Posts Tagged ‘young writers’

Procrastination Station #131

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Untitled

The not-for-profit Little Free Library Project (LFLP) is installing small, house-shaped wooden boxes outside the homes or businesses of volunteers who stock them with books. Local people can then help themselves to the titles, or donate their own volumes.

I have a front garden, LFLP! Pick me!

Hariku Murakami. Cool dude.

You know when writers say, “after a while I stop seeing typos”? Well, here’s the science behind it.

When I read fashion magazines, I pretend I am an alien trying to understand this planet. It’s delightful.

Roxane Gay live-tweets a fashion magazine. Every bit as great as it sounds.

What did Jane Austen use to edit her manuscripts? Dress pins. For real.

I was ready to hate the guy who wrote Stop Using Poet Voice, but the examples he cites? They really do need to stop.

ICYMI: Neil Gaiman on live storytelling.

This onslaught buries mainstream titles as well, which is something that should give the big five publishers pause. With so much choice, why would we pay $14.99 for a mainstream Kindle edition when we can experiment with a few 99 cent (or free) books.

A new title goes live on Amazon every. five. minutes. Terrifying stuff.

Do people automatically hear “woman writer” and think “emotional”?

Tips on submitting to journals, from Ploughshares. (I agree. I so wish I’d kept rejection letters over the years.)

YA literature — especially YA literature — should be the opposite of superficial, because that’s what young people need, and many times what they look for in books. It’s why they don’t spend that time watching reality television instead. And hey, I’d love to see a teenager with a poster of a writer on their wall. But it’d be wonderful if that writer were Edith Wharton.

I’m not sure how I feel about this Flavorwire piece, not least because it carries on La Franzen’s gross sexism towards Edith Wharton for lulz. I think I prefer the Bookriot piece that inspired it. (“I dunno what the hell the book was about BUT DAT ASS THO.”)

airBNB allows you to sleep in the homes of literary legends.

Why storytelling is a useful skill in every aspect of life.

Ripperologists, and the media attention they attract, reinforce the crude taxonomy of “good” and “bad” women that runs like a thread through the murders themselves and their contemporary press reception.

Blah blah blah Jack the Ripper. What about the women he killed?

John Waters’ idea of richness is basically the same as my own.

Do you know what your Actual Priority is? (I totally approve this message. I feel like in the last year I have both found and embraced my Actual Priority and it really has made everything better.)

They taste like misery and waste. I hate them until, a month or so into the diet, I suddenly love them. I need to eat them all the time. I’m supposed to be allowed one a day, but I burn through two boxes in a week. I hate myself and yet I can’t stop; I am barely eating anything else, thinking, in my perverted mind, that this would make it okay.

Lesley Kinzel is always great and Diet Foods I Have Known was particularly great.

Bad Poets of Pop Culture: yep. (Thanks to Kayleigh Anne!)


This is a short but stunning animated video about how languages evolve. I loved it, and learned lots!


Fascinating. At the risk of sounding like Upworthy — watch to the end!


I want to see this movie.


Here is a baby seal surfing. You’re welcome.

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Procrastination Station #126

Friday, May 9th, 2014

scrap vomit, close up of quilting

In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male. This white straight male default was of course not biased in any way by its white straight maleness—no way! Race was the unfortunate condition of nonwhite people that had nothing to do with white people and as such was not a natural part of the Universal of Literature, and anyone that tried to introduce racial consciousness to the Great (White) Universal of Literature would be seen as politicizing the Pure Art and betraying the (White) Universal (no race) ideal of True Literature.

Junot Diaz on the race problem in creative writing M[F]As, in The New Yorker. (Thanks, Freesia.)

This poem by a small child is amazing. What a last line!

Brand new zine! Seeking submissions! Get on it!

I remember one situation, when we lived in a village, when a woman asked me what I did in the prison and when I said I was a teacher she patronisingly asked what was the purpose if they were criminals. This view holds in general, sadly.

Prisoners — and those who work with prisoners — respond to Chris Grayling’s disgusting and utterly absurd ban on books behind bars.

Here’s Marina Warner being super smart and fascinating. You know, as always.

My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.” So, I can sort of see why people thought I was going to start wearing monogrammed silk pajamas and smoking a pipe.
But the truth is, there’s a reason most well-known writers still teach English. There’s a reason most authors drive dented cars. There’s a reason most writers have bad teeth. It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.
Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not much money.

How much money an Amazon bestseller really makes. (Spoiler: not a lot.)

Hey, are you a teacher of literature, at any level? Scottish Book Trust has made you some reading resources that fit with almost any book imaginable! You’re welcome.

Edinburgh realised you can never have too many libraries: it now has a Library of Mistakes.

The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes. Let me refine my terms: I do not mean narrative prose fiction tout court is dying – the kidult boywizardsroman and the soft sadomasochistic porn fantasy are clearly in rude good health. And nor do I mean that serious novels will either cease to be written or read. But what is already no longer the case is the situation that obtained when I was a young man.

Will Self: the novel isn’t dead, but it might be undead.

Yes & Yes is looking for travel writers!

I’m speaking at this event (& billed as “Scottish Book Trust’s Claire Askew”!) next week, and all are welcome. It’s free, too!

My writing devices are a laptop and a green Princess Standard typewriter and a variety of notebooks, each filled less than a third and then jettisoned in favour of new notebooks that will be The Perfect Notebook—the one that will inspire all the words to come.

Jane Flett feels the same way about notebooks that I do.

I just completed a day-long public speaking training with these folks, and I love this advice from them on fielding hostile questions.

Haven’t found yourself a typewriter yet? You can use this typewriter text editor in the meantime!

“How are you so confident?” “I’m an asshole!” Okay? It’s my good time, and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I’m an asshole, and I want to have a good time.

Gabourey Sidibe is so freaking great. So great.

