Reluctantly I admitted, I could not do both, so I focused on school and slogged my way through the essay assignments, the Shakespeare Production Analyses, the Western Civilization History chapters, the required novel readings ( fourteen in my last semester) and finally, I graduated on May 14, more convinced than ever I am still a newbie writer eejit.
All of this reminds me of a nurses first couple of weeks out of nursing school. You've been tested on all the procedures, (no one can catheterize a rubber dummy like you) the drugs, the plans of care, the patient education, physician communication, and on paper; you look good. Then you get your first job in a real health care facility, not a skills lab . On your first day after your mentor says you are ready to solo, you get a complicated admission. The intake paperwork is nothing like that you used in nursing school, the patient goes sour on you an hour after you get him settled, and suddenly you're doing your first code, your first coroner call, your first conversation with a shocked and grieving family all while trying to care for five other patients at the same time. You go home after working that twelve hour shift which became fourteen hours and you think, What the Hell have I gotten myself into?
Graduating from a well -respected creative writing program feels oddly similar. I worked hard, completed my assignments on time, received good grades, even managed somehow, I really have no idea how, to be the recipient of UIUC's Senior Quinn Award for Fiction, which involved two of my professors recommending me and three more reading my submitted manuscript of short stories. Star pupil me.
But I ask you, now what?
I turned 57 last week, just three days post graduation, and after decades of working in hospitals with multiple layers of administration beneath, alongside and above me, I know one thing for certain, I will work at this new "calling" from home, or I should say, from farm.
And the question remains, now what? Do I rewrite old stories and start submitting? Do I write new stories, essays and poems (I enjoy all three) or should I focus my efforts in one area? Do I enter only contests? Which contests, the ones with tiny prize money as one would hope less competition, or do I shoot for the moon and enter the Win a Trip to New York and $10,000 cash contests? But contests cost money to enter and our income is limited. So, maybe I switch gears and submit for publication only? Get a couple free issues if they select my work kind of literary magazines or only those that pay? Should I start locally, say with Chicago based literary magazines or expand globally? Perhaps a tiny publication in Ravello, Italy seeks some flash fiction about women jugglers in Citta` del Vaticano. But, will they expect a story in translation?
What should my cover letter look like? Do they still want cover letters? If a magazine takes online and hard copy submissions, which is better? Is it a trap to test my computer/internet/personal communication skills? How do I know which journals are not going to take my contest money and buy drinks for the editorial staff because they spent all day reading crappy fiction submissions? Do I use Times New Roman 11 or 12 font when the magazine lists no preference? And the most important question of all, do I write before, or after I've done my pig chores?
It is mind boggling.
If you have any ideas, want to share your own strategy for getting your name and your work out there in literary land, please leave a comment. Leave lots of comments.