As you may have caught in the first, second, and third installments of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to bridge the worlds of MFA-candidate and MFA-wielding god/goddess, Lit Mags fuel a writer, writers submit, and writers keep (anyone?) writing. Step 4 is brief, so it shares a post with step 5 (out of 7—you’ll love 6 and 7).
Join Facebook even if it scares the living hell out of you. Keep in touch with your lit gang. Make some new lit and non-lit friends. Let people into your writing life. It makes it less lonely.
5. CREATE (outside of writing)
Rediscover, in this post-MFA world what else you like to do besides writing. I got a little stale during my MFA years—there just wasn’t time for everything. This is the PERFECT time to say hello again to hobbies.
There’s a great Louis Armstrong quote about making a life. I’m paraphrasing here in a big way, but make your life your work and it will make your writing better. And this is exactly the time to do it. You’ve finished your MFA, you have a project to work on, you’re figuring out how to be a self-employed writer (even if it isn’t your only job or your only other-other job). Figure out some new obsessions. Revisit some old ones. Goof off a little bit. It will bring freshness to your work.
As you may have read in the first installment of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to bridge the worlds of MFA-candidate and MFA-wielding god/goddess, Lit Mags are the Wheaties that can power a writer. In Survival Guide 2, writers submit. Step 3…
3. HAVE A PROJECT READY TO WORK ON WHEN YOU GRADUATE
I did my thesis reading and a few hours later I was on a flight with my family to move across the country. No joke. The next morning, I looked at all the boxes in this new house, in this new state, with no friends, no childcare, no stinking coffee and I knew only one thing: I had writing waiting for me. I bought a new calendar and made some deadlines and I got back to work. I didn’t do this because I loved it (exactly). I did it because I didn’t just want to be someone with an MFA, I wanted to be someone with a shelf of books and short stories and screenplays with my name on them.
The fact is you will be much grumpier if you don’t write than if you do. You’ll feel better after you’ve written. We all do. And writing begets writing.
As you may have read in the first installment of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to bridge the worlds of MFA-candidate and MFA-wielding god/goddess, Lit Mags are the Wheaties that can power a writer. Next on the list . . .
Start submitting work before you finish the program. Not only will you prove to your partner/spouse/children/parents that you actually do something, you’ll also prove it to yourself. Sure, you’re going to submit work before you’re ready, but that is okay. Keep submitting work. New work. Re-revised work. Whatever. Work on it, make it the best you can, have more than one piece going out, and GO. Keep a running guide of where you are submitting and the answer (much easier now with online submissions and your favorite spreadsheet program). Thumbs up or ding, whatever. Be professional about it: keep track, write thank you notes, be nice. This is your job. Also set yourself a set amount of submissions per week or month and hit it. You’ll look back sometimes and think, “Okay, I NEVER should have sent that out.” But really, who cares. Do it! Do it again! Writers write. They revise. They submit. They get rejections. They move on. They keep working.
Eliza Tudor is a writer in Silicon Valley. She received her MFA from Butler University. Her work has most recently been published in PANK and Hobart.
As I approach the final few classes of my MFA program, I find myself panicking. How does a writer keep producing in the shadows, in the absence of the light and accountability of the MFA workshop? Former Butler U classmate and MFA-wielding goddess Eliza Tudor was kind enough to share her 7-point survival guide, to be published in installments here on Writerly. Part 1 . . .
A Survival Guide to Bridge the Worlds of MFA-Candidate and MFA-Wielding God/Goddess
Make sure you are reading. Books, literary magazines—in print and online, newspapers, ANYTHING…but make it NEW. You have to be a consumer of new writing as well as your oldies but goodies. About halfway through the program I had a mad case of MFA-burnout and began asking writer friends for suggestions. This helped. I began reading new magazines, new writers, listening to new podcasts and visiting new sites.
It does make me want to get a little smacky-smacky when I hear writers say, in whispered tones, “I don’t really read literary magazines.” Well, that’s a problem. The fact is there is a lit mag for everyone—slipstream, genre-based, anything and everything. Look online!
Also backtrack: find a writer you love and see where their work was published—then look for another story in that mag that you like—then look and see what other mags that writer was published in. Ask your program for a stack of magazines. Ask a mag you like for back issues. Get subscriptions for your birthday. We all get in reading ruts, but the thing is you can’t stay that way. Read something new. Think of it this way if it helps: NO ONE WILL PUBLISH YOUR WORK UNLESS YOU SUBSCRIBE TO AT LEAST THREE LITERARY MAGAZINES (and you must read them).
Eliza Tudor is a writer in Silicon Valley. She received her MFA from Butler University. Her work has most recently been published in PANK and Hobart.
