Asking the tough questions

Yesterday, I finished the rough draft of this version of Swallow Tongue Redux 2015. I followed my dear editor’s advice even though it felt uncomfortable in the process. Put this poem here?? What is she thinking? Cut that line! THAT LINE!!! Cut this poem. THIS WHOLE POEM!!!!!!! AHHHHH! 

But I carried it through. I needed to see the whole manuscript in a new light. Once I finished, I added in a few poems that were newer, but I finally was able to ask the tough questions:

Poem, lovely little poem,

1. Can you stand alone, a true independent entity?

2. Do you connect to and resonate with the whole?

3. Are you too much like other poems without sharing something new or interesting?

4. Are you here to contribute to the narrative arc or just as filler?

My dear editor was right. The manuscript was too long, too many poems sort of repeated each other, and some poems just couldn’t stand alone. Cut cut cut. Some poems needed more revising or needed to be combined with other poems. Revise revise revise.

Now I’ve got exactly 48 pages, the bare minimum when submitting a full-length to contests and presses. Some presses do require a longer length. The Unicorn Press First Book Contest requires a minimum of 56 pages, so it looks like I won’t be submitting to them, but for the rest, I’m set.

The deadlines for all of these contests is March 31st, so I have plenty of time to sit on this newest version before coming back to it. I can set it aside and then come back to it and really see how it all feels. Now it feels solid. It feels springy and fresh. I’m excited to see where this goes!


My poetry collection needs to be completely edited and then sent off by November 15th, but I haven’t touched it much since I had my surgery on the 30th. I made some changes before the surgery that I really, really liked, and I figured I’d go back and do many more before the deadline.

Unfortunately, I doubt that’s going to happen because two days ago, I came up with an idea for a Young Adult novel with the help of my husband, I started writing it, joined NaNoWriMo, and now I’m 22 pages in with no desire to slow down anytime soon.

This might be a sign that I’m done with the collection because I’ve finally moved onto another project. I’ve been floundering for a while now, thinking maybe I’d write another collection, maybe a memoir, but nothing held me for very long, and some were just scraps of ideas that were too right or too big when I tried them on for size.

I hope I have the creative energy and time to give my collection one last run through before I send her off, but I’m okay today if I don’t too. Maybe she’s ready to be let go because I’ve got a new baby to focus on.

Happy writing!

Just like repairing drywall

Today while I was getting everything ready to be off from work for three days recovering from surgery, I took some time out to look over my manuscript again. I tweaked some lines, did some minor shuffling, and then I re-read the first section a few times.

I realized that with some minor changes, I could make the whole section sound like it’s from the same child speaker. I loved that idea. I made the changes. I read the manuscript from start to finish to see how that change would go along with the rest, and I loved it. It felt perfect.

Now, I’m not so worried about taking some time off from the manuscript before the November 15th deadline. I need to let it dry before I come back, sand it down, and spackle it.

I can rest easy. 🙂

On returning to old work

I think it’s necessary to point you to this post by the poet Molly Spencer and tell you to read, read, read. I simply love her advice on about re-using (or cannibalizing) old work. It’s true. Sometimes I had some really great ideas while I was a less adept poet, and/or I had an idea and it just didn’t come together the way I would have hoped. Those ideas/scraps/almost poems have lagged in drawers and desktop folders for a long time in the hopes of being re-discovered.

In the past, I’ve looked through old poems and stolen lines or images and fashioned them into a new one, one definitively better and more interesting. My writing style has changed a lot through the years, and sometimes an idea or image is best served in a new style or in a new context.

Staying in touch with my own work means I’m also thinking about the arc of my own progression, being reminded of old obsessions, re-discovering quirks and turns of phrases I could use in later work. It’s like going back into your closet and finding clothes you can re-stitch and make cool again.

I’m having surgery tomorrow. Poetry manuscript deadlines are November 15th. I’m concerned about how long the recovery time is going to be (it’s laparoscopic) and how it’ll affect how much I’m going to be able to put into this manuscript, but it’ll get done. Everything will be okay.

The home stretch?

A friend of mine read through my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue, and gave me some good minor and major feedback. I’m so grateful to have writer friends in my life who will go through a manuscript for me and see what’s necessary for me to see.

Her biggest suggestion is that maybe I shouldn’t have the incest poems appear first (Explanation: I have written two poems, one based on a Greek myth where a girl beds her father in the dark without him knowing it’s her and another where it’s strongly implied that something weird is going on between father and daughter. I like them because their weirdness than shades all of the poems in that section as a little weird despite the fact that most of them are humdrum child/parent poems.). Her feedback stems from the fact that they are pretty dark or disturbing poems, and the first section of a poetry manuscript must set up the rest. The rest of the manuscript isn’t that dark or disturbing, so there’s a lot of set up that never goes anywhere.

