2013 Goals

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Last year, I made a set of writing goals for myself. Out of the five, I met two respectively and three if I’m fudging a bit. I got one of my fiction stories published. I got published in three of the journals my heart leaps for joy over ([PANK], CutBankand Third Coast), and I sort of kept up my writing ritual (this is the one I’d have to fudge on).

Here are my goals for 2013:

#1. Get my poetry manuscript, Swallow Tongue, accepted for publication. (Completing it in 2012 and having just done a major revision on it, this is a fantasy goal and may be on my goal list for years to come. Regardless, I want to put it out to the universe that it’s something I want and see what the universe has to say about it.)

#2. Get one of my creative nonfiction essays accepted for publication. (I was super surprised last year when in November, after working my butt off for a year editing and excising and submitting, I finally got notice that PANK had accepted one of my fiction stories for publication. A month and a day shy of 2013, but I still met that goal! Getting a fiction story published seemed like a nearly impossible goal, something I could only dream might happen. This year, I’m going to try the same with creative nonfiction. I wrote three essays in 2012 and with this goal in mind, I can definitely work on them and see what happens!)

#3. Write 30 50 poems. (Last year, I wrote 25 poems. This year I want to try for more. I also like that this goal has a specific number.)

#4. Submit high. (My submitting process is holding pretty steady, and I just want to continue to submit to journals that daunt me with how cool they are. Maybe one day I’ll grace their pages.)

#5. Do something special just for my writing. (While last year I set a goal to get into Bread Loaf, I probably won’t be applying this year. I need to reserve my vacation for spending time with my two best friends who happen to live in two different states. Maybe I’ll be able to attend a conference or a retreat, but I want to leave myself open to exploring other writing things, like doing a poem-a-day for some length of time, which I’ve never been brave enough to do before.)

While I didn’t meet all of my goals last year, I made some big strides, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this next year pans out.

What are your literary goals for 2013?

The Importance of Cover Letters

This should be an Arnold Schwarzenegger moment. Everyone is dying and desperate, but then I arrive, and hope comes into their eyes. If I had arisen out of the chaos of my house and been able to at least clear my dining room table, maybe it would feel like that.  Instead, I moved four piles of clean clothes over, slapped my computer on top of a stack of papers, and reclined against some assemblage of my bathrobe, two shirts, and my husband’s pants from yesterday. (Way after I wrote this, I realized Arnold said, “I’ll be back,” not “I’m back.” I think I’ve only heard “I’m back” by some serial killer who’s about to hack someone to pieces.)

My life is chaos at the moment. Every room is filled with boxes in some stage of unpacking. A couple I just need to take out to the curb, but with the two day haul this past weekend and then not getting off work until 7 last night, my energy is in the skivvies.

Our new house is absolutely wonderful. My husband and I are both getting separate rooms: his for his sports collectibles, mine for writing. My husband is also kindly painting my writing room for me tomorrow while he’s off work. It currently is a rather obnoxious shade of pink-purple. While I wanted to pick “Dorian Gray” (it’s a real color, I promise!), I chose “Repose Gray” from Sherwin-Williams, which is a nice light gray. The house already has rooms painted green, blue, red, and khaki, so I wanted something a little different for my SPECIAL WRITING ROOM(!).

~

After being out of touch with the writing life for a little bit, I decided to get back in the swing of things by reading for Fjords. I was reminded again of the importance of cover letters, and the importance of succinct and concise ones at that.

I follow a rather simple template:

“Dear Editors/Readers: (if I can find the name of the genre editor, I’ll list their name as “Mr./Ms ______” followed by “and Readers”)

Here are some new poems for your consideration. I really enjoyed _________’s and ________’s poems in your last issue. Keep up the good work!

All the best,

Tara Mae

Bio: Tara Mae Mulroy is a former Managing Editor of The Pinch and a graduate of the MFA program in Poetry at the University of Memphis. Her work is forthcoming in Third Coast and others. Her blog can be found at taramaemulroy.wordpress.com.

Included: Poem title 1; Poem title 2; Poem title 3Poem title 4; Poem title 5

These are simultaneous submissions.”

I actually started using this template after reading this post up on Gulf Coast‘s blog. What I like about it is that it’s short, shows I’ve read the journal before, and includes a short third-person bio, the names of the poems, and the fact that they are simultaneous submissions (if I’m submitting to a SS journal. If I’m submitting to a non-SS journal, it should not say this and that packet should also not be submitted anywhere else).