I loved these photos of Whitby Goth Fest 2014. Going there is definitely on my bucket list.

I’m obsessed with peeking inside these tiny apartments.

Universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent by 2050. Universal vegetarianism would result in similarly impressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, the Dutch researchers found that worldwide vegetarianism or veganism would achieve these gains at a much lower cost than a purely energy-focused intervention involving carbon taxes and renewable energy technology. The upshot: Universal eschewal of meat wouldn’t single-handedly stave off global warming, but it would go a long way toward mitigating climate change.

So screw you, carcass-eaters.

Destroyed UKIP billboards… is what UKIP billboards were made for.

DID YOU SEE WHAT JANELLE MONAE WORE TO THE MET GALA?? So going to my high school reunion in this outfit.

& finally…

I hadn’t watched this for years, and I thought that was a damn shame:

(Photo credit)

I never really paid much attention to Adele… not because I didn’t like her or anything, I just sort of never got round to it. Then Sonia shared this with me the other day and wow, Adele is awesome!

Have a great weekend!

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Dear poetry newbies: “why is my work always rejected?”

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in November 2008.

1. The standard isn’t high enough.
And by this I just mean that your poems aren’t “fit” for publication yet… but not that they never will be! If you’re sending out first drafts, poems that have only been hastily redrafted or edited, or poems that even you don’t think are all that amazing, then it might well be that you haven’t done quite enough to catch the eye of an editor. It’s easy to write a poem and then be overcome by a fervent desire to get it sent out immediately, but resist! Never send first drafts, and always devote a good chunk of time to redrafting and editing your chosen pieces. If possible, put them away for a while (a week, two weeks…) and then come back to them. And never send anything you’re not sure about. Work on it til you ARE sure about it, or send something else.
(NB: One of the best ways to get your poetry up to publication standard is to read the stuff that poetry magazines actually do publish - and if you can get hold of a copy of the specific magazines you want to submit to, even better!)

2. You’re not following the submission guidelines properly.
Some editors are happy to chuck a submission onto the slush pile for the slightest thing, so it’s always important to read and follow the submission guidelines carefully. Make sure you do everything according to the guidelines wherever you can; it can be a total pain, but it can also make the difference between acceptance and rejection. And don’t assume that one magazine’s guidelines apply to all! Read everyone’s guidelines, and follow them every time!

3. You commit minor - but deadly! - submission crimes.
A lot of poets reckon they can get away with sending the same four poems in the same email round to a whole load of editors at the same time - don’t do it! This suggests to editors that you don’t really care who picks up your poems or whether they’re published simultaneously. You also shouldn’t send “speculative” emails out before sending a submission. It may seem like politeness, but if an editor receives an email saying “check out my website and then maybe I’ll submit later”, they’re going to think a) you’re arrogant and b) you haven’t read their guidelines. Just put your submission together and send it! And don’t send snotty or pushy emails to editors until at least three months (yes, really, I’m afraid!) after the date you sent your submission. If you haven’t had a reply, there’s probably a reason, and going “oi, what are you messing about at?” after only a week or so is not going to make you any friends. Basically, when it comes to submissions, put in the work, follow the rules and be patient - that’s all there is to it!

4. Your cover letter needs a rewrite.
Have a good look at your cover letter (if you have one! If you don’t - write one!) and see if there are any of these common mistakes in it: heaps of biographical information (3 - 4 lines should do it); anything that could be interpreted as dishonest or boastful (”my work has appeared in 300 journals worldwide,” or the like); excessive negativity (”you’ll probably just reject me, but…”) anything that criticises or questions the publication or editor you’re writing to (”I found your website really hard to navigate” — keep it to yourself for now!); and of course, typos, grammatical errors or any unnecessary rambling! Exorcise all these things! It may leave your cover letter very short, but a couple of lines is all you need.

5. You’re submitting to the wrong magazines.
There are a lot of creative writing magazines out there and most of them are open for submissions for at least part of each year… so technically, you can submit to any of them. However, if you’re new to the whole submitting thing (or even if you aren’t!), it can be hard to know which are the best to choose. The sad fact is that a lot of editors are wary of publishing people who have never been published before, but fortunately, there are more and more magazines out there whose mission-statement is to provide as many writers as they can with their first publication opportunity. Many others specify that they welcome “unknown” or “emerging” writers, and you’re probably better off submitting to these if you can. You do get “unknown” writers in, say, Poetry Review, but if you want to give yourself the best chance of being accepted, it’s better to walk before you run, as they say!

6. You’re not ready to publish yet.
Only you can really know whether or not you’re ready to publish, but if you’re trying to get your work out there and the rejections are getting you down in a big way, then maybe you’re not 100% ready for the submission process. This might be hard to accept, but it’s better to wait until you’re better prepared than to make yourself suffer every time one of those pesky rejection letters lands in your mailbox. Give yourself six months, even a year. Spend that time writing - and more importantly, reading! - and then try getting back on the horse. You might find you still feel the same and need more time… if so, no worries. Or you might suddenly find that there’s the odd acceptance letter among those rejections; or that the rejections don’t bother you so much. Either way, the “time off” will have been well spent!

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear poetry newbies: are you ready to workshop?

Monday, January 6th, 2014

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in October 2008.

What does workshopping involve?
Basically, workshopping is about testing your work out on other writers to see how successful it is, and getting an idea of how your audience will approach it. It’s a tool used by writers of all kinds - from people who pen corporate business documents to playwrights and even musicians. Usually, you get together with a bunch of other poets, and you each read a sample of your work to each other (often, the rest of the group will already have read and thought about your chosen pieces - most workshops I’ve been in have circulated a ‘reading list’ by email a few days before the workshop itself). Each member of the group then offers feedback and constructive criticism on your work, and in turn, you give your thoughts on their work. It may sound a bit scary, but workshops are generally small, relaxed groups were just about anything goes, and they create a safe environment where you can test out poems you’re not too sure about before you unleash them onto the general public!

