writing

New poetry publication!

poetry south cover

Okay, so my poetry publication isn’t that new, but I’m excited to announce I have a poem in the 2018 issue of Poetry South! The issue came out at the end of last year, and I’m so happy to have work in it.

I’ve noticed something funny. Because I feel confident about my prose, I sometimes become frustrated that I don’t get more or better publications. But because I’m still insecure about my poetry writing ability, each poetry acceptance feels like a shock. A pleasant shock, but still a shock.

poetry south poem

I am beginning to write more poetry. The experience feels odd. Poetry was my favorite form of creative writing in middle school, high school, and college. Somewhere along the way I realized the poetry I was writing was “bad,” and then for years I associated poetry (or at least mine) with adolescence and immaturity.

I’m returning to poetry because I enjoy it as a creative outlet. There’s a feeling I can’t quite pinpoint that I have when I write poetry that I do not have when I write prose. BUT, a nasty editorial voice saying “what you’re writing is no good” keeps popping into mind as I write poetry, much more often and much more loudly than when I write prose.

That voice is just going to have to deal with it. I’m still gonna write poems. :)

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education, teaching

Creating Inclusivity: An Approach to Sensitive Subjects in the Classroom

Last month, I had the honor of leading a workshop at my university’s Academy for Teaching and Learning Excellence First Friday’s event. My presentation wasn’t recorded, so I’m sharing a PDF of my slideshow. It contains many resources fellow professors might find useful. There are some University of South Florida-specific slides, but feel free to scroll past those.

Click here or on the image below to download the PDF.

Here’s the description of my presentation:

Broaching controversial or difficult subjects such as race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, bias, discrimination, and more in the classroom is increasingly common, if not necessary, as student bodies become more diverse and universities place more emphasis on inclusivity. This workshop will focus on how to tie diversity-related issues to course material and student learning outcomes, and how to manage productive, engaging classroom conversations on sensitive subjects. It will also include a discussion on best practices in learning students’ pronouns.

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education, teaching

Lecture: The Writing Process

The Writing Process diagram: prewriting, drafting, revising, peer review, editing, publishing
Source: bcourses.berkeley.edu

I teach about the writing process in all of my writing courses: creative writing, composition, professional writing, and communication for engineers. My belief is that a deeper understanding of the writing process helps students develop an identity as a writer, build confidence in their writing ability, and better manage the anxiety/procrastination that often comes with writing.

Beginning with free writing

I usually teach about the writing process early on (this semester, I taught it on the second day of class). The day I teach about the writing process, I begin class with either a free write or a “survey.” This semester, I began with an anonymous survey in which I asked the following:

  1. What kind of writer are you?
  2. What makes writing “good?”
  3. What do you want to learn in this class?
  4. Is there anything else you want to tell me?

(Side note: I LOVE having #4, the catch-all question. I tell students they don’t have to fill it out, and most leave it blank, but the responses I do receive are usually delightful. I skimmed answers for this semester and saw one student wrote that their “thirst for knowledge is at a peak.” Another student wrote: “I should let you know, I have had an issue with using too many commas in the past.” Students are just great.)

In the past, I’ve asked other, similar questions: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer? What is your history with writing? What are your thoughts and feelings about writing? What role has writing played in your life? For now, I like “What kind of writer are you?” because of its concision. It’s also an intentionally vague question.

I summarize the students’ answers to the survey and share them in our next meeting. Many students think of themselves as “bad writers,” and I think it’s good for them to realize they aren’t alone. Also, I address what they wrote they want to learn in the course, either describing how/when I will teach it, or explaining why it falls outside of what we’ll discuss, and pointing them to other resources. This process allows me to be transparent in my teaching and student-centered from week one (sometimes I build lesson plans and exercises based on what students want to learn).

The lecture

When I begin my lecture about the writing process, I usually ask if any students have been formally taught the writing process before. There are usually a couple who say they have, but the majority say they haven’t. I don’t quiz the ones who raise their hands, but I do encourage them to chime in if they have any thoughts or knowledge to share as I speak.

