Monday, February 18, 2013

Writing in the Vacuum, Part V

When it's time to open, share and leave the vacuum behind

The temperature outside was well above 105. It was probably closer to 110. Believe me, you can feel a difference between 105 and 110. Hell, at that temperature, an even 100 feels almost cool. But, there I was, in the shaded patio behind the Cafe IT+L in Tucson. I was drinking hot coffee. Hot coffee, I've never been able to stomach the iced stuff, and even tepid coffee turns me off. Hot coffee, and on a hot day, I had my life ahead of me.

The combination of the searing summer heat, the vacancy in the entire town of Tucson as well as the train wreck that was my home life set me up for what I was going to do: sit in the coffeehouse and write in my notebooks all day. The other set of circumstances that led to this was that I had a whole stack of empty notebooks, a whole box full of cheap pens and all the time in the world. Plus I had a bit of a thrill filling pages, draining pens and wasting away the hours, days, weeks until something would happen. Looking back on that now, that time was the last of my days of writing in the vacuum. That was 2005. That summer and fall in Tucson I had been writing in the vacuum for nearly twenty years. That's a long time.

How do you get out of the vacuum?

I think the quickest way to get out of the vacuum are these words: “Hey, do you want to hear/read something I wrote?” I warn you, if you're anything like me, be careful with this statement and who you say it to. For instance, I wrote a great (I thought) short story and I made the mistake of reading to my mother. Afterward, she couldn't even look at me. She didn't get it. It hurt both of our feelings. Likewise, I had a sharp tongued friend years ago. She was also a writer. When I shared something with her, well, did I mentioned she was sharp tongued? When you choose to share something you wrote, something you are currently writing, pick your audience wisely. My advice: pick a writer who is in a similar place in the process to you. Tell that person how you wanted to be treated. And if this is another writer, you must show the same respected when they share their work with you.

A writers' circle or a writing group is the next logical place to get out of the writing vacuum. A writers' circle, if you don't know, is pretty much as it sounds. It's a group of writers who get together at a predetermined time and place and workshop each other's work. This workshop simply means that everyone agrees to read and comment on each other's work. Again, choose wisely who you work with, because this group can be the best support or the worst nightmare. My advice, pick a distraction free, mutual place to meet: a library, coffeehouse, park. Pick a leader each time you meet, someone to take notes and keep track of time. Stay in contact between meetings via email. Start each session with a freewrite, or a game like exquisite corpse. Be positive, constructive, and help reach goals, both as a group and individually.

Get involved in events. Poetry readings. Meet visiting authors at lectures and book signings. Go to mixers where writers meet. My advice is to prepare yourself: write an elevator speech, and have some of your most polished work on hand. If you go to poetry readings, it's not going to be long before you participate in them too.

Take a writing workshop. These are all over the place, trust me. Adult continuing education coops always have a few writers on hand teaching classes. Civic groups, church groups, groups, groups, groups, there are plenty of these to attend. My advice: remember when you go to a workshop and you have a good time at one, think about your network. Attending workshops like these are great places to meet like minded people, like minded writers. This is a great place to start building your community.

Take a class. Community college. University. Graduate school. My advice: these are big investments in both time and money. Have a very clear focus of what you want to achieve as a person and as a writer before you start down this path.

Submit to a literary magazine. Make sure you are good and ready for this. This can be a great experience or a hellish one. Literary magazines are close to futile at best and impossibly depressing at the worst. I have had my experiences with invisible editors, rejection and it doesn't feel good. But, I have had wonderful experiences with editors too. My most noteworthy experience with an editor was a rejection I got from the head editor from Fiction Weekly. That's right, a rejection. I was so impressed with him, his publication and his professionalism that I had to get involved in a magazine of my own. Umbrella Factory Magazine was almost completely born from that one experience. My advice: when you, as a writer, submit to a magazine remember rejections are not personal, and treat the editors kindly. Believe it or not, the circle of literary magazine editors is very small and we talk to each other. Treat others with grace.

Start your own literary magazine. If you want to meet others, this is the best way to do it. We can have a Kevin Costner moment here: “If you build it they will come.” My advice: literary magazines do not make money, they cost money. They take up hours and hours of your time and the job is oftentimes thankless. You do it because it's the right thing to do. And it is pretty fun.

Start a blog. For my advice, click here.

What about the vacuum?

Well, you don't have to leave it behind completely. Writing in the vacuum is freeing at times. And really, writing is a very solitary act anyway. But why write anything at all if there is not an audience in mind?

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