Check it out: all the sins

I was lucky enough to have the amazing folks over at all the sins decide to publish two of my poems – “Brilliant Moonbeam”, a found poem from the beginning of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, and “Crassostrea virginica”, one of my ecofeminist poems that looks at the world through a marine life lens. The poems will be published in their inaugural edition, which went up today!

The lovely editors over at all the sins wrote a pre-release post entitled “Submissions: Round 1“, where they talk about their transparent editorial process (which, as a poetry reader myself for a lit mag and a struggling wannabe poet, I think is pretty neat). There was also a little nod to one of my works in there: “Some pieces embraced the theme more literally, playing with Dahl-like language and, as you’ll see in our first edition, creating found poetry from his original text” which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Beyond the warm and fuzzies, another line particularly resonated with me, now that I’m beginning to see the ‘other side’ of the submission situation as a probationary poetry reader over at Storm Cellar Quarterly (more about that sometime later). That line is “we looked for art that had something to say”.

It is so hard to let our art speak for itself. Something in the process of expression gets the art muddled on its way out of us – our fingers mangle it, our synapses do damage as the chemicals that birth the art flow past. We are imperfect vessels for our art, though sometimes it is exactly the way we ‘taint’ the art as we express it that makes it so valuable or revolutionary. Still, at most we should be co-vocal with our art; we should never be its sole orator. And yet, it is hard to let our art speak – instead of us speaking about our art and what it could or should be. It’s a new kind of listening. It is humbling to hear that my art was chosen because it had something to say. Maybe, with each poem I read and write, I am learning more how to listen.

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Dealing with Impostor Syndrome

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Me, the impostor: Somehow they let me graduate? I need to get off stage quick before they figure it out and take my diploma back! Me, looking back: I worked hard for this moment, and I deserved every cord I was wearing!

Last week I wrote a post about impostor syndrome (you can find it here) and promised to follow up by discussing ways of handling impostor syndrome. It’s funny because even when starting this blog I felt like an impostor – who am I to start writing as though I have advice to give or am worthy of someone’s precious time, reading my words? But day by day, I’ll keep writing and pushing through until I can live with this impostor syndrome and even welcome it as a reminder of my personal growth.

The key is to learn how to live with your impostor syndrome – not to resist it and try to force it to go away forever. I’ve compiled some advice on the matter, and came up with some of my own, and I thought I’d share it with you – I hope it helps whether you’re earning a degree, getting a new job, or finding a new group of peers:

  1. Recognize that feeling incompetent and being incompetent are two different things: And try changing how you feel by watching this compelling TED talk
  2. Keep a praise journal/celebrate your accomplishments: make sure to regularly celebrate your accomplistments in a way that is memorable for you (going out for dinner, rewarding yourself with a special treat, etc). A praise journal is another way to do this – a small notebook you carry around where you write praises on one page and your negative feelings on a separate page. When you fill up a ‘negative thoughts’ page you can rip it out and burn it, then re-read all the praises you’ve received as it burns.
  3. Have a Praise Ambassador in your life: this is someone, a friend or family member, who knows your struggle and is specifically looking out for you to give you praise for your accomplishments; this person can be responsible for taking you out for a drink or simply giving you that much-needed and oft-overlooked praise for being the awesome person that is YOU
  4. Talk to your peers and advisers: If you trust your peers and advisers, even if it’s scary, it’s a great idea to open up to them about your feelings of insecurity. It’s always good to hear from those you know, trust, and find to be competent that you are competent too.
  5. Don’t idolize anyone: everyone is human; even if you don’t always catch someone’s mistakes, trust me, they’ve made plenty. Idolizing others makes it easier for you to belittle yourself via comparison. Trust me, just stop.
  6. Come up with a “key reassurance”: this is a phrase, a mantra if you will, to repeat to yourself whenever you feel the rising tide of anxiety. For me, something like “You are worthy of this success.” is in the works.
  7. Avoid the ‘humble brag’ at all costs: The humble brag is often used by impostor-syndrome sufferers to not actually take ownership of how awesome your accomplishments are – don’t “it was no big deal” a goal you’ve made and don’t allow your self-deprecation to overwhelm you either. If you’ve done something great – go you, 100%! Be honest and straightforward about your achievement, or else the anxiety will catch on the ‘humbling’ joke you made and never go away.
  8. Plan time to manage the anxiety: I do this for the blog by making posts weeks in advance. I think every post is terrible right after writing it, but after giving the post some breathing room I’m able to see it for the quality material it actually is and can then go on to post it. Give yourself whatever time you need (long or short!) to manage your anxiety.

Lastly, I’d like to leave both scientists and writers with something I found in the 2008 Journal of Cell Science – it’s called “the importance of stupidity in scientific research” by a professor at Yale named Martin Schwartz. He contends that being stupid is crucial to the process of research because being stupid is the fundamental step to making discovery – you must admit to not knowing in order to research and answer your question! Writers and scientists both do this in our own ways through our variant and beautiful creative processes – so don’t let a little bit of feeling stupid get you down. Pick yourself up and get back to writing/research – where you belong.

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Impostor Syndrome

12990940_1281985721816145_1685345968374993656_nThis is a photo of me, talking confidently – practically non-stop – about my research on “Native Bee Diversity and Abundance” at my undergraduate college. A student, bottom left, dutifully takes notes for a write-up she’ll be doing later for extra credit. Inside, not visible to the viewer, I am practically paralyzed in fear. It’s not just because it was one of six presentations I had that day. It’s not (only) that I hate public speaking. It’s because at most of those presentations, regardless of my credentials, I feel like an impostor – someone who shouldn’t be there, someone waiting for others to figure out that I don’t belong either.

This affliction is labeled “impostor syndrome” and it’s something I’ve seen a lot of writers, particularly those about to start MFA programs, mention. While many suggest it gets better/easier the longer you’re at something, it affects some people throughout their entire careers; like this literary agent and editor or even Maya Angelou who, having published eleven books to great acclaim, said “I have written 11 books…but each time I think, Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it mentioned as much in the science circles, although I freely admit that I see less science blogs than writer blogs in general. When I am in the company of other writers, I take some solace in the fact that – likely – some of them also feel this way:

But now I have a book deal, and I still feel like a fraud. My agent and my editor are wrong; my book is terrible; no one will buy it; the reviews will be heinous; and soon everyone will see me for what I really am: a desperate woman sitting in a workshop while two real writers dismantle all her feeble pretensions. Sometimes I feel so anxious about this impending disaster that I’m even a little bit impressed with myself, because it’s astounding that someone with such crippling insecurities can even get out of bed, much less continue to write. – Heather Young

Dog Scientist - I have no idea how to science
Credit goes to memegenerator.net for helping me make this dog version of me

Knowing that so many other writers are going through this puts me much more at ease. But with other scientists, this lack of confidence, this completely overwhelming insecurity, is rarely talked about. When I walk into the lab to see my fellow scientists hard at work rushing around testing hypotheses, I quickly become overwhelmed. I’ve only done two surveys and one molecular study – and I didn’t really understand the whole process. I’m going to fail out. How did I convince everyone to let me make it this far? I forget everything as soon as I learn it – how am I supposed to make it six years and do my own research? I can’t fool these, guys!

I can’t give much attention or time to these anxieties or they quickly get out of hand; but every moment I am in the lab, they’re there. Nagging. Causing my voice to shake when I talk to my adviser; making me stammer. When will they find out?

So I decided to write this post – first to reassure any other lonely PhD candidate out there that yes, impostor syndrome is a thing and you (and I) should be fine. I did find some other resources about impostor syndrome in Science/PhD programs – here’s an article from Science and one from HigherEd and here’s a more personal account from the blog of Megan Fork, an Environmental Research PhD candidate at Duke. It’s natural and okay – as a writer, a scientist, a student – to feel this way. And you are worthy of your success. You, my friends and fellow self-labeled impostors, worked hard for it.

Part two of this post will be coming in a week or so – where I give some advice about how to deal with impostor syndrome. Do you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share? Feel free to drop me an email or a comment!

 

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DIY MFA Part 5: Handling Rejection

The dreaded rejection, the abhorrent failure. I’ve been doing it a lot lately, which means that it’s a good thing we’re up to the ‘Fail Better’ section of the DIY MFA curriculum. The whole acronym Pereira has for FAILing better is really helpful, but today I’m just going to focus on the ‘F’.

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Photo by Karyn Christner entitled ‘f’ (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic), link through photo

Failing has always been hard for me; at the risk of sounding appallingly obnoxious, I’ve been good enough at enough things in life that I was able to avoid failing for a long, long while and still be very busy. I skirted things that were important to me – auditions for musicals or a capella, sending out my writing to journals, etc – because I could just as easily do things where I was less likely to fail (writing for the school newspaper, running a sorority, stage managing). I even avoided taking poetry workshop for two years because didn’t want to face the facts that I was probably a terrible poet… so I took nonfiction three times instead (I had never even tried nonfiction before and thus didn’t have to care if I was terrible).

This issue (avoiding failure by choosing not to try for things that mattered to me) came to my attention right as my senior year of college began. I’d promised myself before coming to college that I would audition for an a capella group – every year, I had backed out last minute. Now, this cool September weekend, was the last chance to audition. With almost no practice or warm up time (coming straight from a hands-on outdoor volunteering gig) and with a ‘devil-may-care’ attitude, I went in and botched the audition. I told myself it didn’t matter, because I hadn’t really tried anyway and I was a senior so they never would’ve wanted me and I hadn’t had time to prepare (*ahem* four years) and…

I soon realized that I was a failure at failing and it needed to end if I was going to really live my life. So this summer I’ve really been pushing myself to fail, mostly with my writing, by sending out work whenever possible just to get used to the feeling of failure. Failure when you think a poem is beautiful. When you think your work is a perfect fit for the magazine. When you know your book has true potential (but you’re actually just not ready). Picking up that shattered heart and moving forward can’t be something I’m afraid of doing, or I’ll never achieve my real dreams.

It turns out I’m in the midst of the ‘F’ section of Pereira’s ‘FAIL better’ – Face your Fears. I am very, very afraid of my work never being good enough to be publishable. This is a reality I wouldn’t have to face if I didn’t ever try to submit my work. But that is just failing to take action, to take hold of reality and to progress. So I’ve faced (am still facing, will face for years) my fear instead.

I take a bit of solace in Pereira’s honest and encouraging story because unlike the ‘author bios’ at the back of so many books*, she instead tells us her journey was hard and several years long but that if you persist, against all odds, you may succeed. Succeed in crafting something beautiful and meaningful, even if only to a handful of readers and yourself. Succeed, but in your own sweet time and likely after learning to fail better again and again.

*(reading: So and So was Miss Universe, published her first bestseller at twelve, went on to start a Forbes 500 company at 29 and now is a sushi chef, writing five books a year that are translated into thirty languages while managing seven sets of quintuplets and earning four PhDs, what are you doing with your life, you worthless POS?)

So far, I’ve had a micro-chapbook and a novel manuscript rejected from publishers and at least eight magazines reject my poetry (and the list is growing and growing). I cling to the rejections that have lines like “we hope you’ll continue sending us work” as though it means something other than a form letter; maybe I was so close and they just need something a bit different. Anything to see me through letting it go to feeling determined to try again.

I’ve come up with an idea to try and manage this hurt called the ‘Try Again’ list, where I put all the information of the places that have rejected me – the editor, the name of the press, the work that was sent back. The goal of this list is to try all these places again; at least one more time. To go back for more hurt. And if work is ever accepted on the second or third or fourth try, I will change the color of the name of the magazine in the list. I will show myself that the failure was just one step on a journey to success and that, because I persisted in the face of objective failure, I succeeded.

Do you have any tips for dealing with rejection or even celebrating it? Share them with me in the comments below!

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DIY MFA Part 4: Goal Oriented

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Just keep writing, just keep writing…

I thought it was time for another DIY MFA post where I talk about the book’s content (there’s been so much science + writing going on in my life recently that I’ve struggled to find time to fit in regular posts!) and I thought I’d share what I love most about this book – it starts off strong with organization and goals! If you’re a writer who likes structure, this book is so for you.

Chapters 2 + 3 are all about how to organize your writing goals (you know, the kind of thing that’s necessary to really make progress on your work). Now, DIY MFA recognizes three writing goal categories: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, and Build your Community and asks you to balance those goals in whatever way works for your writing life at the time. The DIY MFA starter kit (sign up at the bottom of the patge) also comes with some really great goal-planning worksheets to go along with the book. After using them for two months, I can safely say that I recommend them.

Like a lot of things in the DIY MFA book, the idea of organization and setting goals isn’t revolutionary and yet, somehow, the way they change your view on writing is. Reading this book I had one ah-ha moment after another. Of course I shouldn’t be writing ‘when the whim strikes me’ or ‘whatever I feel like at the moment’; of course I need a plan!

Of course, the most difficult of the plan for me is sticking to it. I’ve downloaded the ‘goal sheets’ and filled them out. I’ve decided my little steps to my big goals – and then I get wildly off track. I seem to have some mischief in me that suggests I write about anything other than what I have as my goal (a really high-level kind of procrastination where you still get things done, just not the right things). Trying to work on a book? Here’s a great line for a poem. And so on.

Perhaps this is why Pereira suggests we revisit our goals every few weeks; because our circumstances and our interests change. I wonder if this revisiting is helpful or hurtful for someone like me – it gives me an easy out to switch projects but, at the same time it means I’m moving forward on many different things, piece by piece.

Do any of you suffer from goal-switching syndrome? Do you have any tips/tricks for getting yourself to focus? Share them with me here, in the comments!

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The Poetical Science of Ada Lovelace

I’m currently researching British poets from 1700-1816 for a Regency period book I’m toying with; in my research I came across Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace, the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, who is the world’s first computer programmer. Beyond being fascinated by this woman in science narrative, I was also intrigued by what Lovelace described as ‘poetical science’. Pushed into math and science (and away from her father’s ‘insane poetry’) from a young age by her mother, Lovelace nevertheless aimed to bring poetry and science together to create something that pushed the boundaries of what either discipline could achieve alone.

Ada, Countess of Lovelace, (1815-1852) Artist: Margaret Sarah Carpenter (c) UK Government Art Collection
Ada, Countess of Lovelace, (1815-1852) Artist: Margaret Sarah Carpenter
(c) UK Government Art Collection

Dr. Betty Toole, who published a book on Ada Lovelace, wrote here that “In her [Ada’s] thirties she wrote her mother, if you can’t give me poetry, can’t you give me “poetical science?” Her understanding of mathematics was laced with imagination, and described in metaphors.” Perhaps it was Lovelace’s willingness to blend science, imagination, and poetry that led to her amazing foresight about the capabilities of the first ‘calculating engine’ – she predicted it could eventually be used to create music, graphics and more. Her ability to see the possibility of art through the math and science was unheard of at a time when people didn’t even see the most basic scientific uses of the calculating engine (a machine that would set the stage for the modern computer).

In an essay by Dr. Toole, one of the only scholars who seems to spend much time on Lovelace, Toole writes, “It is not a trivial trait for either a poet or a scientist to get to the heart of the matter simply, succinctly and successfully. These may be just the skills we need today”. It’s hard not to agree with Toole – poets and scientists are forever circling similar writing obstacles: how can I be concise, and accurate? How can I best pass along my intention, my information, to my readers?

But poetry and science writing generally tend to employ different methods to get at these same core questions, perhaps with detrimental results by narrowing our focus and understanding to only one type of understanding. Lovelace bridged the objectivism-subjectivism gap that plagues science and poetry, respectively, in their communication attempts. Lovelace’s dedication to bringing science and poetry together didn’t hurt her ability to comprehend or communicate; rather it gave her increased understanding of the world by giving her a more complete picture of the world. Science, mixed with poetry, improves our understanding.

Lovelace is just one historical example of how the STEM-Humanities gap hurts individuals in both disciplines; her story is a compelling argument for a liberal arts education (instead of a purely technical education) for modern citizens. Science and poetry employ different ways of thinking, talking, and acting; it seems we all need to practice both disciplines if we want to have the same clarity, inventiveness, and understanding as Lady Lovelace.

What do you think about the STEM-Humn divide – does it help or hurt our students’ education? How do you think poetry and science can be blended effectively – and how does that help increase someone’s understanding of the world? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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What I’m Working On

Welcome to another update of ‘what I’m working on’ where I tell you all a bit about the progression of my life as I wander towards old age. Because grad school is about to start, I actually have two types of updates for you – a small research update, and another on writing!

Research:

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson entitled ‘diary writing’ (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic), link through photo
Photo by Maciej entitled ‘Ant guard’ (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic), link through photo

It turns out my dreams of looking at bee brains will have to wait – while I look at ant brains instead. I don’t know how much of my research I’m allowed to talk about online (or if I’m allowed to post any pictures) but the work involves preserving, dicing, and then quantifying the volume of different parts of the brains of many ants. I’m going to be ‘taking over’ this project at my graduate school, so I’m really excited to be getting a head start (haha, see what I did there?).

Please note, the ant pictured has nothing to do with my research. I just wanted to illustrate – aren’t their brains tiny???

Writing:

Another poem has been selected for publication! Ashenhalted II – a poem from my Sugar Maple cycle – was selected by Firefly Magazine for publication in their September issue. They’re a journal of luminous writing and I’m very excited they felt my piece qualified! Expect to see Ashenhalted II featured on Biopoetics sometime this fall where you’ll learn a bit about the process for making Jack Daniels as part of the poem’s scientific background.

I’ve taken a break from poetry this month to work on the nonfiction piece for my brother (about his distillery) and to work on a fiction novel I’ve let go for far too long. I’ve added about 8000 words and deleted about 4000 others, so I’m glad to be making headway… anyway, I’m at 30K right now and I’ve decided to set the very moderate goal of finishing it (approximately 85K) by December 31. I finally feel like I’ve gotten back in the swing of writing regularly; just like everything else, it seems, it’s all about the practice.

I’m trying to get the newsletter feature up and running; hopefully, it’s working as a once-weekly feature of all my blog posts and updates! If you’re looking for updates from me in your inbox instead of having to check back here every day, feel free to subscribe (no spam, promise)!

Lastly, since it’s September, I know some of you writerly folks might be gearing up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, which comes every November. Once grad school begins, I’ll see how the work load feels and consider joining in the fun; if I do, there will likely be a few less blog posts while I crank out the words. If you’ve never done NaNo before, I highly recommend it; while I’ve only won once (thanks to some awesome, dedicated NaNo friends in 2012!), you can really move forward with your work in only 30 days!

If you have any tips and tricks for managing your writing schedule or participating in NaNoWriMo while leading a busy life I’d love to hear them – leave me a comment below or send some tips using the methods on my ‘contact me’ page.

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Getting Hitched to Your Writing

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Photo by Fredrik Rubensson entitled ‘diary writing’ (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic), link through photo

The more reading I do about the subject of writing, the more I come across this idea: you must take your writing life seriously. Gabriela Pereira says it in DIY MFA, Carolyn See in Making a Literary Life, and Andi Cumbo-Floyd says it excellently in this recent post on their blog.

There are internal and external factors that lead to our writing lives dwindling. Internally, I struggle with the insecurity that my writing isn’t good enough; I bump up against the frustration that I will need to put in so much time and practice to, maybe, never get anywhere at all. I worry that I will spend years writing something that was ‘wasted’ because I discovered I wanted to write something else (or that what I was writing was the wrong type of thing to begin with). Externally, there’s the laundry. Graduate school assignments and research. Friends and family and the commitments they entail. Grocery shopping, cooking… even exhaustion which zaps my creative spirit.

It’s not that I’m not taking my writing seriously, though. My writing has never been a joke. It’s just that we writers often aren’t willing to get hitched to it. When you marry (I hear, anyway), there are good days and bad days… or weeks, or months, or years. There are internal and external struggles that are informed by your past baggage, present circumstance, and future goals – and you have to commit yourself to taking the time to work on the marriage through all combinations of baggage, circumstance, and goals if it’s going to keep happening.

If your writing is neglected, if you refuse to support it, how can your relationship flourish? How can you grow as a writer if you don’t take the time to understand and communicate with your writing? It’s not about taking the job/task of writing seriously, I think most of us do, but about committing yourself to your writing with the same focus and dedication you would commit yourself to another person. So here are my tips for getting hitched to writing:

  1. Plan date nights – everyone knows dating shouldn’t end when you put a ring on it. Plan special (and fun!) date nights with your writing where you explore something new together and keep distractions at bay. Let the date reinvigorate your passion for writing and remind you why you started in the first place. Have a guilty pleasure project? Now’s the time!
  2. Communicate about big goals – both partners in a relationship should always be on the same page when it comes to big picture goals. Every few months, reserve a few hours where you sit down and write out your writing goals, reviewing the progress you’ve made since your last check-in. It’s okay if goals change or if you need to spend time brainstorming how to make a goal happen; this will just help you focus your attentions on where this relationship has been and where you plan for it to go (the plan is seriously key).
  3. Prioritize – you wouldn’t have a very successful relationship if you didn’t prioritize time with your partner! We do some of this easily by living with the other person but, even so, relationships need more than just ‘co-existence’ time. Similarly, don’t just ‘co-exist’ with the writing inside you. Plan out time for your writing each week (be it lots of time or a little) and then prioritize it – nothing short of a disaster/emergency should cut into the time you’ve scheduled with your love. How would your real-life partner feel if you continuously broke your promises? Yeah, don’t do it to your writing either.
  4. Give yourself ‘you’ time – I believe you can’t be your best self in a relationship when you don’t focus, sometimes, on pampering you. The amount of ‘you’ time you need will vary based on your life and your writing schedule and can be anything from a bubble bath to rock climbing. Make sure this time makes it onto your schedule so you don’t sacrifice too much to your writing relationship and end up burned out or bitter.

What are your tips for either ‘getting hitched’ to writing (or taking it seriously)? Do you find schedules and planning work for you or do you like to do everything on the fly? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

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DIY MFA Part 3: MFA Mythology

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Zeus may or may not be so big on the MFA Mythology… photo from flickr/Internet Archive Book Images (link in photo)

In Chapter Two, “Customize Your Learning”, Pereira goes over some myths of the MFA – that you need one to teach writing, that an MFA is a shortcut to getting published (who believes that??), and that the program will force you to make writing a priority.

I don’t know that I’m convinced an MFA or PhD in writing wouldn’t help if you were looking to be a professor (though I agree with Pereira that many professors find they don’t have the time to keep writing a priority). Pereira says that it’s publishing professionals and successful authors who are being selected for teaching positions and this may be true – but there are many publishing professionals and many successful authors that will compete for the same pool of jobs. Wouldn’t it be best to be the most qualified of them all, with teaching and workshop experience, by having an MFA to boast of?

As for the third myth, I was surprised by Pereira’s take on it – that if you can only make time for writing by putting your life completely on hold then your writing career is going to be very short. A DIY MFA is all about that struggle of finding balance between work, life, and writing; it’s all about taking away those external motivators like deadlines and workshops (that I mentioned were hurting my productivity in The Perpetual Writer’s Block) and forcing you to build up your own pacing abilities and internal motivators. This takes time, but I do imagine that Pereira is right on this one – even if I go to earn an MFA after my “DIY MFA” training is long over, having the skill of internal motivation will mean a lot to having a successful career.

Periera will soon be addressing the three main tenants of the MFA in great detail: write with focus, read with purpose, and build a community. I’m interested to see how she proposes you build a writing community – the traditional MFA seems to be a lot better suited to that than the DIY model.

I will admit to wanting to attend an MFA program at some point – when I have the time, the money, and have shown myself I have the grit to make the most of it (which, as a very young and insecure writer, right now I don’t). For the moment, Pereira has convinced me that the DIY MFA method will teach me a lot of valuable techniques, particularly skills to develop my focus and internal motivation.

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First Book Launch

On August 12th, I traveled into NYC to attend the DIY MFA Book Launch as part of the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference. Having never attended a book launch, I was surprisingly unsure of what to expect – what my etiquette should be as an attendee and what would even happen AT the launch. Here’s what I learned last Friday.

13895485_1366391106708939_4282586230696847159_nWhat happens at a book launch: Arriving at the launch, there’s a large stack of freshly printed DIY MFA books sitting ready to go for people to purchase. A table is set up for signings, a podium with a microphone stares down several rows of chairs already filling with writers and readers alike.

The author is introduced by an agent, the publisher, someone in connection with their book. After some applause, the author introduces their work, talks about their journey to writing and producing the work, and thanks influential people in their life. Generally, they do this without falling into the Bill Clinton trap of recounting every detail of your life in real time. And then, the author reads, in this case only for twenty minutes or so.

After the author reads, some people in the audience may be allowed to ask questions before the author is whisked away to the table to begin signing books (see below for my copy!!) and meeting fans and giving out a little bit of free swag (buttons, stickers, those kinds of things). All in all, it was a pretty low-key and fun event!

Things I learned as an attendee:13932799_1366412393373477_2450192984722850908_n

  1. People are friendly – I’m very introverted, and for the first half hour, I just tried to stay out of everyone’s way. I was clearly young for the crowd of the conference, and also one of the only people not officially attending WDC 16. However, in line for the signing I ended up having a nice chat with Joel Knopf and I had several other nice conversations with authors as I was leaving. It turns out everyone just wants to talk about writing at writing conferences (big surprise) and how much they love the author of the book launch (surprise #2). I’m really looking forward to attending more conferences now!
  2. Don’t be afraid of the author – I mean, it could just be Gabriela Pereira’s the only nice author out there, but probably not. I was really nervous getting my book signed but it turns out she was just as nervous meeting all her readers and giving the reading (she even apologized that her hands were shaking when trying to sign the book)! Authors are people who just want others to like their books and like them too. It helped for me to come up with what I wanted to say the day before (particularly which compliment I was actually going to say out of the 6,000 I have stored up).
  3. Business cards are effective blister block in a pinch – When walking through the hot city in tall boots and ankle socks, one might get blisters. Luckily, the thick card stock of a business card is flexible enough to bend around your heel and, given the heat, was also willing to stay in place when tucked into the sock. Business cards also work for trading information with people you might be interested in getting to know better… hey, to each their own.

Things of note for a host:

  1. Sound could easily be a problem – people are loud and don’t necessarily stop talking just because the author has gotten up to speak. Try to pick a venue where the acoustics work in your favor and where you will definitely have access to a sound system of some kind – otherwise you might as well give up hope of being heard over the crowd.
  2. Practice that reading – Nothing seems to be more nerve-wracking than reading words aloud in front of other people. Practice, practice, practice! Practice so that you don’t speed through it, stumble over your words, or mumble. The more you practice, the less likely you are to make mistakes, and the more likely you are to be loud and slow enough. You’ll develop a good cadence and tone for the section you’re reading and you’ll get cozy with it so that, even when you make that one mistake on reading day, it’s easy to pick up where you left off.
  3. Take care when choosing the venue – obviously, having your book about craft launch in the middle of a writer’s conference is genius. For the rest of us, important considerations could be: accessibility (is it close to any major transportation routes like subways or trains?), availability (are there any other big events going on for your readers that weekend?), and even time of day depending on the season (the city boils people alive in the summer so an evening, where it’s beginning to cool, might better entice readers out of their air-conditioned homes and to your launch)

Have any of you ever been to a book launch – or hosted one? What are your words of advice for newbie attendees and hosts?

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