Source: k12.thoughtfullearning.com

I ask if they’ve heard of Anne Lamott. Usually they haven’t, but sometimes 1-2 students raise their hands. I tell them to excuse my language, and then explain her concept of “shitty first drafts.” Essentially, not only does everyone write shitty first drafts, but when you first begin writing something, a shitty first draft should be your only goal.

I tell them that many students who are unfamiliar with the writing process think they are “bad writers,” when in reality, they’re comparing their “shitty first draft” to published work, or work that has gone through the entire process. I like this because the swearing definitely gets their attention, but since I’m quoting someone else, it doesn’t make our classroom environment feel unprofessional or like a free-for-all.

(Side note: I generally do not swear in the classroom. I know it can be an effective attention-getting tool, but I think it’s risky. In the past, when I’ve used swear words, I’ve noticed some students appear uncomfortable, while others get a little too excited and start using more swear words themselves, neither of which is my goal.)

Next, I pull up one or both of the images in this post and project them. I then go through the stages of the writing process one-by-one.

Prewriting

I explain that prewriting is anything you do before you begin writing that helps you prepare to write. I’m a writer through-and-through, so for me, prewriting usually is writing. But, it’s messy writing that I’m going to delete. I might need to write for 30 minutes before I understand my thoughts and know what points I want to make, then I can begin “real” writing.

I tell them that I have a friend whose main prewriting activity is running. She mulls over what she wants to say while running 5 or 7 miles, then by the time she sits down to type, the sentences come out pretty well-formed. I have another friend who likes to draw for prewriting. That sparks their creativity, and helps them visualize their ideas.

More detail-oriented people might not feel comfortable writing until they have a full outline and know exactly what they’re setting out to do–these people would probably find my process unbearably sloppy. More social people might not want to write until they sit down and talk out their ideas with someone else.

At this point, I’ll generally ask, “Does anyone recognize what their prewriting habits are?” This semester, one student shared that he likes thinking ideas over while listening to music, then he begins writing once he feels inspired. Another student shared that he likes listening to podcasts, and jots down phrasing they use that impresses him and he thinks he could apply to his own concepts.

I explain that knowing what types of prewriting work for you might help you when you feel stuck. I emphasize that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to prewrite, and I encourage students to experiment with different methods to see what helps them.

Drafting/Writing

Drafting, writing, and revising are a recursive process, which the first image illustrates well. In the old days, writing and revising were clearly distinguishable steps. Someone would feed a paper into a typewriter, type out an entire draft, read over it with a red pen in hand, mark it up, and then retype the next draft. It was too labor-intense to revise before an entire draft was complete.

Now, with contemporary technology, it’s easy to type three paragraphs then decide the first paragraph has two unnecessary sentences, and delete them, then realize the order of paragraphs two and three should be switched, and flip them. Most writers write, revise, and even edit continually as they go. This can be efficient, or it can hold someone back, especially if they’re feeling stuck or anxious or bad about the writing in any way.

In my creative writing courses, I urge students to try separating writing from revision. I mention Jennifer Egan as an example. When I saw her speak, she said that if she rereads what she is writing while she is writing, it brings her down. She begins to think she’s a horrible writer and that the project is garbage. That’s why she writes by hand, sloppily, in a dark room. Not until she gets out an entire draft does she go back and read over it.

Writing and revising can be two distinct modes. Personally, I find that when I am in the “generative” phase of creative writing and still figuring out my ideas, it’s best if I don’t reread what I’m writing until later. Then I can come back with my revision glasses on and look for what isn’t working well. If I view my work with a critical eye while I’m still writing it, I’m at risk of giving up. I, and my students, feel better knowing that a bestselling author such as Jennifer Egan experiences the same thing.

I don’t always go into as much detail about this writing/revising dichotomy in my professional writing courses, unless students seem particularly stuck or are struggling to get words on the page. I think writing and revising at the same time can be useful when writing an email, letter, memo, or short professional document, unless for some reason the document has the writer paralyzed with anxiety.

