Update

Hi everyone,

A lot has been going on since I last posted. Actually, even before that a lot has been going on. This semester has been a bit of a jumble for me and a number of things I like to do on a regular basis have been neglected. My blog posts have been lacking in terms of quantity, I think, and that reflects how much time I’ve been unable tomputninto my work. Usually I’d try to post 2 or 3 things, but lately I’ve been struggling to keep up.

My time in the MFA has been good. A little bit has been annoying, but nothing I don’t think I’m unable to handle. I think the issue lies with everything else I have to deal with.

I want to write and be able to dedicate myself to the things I love, like this blog. But there have been a number of things as of late that interfere with that and I finally need to step up and address them. That being said I have to take some time off from my blog, as well as other activities to address some issues at home. Try not to worry too much. I promise this is only temporary, but unfortunately it’ll be indefinite. As soon as I feel I’ve got material for you, and have dealt with everything going on, I’ll be sure to update.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog.

I’ll be seeing you soon.

A Short While in the MFA (Part 5)

I want to start out by saying that there are going to be days that are great and days that just suck. I’ve been excited about my time at my Grad school, and I at least want to make sure that you understand that I’ve only just begun. I started out the semester looking forward to the days of classes, learning something new and interacting with other writers. But I think my first semester was a little too easy compared to this one. I think the last couple of weeks have kind of slapped me in the face and made me realize something.

I’m not just a writer. I’m not just a writer.

I’m a full time MFA student with a part time job that works on novels and short stories during my free time, in a long distance relationship with pets at home to feed all the while trying to save up for transportation fees every month. And that’s just the start of it all.

The fact is my life interferes a lot with what I want to do. There are financial problems and family problems that I try to ignore, but will somehow find a way to resurface no matter how much I prepare. People you care about are going to do things to upset your life, make decisions that affect your life, for better or worse.

In my experience, the second semester is always worse, whether it’s the Undergraduate program or the Graduate program. I think that I over panicked during my first semester about transportation and the difficulty of no longer living on campus. Once I had a plan for that, second semester said “Hey, don’t forget me!”

I forgot the rest of the Universe.

Sorry, Universe.

I think, maybe, that I’m not the only one that does that. Maybe I am. Who knows? All I know is my year got harder, but with the difficulties all around me I’ve got to really think about what I want.

There is always the chance to change your mind.

Maybe I’ll go, maybe I’ll stay, maybe I’ll transfer schools so it’s less expensive or maybe I’ll stick to it.

I’m the stubborn type, so maybe I’ll push through it and keep going. I know that I don’t want to stop writing.

I wish I could do more, but I can’t. There’s a limit to even my strengths.

I guess what I’m saying is it’s going to be difficult. There are going to be days, weeks, months, semesters even, where nothing you do seems to work or go well. That shouldn’t stop you. And if it does, maybe it’s for the best. Take a break, recharge, but don’t forget that you had a goal. Don’t forget you had something you wanted to do. Look back at everything and see what was good, what you were strong at. Grab that, and try again. I’ll keep trying with you, even when it’s hard for me, too.  

Cover Letters & Query Letters (part 1)

If you are new to these two, please take notes.This is something you’re going to be seeing a lot of, if you’re writing a novel, short story, a memoir–basically anything that has to do with publishing you will need how to write this and how to get it out there. Because you know you want to get published.

Cover letters are used to quickly introduce your work, yourself, and express your interest in the magazine to an editor. A cover letter is your first impression, so to speak. So it’s really important that you have absolutely no grammatical errors.

Here’s an example of one I wrote:

[Personal Address]
[Date]

[Actual Name of Editor]
[Title/position they hold, usually ‘Editor’]
[“Name of” Literary Magazine]

Dear [Editor’s Name],

I have attached my previously unpublished story [Title here] to be considered as a submission for your new issue.

I found your magazine through New Pages and after seeing your latest issue, I thought it’d be a good fit. I also thought it very kind of you to offer commentary on our submissions, if not accepted. I would very much like to hear any commentary you have on my submission if it is not accepted.

I am a MFA student at [***]College and I have never published a work of fiction before.

Thank you so much for your time and considering my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

D. Arlene

You want to tell them:

1. what you are submitting (if it is a simultaneous submission state that!)