How does workshopping benefit my poetry?
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do about your poems once you’ve finished them. Editing is a tricky business - the more you look at a poem, the less you can see how to change it (you know how you never notice your own typos? It’s a bit like that). You become so familiar with your work that the only thing you can really do is squirrel it away for a couple of months in an attempt to then come back to it with fresh eyes, but this is tricky and takes a long time. The other people in your workshop can provide those fresh eyes for you.
Your workshop group can tell you exactly what about your poem “needs work” when you can’t see it yourself. It might be your handling of punctuation, a dodgy rhyme scheme… whatever. Your group can offer in-depth criticism, right down to the smallest comma. Workshop groups are also useful when it comes to keeping your poems clear. It’s easy to get caught up in your own head, where every image in every poem makes perfect sense to you. However, workshopping provides a handy reality check - your group may well turn around and say “I didn’t understand what was going on in this poem.” That may sound like a harsh comment, but it’s important that your readers feel able to get involved with and relate to your poems. Your workshopping group is your barometer when it comes to things like this - they’re like a small panel of poetry readers, only better. They write too, they suffer from typos and mess-ups and rejections too, and they want to help you… for free!

How do I know if I’m ready to workshop?
This is a tricky one. If you’ve never workshopped before, your first time can be rather weird, intimidating and even a bit disheartening. You have to bear in mind that you’re putting your work into the hands of other people and essentially saying, “here’s my poem - do your worst.” You’re laying yourself open to criticism, and whilst it should all be constructive, when several different voices are all pointing out issues in your work, you can end up feeling a bit like you’re under attack.
Many young, inexperienced poets are very bad at taking criticism, simply because they don’t get very much of it and when they do, it comes as a bit of shock. I used to be dreadful - hearing someone criticise my poem, I’d just think “what do you know? I like it how it is so get lost!”, regardless of how constructive or useful the criticism was. If you have a similar attitude, you need to work through it. Constructive feedback is your friend, and workshopping will never be helpful to you until you learn to take it on board.
The best thing to do is just get in there and try it. Try to join a relatively new group if you can, or wait until they re-group after a break, say after the Christmas holidays, for example. Joining a really established group who are already very used to each other’s styles and voices can leave you feeling a bit left out. If you can’t avoid joining an established group, at least try not to be the only newb. Take along a friend or two so you’re not the only one who feels out of the loop!
Just go along for one workshop and see how it goes, see how you feel about the treatment your poems get. Bear in mind that each of your fellow workshoppers is just a reader like any other, regardless of age or experience - they’re just like you, and the points they make will often be based on nothing other than personal opinion. Some people will like your work and others won’t, and all the advice you get is just that - advice. You can take it or leave it… just make sure you give all of it fair consideration!
If, at the end of your session you think you’ve picked up some useful tips, you’re ready to get stuck into workshopping - so sign up! If you come out feeling angry, upset or disheartened, however, you may need to a) try a different workshop (some take a lighter approach than others) or b) wait a while before you commit to workshopping. Try getting one-to-one feedback from friends or family first, as practice. Think carefully about how you react to criticism, and try to move away from the fact that your poems are your babies and you need to protect them, and more towards the idea that your poems are babies that need to be nurtured - and sometimes disciplined! - in order to grow. Once you’re able to see criticism as a positive thing, then you’re ready to workshop.

How do I start workshopping?
Finding a workshop can be tricky, and will depend on where you live, who you know and how literary your local community is! However, you’d be surprised - even in the most unlikely places, workshops exist. Do some research online, or ask local literary organisations or establishments if they know of the existence of a creative writing workshop in your area. The local library, bookstores, the University or college closest to you - these are all good places to go to ask for information. If all else fails, get yourself over to Gumtree or Craigslist and place an ad. Be sure to check out the existing ads too - someone else might be doing the very same thing!
Once you’ve found a workshop, make contact - don’t just turn up at a meeting. Find out who runs the show and drop them a line; let them know a little bit about yourself and get as much info as you can about the workshop. Make sure they’re cool with poets, they’re OK to take on beginners and you don’t have to pay too much (workshops sometimes as for a small weekly/monthly fee for buying tea/coffee, renting the room they use or whatever. If for any reason the fee seems unreasonable, look elsewhere.). Ask them what you’d be required to do, and if you’re feeling super-nervous, ask if you could come to your first workshop without contributing - just to sit in and see what it’s like. Most groups should be cool with this… and as I say, if you’re the only newb or you just need some moral support, ask if you can take a friend!

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo by NuageDeNuit)

Procrastination Station #122: Christmas edition!

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

1384578

I haven’t done a PS post in ages, but I have still been saving up cool and interesting links to share with all of you. So this one goes out to all the folks who’re stuck in work on Christmas Eve. Have a cheeky gander at this stuff and the time will fly by! Merry Christmas!

The conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if ‘those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this: on writers, money and lies.

Buildings inspired by books.

You pick one store. Make it an indie. Maybe the one closest to your house. Make sure they have a website. Make sure your book is available on their website. Make sure the store is willing to ship books to customers. Link to your book through the store’s page. Tell the store you are doing this. If you have a big enough following and sales result, they will surely notice in a hurry anyhow. Even if not a single customer finds them through you, they will be happy. They will be happy with you.

from There Are Exactly Zero Defensible Reasons For Authors To Link To Amazon. Teaching you how — and why, though you probably already know — your should team up with indies and save bookselling!

An old train transformed into a bookshop. Yep.

