In the last few months, I’ve been astounded by the number of people who have an embarrassing or memorable story of a childhood spelling bee. I’ll mention The Triangle’s upcoming fundraiser, a Grown-up Spelling Bee at Tellus 360, and an excited story usually ensues.
“I spelled beautiful wrong. Beautiful!”
“Margaret Thompson beat me and she rubbed it in my face for years.”
“You won’t believe this, but I misspelled “misspelled”—Apparently there’s a second S?”
We’ve gathered a line-up of spellers from across the region to try their adult minds on words ranging from “league” to “acquiesce”, including local novelties like “Yuengling”. Our spellers are competing to be the last one standing, and given that this is hosted at local pub, that could be harder than you think. Each contestant is in it to win a prize package courtesy of Lemon Street Market and a trophy designed by Modern Art. Here’s a line up of the local dignitaries we’ve coerced into playing:
- Adam Blessing
- Carla Christopher (of Culture & Main)
- Jonathan Darby (of Horn Farm Center)
- Joanna Davis Seedorf (of Modern Art)
- Caitlin Downs (of PCAD)
- Cindy Goldsworthy
- Melanie Hess
- Alicia Holland
- Jenny Hill (of Acts of Jennius – Hoop Performance & Instruction)
- Christine Lincoln (Poet Laureate of York, PA)
- Mike Madrigale (of Mr. Suit Records)
- Mike McMonagle (of Fly Magazine)
- Jason Mundok (of Wood Stove House)
- Claire Porter
- Diane Richards (of Lancaster Transplant & Aussie and The Fox)
- Kerry Sherin Wright (of The Philadelphia Alumni Writer’s House)
- Mitchell Sommers (of Philadelphia Stories)
- Donna Talarico-Beerman (of Hippocampus Magazine)
- Jesse Waters (of the Elizabethtown College Bowers Writing House)
- Benjamin Weiss (of Susquehanna Permaculture)
In April, The Triangle turns two. For nearly two years we’ve been working to connect the literary communities (and writers within them) of south central PA by providing a free, online calendar of events; interviewing writers; conducting visual interviews; documenting ephemera through our But Is It Lit series; and giving community members a space to publish literary opinion pieces and reviews. We also organize and host unique literary events. For our readings and workshops, we’ve done our best to keep admission free or by donation—this standard is rooted in two beliefs: 1) that literature should be available to anyone who wants to experience it and 2) that artists deserve compensation for the important, creative work that they do.
In the spirit of providing unique literary experiences, we are hosting Lancaster’s first grown-up Spelling Bee at Tellus 360. We’re asking for a $10 donation for the event. This is our first fundraiser, but we feel it’s going to be well worth the ten dollar price of admission.
You might be wondering what we plan to do with the donations we receive. This is valid. In 2015 we plan to continue publishing weekly interviews, reviews, and news. We will keep up our online calendar, meaning that if you are ever hosting an event (or you even hear about one) that involves the literary arts in any way, you can email us and we’ll help you promote it there and through our social media. We already have 6 events in the works for 2015, including a free workshop on Experimental Storytelling, and a series of Flash Fiction readings around the South Central PA region. Also, this February marks the birth of Lancaster’s own literary magazine, Third Point Press, headed up by our partner-in-lit Matthew Kabik (who will also be a judge for the spelling bee). Some of our collected donations from this event will go to supporting Third Point Press in getting off the ground. This literary magazine will have open submissions and 1/3 of each issue will consist of writers based in south central PA.
Basically, we’re asking you to help us do what we do even better. The Triangle has never been a moneymaking endeavor. Our donations go into paying for our website, printing flyers, and compensating the talented writers we collaborate with. We do all of this in our free time, outside of our day jobs, because we think the literary arts deserve recognition. So, if you’re free this Sunday afternoon, stop by Tellus 360 for a drink and some entertainment. Come say hello.
