

And if you’re just starting out, or if you have an especially important manuscript, wouldn’t it be great to have someone flag those errors for you so you can remove them … before you submit your work? It seems to me that you can’t trust your spouse, friend, random passerby, or other manuscript reader to spot every potential problem. And you can’t necessarily rely on editors of literary publications to catch every single thing, either. It’s not that they’re bad editors — they’re dealing with a tremendous volume of “stuff,” and they’re reading more for literary merit than for spelling, grammar, and so forth. That’s as it should be.

That’s where I come in. Or where I’d like to, anyway. When I’m not writing poetry, I’m working as an editor at a nationwide professional association. I manage one publication and assist with another. I plan articles, assign them, write them, and edit them (for accuracy, flow, style, and that certain je ne sais quoi) once they come in. I’ve been at my current job for a decade, and in the general realm of editing and publishing for about 15 years. I have a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in journalism. Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if there’s a way to bring together my editor side and my poet side, by helping other emerging writers polish their work. Whether it’s a poem, a short story, a nonfiction piece, or “other,” I can either give you a no-holds-barred assessment, or I can withhold my personal opinion and just copy edit it for you. If I have any thoughts regarding where you might submit, I can share those, too. I’m just getting started, and this is work I’d love to do (and I know how expenses can add up, with all those sample copies) — so I can be very flexible with pricing. Just let me know what you need, and we’ll work something out.

So that’s my story. What’s yours … And may I please edit it for you?

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