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. ūüôā

When is it time to breakup? (with a poetry manuscript)

I recently finished a manuscript overhaul¬†and submitted to a couple of contests, and now I am trying to figure out if Swallow Tongue is done and it’s time to finally move onto a newer project.

It’s a hard question, especially because I’ve returned to this poetry collection so many times to tweak individual poems, re-think the order, change the narrative, add in newer poems, take out weaker ones.

After this revision, it feels very done, like I’ve done raised it and now it’s time for it to get a job and an apartment in the city. It’s time for it to¬†get out.¬†But, is it really?

I then came across this interview with Traci Brimhall in 2011 after her second manuscript won a contest.

How did you know your manuscripts were ready to go out?
Part of it is knowing when you’re ready to break up with the work. With¬†Rookery, I felt ready to move on, but I kept coming back to the manuscript to tweak poems or reorder. So I broke up with the manuscript a section at a time. I looked at the poems in each section and then wrote breakup poems where I tried to have it out with my obsessions so I could be done with them once and for all. Of course obsessions follow you wherever your work goes, but I did feel like I put my obsessions’ belongings on the lawn and told them to get lost. Each breakup poem became the final poem in each section of the book…

While I don’t feel the need to write individual breakup poems for each section of Swallow Tongue, a breakup poem is a great idea to letting me think about and move on from the obsessions that held me in this manuscript.

S.T.¬†is really loss heavy. Every character is dragging around the weight of someone or something that has left them, so I decided to try to write a poem in which the speaker leaves something and it frees him/her instead. I also decided to parody some of the mythic stuff, so it’d be easy to leave it behind (at least for this manuscript…).

I started with making fun of Zeus’s aegis and swallowing hearts, and ended up with the leaving. All prose form, and currently a sloppy mess, but I did like this line:

“To vacate a body is to leave everything,¬†to not hover in the base above your sternum, to not mouth something in the air that sounds like crying.”

In the interview above, I was comforted that Brimhall’s¬†Rookery was submitted to¬†seventeen contests before being selected.

Swallow Tongue‘s stats are as follows:

9 contests (currently at 3)

4 independent presses (currently at 2)


Reader, when did you know your little manuscript was done?

Swallow Tongue Gets Revised Again

I’m nearing the end of another major revision.

I first laid out the poems and organized them by theme. What I found is that my poems fit pretty neatly into child, lover, mother poems, excepting two which I pulled out. The rest of them were already working thematically or could be reworked easily.

The child and mother poem sections had a good 10-13 poems each, but the lover one had nearly 30, so I decided to go through that section again and see if there was another way to divide it. I found that nearly half dealt with some sort of violence and the other half didn’t, so I could really just split that section in half.

Then I had to figure out how to begin the book. My po friend had made some suggestions for new beginning poems, and I started thinking about each of them and how they might help begin the narrative.

One, in particular, now titled “Song” but once called “Philomela,” really had all of the things I wanted the book to start with and is basically the title poem because it recounts the story of a hawk tearing out the tongue of a swallow (based on the myth of Philomela).

I chose “Song” to begin the book, but didn’t want to launch into lover poems just yet which it would be more closely linked to, so now I’m thinking about having “Song” be a prologue poem (or proem).

April Ossmann said, “As a reader, my expectation for a prologue is that it be one of the strongest and most representative poems in the collection, yet poets often choose a weak one, placing it in the most visible spot in the manuscript.” I’ve talked with my po friend, and we both think it’s a strong poem and could work, so I’m hoping I wouldn’t be doing exactly what she cautions against!

I wanted the child section to come next. It came first in the last manuscript order, but I’m completely re-ordering the whole section, and I just like it.

Next, I stuck the violent love poems since the child section is an easy transition to this one. Then the mother poems, which begin violent and end sweet, and then lastly, the sort of “sweet” love poems ending with being abandoned.

I still need to fine-tune the order, as well as read it through from beginning to end, to make sure it makes sense. So far, I’m pleased. I got the four sections I wanted, and thematically each of them is really tight. After I lock the order, I need to go back through and see if there are places where I can make the poems ring of each other more as well as do line edits to keep the poems really tight.

My next manuscript re-ordering should include reversing its current order, going from abandoned to mother to violence to child. Hopefully I won’t ever have to get there, but it’d be an interesting idea.

Onward, writers!

The Numbers

I’ve seen several poets the last couple of days play the numbers game. Here’s mine:

33 “complete” poems (as in, have already been revised multiple times) and probably about 5 drafts that haven’t seen a revision yet ~ This is a pretty astounding number for me, especially since I wrote 17 alone between September and December. My writing ritual has paid off, and while not every poem is a masterpiece, several of them I’m really proud of (and already gotten a couple published!).

3 short stories ~ Since writing fiction is a new genre to me, I’m super-excited to say that I’ve already started to be able to generate some. While they still seem very¬†far from complete, I did start submitting some already and have already received two encouraging rejections (woo hoo!).

40+ rejections ~ Unlike some other poets, I didn’t keep up with the actual numbers. I’d write down what I sent out; once an entire batch of submissions came back or I’d already gone through and withdrawn a work from several places, I’d throw away the sheet of paper. For next year, I’ll think about writing this down more precisely. It might be fun (or horribly horribly painful) to see how the “numbers game” really worked.

6 acceptances ~ Since my first publication EVER was in Spring 2010, I’m incredibly grateful to have been accepted this much thus far. Submitting is¬†a numbers game in and of itself. We all need to submit and submit regularly. I’m also really excited about potentially using one of this editor from Gulf Coast‘s suggestions: putting up a map and anytime my work is accepted for publication, putting a pin in the city where the journal is from. Trying to think of submitting as a game by trying to get published in a journal from a certain state or city, etc.

1 manuscript ~ While I can’t say I wrote the whole thing this year or anything, I revised and organized a major manuscript of poems. To me, a pretty astounding accomplishment.

1 issue of The Pinch¬†~ The Spring 2012 issue was finalized early December and sent off to the printer immediately after. Working for a literary journal is invaluable experience, and I’m so proud of the issue I got to help put together. I had an amazing staff, and we were lucky to publish great interviews, poetry, fiction, and CNF from authors like Will Boast, Marge Piercy, Lee Sharkey,¬†Scott Nadelson, and several great pieces from newbies. I talk about my closing thoughts about this experience here.

15+ hours per week ~ my average time drafting, revising, submitting, reading, and blogging.  Slightly lower in the summer (structure works wonders on me).


Things I need to do in 2012:

1. Submit more hard copy submissions. ~ I am lazy, I have to admit. I will gladly submit to journals that take online submissions all day long , but when it comes to printing something out and mailing it, I usually only send out to a handful of journals once a year. This has also held me back when it comes to submitting to some of my dream journals since several of them only accept hard copy submissions.

2. Keep a more accurate log of submissions and rejections. ~ I get lazy, so sometimes I rely too much on the e-mails I get from journals. I had no mishaps thankfully with forgetting to withdraw a piece from a certain journal and them wanting a poem that had already been accepted elsewhere, but still, preciseness is important.

3. Continue to be enriched by the process. Writing is hard. Not only that, submitting and getting published are hard too! The best thing for me to do is stay focused on my next step in the journey, instead of the destination.


Hope you all do your own little numbers game, and have some hope going into this new year!