I do emphasize to professional writing students that they should expect to reread their documents and make changes multiple times, even if they’re doing so quickly, and that they never want to share something or even send an email without rereading.

I note that they can bring someone else in to give advice at this stage of the process, and that in some workplaces, sharing a draft of documents with their superior would be required. I tell them to prepare themselves to have to alter their writing process slightly depending on the company they work for. Some bosses won’t want an employee to write anything until they’ve discussed it thoroughly; others won’t want to see anything but a finished product.

Editing

I explain the differences between editing, revising, and proofreading, and let them know that many people use the words interchangeably or incorrectly. I say that revising is the hard work; it can involve major cuts, reorganization, or rewriting. Revision involves looking at the big picture.

Editing, while still sometimes difficult, is a look at the surface. It might involve rewording a sentence, or reordering sentences within a paragraph, but beyond that, it doesn’t involve deep changes. Editing includes correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, and rephrasing for clarity.

Proofreading is the final, last-minute look-over you give something when it’s ready to go but you want to be super sure there aren’t any lingering typos you missed.

I tell students that we will do workshopping (in creative writing) or peer review (in composition and professional writing) in class, and that I want them to feel comfortable gently telling their peers when they need to make revisions. I say that most students feel much more comfortable pointing out spelling errors, or missing commas or apostrophes than they do saying that one of the main threads is illogical, or that multiple paragraphs feel redundant and extraneous.

Publishing

I tell them that I want to expand their definition of “publishing.” I ask what publishing might look like in the context of a class. Generally, a student answers (correctly), “Turning something in to you?”

I ask what “publishing” might look like in the workplace. I keep asking for responses until someone comes up with “hitting send on an email.” I say yes!, that is it, also: mailing a letter, printing out an announcement and hanging it on the wall, sending the employee manual off to the printer, etc.

Questions/Comments

Finally, I ask if there are any questions or comments. We don’t usually have a big discussion about the writing process, but sometimes students speak up to either ask for advice or share what works for them.

Oftentimes, procrastination comes up at this point. I tell students that procrastination is often the result of anxiety–we put writing off because we fear we will do a bad job, or we fear the writing will feel painful. I bring up Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft” idea again, and remind them that there’s no way to fail at the goal of writing a shitty first draft, and setting out to write a shitty first draft can actually be really fun.

I tell them that if they think they write better under pressure, hours before something is due, they are mistaken. (Usually a few students laugh, or nod, or raise their hand to comment here.) I tell them I was an undergrad once too, and I also thought I wrote better under pressure, but then I learned the reality is that I write better when I’m focused on my writing instead of my fear. Waiting until the last minute is one way to force yourself to focus on the writing; embracing the “shitty first draft” concept is another, more productive way.

I usually end by saying, think of what you come up with in an hour when you’re working under pressure. Image how much happier you’d feel if you could come up with that in an hour one week before the due date, then have time to gain some distance and perspective and do more revising and editing before turning that work in.

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creative nonfiction, fibromyalgia, health, writing

New article on Inside Higher Ed

I have a new article on the Inside Higher Ed site. It’s called “Navigating Graduate School While Managing a Chronic Illness.”

This publication excites me for three reasons: 1) I got paid for writing it, 2) it has to do with health/illness, which is an area I want to write and speak more about, and 3) it draws on my recent experiences and I’m trying to find more ways to meld my non-creative career experiences with my writing.

I’d be honored if you gave it a read, and positively pleased if you shared the link with someone who you think might be interested in it.

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education, teaching

The first day of the semester

I recently added a Teaching page to my website, and in the coming months I’ll be populating it with links to blog posts related to teaching. I figured, where better to start than the first day of class? Here is how I handle it:

The First Day of Class

Opening class

The first day of class can be boring, so I try to open in an unexpected way to get them paying attention. I begin by asking, “What do you think we’re going to do today?”  Usually someone says, “Go over the syllabus?” I say, “Yep!” and then write “Syllabus” on the board. Then I ask, “What else?” Usually someone else says, “Introductions?” I say something about how great they’re doing already, then write “Introductions” on the board.