2. who you are (publication credits are okay, if you’re a student, sure–though not necessary; if it’s your first time publishing, yes!)

3. thank them for taking the time to read it.

In my example, I was submitting to a magazine I had just recently researched and read a couple of their stories. I enjoyed them, and when they came out with a themed issue they said they’d give feedback if rejected. It’s rare for magazines to do that and I felt that even if I didn’t get accepted while I had confidence, it’d be a good opportunity to see what an editor thought of my work. They requested that we write whether or not we’d like to have that.

Essentially every letter will different based on what the editor/magazine wants from you. Anything else is really optional. If you want to mention that you like their magazine, do so– I think it shows an appreciation for what they do. It also shows that you did your research, and you’re not wasting their time. I’d highly recommend it. Also, make sure you use an actual name for the editor. No one appreciates a generic ‘Madam/Sir.’ These are people taking time out of their lives to read your work. Show some respect and research where you want to send your short stories.

Here’s one example, and another for more specific details.

Some people mix up query letters and cover letters, or try to combine the two. That’s not the job of a cover letter. A cover letter is quick, let’s them know a couple of things like whether or not you’re serious about this and then they get to reading. Query letters are different. They’re for a literary agent, not an editor of a magazine.

Keep that in mind when you’re writing.

A Short While in the MFA (Part 4)

Well, my first week of classes have certainly been interesting….especially since there were no classes. It’s a little upsetting because I was looking forward to meeting my new professors and classmates. Luckily, I didn’t start the week off to badly. In fact, the first thing I did was  apply for an internship at a literary agency! Even better, I got an immediate reply for an interview!

Can you Imagine getting that email right after submitting an application? I’ve never applied for something like that and it was so nerve racking. You can’t imagine how many times I wrote that email over and over and over and over…oh my god. When I finally got the courage to push that send button, I set up a day to meet my interviewer (the founder of the agency) and we talked. We had bagels, talked about books, experiences, and it was fantastic.

But I didn’t get the job. And that’s not a bad thing. When I met with them I found that this is all about meeting people. She just wanted to get to know me. I did all the things I read online about, the eye contact and put in how much you would like to work there, say what you now about them, etc. In all honesty, I really enjoyed meeting someone who loved books as much or even more than I did. It also helped that I wrote a good cover letter and resume.

Seriously, work on that thing. It will save your life!

Anyway, interview aside I got a rejection letter/email, but a kind one. One where my interviewer really seemed to want to work with me, but it turned out the wouldn’t need an intern after all. It was a last minute decision and she was kind about it. A better experience compared to most is what I like to think. And I wasn’t hurt. I got a free book out of the meeting, so hey!

The best thing you can do is take these kinds of things in stride. I know now how the best way to act in an interview is: Be confident, do as much research as you can, and always be thankful. They’ll remember you for that. As for classes, they were canceled due to the ever wonderful blizzard this week. Though short lived that it was. I went to campus only to receive an email saying classes would not be open. Sad really. But what can you do?

I only have classes twice a week, so I suppose my objective will be to read, buy a bunch of books for class (the unending pain of college life), and find my groove to write again. This semester will be interesting. I’ll be focusing more on short stories, and linked stories/novels. Hopefully, I’ll learn enough to share with you guys. This semester will be interesting especially since I want to do a little more than the last.

My time is short here in the MFA and I need to put that time to good use, don’t you think?

I haven’t even been to class yet and I’ve learned two things: (1)Rejection is never bad, especially when you make yourself memorable my being you and (2) Do the most that you can and enjoy your journey. There’s no sense in doing things you won’t enjoy. And if it’s for something you want, something important, then push yourself. HIT THE SEND BUTTON!

I believe in you.

***

In the mean time, I’ll be back soon with some more updates/stories, etc., and hopefully some new advice or facts to share. See you soon!

For The Year To Come

I was going to write another post about my thoughts on another writerly subject, but that just didn’t feel quite right. In fact, it’s the first year I’ve actually gotten a chance to blog about New Year’s. And quite frankly, I don’t think you want to hear/read another one of my rants tonight. Because tonight is a good night.

Tonight is New Years Eve. And I have to say it’s been an amazing year. And it’s really thanks to all of you.