Possibly the most exciting thing about reading the work of living writers is that you can talk to them. Twitter is great for that. A lot of authors have websites with contact forms. Some offer their email addresses. I’m friends with a bunch of my favorite working writers on Facebook. I just searched their names. Weird, right?
Possibly the most exciting thing about reading writers who live in your county is that you can have coffee with them.
Back in November, I picked up a zine off the shelf in DECA, The Discerning Eye Center for the Arts. I instantly connected with the design; it looks like a composition book. It looked like a book of poems. It was, like, two dollars.
It was Henry Gepfer’s Loser Life: Stolen Poems ’87-’01, which I discovered was a chapbook of haikus composed strictly of song titles released by “slacker” punk and alternative bands during the 90’s.
The way Gepfer described the idea’s conception should sound familiar to creatives: a random, quirky, late-night thought that he couldn’t let go of, although his came during a 3rd shift at a candy factory. What if there was a book of poems assembled entirely of the song titles I grew up listening to? “Usually those ideas, after I get back to a normal sleep schedule, turn out to be terrible…but that one stuck to me, so I did it,” he said. Gepfer, a visual artist and printmaker, admits to feeling lazy about ideas sometimes. “I’m sort of a slack individual myself. I’d said I was gonna make a zine for ever. I can’t remember how many projects I started and never finished it. I just did it to prove I could.” Just about every artist can relate to that.
As for the content, the message, the stuff I chewed on while reading this work, Gepfer is fairly modest. For him, the process was fun, something to keep him busy during a lull in his visual art production. I wanted to know how much audience and purpose played into his creative process with Loser Life. He said, “I don’t really approach art with a viewer or reader in mind. It’s great to consider that when you’re making it, but… I think when you’re doing something like this you don’t really owe anybody anything. I mean, they don’t owe it to you to appreciate or value it. That’s perfectly okay. Like if you wanted to, you could recycle it. That’d be okay.”
Recycling seems to be exactly what he’s doing. “Besides the intro, I didn’t write it,” Gepfer reminded me, “I assembled it.” Recently, poets, artists, and musicians have been creating new landscapes by taking existing content and putting it to new use. They find interesting text and put limitations on its reuse. Gepfer not only limited himself to songs that fell between his most formative musical years, but set out to not repeat any bands; each line in the book comes from a different recording artist.
The last decade has seen an explosion of sourced-text writing. These poetic concepts are surfacing in a variety of places; there’s the pop-flarf of Steve Roggenbuck, the haunting redacted poems of The O Mission Repo by Travis Mcdonald, Stephanie Barber’s hilarious Night Moves (a book entirely sourced from YouTube comments on a Bob Seger music video), Jen Bervin’s remix of Shakespeare (Nets), and her sewn-out The Desert. I mean, Kenneth Goldsmith was on The Colbert Report last year talking about a course he teaches called Uncreative Writing. He read found poems to the president.
Although he isn’t an avid reader of conceptual poetry, Gepfer was aware of and interested by artist Cory Arcangel’s recent publishing project, a book of tweets found by searching the words “working on my novel”. “That dude is really smart. I thought this [project] shared the same type of sensibility,” said Gepfer. Tending more toward visual art, he’s unfamiliar with a lot of found poetry, but he does recognize the tradition that precedes Loser Life. “I am aware I’m not the first person to do it, in fact I’m probably like 900,000 on the list”.
And I’m probably the 900,000th person to say this but it seems we’re all inundated with text, and many are enchanted by the freedom to remix it into something new. Aren’t all words existing text? Isn’t every word we utter stolen? (I’ll shut up if someone promises to make a found poem using the text from this article…)
The chapbook stands as more than just an experiment in poetic boundaries; it is a testament to slacker culture, a 90’s ethos characterized by grunge, alt-rock, post-hardcore and an attitude of Screw You: I am what I am. “The goal was less to mythologize than demystify it,” Gepfer said of the slacker era. “We have a way of thinking everything was better in the past, but I feel like a lot of that was because we were younger and had less responsibility—I kind of feel like everything has always sucked,” he added.