Intellectual Lisa, with her penchant for museums and libraries, is an outlier in her family, in her whole town. But her basic brain power could easily have come from Marge. Although, unlike her mother, Lisa would never put her dreams aside. (Oh, Marge, your life of quite desperation depresses me so. How could you throw so much away, no matter how hot that Mr Plow jacket is?) How did Lisa manage to escape the domestic trap that ensnared her bright, brittle mother?

I am Lisa Simpson. You are Lisa Simpson. We are all Lisa Simpson.

Why we abandon books.

As a child, the island seemed so vast and full of wondrous possibility. Today, it’s just another beautiful, yet remote location. I know there are no mythical beasts tromping through its forests. The people living across the bay on Sandy Hook Drive are just normal folk with lives that are probably as mundane as mine. There is no more mystery, and very few days dedicated to discovery.

On wonder and creativity: There’s Bigfoot in Them Woods

This gorgeous e-book is beautifully illustrated with portraits of, and full of facts about, amazing women who’ve changed how we look at the world.

The images on this page would be unsatisfying to most horror fans, as the hallmark of modern zombie films is now life-like, over-the-top gore. It will serve us better, though, to first explore the origins of this time-honored creature that began as an obscure Haitian folk myth but is now one of our most revisited horror archetypes. It may first seem that history has little connection to our fictional flesh-eating friends, but they have complex origins, too little discussed and too often ignored by historians and horror fans alike: here we hope to provide the first step in the exploration of the phenomenon.

Find out where the shuffling, blood-spattered Walking Dead zombie really came from in Haiti & the Truth about Zombies.

The twenty most spell-binding university libraries in the world.

I find it interesting that the two male heroes of The Hunger Games are so different from one another, and that they embody such different ways of being men. While Gale is the character we might typically think of in a story like this one—a story with plenty of violence, high stakes, and sacrifice—Peeta is not.

This article has uber-spoilers, so if you haven’t yet finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, steer away. But if you have, read this piece, for it is amazing: Gale, Peeta and Masculinity in The Hunger Games.

Courageous people expose their insecurities for the camera: the What I Be Project is some amazing photographic storytelling.

Atwood is a polymath. She has ideas about how to fix almost everything and takes pride in her rugged resourcefulness – unlike so many namby-pamby authors who wouldn’t have a clue what to do if the lights went out. When she walks down a street, for example, she likes to point out to whomever she’s with what, in the natural world, they could eat, should the need arise. “I just want them to be prepared.”

If you still haven’t read the Maddaddam trilogy, you need to do so right now. (If you have no plans to read it, we can never be friends.) Check out this interview with the sublime Margaret Atwood, and see if you’re not convinced.

You want to read this new poem by Freesia McKee. Trust me.

“My investigation file expanded from one inch to four inches and then to eight inches. The contents included personal data about Moore and his associates, printouts from his website, copies of relevant articles and reams of information on other involuntary porn stars who were featured on his site. I’d found others, and I knew it would be difficult for law enforcement to ignore folks from all over the country.”
Charlotte Laws took on the infamous internet predator Hunter Moore, and, well… she’s a total badass.

Here’s a map of London’s independent bookstores. You’re welcome.

I suspect the vehement dislike of tattoos is really a fear of women’s skin. When a woman makes her own mark on it, she isn’t quite as available to receive whatever fantasies you might want to project on to her. If skin is a screen, and a woman writes on it, she is telling the world (or even just herself) that her own standards of attractiveness are more important to her than the standards of anyone else.

I am violently in love with this Guardian article on women and tattoos. I mean really.

You’ve seen these amazing mother-daughter artistic collaborations, right?

[Beyonce] a work in progress, as are we all. In 2010, she gave an interview saying she was a “feminist in a way,” because she valued her female friendships deeply. Earlier this year, she claimed she was a “modern-day feminist.” Now she is straight up embracing the term in her music and claiming her right to tell women to both bowdown and encouraging them to be self-confident from the moment they step out of bed… in the same damn song! I rock with that because her feminism is complicated, and ours is too. Tell the truth.

I’ve loved reading the various voices rising above the wall of stupid that went up in response to Beyonce’s new record. This might be my favourite.

Life advice from Amy Poehler. Worth passing on!
Speaking of Beyonce: I FREAKING LOVE THIS RECORD SO MUCH.
OMG Watsky. You may have jumped off a lighting rig at a gig like an IDIOT, but I can’t help but still love you.
Cool.

Merry Christmas everybody!!!

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Dear poetry newbies: dealing with negative criticism

Monday, November 4th, 2013

You suck

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in October 2008.

How do I tell the constructive from the negative?
This is tricky - particularly if you’re new to receiving criticism or if you feel particularly proud of the piece of writing being criticised. If either of these things apply, then you’re very likely to see any criticism as an attack. And don’t get me wrong: even constructive criticism can feel that way sometimes, but look out for the positives. There’s a definite difference between “cut out stanza four, it’s no good at all” and “if you cut stanza four, the poem would be better”. The suggestion is the same, but the delivery is crucial. The first statement is concentrating on what’s wrong with your poem, while the second is a suggestion for making it better.

Another way to work out whether something is constructive or negative is to look at how universal the critical statement sounds. Offering a personal opinion is usually fine; making sweeping generalisations isn’t. For example, if someone says “this doesn’t really read like poetry to me”, they’re just offering their opinion. If they say “what you write isn’t poetry”, they’re assuming that all your readers will agree. There’s a big difference between “this isn’t to my taste” and “no one will like this.”

Some negative criticism can be deliberately well-hidden, too. Statements like “I’m sure there’s a good poem in there somewhere” or “I think I understand” are very ambiguous. If it’s ambiguous, it’s not really helpful either way, so give your critic the benefit of the doubt and ask them to be more specific. You should soon be able to tell whether or not this is criticism you should be taking on board.