I started out with a blog just for a class, a thing to pass the time and it turned into something I genuinely enjoy and take time to think about and do. I changed sites at one point, made a new name and put on something fancy to show you. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing some thoughts and receiving some wonderful responses from you. I’ve interacted with wonderful writers and bloggers for the first time and it’s been fantastic.

I’m glad I had this time to share with all of you, and I will continue to post and come up with new ideas and hopefully stories to share in the coming years. Because you make me want to go on with writing and reading and everything that has to do with literature!

So, I want to thank you for your time, for reading my blog and the kindness you’ve shown. I was very nervous at first, but thanks to all of you who write your amazing blogs, your stories and rants and criticisms and just flat out being you. Because of you out there I have a greater sense of confidence as a writer and blogger. I feel welcomed.

Next year will surely be more awesome.

So, in the spirit of the New Year and with my sincerest gratitude, I say: enjoy your family, enjoy your friends. Enjoy that lovely cup of wine and a good book or your Christmas specials tonight. Snuggle close with one you love, and if you can’t Skype/Oovoo, whatever! When the clock strikes twelve celebrate the old days that have passed, for new ones are on the way. Let’s make this next year one we’ll never forget.

Because we are all a part of a wonderful community of writers, bloggers, readers, critics. And in every which way you are amazing, beautiful, handsome, funny and just incredibly talented individuals.

Happy New Years to all my friends: new, old, and those to come.

Thank you for the best year ever.

Signed,

D. Arlene

Outlining Stories (part 1)

Does anyone actually use this stuff? Seriously, how many of you actually use an outline or map out their story visually? This isn’t sarcasm or anything, I’m totally asking right now.

I’ve been writing seriously since I was about sixteen and I’ve never used this method until recently, unless you count academic papers. Which, I don’t. So when I first started using outlines, I started out with trying to write a novel, and I wrote a couple of sentences about each chapter I wanted to write or plans for scenes in my head. Of course, that didn’t help me since I was trying to do something extremely specific with time-lines. So, I then proceeded to draw out how my story was going to progress. It became a map, but then that wasn’t enough.
This is the outcome of my story outline/map.
I think I might have taken it too far.
Insane, right?
In my personal copy, I included one sentence descriptions of what would occur in each chapter. I used a combination of mapping out the story lines and  regular outlining (by words alone).

I think we’re so used to using this thing so much plot graph
that we forget that not all stories don’t actually look like that——->

Even short stories have different progressions, especially when the author wants to shake up the marbles in that head of yours.
Now, I know a few things about outlining so I wanted to discuss them because lately it’s been on my mind.

Outlining: You know this is a bunch of words that summarize/plan out what you are going to write. The thing is, there’s more than one way to do it. You definitely don’t need to do this:

                Beginning           Middle             End
We’re not in middle school folks. We all know full well that stories don’t always work this way. If you want to use an outline then you have two options: Brief or Extended.

Brief outlines consist of one to two sentences of what each scene/chapter is going to look like.Now a brief outline could be like this: “He falls into the demons nest.”
You’re basically writing the bare minimum. And this is perfect for someone who doesn’t want to feel restricted or stifled by past plans. On the other hand,

Extended outlines, you’re basically filling in the blanks, adding far more detail then in a brief outline. “[Character] is shoved as a sacrifice into a demons nest. The ground is wet soaked with blood and as [character] stands he sees lights lining the walls. [character] walks forth, trembling from the cold, and crawls to the end of a tunnel, etc, etc.”
Now, I understand how some writers a re reluctant to use an outline. There’s this idea that you’re not a writer if you have to plan it or that you should be inspired as you write. That’s not necessarily true. Some writers actually like knowing where they’re going. Personally, I like to write when I’m inspired. But if I have to use an outline now, I will.

Here’s why you should use an outline:
1.You know where you plan on going. There are so many scenes in your head that sometimes you’re afraid you’ll lose them. Write them down and you can look back at them to remind yourself, or see where you diverted from if you decide to change something.
2.It’ll help you look back and see where you screwed up (if you did) or just where you started. The nostalgia will consume you!

The only downside I could ever see is if you write an outline, but lose interest because it’s all down on the page already.