The Slackers, as Gepfer describes them in the forward to Loser Life, were “good looking men and women, who masked their appeal in torn clothes, bad hair, and shitty attitudes. Fucking slackers.” I wondered if he felt slacker culture was unique to the 90s, but he told me it’s cyclical, that every generation has its slackers. Of course they go by different names: Punks, hippies, hipsters, loners, Holden Caulfields. “The definition is elastic,” he admitted.
What surprised Gepfer with this project, which he described as “a funny thing to do at first”, is how personal some of the poems became. “They spoke a lot about the things I’ve been through, or the things I feel…it isn’t exactly what I want to do, but that’s how it ended up,” said Gepfer. He stopped thinking about the words as song titles. As a reader, this is how I started to feel after a few pages as well; I forgot the collage and connected to the message.
Gepfer is primarily a visual artist, an MFA candidate in Printmaking at Edinboro University. This project, for him, was creatively inspiring for his visual art. He told me, “It ended up being a jumping off point for a lot of the stuff I’m working on at school now.” With five semesters left, Gepfer said his creative focus will be on printmaking and visual art; we might not see another self-published book of conceptual poetry any time soon. But, you never know when a stray idea will strike, hold on, and become something tangible.
If you want to grab a copy of Loser Life, you can check out Gepfer’s site, peruse the zine shelf at DECA in Lancaster, or just email him at lgepfer [at] gmail dot com.
The biggest part of being a writer, at least in my experience, is learning that you’re not going to be successful at it. I mean, not successful in the way that you think of success in anything else. Success in anything else is recognition and prestige. It’s being able to make a good run of doing that thing as the only thing you do, even. Writing (more correctly, the writing life), isn’t that. It’s not waking up at 8 in the morning to sit at a typewriter (somehow still a typewriter, in my mind, when I make up this world) and imagine for your daily bread.
That’s not writing. That’s something we think of as teenagers and maybe even undergrads, but no successful, productive writer really imagines themselves as Stephen King. That path leads to madness. At least grumpiness. Let’s say it leads to grumpiness, that’s less hyperbolic.
So what signifies success as a writer? Well, I’d say that it’s a much less lofty goal: a successful writer is:
- Someone who writes
- Someone who submits their work
- Someone who doesn’t give up
That’s pretty much it, as far as I’ve learned. The difference between a “writer” and a writer can be found in just those three, really.
Someone who writes
To quote Dorothy Parker:
“I hate writing, I love having written.”
and that’s very true. However, lots of “writers” will just go ahead and edit that venerable quote into:
I hate writing, I love imagining I’m writing.
Because it’s easier, and because it takes a lot less time, people will do everything in their power to get to the point where they are ready to write, and then skirt around the keyboard/notebook with just enough time to say “there’s no way I could write now, I’ve already wasted five hours just finding the perfect spot with the perfect drink and the perfect time.” Then, presumably, they’d post a number of humblebrag tweets and Facebook posts about how hard it is to be a writer, and how if they only just had a patron or a three month period of no interruptions that they’d write a masterpiece.
Hashtag: you’re doing it wrong
Someone who submits their work
This is somehow trickier than the “make sure you write” piece, as even folks who are good about producing work (AND REVISING IT, BY GOD) have a rough time getting over this part of the process. Now listen–if you’re writing just for the sake of writing, that’s all well and good. But if you’re really hoping to have other people read your work and want to be part of the writing community, you’ll need to put your work out there. Here’s the best part: failure is the norm. It’s standard. It’s what you should be doing. The western world looks at failure as failure, and that mindset really makes it hard for writers to put their work out there just to have some editor send them a dear Joan letter.
But that’s the way of it. Furthermore, it’s fun. It’s fun sending out your story and having it come back unaccepted. It’s fun to revise it, to have it rejected more and more, and then eventually get an acceptance when you’ve just about accepted there isn’t any hope. That’s the writing life. That’s the bread and butter of it. The goofy thing about submitting, too, is how much easier it gets to take acceptances and rejections with the same builder’s resolve (they are both sections of a house to be put in place–they both move you closer to an overall goal of a writer’s life).
