Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Sixfold Experience: Final Results

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Just hours after my last post about my experience with Sixfold Magazine, I received the final results. My short story made it through all three rounds and was ranked number 20 out of 287. It did not however win any prizes (first place was $1000) nor will it be published at all (they only publish the top fifteen stories) but I still feel like a huge winner. There was also a sense of accomplishment gleaned when I saw that the first and second place winners were stories I had also ranked very high. So even though I am not yet writing prize winning stories, I can at least recognize them.

I only paid a $5 entry fee, and in return I was required to read and comment on eighteen manuscripts, which meant more editing experience. As I've been told many times by other writers and past professors, if you want to write, then READ!

In addition to the manuscript reading experience, I received comments from six readers in round one, nine readers in round two and fifty-four readers in round three. Of those sixty-nine total readers only four gave me just a single line or two of feedback. The rest gave me very detailed comments. Some wrote well over 500 words. Most were a great mix of the stories strengths coupled with opportunities for improvement.

After reading through them all, trends could be seen. Six readers commented about typos and punctuation issues. This was not a surprise. I get excited about story line and dialogue and I neglect grammar details. That's the "creative" part of my writing. It's also the lazy part of my writing. At least it's an easy fix. Several others zeroed in on my specific language choices and most appreciated my voice, but a few felt my specific word choices were inconsistent with my main character.  With a thorough read through, I saw what they meant.

That's the funny thing about writing. When you are in the moment, when the story or poem or novel chapter is fresh, you are blinded. Your mind reads what it wants to read, thinks you've written something you haven't, and often gives you more credit then you deserve. Thus the reason we all need writer friends, be they personal or through an on-line group, friends who can hit you between the eyes when you need it.

It's also an excellent idea to write your piece, then set it aside for a few days and read it again. Mistakes, character arc issues, plausibility concerns, mundane spelling errors, will leap right off the page at you. An embarrassing example; I misspelled my main characters name. At the beginning of my story she was Aves, but on the last page she was Avis! 

I was so impressed with this SIXFOLD method of using their writers to be their readers, that I'll be entering some of my poems for their January Contests. If you write fiction or poetry, you should definitely do the same thing. It's a lot of bang for your five bucks.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My Sixfold Experience



“Editing fiction is like using your fingers to untangle the hair of someone you love.” 
― stephanie roberts


I am nearly finished with my on-line poetry class with Professor Higgins of Galway, just call me Eliza, and I've learned more than expected. I'll summarize all that soon.

In the meantime, on the short story side of my brain, (a small blip just behind my right ear) I submitted a piece to a contest held by SIXFOLD magazine. This submission goes through a process unlike that of any other literary magazine. Although the entry fee is inexpensive at $5, the work required by submitting writers is mildly time consuming. You do just enter and wait. Each entrant must read and comment on 18 other manuscript entries, in three rounds,  over a period of a few weeks. The details of the reading schedule and elimination process cane be found on the  SIXFOLD website.

In answer to your question, no, you do not review or comment on your own manuscript, but you do read a diverse selection of others. I noticed in the first round it was easy to rank the stories from best, to not the best, but the second round was a bit harder. By the third round I had to take some serious notes, as even the manuscript I ranked 6th, when compared to the others, was still a well written and interesting piece. I wanted to be fair, to give each manuscript it's due diligence, so I followed the advice of my UIUC workshop instructors: read each story once through making no assumptions or comments, then on the second read, use your fine tooth editors comb.

But, when doing your final comments, remember the balance between opportunities for improvement and that which is well done. Cite examples, give credit where due, criticize constructively. Think about how you would feel if someone wrote the same comment to you. Battered? Encouraged?

Today I finished the last round of manuscript reviews, and in a few weeks I will receive all the comments made about my own submission. Depending on how far my manuscript made it in the ranking rounds, I will receive somewhere between 30 and 390 commentaries.

If I can't successfully improve my manuscript after that, I might consider going back to writing policies on removing bowel impactions.

Oh, yes I did. Bowel impactions, catheter insertions, urine specimen transportation, mucous collection, don't get me started.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Poetry Overdose For Which There is No Anecdote


'Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.'

                                                 T.S.Eliot


I have recently immersed myself in poetry, so much poetry I find myself speaking in internal rhyme while doing my farm chores, and dreaming about punctuation placement. The cow doesn't seem to mind the extraneous chit chat when I am fussing with her udder, but the ducks are most definitely, not impressed.