Someone just made a really mean remark to my face. What should I do?
First of all, step back and try to be as objective as possible. Don’t just tell them to get lost, and don’t allow yourself to say the first thing that comes into your head - you’ll doubtless regret it later. Instead, think quickly but carefully about how you want to react. If the criticism needs an immediate response, buy yourself time by saying “I’m not sure what you mean,” “can you elaborate?”, or even “sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.” (This can be a good tactic, because while it’s easy to say something hurtful once, having to say it again can make people think.) As your critic rephrases their remark, you may come to realise that they didn’t intend to be hurtful in the first place, and you could well be glad that you didn’t just snark them off! However, if you’re still hurt by their comments, come back with a neutral response like, “that’s an interesting angle on it, I’ll think about that”, or “well, I appreciate any feedback.” That way, you can bring the issue to a close and escape from the conversation… or at least change the subject!

Someone’s left a negative comment on a forum/my blog/a poem I posted online. What do I do?
If someone else has written ill of you, that doesn’t mean you should do the same - so don’t take to a blog or forum-post and vent spleen yourself. Instead, try to get the comments in question removed. If this means communicating with the original poster, don’t get personal - just make the request as reasonably as you can. If it means speaking with someone higher up the foodchain, don’t be too long-winded or dramatic… just point them in the direction of the trouble, and explain briefly why you think they need to intervene.

If the negative comments are on a smaller scale - say, if a mean commenter has wandered into your deviantART gallery and decided to leave a few choice words - the best thing you can possibly do is just ignore it. This can be really hard, but an angry response of any kind means that your negative commenter has won. If you’re itching to write something scathing back, snap your laptop shut or turn off your monitor and remove yourself from the situation. Go away and do have a cup of tea, or have a rant about it to someone. Don’t go back to your computer until you’re cool, calm and collected; until you know that you won’t even be tempted to dignify your attackers with an answer. (NB: this is hard. I have not always succeeded in staying nice. However, I’ve always regretted it when I’ve given in to snark!)

My work got a really negative review, and heaps of people have read it. What do I do?
This can feel like a huge deal at the time, but it really isn’t. If you’re a writer, bad reviews are part of the job-description, and trust me, they really don’t hurt your career as much as people might like you to think. Any review is just the opinion of one person, and them saying “this person’s writing sucks, nobody should read it,” is kind of like saying “rum-raisin ice cream sucks, nobody should eat it.” Sure, rum-raisin ice cream might be an acquired taste, but are people really going to stop eating it because one guy told them to? Nope. Are people really going to totally boycott your site, book or pamphlet just because one guy told them to? Nope. People have brains in their heads, and they want to make up their own minds, so the best thing to do about a bad review is ignore it and move on, ASAP. Think about it this way: this person who hates your writing has just told a whole load of other people that you exist. They might not have known that before. Your reviewer (if they’re even half-decent at their job) may also have sparked the curiosity of a few people. Chances are, even a bad review will get you more readers than no review at all. It really is true what they say: all publicity is good publicity, so really, you should be raising a glass in honour of your evil reviewer!

Argh! I snapped back at someone because they were negative about me, and how it’s got out of hand!
OK, so someone was mean about you so you were mean back, and then all their friends started being mean about you too, and they’ve all written heaps of bad stuff about you and you’re totally out of your depth. Or maybe you responded angrily to a negative commenter and now they’re really upset and threatening to get back at you somehow, and you’re worried about what they’ll say/do. Or maybe you’ve said something you now regret to someone important, and you’re terrified about the consequences it could have. I understand - never fear, it happens all the time, and these things are usually pretty easily solved.

Situation 1: they were mean, then you were mean back, now everyone’s being mean. No one’s in the clear here, but someone needs to take responsibility, and that someone might as well be you. Get in touch with the original negative commenter, and apologise (sincerely - no double-edged comments). Say you’re sorry, you didn’t mean for things to get out of hand, and you want to move on. If they’re even a half-decent person, they’ll accept your apology, and hopefully get rid of any nasty stuff they’ve written about you. If they don’t accept your apology, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to walk away, and console yourself with the fact that you were able to behave like an adult in the end. It may be worrying to think that there is snark about you all over the internet, but trust me, as long as you haven’t done anything actually criminal, it’ll probably never make a difference to your future.

Situation 2: you were mean, and now they’re threatening vengance. OK, realistically, what is this person going to do? Even if they’re threatening to harm your career prospects as a writer, those threats are probably pretty empty (I once had a reasonably well-known poet insinuate that no editor would ever acknowledge me if she had anything to do with it. So far, no evidence of this…), because trying to wreck other people’s chances doesn’t do your own chances any good at all. The best thing to do in this situation is to take back what you said, however hard that may be for you. Remove the comment you made, and apologise. If that doesn’t work, you’ll just have to take your chances. Again, I reckon I can guarantee that nothing drastic will come of it.

Situation 3: you said something you now regret to the wrong person. Easy: get in touch with them, apologise, and explain. If you don’t have a way of contacting them, find out. And if you can’t find out, move on. Yes, unfortunately people do have long memories, but sometimes you just have to chalk these things up to experience. The only thing you can really do is hope that your two paths cross again in the future, and you can make a better impression second time around.

Some stuff to remember:
- Not everything that sounds negative is negative. Read or listen carefully before you respond. Bear in mind that the internet comes without body-language, which makes up about 90% of all communication. Comments that sound rude could just be sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek. If you’re not sure, ask the commenter to elaborate.

- People are entitled to hold an opinion about your work, and they are allowed to say what they think. If you have a problem with this, then maybe you’re not ready to put your work out there to be read. Think carefully about whether or not you want other people to criticise your work - if you’re not confident, don’t feel rushed into submitting to magazines or posting your work online.