Naturally there are good ways and bad ways to submit your work, and I’m not going to get into that subject here (you shoulda been at the workshop here in Lancaster about that very subject). I will say this, however: if you aren’t submitting your work because you’re nervous to do it, there is only one way to conquer that fear. Submit away, brave little writer. Let the world reject the hell out of you for a while.
Someone who doesn’t give up
This is something I think we all know, but something I didn’t realize until just recently when discovering a writer I knew in high school (we were all writers in high school. All of us young, devil-may-care creatives) on Facebook. They had stopped writing, of course, and are living a pleasant, normal, perfectly acceptable life. I realized that the only thing separating us, really, was how I didn’t give up on the writing life. It was tenacity, not skill and not luck, that gave me the path from high school to here, to now.
It’s easy to give up on this sort of thing. You work for hours and hours on something that you can’t eat or sit on or protect yourself from bears with, then you send it out to the world and wait months for people to get back to you, and then they do get back to you by saying it isn’t quite right (most times). It’s dumb. It’s a dumb, stupid endeavor that tries your resolve all the time. But if you want to succeed, you need only not give up. You just need to be tougher than the frustration and ignorant of your ability to simply stop. That’s the million dollar tip: just don’t give up.
On the flip side, however, you should also recognize when continuing to write/submit is hurting you, and give yourself breaks. I know there are people out there who say you need to write every day, and I think that’s a great, unachievable goal, but really if you slack off for a week or two, that’s alright as well. Just make sure you’re doing it with a deadline in mind: I will give myself a week off, BUT THEN WRITING WILL HAPPEN. Athletes take breaks, too. Not many, but when they are appropriate to take, they do. However, once the break is over, get back to it, and don’t give up on your aspirations. You might wake up one day to discover you’ve been a writer for a few years now, and won’t that be a pleasant sort of realization?
We’re pleased to announce a collaboration with Modern Art, a creative space in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For the week of January 19th, I (Erin Dorney, co-founder and co-editor of The Triangle) will be the very first Modern Worker Writer-In-Residence.
I’ll be working on a project—my manuscript of erasure poems sourced from Shia LaBeouf media interviews. Two of these poems have been published in the Silver Birch Press Celebrity Free Verse Poetry Series and five more are forthcoming from Hobart this February.
Erasure poetry is created by erasing words from an existing text and framing the result on the page as a poem. In my pieces, punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks are altered but no words are added to the pieces beyond the source text—LaBeouf’s own words from his interviews. To learn more about erasure poetry, see Andrew David King’s interview on The Kenyon Review blog. Or google it.
If you’ve never been there, Modern Art is a space created by Libby Modern & Joanna Seedorf, located at 529 W. Chestnut Street. It’s a gallery, a design studio, an events space… an all around creative makespace. Libby and Joanna work on design projects (logos, posters, giant hanging things, branding, strategy, signs), make paintings, and use Modern Art for community engaged projects like Artbike, Truth or Drawer, and the Modern Worker In Residence program.
I’m also looking for a little bit of help from you. I need your help identifying interviews to use as source texts. If you find an interview with LaBeouf that is not already on the list, please add it! You can also add your name and if this project finds a publisher, I will be sure to acknowledge your help. On a slightly more fun note, I am also looking for pictures of LaBeouf—to hang in my residency workspace. If your dentist happens to have a celebrity magazine in the waiting room next time you’re there, please (carefully) tear out any images or information relating to LaBeouf and send them to me via mail to: Erin Dorney c/o Modern Art, 529 W. Chestnut St., Lancaster, PA 17603.
Modern Art is open 9:30am – 5pm, Tuesday through Thursday. During the week I am in residence, I encourage you to stop by to check it out, say hello, ask about The Triangle, or talk about creativity/community/writing/Shia LaBeouf with me.