Things I’ve seen as an editor that you should never ever do:

-Cover letters with no bios. Even if you don’t have any publications or any experience in academia, state something as simple as, “John Doe currently pushes paper at a high-profile corporation. In his free time, he writes poetry. If accepted, this will be his first publication.” Some editors love publishing the work of new writers, so don’t be nervous about stating that.

-Cover letters with long explanations of how the author came up with the idea for/edited/bled over the poem(s)/story/essay. Writers love talking about their process, but unfortunately, an editor who has just read forty other submissions is probably not going to want to read yours. Don’t include it; save it for your writing group.

-Cover letters that include someone’s entire CV. Unless you’re applying for a job in academia, don’t include your CV. No literary journal editor or reader wants to wade through your 3-4 page CV. Just list your most relevant work/academic experiences and recent/forthcoming publications in a less-than-150-words bio. Endgame.

-Cover letters with half-page bios. Again, editors (or at least this one) value brevity. Shoot for 150 words or less.

-Cover letters that are addressed to the Managing Editor. Unless you personally know the Managing Editor for a specific journal, don’t address a submission to him/her. Address it to the genre editor.

-Cover letters that include profanity, such as saying, “John Doe is a M*****F****** poet from the Bronx.” I know sometimes that’s cool and all that, but you have no idea what sort of editors you are submitting your work too. They might be all prim and prude, and you never want to offend them from the get-go. I also discourage profanity when talking with an editor at ANY point in the writing process, and never, ever, EVER direct profanity at an editor. There is a special level of hell for people who do that; you don’t want to end up there.

Special cover letters:

When you receive an encouraging/personalized rejection letter from a specific or unidentified editor, SEND WORK BACK TO THEM ASAP, but also make sure to state that you received one in your cover letter. If they gave their name, address your submission to them. If no one was mentioned, address it to the genre editor and then state, “Thank you for the encouraging rejection letter I received for my last packet submitted on _______. Here are some new poems for your consideration…”

If you were solicited to submit work by a specific editor, say something like, “I was solicited to submit work by_________. Here are some poems…”

If you met/know someone who works on the journal, address your cover letter to the genre editor, but mention, “I had the pleasure of meeting so-and-so at_____. Here are some new poems…” As an editor, I like to know when someone I’ve met or know has submitted something to the journal, and I usually take the time to read it. I don’t know how other editors feel about this, but I think it’s cool to think, “Wow, I met this person and talked to them about the journal and here they are submitting!” On the other hand, me taking the time to read it won’t mean its chance of getting published is any higher than any other piece, but it could help start/build a relationship.

All of this is to say is that the business of writing is a professional one. In your cover letter and in your writerly interactions (e-mail, etc.), be kind, polite, and proper. Save your ferocity for your writing.

New endeavors

After a year-long hiatus from working for a literary journal, I’m pleased to announce that I will now be reading for Fjords Review, an absolutely lovely journal. I’m so excited about this new endeavor, and I hope you will consider submitting your best poetry and fiction!

~

In other news, I went running this morning (a slow, slow progress, since I’m re-training after re-injuring an old injury) and started thinking about a creative nonfiction essay I wrote the day of my surgery. I’ve been thinking about it off and on since I wrote it, but haven’t been able to figure out how to approach it. I gave it to a friend to read over, but that was it. Finally, today, I came back from that run and edited it and even came up with an ending, when it had none before.

Sometimes, changing genres is exactly what I need to do. I read once that anytime you get to point in your writing where you’re stuck, try changing the form, or even the genre. I’ve had trouble with figuring out whether a poem needed to be in couplets or quatrains, so I changed it to prose. Seeing it as that block of text helped me figure out how to shape it. Topics I haven’t been able to broach in poetry (like my surgery, my trip to Greece, etc.), I’ve been able to express in fiction or creative nonfiction. There can be so much versatility in being a poet; there’s always a potential to switch, to envision space. I make up it’s a great deal harder for prose writers to make that switch, to shrink than to expand (any of you prose writers feel differently?).

Happy writing!

Why I Have To Be A Writer

When I was in the second or third grade, we had to write and illustrate a “book” that we then glued between two pieces of cardboard and covered with contact paper. Many of my classmates had already decided they were going to be doctors or firemen, but I hadn’t found anything to decide on yet. I remember being embarrassed that everyone could name off their future career sincerely, but I had no idea. Be a doctor? I hated blood. Be a firemen? Fire didn’t like me, which is why I was frequently nursing a scald from touching a hot pot (a lesson I still sometimes need to re-learn some 20+ years later). When I wrote that story, some mystery where a man wearing a black shirt with a snake on it was the one to steal something, I knew I wanted to be a writer. In the 4th grade, I got the highest score possible on a standardized writing test. One of only three students at my entire elementary school to score so well; I was on top of the world.