I am in week five of my online poetry class, the half-way point, and it is amazing. There are over 30 of us in the group and every week we submit an original poem and then comment on poems submitted by others. We revise our poems, resubmit if we want and read more comments on our revised poems. At the end of the week, the esteemed Kevin Higgins (all the way from Galway, Ireland) comments on all our poems and makes suggestions for revisions prompting the entire group to then comment on those revisions.

Much like a write-revise-write merry-go-round of sorts but without the cotton candy.

In a weeks time I estimate I now read, including first and revised drafts of all participants, approximately thirty five poems. I don't comment on all of them, but I do comment on many of them plus their revisions. It's all done through a private group on Facebook which is refreshing since Facebook can be an ugly place to hang out sometimes. Who knew such beautiful prose could be shared on a social media platform best known for its dueling Hilary-Trump cartoons?

In case that's not enough stanza bonanza's I also subscribe to a few poetry journals: The Moth, Poetry Magazine, Poets and Writers, and SKYLIGHT 47. To top off that big poetry pile I get two "Poems of the Day" via email.

What am I? Nuts?

Pretty much. It is a tendency of mine, when I make a decision to try something new, to jump in with all three feet. Just one reason why I can never get the bottom of my feet, completely clean.

If you're wondering how I manage this, yes, I work at home. I do not have an outside job that requires me to leave the house for hours and hours at time only to return exhausted in the evening. I had jobs like that for decades but now I am a full time homesteader who can set her own writing and reading schedule.

My current schedule follows.  Cows, ducks, chickens, dogs, steers, cats, and one horse get cared for in the morning before I hit the poetry, then I read and hang up clothes, read some more and can some sweet potatoes, read more then dry some herbs for this winters tea, read just a bit more and start supper, read a smidgen more and do the evening chores. Late, after my husband goes to bed, I hit my office and write some poetry of my own.

Some nights it's pure crap, reminiscent of sappy TV advertising jingles but with less rhythm. Other nights the exposure to the excellent work of others, proves motivating, inspiring and  prompts my own creativity.

Soon, this online class will be complete and I expect I'll have gained improved writing skills, some minimal respect for Facebook, and maybe a new international friend or two, making the overdose of material and the influx of ideas, not to mention the nominal fee, all well worth my bloodshot eyes.

So now tell me. Do you write poetry? If so, who or what inspires you? If you've ever taken an online poetry class, did it work well for you? Why or why not?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Workshopping From a Distance, or How to Get Feedback From Switzerland

Kevin Higgins
"Likely the most read living poet in Ireland"
                                                   --The Stinging Fly Magazine


One of the teaching methods I appreciated most the years I attended the Creative Writing Program at The University of Illinois Champaign, was the workshop approach. A group of student writers sat around a big table, facing each other, rather than the instructor, and after given ample time to read each others stories or poems, talked about them. We mentioned what worked for us, what did not work, suggested ways to improve and generally helped each other polish our work and improve our chosen craft.

In the entry level classes, we were at first a bit reserved, announcing often, "That was a great poem" but as we advanced, so did our comments. "I appreciated your consistent use of consonance in the first and second stanza's but the imagery weakened near the end." Or my favorite comment, "What is at risk here in this piece?" This phrase was a direct challenge, probing into the intent of the poem and the effort made, if any, by it's author.

Most of the time our instructors kept mum until the end of the session,  not wanting to influence the others, or they handed their suggestions and impressions to us in writing at the end of the class.  One creative writing professor never gave his opinion either verbally or in writing, but instead asked probing questions. No, not like the alien probes folks talk about at the Piggly Wiggly, but the kind that make you reflect on the effort made, such as, "Did anyone else want to know more about Matilda's motivation to kill her pet buffalo?"

Last May, I was thrilled to graduate from UIUC, but after working all summer on new stories, revising the old, crafting new poems and tweaking the old, I realized I still needed and missed Feedback.

I corrected this situation by signing up for an online poetry class a few weeks ago, facilitated by Kevin Higgins of Galway, Ireland. I  met him briefly last summer while studying at NUIG  (National University Ireland Galway) and attended a poetry reading hosted by him and others of  the Over The Edge Literary Organization. I was impressed then, as I am now, by Galway City's strong support of artists, writers and poets and not just the local folks who meet that criteria, but the worldwide community of such.