I watched/listened to Aaron Belz read poetry on Youtube while I made mac & cheese. Like most things I end up obsessed with, I didn’t get it at first. The poetry had a straight-faced frankness. I heard wordplay. There were puns. People were laughing, but I felt like they were laughing out of discomfort. At around 4 minutes Belz reads his poem, “Trees”, which goes, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s no such thing as trees.” He pauses, as he usually does after a line, and then flips the page and scratches his nose. It clicks: the poem is over. That was it. The crowd laughs harder than it has yet, and I was laughing too. The element of surprise kept me hanging on throughout the rest of the performance. My macaroni noodles cooked too long, got soft. I was excited to find out how I’d be surprised next. It was a little like watching stand up comedy. It was a lot like something I wanted to share with people I knew.
There’s no ‘I’ in team,
but there’s one in bitterness
and one in failure.
Over the next few hours, I discovered dozens of his poems (for free) on his site meaningless.com; I read articles he’d written for the Huffington Post about Twitter; I added his latest book, Glitter Bomb, to my Christmas list; I put into my calendar the date and time of his upcoming reading at The Trust in downtown Lancaster (January 8th, 2015, 7:30pm at The Trust Performing Arts Center, 37 N. Market St., Lancaster); I saved ten dollars to get in.
Then, I emailed him a few questions, and he got back to me in less than 24 hours.
The Triangle: How would you describe your own poetry?
Belz: I enjoy writing it. In it I am allowed to challenge assumptions of language, logic, idiom and cliché, and cultural standards of acceptability. I can also play with word sounds so they sort of bounce off of each other. I like how meaning is given a chance to echo in other people’s poetry, and I try to do the same thing in mine.
When did you start writing poetry and why?
I started writing poetry in high school—eleventh grade. I wrote it then because it was assigned as part of a creative writing elective at the Stony Brook School.
Did you ever stop writing poetry and why?
I’ve never stopped writing poetry, but I have lowered my standards for my own work. I think the secret to my continuing to write poetry (while some of my peers have given up) is that I don’t mind becoming worse and worse at it. Poetry is exactly what you make of it on a given day, and each day is new, so I keep writing.
Where did you grow up and where do you now live?
I grew up mostly in St. Louis, and I now live in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
Can you give a quick run-down of the books of poetry (and chaps) you’ve published thus far in your career? How do you feel about each of them at this moment? How, if at all, have your feelings towards any of the publications changed?
Two chapbooks and three full-length books, in the order in which they were published: Bangs (2002), Plausible Worlds (2005), The Bird Hoverer (2007), Lovely, Raspberry (2010) and Glitter Bomb, which came out in June, 2014. I suppose you could say I publish something every few years. I have some regrets about poems in the chapbooks and in The Bird Hoverer, because they seem incomplete—or like they take shortcuts I no longer want to take. Also, I feel that they cash in their momentum too soon or unnecessarily. Also, they reflect some obsessions with language that I no longer have, contain riddles I feel I’ve solved long since. I read old poems sometimes and think “I see what you did there.” But the recent two books I have no problem with. I hope the next book, if there is one, is totally next-level.
Can you write a blurb for your newest book, Glitter Bomb, as if you were one of your parents?
“Aaron is so good at writing poetry! We are very proud of him. Tell him one of his socks is on top of the dryer. <3”
Can you talk a little about meaningless.com? Are these poems a part of a collection? Were they all written for the purpose of being stored together online? Do you add to it often? Are these the best poems you’ve ever written?
Meaningless.com is a domain name I registered back in the 90s thinking I would make good use of it. It’s just a little sampler, as it has been for the past 15 years. By the way, its XML was designed by the amazing Derek Odegard of Astoria, New York. I love having friends who understand technology.
When I first heard your poetry, it seemed to be very twitteresque in its syntax and silly-ironic content. However, I can’t view your account because of an “internal server error”. What is your relationship with twitter? Have you been banned?