Come middle school, all of that changed. I took another standardized writing test in 7th grade, but didn’t get the highest score. In the 8th grade, I took a career aptitude test that didn’t tell me to be a writer; it told me I’d be well-suited to work in the post office. I was proficient at differentiating between words, which, I was told, would be great for a mail sorter: Mr. Jones vs. Mr. Janes.

In high school, I wrote plenty, but easily got defeated when I wasn’t the one winning contests or awards. By my first year in college, I was writing and continuing to take creative writing classes, but was inwardly adamant about trying to find another calling, trying to find something with “financial potential”. I sought out pre-law, art history; I took classes in Ancient Greek and the liberal arts.

I cherished my creative writing classes, but felt constantly like creative writing was the bad boy everyone cautioned me away from. He was always lurking around the quad, wearing leather and looking all hot and slick, but I wanted to be a good girl and date a good boy, so I focused on the classics, on religion, on humanities. I thought about majoring in Ancient Greek and then going to law school. I transferred colleges and finally made English: Writing my major, but I studied for the LSAT. I “compensated” for my major with volunteering for the rebuilding efforts on the gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina. I started tutoring young kids. People thought big things would happen for me, thought I’d join the Peace Corps or start a nonprofit.

When I graduated,  several college administrators asked what I’d do, and I said something self-assuredly like, “I’m going to go into a nonprofit.” “I’m going to take a year off and apply for law school.” I collected generic recommendations from several of my professors and twenty copies of my college transcripts. I never wasted my money on the LSAT, though I did study for it for over a year. I took a job as a grant writer at a small nonprofit  and stopped writing creatively altogether. I was miserable. My boss made me extremely uncomfortable, and the company was shady. I started applying for other jobs the second week I was there, but nothing came through. All of the grants I applied for, we didn’t get, and they laid me off.

It was after being laid off that I finally decided to apply to an MFA program. I hadn’t written anything in over a year, but I felt a strong push to do it. I contacted my undergraduate poetry professor to get a more tailored recommendation, and she said she would do it. She tempered her acceptance with a litany of warnings about how the poetry field is not like it used to be, there’s too many people right now pursuing MFAs, and academia is harder and harder to break into, etc. etc.. I got her recommendation and set money aside to apply to seven different programs. Around this time, I ran into the provost from my college. She asked, “What are you doing nowadays?” I told her I was applying to get an MFA in poetry. She looked at me through her thin-rimmed glasses and said, “Oh. I always thought you’d save the world.”

After realizing I was too terrified to move anywhere on my own, I decided to apply only to the one program in my area, and decided if it was meant to be, I’d get in. I did get in, but they didn’t give me any money. I didn’t want to go into debt pursuing this whole writing gig, so I again tried to fantasize about other lucrative educational opportunities. I called my father and told him, “I think I’ll get a Master’s in Teaching.” He told me, as he usually did, “That sounds good.” The deadline to apply had already passed, so I had to wait for the spring semester deadline. Mid-August, a week before U of M’s classes were set to start, I got an e-mail offering me an assistantship, which meant waived tuition on top of a stipend, for the MFA program. I accepted it, quickly registered for classes, and started the following week.

Fast-forward three years, I wrote a thesis, I defended it, I took my comps, I graduated. I applied for several fellowships and several teaching jobs; I got none of them. My undergraduate poetry professor was right: academia is hard to break into, especially with so many people graduating with an MFA right now.

I was talking with a poet yesterday who told me something to the extent of, “Since I’m never going to get rich or really famous doing poetry, I don’t have to be overly ambitious. I can submit when I want to submit.”

I don’t feel that way. I am dogged. My ambitions (writing, submitting, editing, keeping up this blog, getting my book published) aren’t going to pay off for me financially, but they will and do pay off for me spiritually. They also keep me engaged and involved in a community of writers. I write and submit continuously, and while I rarely practice it, I entirely believe in the wisdom of, “Writing 10 minutes every day for 6 days is better than writing for an hour one day out of the week.”