So, for the next ten weeks I am back in workshop mode. I will read and comment on the poems written by people from all over the globe, while they will read and comment on my work.  Some of my "classmates" are from as far away as Germany, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia, Switzerland and England. I am genuinely excited about the feedback I will receive, not only because it is a geographically diverse group, but also because the members are broadly different in their poem writing experience levels. Some are just staring out,sharing written work for the first time. others, like myself, have a few published works under their belts, while several are well published both in literary magazines and complete collections of poetry.

I won't share any specific poems of course or chat about individual members of the group, but at the end of the ten weeks I'll post about the experience in general.

Has anyone else participated in an on-line writing workshop? What was your experience? Any specific course recommendations for others?


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Writer Self Promotion: Career Requirement, a Necessary Evil, or Just Plain Crass?

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I struggle with this aspect of writing, self promotion. Sister Mary Gerard made it clear to me in first grade at Our Lady of Lourdes, Chicago, that I was not her only student when she made amazing announcements like, "Miss O'Shaughnessy you are not my only student." She had a gift for stating the blatantly obvious.

My mother often followed suit by reminding me, "You're not an only child Madame Butterfly." Her point was this; just because the heels in my socks were in absentia, it did not mean I would get new ones before any of my five siblings.  I'm not sure though what she meant by the Madame Butterfly reference, but I'm only 57, still plenty of time for more exploratory therapy.

The moral of my story. Thou shalt not shine the spotlight in ones own direction.

Funny thing was, I never took this advice to heart. My freshman year of high school was spent stunt-falling out of my chair. Always good for a laugh, not so good for my lumbar vertebra. In college (the first time, I attended college many times over the decades, can you spell S-L-O-W ?) I gleaned attention via major rule breaking: underage drinking, poor class attendance, vehicular joy riding, and all around trouble making.

I had no issue back then with drawing the wrong kind of attention. Now, I'm older, quasi-wiser and staring a new career. So what kind of attention should a writer seek? When should it be done and how often? Can a writer have a successful career without blowing their own horn i.e. is it possible for the quality of their work to speak for itself? Or, is it expected that a writer will work as hard or harder than their publisher and/or agent in sharing news of recent work? And where does Social Media 2016 fit into the scheme? Is Facebook the gold standard now that blogging has become commonplace or should similar effort be directed via  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, Swarm, Flickr, Meerkat etc, etc.?

The multitude of Social Media which is evolving daily, reminds me of the perfume industry of the 80's when "layering" was all the rage. It was deemed inadequate to buy only the perfume, as the marketing moguls pressured consumers to also purchase the same scent in cologne, after bath spritzer, powder, solid perfume, shampoo and lotion. Many women walked about in hugely toxic clouds of Channel Number 5 and Jean Nate rendering a passer-by nearly senseless. God help the relative who had to endure a close hug from Aunt Magnolia wrapped up tight in a stifling cloud of Tabu.

It was all, too much.

So when is Social Media too much when all you desire is to promote your recently published novel, your award winning fiction, your long-listed poem about dead raccoons in the road? I have absolutely no idea. I am still new to this writerly world and slogging my way through, one muddy step at a time.

 The dilemma of self promotion hit me personally this past month when I was notified my poem, "Waiting for the Coroner," was chosen for the Dermot Healy Poetry Award at the Five Glens Festival in Sligo, Irealnd.  I was very surprised as I am an emerging poet (note, I did not say young poet) with no other published poems. I was also thrilled, humbled, excited, and I'll say it again, thrilled. But, should I be advertising the fact?

Too late. I just did.

These are the pros of self promotion as I see it.
     1. Readers are made aware of your existence.

These are the cons of self promotion as I see them.
     1. Readers tire of your existence.

So what is an up and coming poet slash essayist slash short story writer to do? The irony of my asking about the value of self promotion while blogging about the issue (bloggers are the leaders of self-promoters) does not escape my beagle eye. I've always preferred dogs over birds.

Tell me what you think, to promote or not to promote, and to what degree. Specifically, which venues have worked for you and why and which do you find over the top and why?

While you are contemplating these issues please take a moment to share this post with everyone on earth you might know. Thanks a million.




Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Big Pile of Rejections and One Glimmer of Hope.