- If you think you’re constantly getting negative feedback, then maybe you need to adjust your negativity radar. It may well be that you’re not great at taking criticism, and so everything feels like a personal attack. If this is the case, you have to force yourself to be more positive. 90% of feedback is useful, so try and see the usefulness wherever you can. See all reviews of your work as publicity, and bear in mind that for every person who doesn’t really dig your work, there’s bound to be another person out there who’d like it.

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: to blog, or not to blog? That is the question…

Monday, May 20th, 2013

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

I recently met a writer who was super, super keen to get people reading his work, and wanted my advice. One of the first things I said was, “do you have a blog?” He looked horrified at the very thought! However, I was keen to persuade him. I’ve been writing at One Night Stanzas for nearly five years now, and this blog has brought me publication opportunities, paid work, connections to cool people and all sorts of other amazing stuff. However, I know that if you’re coming to blogging for the first time, it can seem a bit like handing copies of your secret diary out for everyone in the world to read. Sound about right? If so, I wrote this for you!

PROS

- If you choose to, you can make your blog visible to everyone on the web. That means a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people - probably more readers can you could ever get publishing in more traditional ways.

- Because so many poets already have blogs, signing up for a blog gives you access to a giant online community, to which you can quickly and easily get connected. You can link to and write about other poets’ blogs and get links to yours in return, thus directing readers back and forth.

- Having your own blog means you don’t have to rely on social networking sites or subscriptions to display your work online. You also have full control over your content, layout, whether you run ads, etc.

- If you have a blog, you can give the address to anyone who’s interested in seeing your work… without having to give them print outs, write out emails or mile-long URLs, or direct them to third-party sites.

- Putting your name to a poetry blog means that people can Google you and find your poetry with just a click.

- Regardless of what some people may say, blogging is a form of self-publishing and can make a good addition to your literary CV.

- If you want to, you can make money (usually only a little) by posting ads on your blog.

- You don’t just have to post your own poetry on your blog - you can use it to promote other sites and fellow poets that you like, or tell people what you’ve been reading and what you thought of it.

- You can use a blog to provide information on where your poems have been accepted for publication, where and when you’re doing a reading, or which poetic events you’re thinking of attending.

- Some poets have even turned their blogs into fully-fledged e-zines!

CONS

- A lot of new bloggers worry that by putting your work on a public blog, they’re laying yourself open to plagiarism. The risks are small, but they are there… even if you make your blog visible only to friends or subscribers.

- Blogging is essentially like writing a journal, and journalling is generally a very personal thing. Bear in mind that, if you put your deepest secrets and most radical thoughts onto your blog, people WILL be able to read them. If it’s on the web, it’s practically public in every way!

- Blogs are usually open for comments, and that means that some people are bound to disagree with you. There’s a common misconception that it’s OK to be rude to other internet users (especially if they’re trolling you) because you’ll never meet them and it’s fairly harmless. However, you never know who’s reading your snarky responses or watching an ongoing fight between you and an anonymous commenter (the same goes for YOUR comments on other blogs, too). A potential new boss or a magazine editor might well change their mind about you even based on something as trivial as this - so tread carefully!

- You have to be careful what you say in your blog posts, too. When it comes to putting up your poetry, you should maybe avoid things like “if you don’t like this poem then f**k you”, and take a more “I appreciate comments but please try to be constructive” approach.

- Once you start a blog, it may be forever. If you don’t want people to read your adolescent scribblings 10 years down the line, then make sure that your blog provider offers you a get-out option, and that you know how to get rid of your content should you need to.

- The same principle applies in a more general way, too - as I said before, you don’t know who’s reading, or how long their memory is. Just about everyone knows how to use the Print Screen function!

DOs and DON’Ts

- DO sign up with a reputable blog-provider and, if you’re going to be posting your work, read up on their copyright policies. Do they claim the copyright of anything you put in your posts? DO shop around.

- DON’T part with any cash to set up your blog. You can definitely find a good blog-provider who’ll host you for free. Anyone who asks for money is scamming you!

- DO look around at the blogs of other poets and writers to get an idea of how other people run their blogs.

- DO ask folk for their advice on finding your audience, writing content etc. DON’T feel obliged to act on it if you don’t want to, though. Your blog should be as much your personal creation as your poems are.

- DO be prepared for the fact that, once you put your blog “out there,” anyone can see it and comment on it. Even if you have closed comments, there’s nothing to stop people from writing their own blog post about you. Responses to your blog may not always be positive, so DO make sure you have a thick skin and a whole load of patience before you take the plunge.

- DO bear in mind that many people get bored of their blogs after a while and just let them fall by the wayside. If this happens, DON’T leave your poems posted on your disused blog - people may think that makes it OK to nick them. You might also be the victim of spam attacks if you leave your blog unattended for too long.

- DON’T feel pressured into putting ads on your blog unless you really want them there. Yes, they make you money, but you can’t always control their content, or know where they lead to when clicked.

- DON’T be afraid to tell other people about your blog. Blogging is all about connecting to other people and sharing your thoughts and ideas! However, DON’T feel obliged to link to someone else’s blog or site just because they’ve linked to yours.

- DO include your blog in your literary CV, if you feel it’s relevant.

- DON’T feature other people’s work on your site unless you have their permission.

Final note: I love blogs. I could probably spend my whole life reading blogs, geeking out on Tumblr, and tweeting cool stuff I’ve found… if, you know, I didn’t eventually get motion sickness from too much screen time, or have to pay rent. If you do decide that blogging is for you, I can highly recommend Wordpress. I’ve written in a ton of Wordpress blogs — the lovely One Night Stanzas of course, but also Bookworm Tutors, Girlpoems, Shore Poets, The Peripatetic Studio and others — and I always find it the cleanest and most user-friendly platform.

Good luck!

*

Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Procrastination Station #121

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Happy Lazy Sunday!

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: I might be buying a house (I KNOW). One that will need heckof renovating. So I need you guys to send me amazing DIY/home decor p0rn like this and this to inspire me. Check out what I’ve gathered so far!

