Today I’ve invited a special guest to answer some questions for us about writing and publishing. I met Rebecca when she took my writing class a while back. Not only is she a fascinating person with many talents (A female rabbi! A professional singer!), but she is living proof that even newbie writers can and do get published.
A: Hi Abby! You’ve already given away the most interesting facts about me. So in addition to being a rabbi and a musician, I am the mother of three and I married my prom date. In 2004, I started blogging under the pseudonym, “Frume Sarah.” As the blog’s readership grew, it became clear that what I was writing was really resonating with people. I was pleasantly shocked. Eventually, I realized that I had things to say and that it was time to take that first step.
Q: When you took my first class, you said you didn’t consider yourself a “real” writer. Do you now? What’s changed?
A: In my family of origin, my sister was considered “the writer” while I was “the singer.” Although I’ve kept a diary ever since I received one when I was nine and much of what I did as a pulpit rabbi involved writing, I was stuck in my childhood role and truly could not view myself as a writer. It has taken a bit of effort to confidently describe myself as a writer. At first, I would qualify it with “aspiring writer” or “emerging writer.” Finally, once some of my work was published, I realized that those adjectives were serving to erode my confidence.
Q: You told me that of the 4 essays you wrote for my classes, 3 of them have been published or are under consideration somewhere. That’s awesome! As much as I would like to take credit, you are the one who actively pursued publication and made it happen. That’s the part where a lot of talented writers falter. What’s your secret?
A: It doesn’t feel like such a secret; I read. I read a lot. And I read across all genres. And then I write. Blogging has helped tremendously. It keeps me on task as I’ve set goals for the number of times I post each week. Because I am not a traditionally-trained writer, I am always reading and learning about the craft. Once I’d had a few pieces placed, I rewarded myself with a subscription to “Writer’s Digest.” I look forward to reading each issue and make copious notes based on what I’ve read. Taking classes, such as yours, made a significant difference in my self-perception as well as self-critique.
Finally, having discovered an online writing community that I like, I have the opportunity to write to someone else’s prompts. This has forced me far out of my comfort zone and has continued much of the progress that began in your classes. Regular readers, including some of my relatives, have noticed significant growth in my writing.
Q: Even though I just used the word “secret,” most successful writers know that there isn’t one; there’s no magic bullet to ensure that a person gets published. Yet in every session of my class, I encounter students who want me to tell them where they should send their essays to get them published. This is frustrating to me, because I feel like that’s a) lazy and b) impossible. There are bazillions of essay markets out there! What would you say to these folks?
A: There is no way around this; do your homework. Each writer must take charge of his/her own market research. There are so many resources for this. If I really love a particular piece that I’ve read in any publication, I immediately read the author’s bio. Very often, the bio will list other places the author has published and/or literary prizes. Then I do a web search. Also, one can glean an awful lot of placement ideas in the back of collections of essays, such as those from The Best American series.
Any magazine that I enjoy automatically gets a look to see if they accept submissions. Alumni magazines, religious periodicals, and regional papers have been successful for me as well. The guidance that you provided in your class was the tip of the iceberg and continues to generate more ideas of places to look.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: Find people who can honestly critique and support your work. Who call you out when you haven’t stuck to your prompt, correct you when you are having serious apostrophe issues, and will pressure you to submit elsewhere an hour after receiving a rejection. There will always be people who gush over everything you do because, at least in my case, they are related to you. That’s loving, but not effective when it comes to growing as a writer and keeping your working towards your goals.
The next session of my classes, Personal Essays that Get Published with Abigail Green, Levels 1 and 2, starts in September. Level 1 is a prerequisite for Level 2. Let me know if you want more info or to be added to the mailing list!