I tell them that every day, I’ll write an agenda on the board like this one that lists what we’re going to do in class. I say that I like to consider their input on things when I can, and ask “Which of these do you want to do first–syllabus or introductions?” Usually they pick introductions (but not always!). If the room allows it, I then ask them to move their desks into a big circle, where we stay for the remainder of the class.

What’s on the board will look more or less like this:

  1. Introductions
  2. Syllabus

Introductions

I write a numbered list on the board from 1-5. Next to number one, I write “preferred name + pronouns.” Next to number two, I write “year + major.” I turn back to the class and say, what else do you want to know about each other?

Students will often name things they’ve probably had to share in other courses, saying “where they’re from?,” “why they took this class?,” or “what their hobbies are?” (Yes, most of what students say at this early point sounds like questions–I don’t think they’re used to having a say in the class from the first moment.)

I write what they say on the board. Usually, by number five, we’ve gotten a less common one in there, often a “favorite” of some type. I know doing introductions this way takes more time, but students tend to seem more engaged when I do it like this, and there’s usually a playful, comfortable air in the room by this point.

What’s on the board will look something like this:

  1. preferred name + pronouns
  2. year + major
  3. where you’re from
  4. hobbies
  5. favorite food

I clarify what I mean by preferred name: “I’ve noticed that every semester, a few weeks in, after students get to know me and feel more comfortable, a few in every class will mention that they actually go by a name that’s different than what’s in Canvas. Whether it’s a nickname or a middle name or they plan on legally changing their name, they do not want to be called what’s listed, but they didn’t feel comfortable saying it on the first day. Well, I want you to share the name you prefer on the first day! We are going to have group discussions and interactive class exercises regularly. I want to learn all of your names, and I want all of you to learn each other’s names, and it’s important that we learn the names you actually like and use.”

Off to the side of the list on the board, I write “she/her/hers,” “he/him/his,” “they/them/theirs.” I say something along the lines of, “Most people use one of these three sets of pronouns, but some people use other pronouns I haven’t listed. We might be tempted to think that we can tell if someone uses ‘he’ or ‘she’ just by looking at them, but if our guess is wrong, they might find it hurtful or offensive. When we do introductions, I’d like you to share which pronouns you want us to use for you in class, if you feel comfortable doing so. This will allow us to treat each other respectfully, and our class is welcoming to everyone.”

(I’ve had students share their pronouns three semesters in a row now, and I’ve tweaked the way I introduce it a little bit every time. Recently, I came across this site about pronouns, which could be useful if you’re deciding if/why/how to broach the subject in your course.)

In my professional communication courses, I usually add a little more about pronouns in the workplace. I reiterate that the purpose of the course is to prepare them to communicate effectively in a professional setting, and that they don’t want to get off on the wrong foot by accidentally offending someone after starting a new job by incorrectly assuming their pronouns.

After explaining what I mean by preferred name and pronouns, I sit down and say, “I’ll go first. I’m Jay Summer, and I like for my students to call me Jay. If that feels too casual for you, call me Ms. Summer. I use she/her pronouns. This is my fifth year teaching at USF. I am a Visiting Instructor. Before that, I was a graduate student here. I hold a BS in psychology, and masters degrees in urban planning and creative writing. I’m from Chicagoland. My hobbies are reading and writing. I like food too much to choose a favorite, but I especially love Thai and Indian food.”

Then, we go around the circle, with each person introducing themselves. I try to give introductions a conversational feel by occasionally interrupting to ask questions (“You’re from Brazil? What made you decide to come here? What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between home and the US?”) and to draw connections among students (“Well, three people have named tacos as their favorite food, so maybe you should start a study group where you go out to eat together”). I know it’s sort of hokey, but I think it helps make the overall atmosphere more comfortable instead of stilted. After a few introductions with me asking questions, other students will usually begin chiming in here and there as they recognize commonalities (“I’m from Orlando, too–what high school did you go to?”), and I will smile with glee because organic conversations are happening on the first day.