“We recognize that, in our world, a woman on the road is marked. She has been cut from the social fabric, excised at such an elemental level that when she steps onto the road, she steps into an abyss. And whatever leads up to that choice inspires in us a primal fear. A man on the road is solitary. A woman on the road is alone. This is not cute wordplay, but a radically different social experience.”

If you click on nothing else in this post, click on this article, on why there aren’t more female road narratives. Disturbing, fascinating, beautifully written.

These are super fabby book covers!

Have you guys seen Least Helpful? Really rubbish — and totally hilarious — reviews.

Totally NSFW (not really) hardcore bookshelf p0rn. (And, related: notebook geek p0rn!)

I loved Watsky’s touching post on playing the Fillmore, ambition and keeping on going (NB: links to Facebook).

I know, writers have been complaining for eons about the weight of their burden, and it’s not attractive. But I’ve been around it long enough to know that writing anything good that’s longer than a paragraph isn’t easy for anybody, except for maybe J. J. Abrams. You can’t explain how people do it. Some of the most successful screenwriters, novelists, television producers and rock-opera librettists I know are about a hundred times lazier than I am. They take long afternoon naps, play lots of pickup basketball and appear to accomplish little or nothing for months at a time. And let me tell you, their ideas do not all crackle with scintillating originality.

This is wonderful, and such sensible advice. Now I just need to listen!

The Literary Cat: a Tumblr devoted to cats posing with books. Yep.

Have you seen these wonderful self-portraits of famous authors?

Paper & Salt is super cool: they re-create meals described in great literature!

More stupid things graphic design clients say!

There’s some amazing stuff at the Bitch blog at the moment! I loved reading Five Black Female Musicians You Should Love (I’d only heard of Skin), I Want To Like Hit-Girl, But…, Patriarchy & Game of Thrones (spoilers! But the comments on this one’re interesting, too), and a really interesting take on the new Dove campaign (the video’s at the bottom of this very post! Also read the comments on this one).

Why tea is so magical.

This body language guide from Gala is really rather interesting!

And via Gala, I really liked 22 things happy people do differently and Girl Code Rules. POSITIVITY.

Seeing these portraits of adult entertainment stars with and without makeup was really interesting for me. Totally SFW!

Parents texting. SO FUNNY.

Game of Thrones fan? You must watch these! (Also, Gwendoline Christie ROCKS!)

Glowsticks + waterfalls = beautiful.
A small snippet of Neil Gaiman being fabulous.
Sue Austin is totally inspiring.
That Pulitzer? SO DESERVED.

Have a great weekend!

*

Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Procrastination Station #118

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Untitled

Lovely lovely links to keep you stimulated and inspired this chilly Friday!

Stephen Nelson is just on a roll with his new vispo at the moment! I love these two, and this Zen garden inspired piece!

I CANNOT WAIT to read the debut novel from Sarah McCarry (aka The Rejectionist!). CANNOT. WAIT.

I also really want to read Dora: A Headcase, which may well be in the same vein…

The moral cores of the series are Vimes and the witch Granny Weatherwax, characters to whom Pratchett has returned again and again. Both are feared –Weatherwax’s nickname from the trolls is “She Who Must Be Avoided” and to the dwarves she is “Go Around the Other Side of the Mountain.”

Terry Prachett is a total badass, basically.

In my post the other day I mentioned the GiftED book sculptureshere are some more fabby paper sculptures for your eyeballs to ogle!

Books just never stop being useful. They make excellent insect-homes!

Fan of The Feminist Press? Here’s a cool interview with its lovely founder, over at the City Lights Bookstore blog.

You never know what you might learn about your nearest and dearest if you convince them to be your poetry groupies. I once brought a reluctant friend to an open mic, promising her I’d buy her a pint afterwards. She was so taken by the atmosphere of come-and-have-a-go creativity that she penned her first ever poem during the interval and read it on stage in the second half.

I can’t remember if I posted about this before or not, but hey… along with Harry Giles of Inky Fingers, I helped the great Charlotte Runcie of Toad & Feather to draw up some open mic tips for noobs. Hope it’s helpful!

Can I just say: minature fairy book scrolls.

DO NOT HAVE SEX IN THE LIBRARY, PLEASE.

Have you guys seen these portraits of famous writers “in their own words”? SO COOL!

Walden, or Life in the Woods: UPDATED!

Make a notebook… out of your old coffee cup.

“I wonder what real life wizards think of Harry Potter?” …and other stupid things commercial artists hear from clients!

And speaking of artists… the wonderful Mandy Fleetwood now has a shop! And I particularly love this print, which combines two of my favourite things: tattoos and Joni!

I just jettisoned about 70% of my Facebook friends because of stuff like this!

What if your friends acted like your pets? So funny, so true.

I totally love small builds, tree houses and all other innovative living spaces. So of course, I couldn’t resist including this!

The January issue of Cosmocking is out! Kinda more depressing than funny, though… sadface.

This is one smart seventeen year old.

The evolution of mobile phones (in pictures!) is pretty fascinating.

I am so not a habitual napkin-using kinda gal. But OMG, these!

I plan to look like this when I am 60.


I’m not 100% sure what’s going on, but I really enjoyed this wee stop-motion. Thanks Mandy!


Not as good as the Tumblr, but I still love Texts from Dog.


The Hobbit… BUT WITH CATS!!!


I finally watched Anita Sarkeesian’s TED talk. SHE IS AN INSPIRATION, PEOPLE.


And if you click nothing else in this post, click this. Hilarious, political and important. THIS is how you tell rape jokes, assholes!

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: writing your submission cover letter

Monday, September 10th, 2012

letters to you

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008. Please note, Read This Magazine is no longer an active publication.