I’ve certainly had that experience of suddenly losing interest because I felt like I’d just told the story. I suppose that’s why I myself am reluctant to use an outline, unless I really am stuck. It’s when I’m stuck that I find it so useful, so don’t disregard an outline if you feel you may be stifled by the form and your past plans. You can always take it and look back to see what you originally planned and how you started out. It can act as a reminder of where you headed, even if you went in a different direction there can be things in the outline that you’d still like to do, and are still possible.

And there are plenty of other versions of outlines, like :

Note cards: which you can have virtually (if you download/buy programs like scrivener) or buy a stack of actual note cards and write this down. Note cards essennotecard exampletially are used to summarize a quick scene or major facts about it like plot, characters, setting, etc… It’s absolutely a good way to keep track of your characters, especially when you’ve got more than two or three. (I do it to keep track of what my characters are wearing). There’s also the choice of using it for scenes, mix and match for link stories or hey! If you’re doing a collection of stories and you’re looking for the right tone or mood, use it. You can virtually use this method for anything, honestly.

Truthfully, the list could go on, but these I know the most/best. I’ve used them before, as I own a copy of scrivener, and I’ve messed around with the others in classes and on my own (as seen in my image above). Some are fun, some annoying, but it’s really all about preference. Like most things what works for some won’t work for others.  Now I don’t know all of the million, bazillion methods of outlining, but I do have a link or two below that go into a little more detail than I do. So check them out. And If you’re interested in learning a little more outline tricks check out part 2 for outlining with maps.

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2013/09/evolution-scene-outline-final-draft.html

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/choosing-the-best-outline-method-for-you

Outlining Stories (part 2)

So, we talked about outlines in the last post and a couple of different ways to do that. Well, here we’ll talk briefly about maps.

Mapping: Basically, when all else fails and you’re not sure where your plot/story is going then map it out. Most maps can can take the usual form:
plot graphAnd I really do have to refer back to this constantly because this is what we were always taught when we were younger, right? But stories don’t always work that way. Mine certainly didn’t. Sometimes, the conflict is the very first thing we see. If you’re skilled enough the climax could be first and we just see the aftermath.

Maps are made to keep track of what you’ve done, much like an outline, but you’re looking at a visual instead of a bunch of words. It can actually be easier on the eyes because we see, well, a map. The point of this is to see progression, you want to see how far you’ve gone before you reached the end. And sometimes you can even make a map that shows connections like mine or this. (I included this picture from here because it’s visually smart, and it reminds of the MTA).Mapping Out Your Story

I think maps are fun. I know mine was. (I really need more highlighters). But anyway, there are tons of ways you can go about this. It doesn’t have to follow the train station style or even my weird double helix. You can make a map up all on your own. The shape is supposed to fit your work. The great thing about maps is you can design it, until you think it works for you.

Besides doing it like this, you could also do word association maps and mind mapping. In this case you build a web much like this. They can hold story ideas, character back story, physical/mental traits of characters you’d like to create, setting and connections between events. There is so much you can do with this. Word association can actually be the same. In fact, my fiction professor said once that using word association with maps like this can be really helpful. You keep going with associations until you can’t think of anything. The one you stop at is the one you should write about, because you stopped at it for a reason (whether hesitation or whatever, keep it in mind anyway!)mind map

Anyway, there are so many other reasons why you should do maps or pick outlines, but I won’t be writing them all, because we both don’t want to be here forever. The point is everyone needs help. It’s fine if you don’t want to use it–that’s cool. I think we all have had that point where we deny using tricks like this because “We’re a writer dammit!”
But lets face it, writers are human, and sometimes we need help. Each method we use is based on preference, nothing is perfect. I will occasionally use both, you’ll use none.
Who knows? It’s just always good to learn new things that can help your writing. Even if you don’t use it, keep it in mind as an option. I always do.

Even when I really don’t want to.

You are not a bad writer for using this stuff. Don’t feel guilty or feel like your cheating or silly as I’m sure many who start out do. You’re doing everything you can to get that awesome story out. Use everything you’ve got!

In case you want to see some more examples other than my own, then here are two sites that I found with some good notes/information on mapping out stories.

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2009/07/18/mind-maps/
http://diymfa.com/writing/mapping-out-your-story