Syllabus: Policies

I pass out hard copies of the syllabus and note that the syllabus is also in Canvas. I begin by saying, “I know going over a syllabus can be boring, but we have to do it. Hopefully this is the most boring our class will be all semester. We’ll skim most of the syllabus instead of reading it word-for-word, but I encourage you to read all of it on your own.”

I go through the syllabus section by section, spending only a few seconds on some sections, and minutes on others. I try to speak conversationally rather than just read in a dry manner. I emphasize policies and school resources, and only briefly overview course content. The students will encounter the course content week after week, but the policies are what might slip by them, and what they’re most likely to argue about later.

There are two policies that I think are extremely important to emphasize on the first day and repeat in subsequent classes: the attendance/tardiness policy and the late work policy. I’ve changed these policies over time, and don’t use the same policies for each course I teach, but I’m sure to repeat whatever the policy is, multiple times, on day one. I always do so with a smile and a friendly tone, rather than one that sounds strict.

For example, I might say, “10% is deducted each day work is late,” then pause for an unusually long time, until all the students are looking at me, wondering why I’m not talking anymore. Then I’ll repeat, “10% is deducted each day work is late.” I might ask questions, too, such as, “So, what happens if you don’t realize an assignment is due, then you turn it in a week late?,” or “If an assignment is due Monday by midnight, what will happen if you turn it in at 1 AM?”

Sometimes I repeat a policy so many times that the students are laughing, and I say something like, “Can you tell students have tried to argue with me about this policy in the past? What do you think will happen if you try to argue about it?” That seems to drive the point home.

I am transparent about my policies, and tell students why I have chosen the policies I have chosen. If attendance counts for 10% of the grade, for example, I might say something like, “This might feel like a drag to you, but it actually helps you quite a bit. You can get 10% just by showing up, which could bump you up from a B to an A without much effort. I tried teaching this class with no attendance policy one semester, and students’ grades dropped. When attendance doesn’t count, students miss more classes, and the less you attend class, the less well you understand the material, and the more likely you are to forget due dates. That’s why I reinstituted an attendance policy. It’s not to irritate you; it’s to help prepare you for the working world where you have to show up every day, on-time, and to help you earn a higher grade.”

I also discuss how I want students to message me, which is with a greeting and closing, always, and correct capitalization and punctuation, always. I make sure they understand that I don’t always check messages on nights and weekends, and that it might take me a day or two to reply when I’m very busy, which means last minute questions the day an assignment is due should be asked in person. (Almost all of my due dates are class dates.)

I say that I don’t have a phone/device policy, because they are adults and need to learn to manage their smartphone use. But, I remind them that I can see them when they pull out their phones and I find it disrespectful, and depending on my mood, I might ask what they’re using a device for if they have one out for more than a few seconds at a time that device usage is unnecessary.

Sometimes I ask, “How have your other professors handled smartphones in the classroom?,” partially because I’m curious, and partially because I want the students to talk and feel engaged, because by this point I have just said a lot and they’re probably getting tired.

When I’m done going over the policies, I usually ask if there are any questions, if everything makes sense, and if everything sounds fair.

Syllabus: Student Resources

Surprisingly, talking about the university’s resources has become one of my favorite parts of the first day. I begin by saying, “You were all intelligent and hardworking enough to be accepted to this university, which means you are all intelligent and hardworking enough to succeed at this university.”

That usually gets their attention.

I continue, saying, “In my years of teaching, I’ve noticed that when students do not get As in my courses, it almost always has nothing to do with their ability to understand the course material. It has to do with something else: physical illness, depression or anxiety, family problems, death or grieving, romantic or relationship issues, addiction or drinking problems, etc. Sometimes students are tempted to think their grades reflect their intelligence, when often grades actually reflect other things–how much you sleep each night, how well you’re getting along with your family, how solid your financial situation is, etc.”

