Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Monthly Memoir Manuscript Workshop

I’ll be leading a private memoir manuscript workshop starting this July. In addition to dedicating class time exclusively to each manuscript, we’ll discuss editing, revising, narrative arc, possible ethical and moral concerns, ordering of chapters and submitting a manuscript for publication. These discussions will emerge from student manuscripts. By offering feedback on someone else’s work, your own editing and revising skills will strengthen.

The class is limited to eight students, and two manuscripts will be discussed during each class. You’ll be expected to carefully read and prepare feedback for the other students’ manuscripts. The first class will be dedicated to a discussion of craft, drafting, revising, and more.

If you are considering this class, you should have a manuscript that is about 75-150 pages long. Please send me 10-15 pages (Times New Roman, 12 point font, double-spaced) by June 1st to be considered for the class. Email your materials to: Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com

Monthly Memoir Manuscript Workshop
5 sessions: 2nd Tuesday of every month, 7-9 pm
dates: July 8, August 12, September 9, October 14, & November 11
Cost: $250.00 per student (payable by cash, check or Paypal invoice)
The class is limited to 8 students.
The class will share materials via email.
We will meet in a private conference room near Dupont Circle

Monday, May 19, 2014

Guest Blogger Seth Masket on Writing in Your Academic Discipline

Thanks to Seth Masket for today's helpful post with tips on writing in your academic discipline while considering your audience. You might be writing for other academics or, as I call myself when I read my husband's papers, civilians. 

Seth Masket is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Denver. He writes about political parties, state legislatures, campaigns and elections, and social networks. He is the author of No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures (University of Michigan Press, 2009), as well as a forthcoming book on anti-party reform movements with Oxford University Press. Masket is a founding member of the Mischiefs of Faction blog and contributes weekly at Pacific Standard and occasionally for The Monkey Cage. He also tweets a lot.

Writing in Your Discipline

Many academic disciplines have been accused in recent decades of receding further into the Ivory Tower, writing in increasingly arcane and technical language, prioritizing quantitative analysis over intellectual insight, and just generally making themselves less relevant to and understandable by the world they seek to describe. Political science (my field) seems particularly susceptible to these charges. However, over the past decade, a number of political scientists have pushed back against this trend by writing for broader audiences in the news media and in blogs.

This is certainly an encouraging trend, but it presents a new challenge for academics. Social scientists are not really taught in graduate school how to write for a mass audience. If anything, the training is on how to write technically. This is to be expected; graduate students are learning advanced research techniques and new material at a dizzying pace, and the only audience for their writing is a few experienced faculty members and, to some extent, each other. 

One might think that technical writing is difficult. In my own experience, it’s incredibly easy. Learning a new statistical method or making a new discovery is terribly exciting, and it's tempting to spend a large percentage of a paper or dissertation just describing the contours of what was just learned. And, to be sure, there's a proper place for that in academic texts -- scholars should be able to state in detail what they've done so that others can investigate those findings and build upon them. (Hans Noel has a great post on this topic.)

Once out of graduate school, however, political scientists are increasingly expected to also be able to write for a broader audience of journalists, activists, practitioners, and other interested individuals. This is much harder than writing technically. You need to be able to communicate a new finding in a way that non-academics can not only understand but care about. 

A few years ago, I looked back on some of my papers from my first and second years of graduate school. They were hopelessly technical, buried in obscure jargon and detailed descriptions of statistical methods. Learning how to describe my work in a way that people other than my dissertation advisor would care about took many years to figure out, and it's something I still work on.

My advice to those academics interested in reaching out beyond academe in their writings is really pretty basic. In general, good writing comes from good reading. Read outside your discipline. Read blogs on topics you care about, particularly those written by reporters, rather than other academics (although read those too). Figure out how people are talking about other scholarly work in your area and what makes it interesting to them. 

I’d also encourage practicing terse writing. Don't just try to write for Twitter, although that can be fun. (If you can summarize an academic paper in 140 characters, that's a great skill.) Learn to sum up a paper or a book in a paragraph. This is usually not the same thing as an academic abstract, which typically focuses on process and situation in the literature. Rather, find the one thing that makes a study interesting and relevant to the world outside your discipline, and develop that.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Guest Blogger Faye Rapoport DesPres on Submitting to Literary Journals

Faye Rapoport DesPres stops by today on her virtual book tour to discuss literary journal submissions. Don't miss her next stop on Monday at My Machberet. Read through to the end and learn how to enter to win a free copy of the book from Buddhapuss Ink!

Faye Rapoport DesPres is the author of the new memoir-in-essays titled Message from a Blue Jay (Buddhapuss Ink, May 2014). Faye was born in New York City and raised in upstate New York, and she has also lived in Colorado, England, and Israel. Her personal essays, fiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Fourth Genre, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, and the Writer's Chronicle. Faye earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College.