One of the most important components of any submission is the cover letter - whether you’re sending a quickly-rattled-off haiku to a low-fi magazine, submitting your best four works to a respected literary journal or posting off a hard-wrought manuscript to a potential publisher. A decent cover letter can make the difference between acceptance and rejection, and because it’s generally the first thing the editor, agent or contest judge sees, it can even make or break the chances of your poems being read at all. The cover letter is a blank canvas upon which you can paint a picture of yourself for your new editor, collaborator, agent or publisher — it’s your chance to show them a little of the personality behind the poems, to tell them you’re different from the million other wannabe poets whose emails they’ve received this week. In short, the cover letter is a powerful tool, and yet a huge number of poets fail to use it to its full potential — in fact, many people just don’t bother with cover letters at all.
Now, you may well be one of the lucky few who has realised the potential of the letter and got your method of composition down to a fine art. But if you’re not, you’re probably wondering exactly how you can make more of this useful writerly tool. Well, as always, ONS is here to help, with a few pointers to get you well on the way to writing the cover letter that could change your life! (Well… maybe.)

1: Be yourself.
This is the #1 rule when it comes to doing just about anything. Poetry is a personal thing — it comes from a sincere place, and so should the covering letter that accompanies it. So don’t show off and big yourself up in your letter if you’re actually a shy and retiring wallflower, for example — if your reader is worth their salt, they’ll be able to sense something fishy. If you’re submitting for the first time ever and you’re unsure about things, say so! Editors are all human beings too (as far as I know!) and chances are, they probably felt the same as you once upon a time. OK, so saying “I’m not sure if this is right or not!” might sound feckless — and some stony recipients may take the opportunity to roll their eyes at your expense — but it’s much better than trying to pretend you’re totally au fait with everything when you’re not.

2: Be polite.
This may seem like a total no-brainer, and it really ought to go without saying, but you’d be shocked by the number of downright rude cover letters that used to land in the Read This Magazine mailbox every month. Comments that could be perceived as rude range from the self-deprecating (”I expect you’ll probably decide that your magazine’s too good for my stuff”) to the plain offensive (”if you reject my poems then f**k you” — a line which, we found, crops up with alarming regularity).
A lot of these comments are probably intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but when all you have to go on is an email, it can be hard to read “f**k you” as anything other than offensive. Basically, there’s nothing more effective than rudeness to make an editor think ‘reject!’, and for this reason, it’s best to keep any wisecracks to a minimum.

3: Don’t criticise your recipient.
Basically, whilst you are by no means required to agree with every rule in a particular magazine’s submission guidelines, or to accept everything a particular publisher stands for, if you want to have your work accepted, it’s probably best to keep your misgivings to yourself. Saying “the way you do X is kind of lame” will not do you any favours. OK, so a good editor shouldn’t let it sway their decision, but it may well sour their mood… right when they’re about to read your poems! For example, when Read This started up, we got a submission from a guy whose cover letter included the line “by the way guys, your website looks kind of amateurish and the colours hurt to look at.” He was probably trying to be helpful, but it made us all a bit upset and annoyed — we’d just spent a load of time and money getting online. When it came to looking at the guy’s work, we were just unable to get warmed up to discussing it. Being impartial is tricky when your first impression of someone is that they’re potentially hostile to what you’re doing!

4: Avoid grandiose statements.
OK, this is my particular pet hate, and Read This used to get it all the time. It ties in with what I said in point one about being dishonest and showing off - there’s nothing worse than a cover letter that’s full of ego! Some perfect examples: “my work has featured in over 200 literary publications worldwide” (sorry, but my immediate response is ’so why haven’t I heard of you?’) and “I have around 700 poems to my name” (being prolific isn’t necessarily good, and certainly doesn’t make an editor more likely to publish you). Sound like any of your cover letters?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of bigging yourself up, because of course you want to make as good an impression as possible. But rather than the sweeping grandiose statements (which can make you look like an egomaniac, or even a bit of a fibber), try being more specific. If you’ve been published in a load of magazines, name three or four of the more ‘respected’ ones. If you don’t know which are the ‘respected’ ones, just name the most recent - that way, instead of thinking “so why haven’t I heard of you?” the editor is more likely to think “I know that magazine - this person must be good!” And rather than stating exactly how many poems you’ve ever written (700 may be a huge achievement for you, but to a stranger it’s just a number), again, try to be more specific. Let the editor know why you write such a lot. Say “I write as often as possible so I can keep growing as a poet,” or “I’ve written a lot of poems about cultural identity, because I feel strongly about it.” Both these statements will make the person at the other end of your submission letter/email much more interested in you, and they also avoid the arrogance factor.

5: Your poems are written with care - your cover letter should be, too!
So that means checking for spelling errors and typos, and writing in full words and sentences. Not all magazines expect you to do the hyper-formal, with-kind-regards-yours-sincerely stuff, but I’d say that 99.9% of magazine staff would be put off by “here r sum poems 4u guys.” It might turn out to be unmerited, but a badly-worded or lazily-spelled cover letter could lead to some doubt about your abilities as a poet!

6: Sign your name.
This is another no-brainer, but Read This constantly received submissions from John and Jane Does who provided NO clues about their identity! I mean, this isn’t a major issue, but it does make for rather awkward replying (”Dear anonymous poet”?). We also had submissions from people who have only supplied “screen names” (see my post on pen names), and even one person who, crazily, wrote a perfectly good cover letter but signed it “who wants to know?” WHAT?!
Basically, just give the editor something to go on. As the pen name article explains, you don’t have to use your real name - just provide something half-sensible that your recipient can use to refer to you… and always make sure you provide a working email address or correct mailing address for replies.

Ever received a cover letter, or proof-read one for a friend, that you think deserves a mention? Was it unbelievably impressive or heinously bad? Do you have any cover letter crimes that you want to own up to?

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)