I tell the students about free resources available on campus to help them deal with issues they might face. I then go over the Counseling Center, Students with Disabilities Services, the Center for Victim Advocacy & Violence Prevention, Title IX, the Writing Studio, the Office for Multicultural Affairs, and the Center for Student Leadership and Engagement. I also briefly mention Student Health Services, the gym, and student groups. For each resource, I ask if there’s anyone particularly knowledgeable about the resource–sometimes I find there are students who feel comfortable explaining the resource to the class.

Of all of those resources, I spend the most time on the Counseling Center and Students with Disability Services. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly comfortable with the students, I openly tell them that when I was a graduate student I went to the Counseling Center regularly to help manage anxiety, and there is no shame in it. I often make a joke about how, after they graduate, they might seek therapy one day and realize what it costs and kick themselves for not taking advantage of it when it was free. Ever since I began saying this, I’ve had at least one or two students every semester come to me at some point and thank me, saying that they now go to the Counseling Center because of my comments and they find it helpful.

When explaining Students with Disability Services, I emphasize that students may get accommodations for any mental or physical health issue that might affect their coursework or their ability to attend class, even if they don’t consider themselves “disabled.” I usually give two examples. I say, “If you’re thinking ‘I don’t have a disability,’ but you have a severe food allergy that could make you miss a week of class if you accidentally ingest the wrong thing, then it might be worth it to have an accommodation, just in case. If you sometimes have panic attacks during times of stress that could make you miss class, having an accommodation in place might result in your professor excusing your absences rather than not.” I emphasize that most professors, including myself, feel more comfortable being lenient with students when they have an official accommodation from SDS for their illness.

(I’ve gone back and forth about how to discuss SDS over time, and this is what I’ve settled on for now. I don’t know if it’s the best way. I do think it might encourage students who don’t need a true “accommodation,” such as extended test times or assistive technology in the classroom, to go to SDS for paperwork. That said, I do genuinely believe that most professors are more lenient about things like attendance and due dates when students have official accommodation paperwork, even though the paperwork can’t dictate anything related to attendance or due dates. I know I feel more comfortable being flexible when SDS is involved, and my students have anecdotally shared that other professors do as well. I could probably write a whole post on this alone, and maybe, eventually, I will.)

Finally, I ask if there any questions about our school’s resources. I tell them that I leave time for questions every class, and that I do not stay after class to answer one-on-one questions. They can ask questions during the designated class time, or, if they have a question that truly needs to remain confidential, they can come to my office hours or send me a message to ask their question. Then I wish them a good first week of school.

Thoughts? What do you on your first day of school?

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visuals

I made a career timeline infographic

JSummer Career TimelineI regularly encourage my students to use Canva to create images for various assignments. Today I was playing around with it, thinking of things I could show them, and I found a template for a “career timeline.”

I’d never really seen or thought of anything like this, but I decided to make my own. I changed the fonts and design to mimic that of this website.

I don’t know that a career timeline is a terribly useful thing to have, but I like how it looks, and it is an easy-to-read breakdown of my background. I usually feel like my past experience is all over the place, but this makes it seem a bit more coherent.

I’m adding it to the home page of this site, and will share it in future courses I teach. Do any of you use Canva? If so, what for? I’ve become a big fan.

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creative nonfiction, writing

New short essay up on Brevity blog

Brevity is known as the go-to site for flash creative non-fiction. I haven’t been published there (yet!), but they also have a blog that’s pretty awesome, and I’m happy to announce my writing was published on it a few days ago.

My post is titled, “#ShareYourRejection: I Received 330 Writing Rejections in One Year, and I’m So Happy About It,” and I’d be honored if you read it. I found out the Brevity blog has 45,000 email subscribers, so this is probably my most widely-read piece of writing so far.

I don’t think I’ll consider myself a “successful” writer until I have a book published, but I’ve made a lot of progress in my writing career in recent years, and I wrote this post to help encourage people who are interested in a similar path. It still feels surreal to call myself a “writer” or to talk about my “writing career” at all–I’ve spent more years of life viewing a writing career as a pipe dream unavailable to me in any real sense than I have pursuing it in earnest.