I took December off to reset. I think Twitter is cool, but I’m wary of becoming obsessive about it, so I need to regroup in silence sometimes. Twitter is like a game millions of people are playing, many of them quite a bit cleverer than I, so one good result of Twitter participation, for me, is that it keeps me humble.
I noticed you were doing a series of “Literary Twitter” articles for HuffPo where you would identify and describe twitter accounts that you felt had originality or literary quality. This series seems to end in early 2012. So, I’m wondering, what are some of your current favorite twitter accounts/handles/people-on-twitter?
I can think of two who consistently bend my mind: Ted Travelstead (@trumpetcake) and Uncle Dynamite (@uncledynamite). Those guys seem like they’re tweeting for the absolute hell of it and not because they want something special from me. It’s like they’re explorers not quite facing my direction.
Where do you feel poetry is headed?
It keeps mutating. Right now it’s happening mostly in rap music, and I doubt it will ever return to its salad days when the printing press was invented. I guess that’s more or less “official” poetry I’m talking about, the kind Donne and Shakespeare wrote. If we don’t get back to that, it’s fine by me. As Marianne Moore wrote, “there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.”
What inspired the poem “For Ben Affleck’s Daughter?”
I went through a phase in which I addressed and described celebrities at odd angles—personal lives, intimate realities, etc. I think this is one of those poems. It thrilled me to imagine a celebrity doing something mundane and important like putting a kid to bed (which I have done many times, as I have three chidren).
What happens in your favorite episode of “Disparate Housewives”?
Which street sign, when you see it, do you often read as a metaphor for your life?
There’s a street sign near a state park near me that says, “ONLY YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.” It’s a lie, because when you think of all the forest fires that have been prevented, and you consider how few (if any) of those I have prevented, it adds up to a lot. Like the lie of that sign, I, too, add up to a lot. It’s like the whole “pound of cure” thing. Love that sign!
I saw a video of you reading at AEM’s 7th Annual Evening of Arts and Entertainment; you opened by stating you’d read “just 200 poems…”. How many poems do you think you’ll read in Lancaster on January 8th?
Twenty-five or more.
For Visual Interviews we send a writer a disposable camera and a list of ideas to photograph along with a few short questions. Once the camera is mailed back, we develop the photos and arrange them collage style to give you a unique glimpse into the life of the writer we’ve selected. Check out past Visual Interviews and stay tuned because we have Janice Lee, Alissa Nutting, Dolan Morgan, and Matthew Simmons and Kevin Sampsell of Future Tense Publishing coming up over the next couple of months!
Photographs and text by Adam Robinson: a) Adam Robinson reading John Dermot Woods’s book “The Baltimore Atrocities” in his backyard; b) an out of business shoe store in Tennessee; c) arrows pointing to different parts of “The Lost Sea,” which is an amazing underground lake; d) a fire pit, cold ashes, and cigarette smoke; e) Annette, the official dog of Amy McDaniel; f) basically, this watering can collects rain water, then Adam Robinson pours it out; g) a foreboding street sign; h) Florida, believe it or not; i) a dead bouquet; j) Adam Robinson’s desk, “where the action happens”; k) carousel? More like scare-ousel!; l) a half eaten meal; m) the void.
The thing about advice you get from writers is just how much it doesn’t focus on the middle part of the writing life. The middle part being, of course, the struggle.
Sure, it’s not hard to pick up a book or find an article about the habits of successful writers or about how to start a novel or develop to a point where you’re submitting stories—but what about that in-between? What about what happens when you’re no longer a “beginning writer” and certainly not an established one.
After I earned my MFA the director of the program asked me to come back and speak to the next cohort of students about life after graduation. I realized that the majority of what I had to say dealt directly with this middle bit—this moment after your formal education (if you had one, which is a whole other topic) and before your first big break. I spoke about the daily grind of being a writer and not earning a single dime from it. I talked about submitting and writer’s groups and the whole kit-and-kaboodle that comes with choosing this activity over others.