A year ago the lovely and talented Lili Wright—author of Learning to Float, Depauw University rock star, and my nonfiction workshop prof in the Butler MFA program—made me better and then messed me up. On a sunny April afternoon, seated across from me at a bistro table outside the Butler bookstore, she challenged me to start submitting my work. “By July, send out three,” Lili said.
“Clean up your senior photo story a little,” she said, “and I could see it in New York Times Lives.”
And so I did, only I didn’t wait until July, and I didn’t clean it up enough, evidently. When August rolled around with nary a word from New York, I started submitting that story and others to journals I dug. Thus began a comically robust collection of rejection notices in my inbox, which didn’t deter me, really. The rejections at first stung, but they made me write (and rewrite) harder and become ruthless with the use of Delete in my revisions.
Wait, that’s not entirely true. I do hold a new black belt in hacking down my stories, but the rejections kinda messed me up. But what messed me up more? The ACCEPTANCE email I received a week before my birthday. “Congratulations!” in my Inbox caused a nasty flare-up of neuroses.
After precisely fifteen minutes of eye-dabbing Sally Field gratitude, my inner Woody Allen got to work sabotaging my joy and minimizing my accomplishment. It’s not the New York Times, that SOB in my head said. They probably only had two writers submit for this issue. The editor must be overworked. Why else would she choose you for the showcase writer interview? She probably picked your name out of a hat. And those questions she asked, are you kidding me? Just try answering them with a straight face. You know what your peers and professors will say when they read it. You’re a fraud. You’re a hack.
Enter the gracious and brilliant Bryan Furuness, who shared the following wisdom:
Look: the writing life is a black sky of rejection, punctuated every few million light years by a tiny starpoint of success. In other words, the writing life is full of things that can make a body feel despair, so when you come across a moment that can actually make you feel joy and hope, your job is TO LET YOURSELF FEEL GOOD. Take the joy. Don’t qualify it, don’t ameliorate it, don’t yeah-but it. Take it. And fuck anyone who tries to take even a smidge of it away from you.
Take THAT, Woody Allen.
Bless you, Lili Wright, for pushing me out into open waters where I’d learn to float.
And curly-red Niya Sisk, thank you for giving my work a cozy home in Curly Red Stories.
“I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”
*Where to submit? In the world of literary writing, Cosmo is no longer the goal, at least not for now. Mags like the Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Hobart and The New Yorker are our holy grail. Heck, we’re thrilled with modern online-only journals like the spiffy Emprise Review [NO LONGER LIVE, ARG], as long as they’re literary. The only way to find the “where” is to read journals and submit your best work to the ones that publish stories that turn you on. Also helpful: wander the halls of Duotrope in search of a suitable home for your little short stories, lists, and essays.
In the handbook of the school system attended by my children and funded by my household, under the section about bullying (defined as overt, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal … communication … by a student with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate or harm the other student) there is a point that states: Parents should feel free to report suspected acts of bullying to an appropriate school official.
We should feel free, shouldn’t we, to stand up for our children in any way we can, no matter how ineffectual in its discipline is a school system that retains coaches after they allowed sexual assault to occur on a team bus with no immediate consequence to their inaction?
We should feel free to advocate for our son who has endured ridicule for three years to the point where he, stretched beyond his attempts to remain tough and tolerant, finally breaks down in the kitchen after school and confides in his mother how a boy in gym class yelled at him, this smart, tender, artistic guy with a medical diagnosis that makes his long, spidery legs, clumsy and akimbo, run in an awkward, uneven stride, “Hey, Jack. RUN! Don’t SKIP!”
The mom should feel free to report how the boy, an athlete who is inexplicably “popular” (in spite of obnoxious interpersonal habits) punctuated this ridicule with, “FAGGOT!”
Why don’t I feel free?
Caveat: 25% of the school officials contacted in this matter have been compassionate and responsive. This school system has offered mostly premium educational opportunities and exceptional creative outlets for our children’s edification and enrichment.
The United States has a new Poet Laureate, and his name is W.S. Merwin.
I must admit, as a proser I was unfamiliar with this two-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s work. In fact, I wasn’t aware that the United States even had an official poet. (How cool is that?) Thank you, NPR, for shining the light into my darkness. Listening to this story while sitting in my car, I heard this handsome octogenarian read one of his earlier poems. It has haunted me for days, and now I will share it with you.
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
After I heard him recite this poem, I craved more. So I looked for his work on the shelves of a local bookstore and found only one. I settled into a comfy chair, flipped open to the first poem in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Shadows of Syrius,” and read. As I read, a most unusual thing happened. My eyes welled up. Has that ever happened to you as you’ve read poetry? Poetry has inspired me before, but this was the first time poetry moved me to tears.