Shame on me. Too busy living to post on my writers blog, but if it makes you feel any better, I've been very busy on my other blog, The Poor Farm. Which begs the question, Are Bloggers, Writers?

Food for thought for another day. Todays post is an update on all the submission work I did in May, June and early July, as I promised you.  I believe  rejection sharing is as important as self promotion when things go well. It always helps me to know that others are going through the same hard work as I am.

During that three time month time I submitted work to thirty-two publications.Some were contest submission, others just regular submissions for magazine publications. Most were short stories, but there were also three creative non-fiction pieces and a few poetry submissions. In that same amount of time I've received five rejections, and one acceptance which I'll tell you about in a minute.

That leaves twenty-six pieces out there just floating around, in someones email, on their slush pile or maybe in a brief case being shuttled about a big city.  Some of these publications state clearly, "Don't call us we'll call you," while others promise to get back to you within three months. One sent me an email telling me they had too many submissions and mine wasn't even going to be read, while another simply placed a piece of paper in an envelope. At least it was obvious by the scrappettes irregular edges, it was cut by real human hands. I'm all for the personal touch.

None of them made fun of my work or called me names. I find that encouraging.

This morning though, I was gifted a glimmer of hope. I was notified that one of my poems, While the Coroner Waits,  has been shortlisted (in the top ten out of over 500 world-wide entries) in the Dermot Healy Poetry Contest. I've also been invited to the awards ceremony on August 27, where the winner will be announced at The Five Glens Festival in Manorhamilton on the North West Coast of Ireland.

Sadly, there is no way financially I can attend the ceremony unless any of you out there in blogland have an extra pair of tickets to Manorhamilton, which you won't be using. I can trade you a boat load of organic sausage and steaks for them. I'll even throw in several bars (100?) of homemade soap. Your choice of color.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What Condition My Revision is In

This is how I used to do it.

Write a story from beginning to end. Check it for gross grammar gufaws and spelling splunk, then submit to my instructor. After my story or poem or essay was critiqued in a workshop setting where everyone reads your work and makes comments, I would go back to my desk and edit, a few things. Sometimes I considered my classmates comments, but more often I took the lazy route and corrected only the problems I thought were issues.

My professors at UIUC told us the revisions should be "significant," yet how does one evaluate "significant"? I rationalized that my "significant" had to be significant enough. I had other classes you know, a husband, children, grandchildren, pigs that had to be fed for God's sake, thus my  second draft was often completed in less than "significant" ways. I submitted it on time and I received credit for following the assignment, but what did I gain?

Guilt.

I knew my work could be better. I knew I took the easy way out. I knew I had shorted myself.

So, with two years of classes behind me which included three poetry and four creative writing classes plus several other classes which required nonfiction essays,  I am not surprisingly, mildly appalled at some of my work. Granted a couple of pieces were brilliant, (the moon was high and bright those nights) but most were not my best work.

Now though, is my chance for serious revisions and I am delighted to tell you, I'm having a blast doing it. I saved the majority of my classmates comments and you know what? Some of those young folk were brilliant! Their comments were right on. Using phrases like, "this sounds forced" and "would a mother really say this?!" have made me laugh out loud. Much of my early work was forced and cliched and deserved the red pen, although they usually used black and once green.  They said or wrote positive things too, but it was the brave ones, the ones who called me out by pronouncing, "this makes no sense at all," who push me forward now.

Below is one of my stories and the section in italics was the memory a son had of his father. One of my classmates comments is on the left. he wrote, "I understand the sentiment here, but it feels too perfect, like a sepia toned photograph."



Sepia toned photograph. My classmate nailed it, the scene was entirely too sappy and at this point in my story, the father had not earned his sons fond memories of him. I ended up taking out the scene entirely and the story gained its own validity.

So, how do I revise now? I read a piece of my work, twice. The first time I just read, but the second time, I read it out loud. Our eyes can fool us into thinking we've written something well, but when read aloud, the bumpy parts are heard, like nails on a chalkboard. If I have them, I read through the comments made by others, but only once. I look for trends in the comments.Then, I set drafts, comments, everything,  out of reach, and  I rewrite the piece from scratch. This was a technique suggested by Professor John Rubins at UIUC. He said, "What is good will reappear, and what is bad will fall away."

Often my final draft is very different from my first draft, a result I have come to appreciate.

Try revising some of your work this way, and let me know your thoughts. Or,take a moment and tell me your revision process and why it works for you.