What I’d like to do in this article is condense some of what I shared with those folks (I was tempted to say bright-eyed but in all honesty they were looking at their laptops for most of my talk. Later one student explained they were writing down what I was saying, but let’s be real honest with each other). Some of this you might already know, but consider that I’m writing it from the perspective of someone who is living that magical writing life that takes place after, before, and sometimes during the 9 to 5.
1. Find a strong writing group and keep it strong. There’s this idea that writers are solitary things—and for the most part we are. Honestly it’s one of the reasons I enjoy saying I’m a writer. People tend to think of you as elusive and moody, which helps with getting out of parties and social frivolity. But even if you’re burned out on writing groups due to an MFA or local everything-is-great-you-write writing group, make sure you find some people to do workshop with.
A strong writing group is one that doesn’t let you get away with shoddy writing. They don’t start with “this is good”. They end with “this is good” after tearing your story apart for every lazy shortcut you thought you could sneak in. They hold you accountable for getting better even when you don’t think getting better is possible. They’re people who you can say exactly what you’re thinking and they don’t consider you a jerk for saying it.
In my case, the writing group I’m a part of doesn’t meet in person—it’s all online. Occasionally Chris DiCicco will stop by Lancaster and we’ll have a few beers or write together the whole day, but we aren’t doing the writing group thing. The other fella (Daniel DiFranco) I don’t see except for when we meet up at writing events our MFA puts on. Our writing group is vibrant and helpful, and we do it all through Google docs.
The benefit of a good writing group is that you’re putting some outside pressure on yourself to commit, and that pressure is what most folks need to actually produce. It also satisfies the inherent need I think we all have for instant gratification. You produce work and then you submit that work to people who are going to read it closely. For a writer in the wild, a good writing group is just as important as actually producing work.
2. Next, build up your writing skin. I talk about this a bit more in detail over on my site, but generally, you need to become impervious to rejections, failures, and critiques to make it anywhere in this business. Your “skin” needs to become as thick as a rhino’s, so thick that you pretty much feel the same about a rejection as you do about an acceptance (okay, not really, but a rejection should stop feeling like a failure, which it certainly isn’t).
Lots of books on becoming a writer explain how rejection is a part of the writing life, but they don’t necessarily explain it effectively enough: rejection is the writing life. It’s huge, and if you aren’t getting rejected you aren’t doing it right.
Your writing skin is what gives you the power to read in front of audiences and be brave enough to say you’re a writer. It’s what pushes you to keep submitting your work because you know it’s good enough to be seen. It’s what gets you into those great writing groups and lets you take in all that criticism without getting frustrated with the critic or yourself. I’m still working on mine (a rejection doesn’t hurt, two in one day does a little, and three in one day hasn’t happened yet but it’s going to be bad).
3. The final point I want to make is about the little big world of writers. For this I turn to Twitter, of all things, as my example of diving into the writing community at large. A big part of writing is reading—and supporting other writers who are reading your work in turn. The term, for better or worse, is literary citizenship, and it’s something that all of us need to be aware of. It means not only pushing out and shouting about your own work, but finding other writers and doing the same for them. I try to do this through Twitter as much as possible: retweeting publication messages, interacting with writers, and just generally participating in the conversations that happen between people.
This is a really easy, fun way to build up a team of people who will act as your megaphone whenever your next story comes out—and even more importantly, will be the first wave of people who are itching to buy your work when it’s up for sale. I cannot stress how important it is to support this community in your own hometown (if you’re lucky enough to have a hometown writing community), but it’s just as important to make that community online and support it there, too. It doesn’t take much, and the payoff is tremendous.
There are so many other points to make about being an up-and-coming writer, but l figure that this is enough for you to start with. Like I said, I still have a day job and I’m still just only starting my writing life, but I hope some of the advice above strikes home for where I suspect many writers find themselves.
Matthew Kabik’s work has appeared in Structo Magazine, Pithead Chapel, WhiskeyPaper, and Sundog Lit, among others. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University. Follow him on Twitter @mlkabik or visit his website for a complete list of publications: www.matchstickcircus.com