Submitting to Literary Journals: Is it worth it?

By Faye Rapoport DesPres

My new book, Message from a Blue Jay, is a “memoir-in-essays.” In other words, the book is a collection of personal essays that have been edited and linked thematically to form a cohesive whole. Before I edited the work into a collection, however, a number of the chapters were published by literary journals as individual personal essays. Submitting to journals was often a painful process, but for me the effort was worth it. 

Submitting to literary journals requires time, hard work, and (for most of us) a seriously thick skin. It can take weeks (and money spent on a lot of sample copies) to figure out which journals might be interested in your work. You can spend hours reading writers’ guidelines, which are highly specific to each journal, and learning how to prepare and submit manuscripts (one journal, for example, might ask you to include your last name on every numbered page, while another might not want your name to appear anywhere on the manuscript). Once you’ve followed every guideline and sent out your work, perhaps the hardest part – waiting  – begins. The wait can be long – six months or more. And when the inevitable rejections arrive (most writers receive more rejections than acceptances) it can feel like you’ve been kicked in the stomach.

If you’ve never gone through this process, you might ask: Why bother?

The three years I spent submitting to literary journals before completing my manuscript were wholeheartedly worth the effort and the pain. For one thing, I found it easier to work on craft while shaping and completing shorter works. Basically, I needed practice—and submitting, revising, and re-submitting shorter essays greatly improved my writing. I also wanted to determine if literary editors would appreciate my work. I am being careful not to say that I wanted to know if the writing was “good,” because I have learned, over time, that acceptances and rejections don’t necessarily correlate with “good” and “bad.” Most literary journals publish only a small percentage of the thousands of submissions they receive; the editors have to turn away a lot of good work. Sometimes a piece might not get past an early reader for the most random of reasons: maybe the reader liked a different type of writing, was bleary-eyed at the end of an exhausting day, or had just read another essay mentioning birds in Bermuda. If you’ve submitted your best writing, have done your journals research, and are lucky enough to reach the right editor at the right journal on the right day, you have a better chance of landing an acceptance. But usually, as Michael Steinberg, the founding editor of Fourth Genre, often told me on my most despairing days, “The acceptances are just as irrational as the rejections.”

So yes, you need a thick skin to go through the process. You can’t let rejection prevent you from soldiering on, because being persistent (even if it takes months or years), improving your craft, and finally landing those acceptances can provide important boosts to your literary career:

·      Readers – Most of us write because we want to reach out to readers. It’s a great feeling when you know your work has an audience. You might even begin to build a “fan base,” especially if your work is published online. Readers might follow you on Twitter, “friend” you on Facebook, and express an interest in one day buying your book.
·      Quality – The process of submitting and re-submitting to journals often requires revision and subsequent improvement; as a result, the work will be stronger by the time it is published and/or you incorporate it into a manuscript.
·      Confidence – Many writers feel more confident about their work once they have some publications under their belts. That confidence can be invaluable when you begin a search for an agent and/or a publisher – a process that can be even more daunting than submitting to literary journals.
·      Networking – If you stay in touch with the editors who accept your work and continue to read and support their journals, they can become invaluable contacts, advisors, and even friends as you continue on your path toward a book publication.
·      Publishing Appeal Publishers take a big chance when they sign a book by a “new” writer. They might feel better about taking that leap if the writer’s work is published in literary journals. They might feel (rightly) that you’re a serious writer who has been working on your craft, and the fact that other editors published your work might help quell potential doubts. Finally, if publishers see that you already have a recognizable “name,” they might decide there is something to build on when it comes to marketing your book.

When I was seeking a publisher for Message from a Blue Jay, the fact that I had been published in a variety of journals helped crack open some doors. Some really wonderful editors had published my work, and that helped my case with potential book publishers. One of the journal editors even wrote a “blurb” about my work that I included in the cover letter with my manuscript.

Did having parts of the manuscript previously published ever hurt me? Yes, once. One editor at a university press liked the book but was concerned that too much of the manuscript was previously published. Even my agent was surprised at that response; no other publishers had a problem with this fact (although in the final manuscript, more unpublished work actually appears).

Is publishing in literary journals necessary? Of course not; no single path to “success” works for every writer. But if you’re a writer who is relatively new to the literary scene,  submitting shorter pieces in literary journals is a good option as you begin your journey as a writer. Submitting makes a statement:  “I’m here, I’m ready, and I’m going to keep at this for as long as it takes to reach my goals.”

Enter to win a free copy of Message from a Blue Jay:
This was the third stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres's Virtual Book Tour.
Don't miss the next stop on 5/19 at My Machberet!

The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway.
We invite you to leave a comment below to enter.
For more chances to enter, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab!