Tag Archives: drafting

The Numbers: 2013

This is my third year of doing this post, and it’s helpful for me to assess where I need to go next.

Here are the numbers (in descending order):

110 submissions sent ~  65 for poetry, 26 for creative nonfiction, 12 for my manuscript Swallow Tongue, 6 for fiction, and 1 for my chapbook Philomela. 108 electronic, 2 postal. Down from 117 last year (but not by much!) .

86 rejections ~ 49 for poetry, 24 for creative nonfiction, 8 for my manuscript, and 5 for fiction. Up from 65 last year.

57 new pieces ~ 53 poems, 4 essays, and 0 short stories. Up from 28 last year.

9 acceptances ~ 4 poems, 4 essays, and 1 chapbook. Down from 15 last year.

2-3 hours per week ~ my average time drafting, revising, submitting, reading, and blogging. Down from 5-7 last year.

Conclusion: Statistically (based on dividing the number of acceptances by the number of rejections received), my chapbook odds at 100% (1/1), creative nonfiction at 17% (4/24), and poetry at 8% (4/49).  Fiction and my manuscript are at 0%.

Things I can do in 2014:

1. Keep up submitting, especially now that I’m throwing in a manuscript and several essays into the mix.

2. Keep up the faith.

3. Write

4. Submit.

5. Repeat.

Hope you all do your own numbers game and see where you stand. Let’s all be kinder to ourselves and others this year!

Working with a Template (poetry drafting idea)

It’s December! My poem-a-day task  throughout the month of November worked really well (excluding a day of wanting to do nothing and two days of a sinus infection), and I now have 27 poems that have just enough muscle and light to maybe be worked into something better.

Since I was working in a limited time frame (writing a poem at 5:30 in the morning until I had to get ready for work at 6), I opted not to write draft notes for individual pieces, but I did want to give a run-down of my general process.

Most days, I used a “template” technique. I’d find a poem somewhere online (websites listed below) that jumped out at me for word choice or structure, and copy and paste it into a word document for me to play with. I end up changing everything, but having those words already on the page helped me quickly move from “OMG WHAT AM I GOING TO WRITE! IT’S SOOO EARLY!” to “oooo! bread and starlings…”

Sometimes, having the template didn’t work. I’d get caught up in how lovely the poem was that I didn’t want to change a thing. When this happened, I’d have to erase the template, maybe pull some words from it for a word bank, and start from scratch.

When working with a template, make sure to NEVER EVER plagiarize. Do whatever you can to change everything.

Ideas to help with that:

-Look up synonyms in the dictionary for words already on the page. If you find a word you like, replace the original and keep doing this. You may find a story after you’ve done a couple of these that will help you change the rest.

-Look up antonyms for words on the page. Replace the originals and keep doing this until you find your story.

-Pull words from that poem and another one and try to use one per line.

-If you’re stuck on the story, write it from another point of view (first person, third, from the voice of a character in the poem). Write it backwards chronologically, literally.

The important thing is to work WITH the template, to let its words and phrasing inspire new words and phrasings for you. It is not to copy, but to explore the interaction between yourself and someone else’s work. At the end of a draft with a template, I might have a poem that is still too similar to the original, so I let it set and come back to it later without the original on my mind and shape it into something totally new.

Websites I Used to Find Templates

1. Verse Daily (Particularly the archives section when the daily poem didn’t do anything for me)

2. Linebreak (Again, the archives section)

3. Poem-A-Day (This one was really hit or miss for me. Many of the poems aren’t contemporary, but some really helped me play with structure in a different way, so the poems here might work better for you than they did me.)

4. A Poem A Day (This one was sometimes helpful for me just to read through when I couldn’t figure out where to move next in a poem.)

5. [PANK] Magazine (Go through the online issues. Can be hard to distinguish between poetry and prose unless they publish more than one poem from the same author, but they choose such lyric prose that it’s not a bad idea to pull templates from the stories as well.)

Drafting: “Bride of the West”

A friend of mine and I have committed to trying NaNoWriMo, though we’re both cheating a little. She is trying to finish up a novel she’s already been working on, and I’m trying to write a poem a day to push me into figuring out a potentially new project.

I’m going to be including drafting notes for only the poems that feel done. So many end up like slop that when I try to scoop them into something manageable, most of them fall through my fingers. Sometimes I can salvage scraps from those and fold them into later poems, but it’s usually not worth trying to give scaffolding and solidity to something without, so I’ll only include drafting notes for poems that have some muscle.

This morning, I really wanted to work on something like a template. I sometimes struggle with figuring out how to drive a poem down a page and feel daunted by all that empty space, so it’s good to already have something there to work with.

What I often do is comb the internet for a poem that seems like a far throw from anything I might write. I usually find myself surprised with what words and phrases come out of it playing with what they’ve got.

My go-to is often Linebreak. They continually publish high quality work that is easily accessible online. Even if I’m not struck by the current poem, I can always comb through the archives to find something.

Today I was struck by Johnathon Williams’s “Valediction Lessons,” so I just copied and pasted the poem into an empty word document. Once there, I tried a technique a friend of mine told me about: Take a poem and write the negative of important words, so replace where it says “light” with “dark,” etc. What this does, often, is bring up weird connections and completely change the poem (completely changing the poem is also necessary. Can’t plagiarize!).

Doing this with a couple of words, like changing “forever” to “never” made me think of a storyline. Molly Spencer has written some absolutely lovely “Mail Order Bride” poems, and the farm imagery of the Williams’s poem made me think of the 1800s unclaimed West and the women who accepted newspaper proposals from men already living out there.

It begins,

“When I said yes
to a stranger’s love, every promise

the life of flour in the wind and a heart full
of refused rooms.”

I kept the couplet structure and continued messing with word choice and syntax to keep pulling out the bones of the original until it could stand on its own. The ending doesn’t fit all that well right now, but I think some editing will help it get its feet.

Writing this made me think a lot about the six “wife” poems that appear in Swallow Tongue, my full-length manuscript, and how writing more could lead to a new project idea. I’m always a little nervous about saying something like “This could be part of a new collection/book!” but I’ll keep it in mind and see where my muse takes me.

Happy writing!

Drafting: “in dreams our fathers leave no footsteps”

While I was going through my po friend’s manuscript this weekend, I came across the line, “In dreams we leave no evidence.” It’s a fantastic line, and I knew I wanted to shape it into something.

I put it as the first line and then returned to Rochelle Hurt’s poem “Infants of the Field.” There were some words like lupine, animal, and disappointment that I wanted to use, so I changed the opening line to “In dreams our fathers leave no footsteps.” I liked the mythic quality of that, so I ran with it: the fathers are animal forces that lurk outside; the mothers must protect the children.

It begins,

“In dreams our fathers leave no footsteps. Their animal anger, lupine fits of disappointment pacing in the shuddering wheat fields.”

It continues in prose form, and ends with the children waiting for their mothers to wake them.

This is a bit of a messy draft, and I’m embarrassed by what I have to show for it for the moment, but, hey, it’s a poem!

Happy writing!

The Nature of Revising and Revising and Revising

The reason why an MFA program is so helpful is once I’m able to figure out what’s not quite right with someone else’s work, I start to see it in my own. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything akin to critiquing someone else’s work, so when a poet friend of mine asked to read my manuscript (Swallow Tongue) not only did I take him up on it, I asked to read his as well.

This weekend amid lesson planning, Memphis Madness, a wedding, and a great local production of Young Frankenstein, I went through it for the first round and made organizational suggestions. They were suggestions I needed to hear myself, and I need to go back through it again to look more at it poem by poem.

For my own manuscript, I’m feeling resistant to plowing through it right now. I came up with plenty else I could do this weekend instead of working on it, and then last night I got an e-mail back from an independent press I had queried and then asked for my full:, “Your submission made it to our final round of reading, but unfortunately we have limited resources & cannot accept everything we enjoy. There was a lot to admire about your work, but not enough within this particular iteration of the manuscript hit us just right to warrant publication at this time.”

Of course, that’s never good news to get, but as Traci Brimhall says in her essay, “Notes from the Slush Pile: Advice on Book Contests and Some Confessions,” sometimes we send a book out before it’s ready. Though ST got a semifinalist nod from Crab Orchard Series First Book Poetry Award and now this “close, but not quite” e-mail from an independent press, it’s obviously got potential, but it does need some work. :/

What is good about this news is that I can start editing (any day now) and feel no hesitation about sending my manuscript out to a couple of the contests with upcoming deadlines.

This morning, instead of revising, I looked up general information about revising and re-ordering and found a couple of helpful essays:

April Ossman’s “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript

Jeffrey Levine’s “On Making the Poetry Manuscript

I remember reading plenty of posts from Sandy Longhorn about her reading her own manuscript with an editor’s eye, really taking a step back and pulling out and putting in poems. Her hard work paid off and her second book is now in print.

I’m having some trouble letting go enough to be the editor for my manuscript, so I’m actually hopeful that my po friend who I exchanged manuscripts with can help me out. I know if I really want to push this manuscript, I’m going to do what everyone suggests: read each poem, assess its strengths and weaknesses, think more about themes and ordering. Right now, I’m just in the whining/struggling phase. Give me a day or so and hopefully I’ll snap out of it.

Hope you are faring better on your writing adventures!

Drafting: “Scylla”

Since I last wrote a poem about Charybdis, it seemed fitting to try to write about her counterpart: Scylla.

Less is known about Scylla, but the story I like the most for is she had piqued the fancy of Glaucus, a sea-god. Unfortunately for her, Circe (known also from The Odyssey), a sorceress, also loved Glaucus.

When he spurned Circe for Scylla, Circe retaliated by poisoning the sea water where Scylla bathed. She was “transformed into a monster with four eyes, six long necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. Her body consisted of twelve tentacle-like legs and a cat’s tail while four to six dog-heads ringed her waist.” Needless to say, her love affair with Glaucus ended. 

She took up shop across from Charybdis, and sailors had the choice of driving their boat into a whirlpool , or being grabbed up and eaten by Scylla.

I pulled several words from Rochelle Hurt’s lovely poem “Infants of the Field” from Crab Orchard Review‘s Winter/Spring 2013 issue to form a word bank that I’d use for drafting this poem:

salt licks; creek; pied; starlings; bunting; death-bitten

From there, I added a couple of phrases that I’d heard and been tossing around:

chicken wire; den window

It begins,

“I’ve entered this poem by way of chicken wire and salt, the promise of a creek behind the house that doesn’t dry up a mile down.”

From there, the poem was really…country. Lots of chicken and farm references, and I don’t ever want to stick too close to the original myth, but I did want some hints of it, and all the farm stuff was really pulling away from that. So I changed “death-bitten” to “sea-bitten” and dropped off the “licks” after salt.

Bunting was a little tough for me, but I loved the sound of it and the meaning of a loosely woven fabric. It made sense for me to connect it to her future appearance (twelve tentacles and two arms). Keats has a poem titled “TO—(‘What Can I Do to Drive Away’)” with the line, “Touch has a memory,” and that worked for me in shaping maybe how her monstrous form was also an extension of her desires:

“I want more hands for a bunting of it.”

Happy writing! I’m glad to feel like I’m sort of in the swing of it again. We’ll see if I’m able to stick with it!

Drafting: “Charybdis”

I should have known watching Twister with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton yesterday morning would lead to a poem. That movie is all destruction and heart. People running around, things flying. Skidding semis, sign sparks. Paxton and Hunt fighting being in love.

Twisters have been on my mind anway. I recently read two poems by Rochelle Hurt in Crab Orchard ReviewOne, particularly, dealt with the myth of infants being picked up by a tornado and dropped down, unharmed, miles away. Sometimes a poem just touches me and I feel like I’ve found some sort of kindred spirit and all I want to do is devour more and more of their work (here are also several more of her poems up at Superstition Review) and Ms. Hurt’s was just like that. She also wrote a poem two pages long. I don’t know why that is something that seems like a goal to me, but I’m stuck in a place of one page long poems, and the idea of spreading to a second page sounds…spacious.

But to my poem.

Keeping with my tendency to write about myths, I thought of Charybdis. Charybdis was the daughter of Posiedon and Gaia (which technically means that her great-grandmother is also her mother) and was so gluttonous that she stole cattle from Hercules. Zeus punished her by turning her into a whirlpool that threatened ships as they passed. When I was looking into the myth, I found that there is actually a whirlpool that exists in the location of the mythic one. It’s just not large enough to devour ships.

The poem begins,

“All mouth, she stole cattle,
wanting brisket and fine pulled
thigh, tail, hoof, the fat”

Right now it’s two nine line stanzas, and each function primarily with lists. In the second stanza, it’s what she desires after she’s been turned into Charybdis and what she desires is much more devastating.

I hit an impasse around the 8th line of the second stanza. I wanted each stanza to be nine lines long, and I wanted a good wrap-up line, so I took to looking up quotes about need and desire to see if something would strike me.

I found this quote:

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
― Jess C. ScottThe Intern

and knew I could use it. I loved the return to the word “mouth” and the use of “safe”. The last line is now:

“Need
is never safe in the mouth.”

 

Drafting: “To Christian Ward”

Whether you believe in the power or effects of astrology or not, I have always been mildly interested in it myself. As a poet, I think I’m more inclined to believe and trust in a little magic every once in a while, so when I read about mercury being in retrograde, I wasn’t all that surprised to realize I had been doing things a little bit differently.

Since last week, I had been moving away from new habits that weren’t working for me all that much. I actively chose not to watch as much television, especially in the evening when I need to wind down and not to waste time on the internet (ala Facebook). Mercury in retrograde means that we should review projects and plans and reassess what’s working for us and what isn’t.

What wasn’t working for me was not writing or being connected to a writing community, and things like watching too much television and Facebooking were pulling me away from that.

I wrote earlier about returning to my manuscript, which helped me ease back into writing. For some reason, editing has always been a little safer or easier to start with than all out writing.

Today, after enjoying the fine weather of this Independence Day on my front porch, I decided to return to one of my old drafting habits to see if it would work.

When I was in the 12th grade, my AP English teacher (a writer herself) had us do an exercise where we had to write our autobiography based on Ferlinghetti’s poem “Autobiography.” I found the exercise really powerful because I was using a “template,” but playing with my words and ideas against Ferlinghetti’s original forced me to think about things differently and come up with lines and combinations of lines I would not have thought of myself.

Today, I sought out a “template” but just wasn’t finding one. I read several, and then read a line that mentioned “sand.” This made me think of Sandra Beasley’s essay “Nice Poem, I’ll Take It” which she wrote in response to Christian Ward’s indulgent plagiarism of her and others’ work.

The last couple lines of her essay are incredibly powerful: “What does it feel like, tasting words you’ve stolen? Like sand, I suspect. Sand that a man dying of dehydration drinks in the desert, never slaking his thirst.”

That became the root of this poem, which ended up being addressed (and titled) to Christian Ward himself.

“Words of another always taste like sand.*
You’re thirsty for them to fill your mouth with sweet…”

Once I hit a dead spot discussing how he was “thirsty” for these words to fit for him, I changed course by including a detail about his name I’d scavenged from an old poem of mine. Sometimes, I fall in love with lines or ideas, but they never seem to fit or work. Those poems as a whole just don’t gel together well, and they loll around a long time before I can pull their guts out and use them in another poem.

The rest of the poem came together so easily that it reminded, again, of how lovely writing can be, how sometimes when we slog through a desert, we do come upon an oasis.

Happy writing, and happy fourth to you all!

 

 

*For the sake of not adding insult to injury, I am crediting Sandra Beasley for this first line.

 

Drafting: “Lapis”

Over the past week, I’ve been thinking to myself, “I should write a poem. That would be a super nice thing to do for myself.” When the stress of writing study guides and exams for my students worked its way into my chest and started squeezing my lungs, I’d think, “Write a poem, fool! It’ll help you breathe!” Still, like any good sabotager, I’d yell back, “NO! Must finish this study guide! Must unload the dishwasher! Must dust the clematis blooms out front with Sevin dust!”

This morning as I was sitting at my kitchen table with my journal in front of me, the thought came back to me, and I finally let go to that voice and wrote a poem. It’s amazing how wonderful it feels to let go, but how often I struggle against doing just that.

I was in a myth kind of mood, and Apollo jumped easily to my mind, so I looked him up. Scrolling through his background story, I got focused on a picture of his statue, and there arose the poem idea: a god that lords over stone (Hephaestus/Vulcan is really the god of stone/masonry, but who’s counting?).

It begins,

“To be a god of stone is to remember
hunger and desire lie in what moves,

& nothing moves in a stone body.”

The rest of the poem focuses on what a god of stone would know and understand vs. what he would miss (touch, movement, seeing in color). It’s sort of a weird hodgepodge of details at the moment, but it has enough potential to be reworked into something a bit more fun. I’ll say too that I’ve been able to breathe a little better since I wrote it!

The summer is nearly here, folks. Let us all be kind to ourselves during it!

fighting against stasis

I feel like I’m in the middle of a drought, but when I really get down to it, I’m not. I’ve been writing, but each act of putting words on paper feels like trudging through muck. Yesterday, I felt a little uplifted when I saw that my poem “Love Fevers” (draft notes here) is up at Waccamaw and shares space with some fantastic writers. This year, I’ve only had two poetry acceptances and plenty more rejections, so it was very nice to see my work up again.

It might be too that I’m in a period of waiting, and waiting sometimes feels like mourning. I’m waiting to hear back from two jobs (both I should hear back from by May 1st), a book contest which is the last one my book is currently at, and several journals that have had my work for a very long time (the most being 342 days!).

On April 14th, I decided to start doing another poem-a-day thing to try to push myself into action. The first day, I randomly chose to write a prose poem that started with the tagline, “In this poem, I’m…”, so the past ten poems have had that same form and opening. What I’ve liked about this exercise is it’s given me some space to imagine: I’ve been a Latin teacher, a gifted carpenter, a perilously thin woman, an obese man.

The thing I love about doing a poem-a-day thing is I can’t rely on the old go-tos: dark farm, myths, whatever; I have to come up with new stuff because  it’s easy for the old wells to run dry if I draw from them every time. It also gives me new work to play with when, for whatever reason, I start to hate that I wrote older than a month ago (which is about where I’m at now).

My real life interjects itself into these poems more and more too when before I always kept a carefully crafted wall between it and my poems. For example, I’ve been keeping track of the April 16th disappearance of a Memphis teacher. Today her body has been discovered and her estranged husband arrested. As a teacher, especially one in Memphis, I hate to read these kind of stories, and in my “In this poem, I’m…” poem from today, I’m a woman who wakes up at the bottom of a pond after being left for dead by her husband.

Things I need to think about in no certain order:

  • My book. (After I hear back from the last contest it’s currently at (the sixth it’s been sent to), I can immediately send it off to some contests with a due date of April 30th/May 1st, send it through another round of edits, or let it hibernate until the summer months when I might feel a little more inclined to look at it again. Book contests are hard. I take the contest results a little harder than normal submissions because it’s not just a packet of 3-5 poems, but 50! Maybe I just need to keep sending it out and the pain will lessen??) 
  • These new poems. (Work toward a second book? a chapbook? Cut my full-length down into a chapbook and start sending it out?)
  • These essays. (Two of my CNF essays have been published so far this year, and I’ve got another out right now, but what to do with them? A friend of mine suggested I think about expanding one into a book, but yikes! Maybe I’ll just keep writing and see what happens.)

I’m slogging and whining. I think I probably just need a hug…

All of you stay well.