I didn’t have the money to purchase the book, so I left it at table near the front of the store and hoped someone else would pick it up and be so moved. When I got home, I surfed for more W.S. Merwin online and found the most marvelous site. UniVerse gives readers access to the most celebrated poets from countries all over the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Their work is a window into their respective cultures.
Representing the United States on UniVerse would be W.S. Merwin. From his home on an old pineapple plantation on Mauai, our country’s 17th Poet Laureate has performed his job as “ambassador of poetry” in the life of this one American. Thank you, Mr. Merwin. And God bless America.
After a gloomy weekend of rainy weather, it’s Monday, the kids have a Flex Day, and the sun is shining. The sun is shining bright like a blue sky day on the beach, it’s 75 degrees, and I’m in the Carmel Ice Skadium writing a Bosma internal newsletter on my laptop while my daughter skates stumbly laps for two-and-a-half hours with four other 11-ish buddies. It’s her birthday, and spending three hours in a cooler was her choice.
And since Grace really is the best girl who was ever born, truly, I didn’t hesitate to oblige her. But between you and me, I appreciate this opportunity to complain. Not that I didn’t spend hours in this very place after school and on weekends when I was her age, learning spins, jumps and spirals. Like with so many other haunts in this town I left in ’83 never to return, I’ve had enough of this particular locale. I never needed to see it again. Or smell it. It still smells like feet, sweat and dirty frost. The steel rafters, wooden stands carved with marks from a million blades, and cinderblock bathroom walls painted yellow remain as they appear in my memory.
A change in ownership a few years back, though, and an accompanying infusion of capital have resulted in some significant improvements. Topping the list is a new manager—a friendly, helpful guy they hired away from a rink near Seattle. (The old guy was aloof, loud, and rude. And I’m not saying the year, exactly, but it was earlier than 1980.) Mr. New Manager says they brought him on to “fix” the Carmel Ice Skadium, specifically the facility and programming. (“We sell ice. Ice and fun.”) When I asked him to pinpoint the most critical fix, he said, “Customer service.”
Friendly, helpful help goes a long way, sure, but so does a new and improved snack bar that sells hot Starbucks beverages, Tazo teas, bagels, breakfast sandwiches, pizza, and…BEER! (Mommy needs a beer, but nothing makes a responsible adult wait to drink at home more effectively than four little girls who depend on said Mommy to provide safe return to their mommies and daddies.)
One girl left because she was bored (a wrist injury prevented her from skating-???); another sulked by my side, slurping her blue slushie in my ear for fifteen minutes trying to annoy me into giving her money for a snack (I resisted), but the other three party girls skated and fell and skated some more until it was cake and present time. After the girls slimed a tabletop with their blue and red slushie juices, I offered to wipe it down. The new manager smiled and said, “We’ll take care of that. You just relax. Is it going okay?”
Grace is having a blast, it seems. And it’s not too bad for me, really. The prices are reasonable – $5 for kids, $3 for rental. I’m picking up someone’s internet signal. And the new manager, with his efforts at creating a tidier facility and a better experience for kids and parents, has made this afternoon’s warm weather deprivation a little less hellish.
On the Second Story Blog, I read about the most radical notion today. I don’t think you can do it. I hope I can, because it looks more refreshing than a bottle of water on a hike above timberline on a July day. But let’s try, shall we? I dare ya.
10 ways to live a more actually
1. Buy a watch and use it instead of looking constantly at your cell phone. This will keep you from obsessing about checking your text messages, email, Facebook mobile or voicemail messages. Plus you’ll be doing the watch-making industry a favor. Watch sales are in the tank.
2. Search for the quietest place you can find to sit there for a bit each day. You might call it meditation or you might just call it stopping.
3. Do something really fun and don’t document it at all. Let those moments belong only to the people who were actually there.
4. Choose to turn off the computer and phone at a certain time on certain nights. Don’t put it in sleep mode. Shut it down. I’ve found that this helps me get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
5. Read books that make you think. Read the newspaper in print form.
6. Write your thoughts in a little notebook and keep them to yourself.
7. Write notes on paper and leave them for somebody you really like or love to find in person.
8. Send a friend a postcard in the mail for no reason.
9. Walk instead of driving. Nothing makes life more real than actually touching the earth with your feet.
10. Really pay attention to the world. Smell it. Taste it. Look at it. Listen to it.
At the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini Marathon 15K training race this past Saturday, a friend of mine who is legally blind finished STRONG! See a snippet of her story and a link to the video of her celebrating by clicking this link.
In Seeing Art for the First Time, my friend Shawn, a regular guy in his thirties who has been blind since he was 10’ish, talks about his first experience with art, at the IMOCA. I always enjoy his perspective. Thanks, Shawn.