Seems like good feedback, right? But now, what to do with the incest poems? The first section of my manuscript is a “child” one, the second is a “wife/lover” one, and then I’ve got a “mother” one. I can’t  just pull the incest poems out and stick them in another section because it wouldn’t work thematically. I could delete them both, but then, I feel, I’d be losing two strong poems and not have anything to replace them with.

This could be an example of needing to throw out the baby with the bath water or kill my darlings. The former means I’m getting rid of what’s essential along with what’s inessential, and the latter means I’m letting go of the things I love maybe too much out of personal attachment instead of whether it’s actually good for the manuscript. Am I loving my incest poems too much?

For the time being, I’ve removed one and moved the other to nearly the end of the first section. There’s still more to be done, though. The first section must be THE section, the wham-bam-thank-ya-m’am section, and I think the other two sections are much stronger. It also doesn’t make sense to arrange it, since don’t you go from child to wife to mother? Right??

I have a path, though, and the end is nigh!!

The end of the editing?

Editing my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue, has been going wonderfully. I’ve cut at least 12 poems (so down from 60 pages to 48), and then added in 4 (so up to 52).

I’m shaking the dust off. This manuscript has been two+ long years in the making, and some poems I’d been hanging onto because they seemed to work thematically, but really bored me otherwise. If they bore me, I can imagine how they must bore a reader, so I cut them. All of them. All of the dusty old poems that weren’t holding up, gone.

And my writing has been off to the races. Ten months no writing, and now, I’ve written four poems! Four poems I really, really like! They easily fit into one section, and now the first three (as they’re currently divided, which may change) seem really firm. The poems and order make sense.

The last section, which I moved several poems from and cut others, is now the weakest, and something needs to be done about that. I think I may need to keep writing. The last section is about abandonment, so I need to do more along those lines. I’m going to try to mine some of the poems I cut for ideas and search for models to help.

I’m also sending this manuscript off to a friend to help get her thoughts on the structure. Currently, there are two framing poems with four sections sandwiched in between. Four sections seems like a lot, but thematically, each section is very obvious. The sections are also untitled, but could be I’m thinking, maybe, “Child,” “Wife,” “Mother.” The last section doesn’t clearly have a title like the above, so now I’m wondering if I could put the abandoned lover poems into the “wife” section and just have the three sections, so the work would be ending on the mother section…Hmm…SO MANY IDEAS!

The contest deadlines that I want to enter is November 15th, so I’ve got some time!

Why I Turned Down a Poetry Book Deal

Last Friday, I received an email from a small press with an acceptance for my poetry collection along with a book contract. I found myself shaking with happiness, reading and re-reading the e-mail that would answer a yearly–or heck, a lifelong–dream to get a book published. (Yes, my chapbook is coming out super soon, but I wanted a book out, something more substantial than short and sweet.)

When my mind had settled a little bit, I read over the contract and terms. I learned later that the no advance/contest prize money, 12% royalties, and contributor copies I was offered are usually part of a pretty standard poetry book contract. Something about the offer or whatever didn’t feel right to me though, so I asked for advice on Facebook and got these questions to consider:

  • How long has the press been in existence? Will they still be going strong in 5 years and therefore still be able to be counted on to sell my book?
  • What is their track record? How many good books have they published?
  • What kind of marketing/promotion do they do? Do they send out review copies, submit for major prizes?
  • How many contributor copies will you get and how reasonable is the cost for purchasing more?
  • How do you like the layout, covers , etc. of their other books?

While I don’t want to give anything away about the press, my answers to a lot of these questions were in the negative. Publishing my book with them would also mean I would no longer qualify for First Book contests and other newbie awards or grants. Also, since I don’t have a job that is predicated on my need to get a book published (and thank goodness for that), I could wait.

Even though I made up my mind that partnering with this press wasn’t the best fit for me and that I would wait, I still couldn’t send an e-mail that refused the offer. I’d go back and re-read the editor’s kind comments and feel overwhelmed with doubt: “What if this is the ONLY offer I’ll ever get? What if I’m turning down THE ONE?” (This part really felt like trying to get up the nerve to turn down a marriage proposal.)

So, I waited. I talked it over with more people, felt my footing and conviction grow stronger, and finally after a week, I e-mailed the editor.

While not everyone will have the space and time available to do what I did, I felt really empowered being able to make that decision for myself. Yes, I want a book out, but I also want it to feel right. I want to know the press I’m working with is one that has not only chosen me, but I’ve chosen it, and for reasons that make sense logically and emotionally.

For those of you with published books, how did you know the offer was right? Were there sacrifices or compromises you were willing to make or ended up making?