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lit mags, updates, writing

Introducing Chronically Lit

chronically lit jay summer

Today is the official launch of a major project I founded and have been working on for hours a day–Chronically Lit. You can support the project by following it on twitter or instagram, and by signing up for the weekly email list (I’ll be sending out the first email today).

I’ve been doing so much writing for the site, I think I’ll just let it speak for itself rather than explain here. Consider checking out the following:

  • In an “In Conversation,” I and the site’s other editor, Annalise, discuss our vision for the site
  • For the past three weeks, I’ve written “Link Roundups” on Friday, which are collections of links related to chronic illness in literature and culture
  • Today, my first “official” piece of writing went live, the first part of a multi-part book review of Sonya Huber’s Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System

I’ve also been working with several writers on essay edits, and those essays will go live over the next two weeks. Exciting stuff!

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fear, lit mags, personal growth, weirderary, writing

Goodbye, weirderary

Yesterday, I wrote a goodbye post for weirderary, the online literary magazine I began with friends and classmates back in 2015. (I’ve blogged about it a few times before.)

Creating weirderary was fun, and I’m glad we did it. First-hand experience is an excellent teacher, and I learned so much reading the thousands (yes, thousands!) of submissions we received, editing those we selected, conducting interviews, and writing book reviews. I’m grateful I gained that experience and also proud of myself for pushing forward and starting a lit mag in the first place–something I’d wanted to do since high school but hadn’t, for various reasons, but mostly fear.

After us three weirderary editors graduated from the MFA program we were in and began seeing each other much less often, I could feel the energy and excitement around weirderary fizzling. Instead of the thrilling endeavor it felt like before, it became, to me at least, unpaid labor. A pile of tasks. And they weren’t horrible tasks, sometimes they felt rewarding, but when I looked at my overarching career, I knew they weren’t the best tasks I could do with my limited free time in order to move the direction I want to move.

When I was trying to decide if I should let weirderary go or not, I tried to envision the future best case scenario. It involved a lot of work on my end, with a disproportionately small reward. It also involved missed opportunities.

Being an independent lit mag editor is a labor of love, and I now understand why so many small lit mags don’t have staying power. I’m writing about all of this openly here because I think the burnout and at times even resentment editors can feel are things people don’t often talk about with transparency. (Hmm, should I write an essay about that?) I loved weirderary when we began it, and I love it still, now, but I think if I’d stuck with it another year or two, that love would’ve soured.

Thanks to anyone who read it. Stay tuned…I’ll soon announce my newest endeavors.

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creative nonfiction, fibromyalgia, health, ibs, migraine, pots, writing

New publication in MTV Fit

New publication: Staying Fit with Chronic Illness Required Me to Redefine “Exercise”

A friend shared a link to a (secret?) Google doc containing a compilation of tweets from editors looking for pitches. When I saw an editor at MTV Fit (a fitness vertical on MTV’s UK site) was looking for health- and fitness-related essays, I spontaneously pitched her one on exercising with chronic illness in that moment. She said yes!

This was exciting for me. I’ve only pitched a couple of times (that’s how I had the Marie Claire article published), and because my background is in creative writing, not journalism, I still feel like I’m sort of faking it when I send a pitch.

I’ve been submitting to lit mags for a while now and I feel like I have the hang of submitting. It’s relatively easy and mostly repetitive. You submit whatever you’ve written, in full, along with a short cover letter that is more or less copied and pasted aside from a personalized sentence or two.

Pitching, however, is a whole different ball game. The cover letter isn’t a formality–it’s the entire thing. Lit mag editors often purposely avoid reading cover letters accompanying submissions until after they’ve made a decision. Mainstream editors reading pitches generally make their decision based on the cover letter–the pitch–alone.

Lately I’ve been writing more personal essay than fiction, so I see a lot of pitching in my future.

 

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