I’ve spent most of my life seeing writing as something I need to “get over”, the bad boy I need to stop fantasizing about when I’m on dates with clean-cut boys. Now, I know that writing is that bad boy that pulls me from the wreckage I can make of myself and helps me bloom into a more competent and confident human being. It makes me better at my job, at my relationships, at my ability to handle life. I must choose the bad boy, every time, or sink into a hole of despair that comes from denying that part of myself that makes me feel wholly alive, wholly happy. I may not be saving the world, but at least I can start with saving me.

Busy Days

Another week has slipped by, and it’s Friday Saturday, no, Tuesday! I’ve been working on this entry for far too long now. University of Memphis started back last week, and it’s been strange to watch my fellow MFA-ers return to their studies and stresses without me. Some are teaching, some are working on The Pinch, some are just taking classes (and that’s quite enough).

I thought this time of year would hit me, and I’d go through another run of grief of, “oh no! My MFA is OVER!” Instead, I’ve felt so much relief. During my MFA, I was working/teaching at U of M, taking a full course load, writing, reading, and teaching at another school. Now, I can focus on just teaching and writing. No classes have to take. No homework. No teaching at more than one school. It’s comforting to know that I can write when I want to, and that I can set up a workshop group if I want to. I’m so grateful for my MFA experience, but I’m also so grateful for this break. Now, I can’t imagine putting myself through that high-intensity stress again. Maybe someday in the future, but definitely not soon.

Last week was a week of submitting. While I’d like to try to condense all of my submitting/reading/writing, etc. time into a two hour block on Friday mornings, I don’t think that’s possible. After my high of getting an acceptance from one of my dream journals, I was quickly brought down back to earth with two form rejections. So, I submitted one of my fiction stories to several journals last Monday (as I talked about here), and even sent out another 5 poetry submissions. Right now, I have 41 submissions out in the world. Many of them are more than 100 days old (the oldest being over 300 days old!), and many of them are personalized for the journal I was submitting to, so a lot of my work is currently out in the world.

No draft last week. Dealt with headaches galore as well as a whole mess of “this is what we have to do before we officially buy this house” kind of stuff. Hopefully, I can nail one down this week, but I also have this pile of poems I need to go back through and revise in the hopes of having new work to send out. On the upside, I received contributor interview questions from PANK Magazine and sent off my answers today. My first ever interview!

Hope you all had a no-labor kind of labor day. Those are certainly the best kind.

 

Mid-year Review

Back in January, I wrote a post about goals I’d like to complete in 2012, and after receiving some fantastic news on Friday, I decided to look back over them to see where I’m at with them.

Here they are:

#1: Get one of my fiction stories accepted for publication.

#2: Get published in one of the journals my heart leaps for joy over. 

#3: Get paid for one of my publications.

#4: Be accepted into Bread Loaf.

#5: Keep up my writing ritual.

Goals I’ve met:

  • On Friday, I got an acceptance e-mail from Third Coast for my poem “Hurricane Andrew” (draft notes here). I had made the decision this year to submit to journals even when I felt like they were too “above” me, so I had submitted to Third Coast, even though I had not even a speck of hope of being published in it. After my publication in [PANK]I had already met goal #2, but with this most recent acceptance, I can’t even explain the gleeful daze I’ve been wandering around in.
  • While I haven’t written a poem every week as I hoped I would, I haven’t completely forsaken it. I was glad to look through my entries on here and discover that now, 34 weeks into the year, after a surgery, finishing up requirements in order to be able to graduate, and a month of very little writing in Spain, I’ve drafted 19 poems. Not bad.

Goals I’ve not met:

  • I didn’t get into Bread Loaf. I did get a “nice” rejection, encouraging me to apply again next year, but no-go.
  • I haven’t gotten one of my fiction stories accepted for publication. Yet. Today, with renewed vigor, I sat down and revised a story I had been meaning to get to, and then sent it off to six journals.
  • I haven’t gotten paid for a publication yet either, so I submitted my fiction to some journals that do offer payment, and I’ll be researching some poetry journals I can submit to as well.

While I’d like to say that I’m so grounded that getting an acceptance or rejection wouldn’t have any effect on me, that’s just not the case. On my best days, I can log a rejection and move on. On my worst ones, I have to read a rejection two or three times and then check Rejection Wiki to make sure it’s “form” instead of “encouraging”. I walk around pouting and thinking strongly of reasons why I should give up writing forever and ever and ever. Right now, I’m going to try to hang onto my happy writing moments for as long as possible to buoy me past the not-so-happy ones (Perfect example! I just got a form rejection! Logged. Moving on.).

How are your writing goals going for 2012?