Smile! You’ve Disconnected!

Life’s hard, y’all. And in today’s rabid political climate, it seems to be harder than usual. Some days, it’s difficult to even force a smile.

Is there any way we can make our lives softer, rosier, more comfortable?

Absolutely, there is a way.

Unfortunately, it requires doing something uncomfortable: disconnecting.

We live in a modern world where our fingers seemingly exit the womb with smartphones attached. We carry laptops home from work to complete tasks after hours or over the weekend. Television and newspapers bombard us with report after report after report of recycled and regurgitated news. We spend “downtime” scrolling Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and Instagram and . . . [insert any name from a plethora of social media sites here].

In short, we have no downtime.

According to Genesis in The Holy Bible, even God rested on the seventh day. And I’m not God. I’m a weak human, so I need a break more often than that! I’m betting you do, too.

Try something with me—for me. C’mon, it’ll only take a second!

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a nest. Maybe not a sticks-and-weeds nest, but perhaps an uber-soft, form-fitting, super-sized chair that nestles your body like a second womb. Add a soothing blanket. Or choose a hammock filled with plump pillows, gently swaying over the sea. In your mind’s eye, curl up in that cocoon; take a deep, cleansing breath, and exhale all the workday woes, media mayhem, and social stress that’s surrounding you.

comfortable-hammock

Feel better?

Of course you do! It only took fifteen seconds to take your mind and body to a more relaxed state of being. Now imagine what would happen if you relaxed like that for fifteen minutes. Or an hour. Or all weekend.

Disconnecting from the busyness of business, the network of news breaks, and the swirl of social connection might seem scary—I mean, what if you miss something important? What if Wells Fargo loses investors? What if Beyonce is pregnant with twins? What if an old acquaintance from high school sends you a friend request, and you don’t immediately respond?

Your life will go on.

And you will feel better living it.

And trust me: when you reconnect, the information you missed will again be in your face, but now your face will face it with a genuine smile.

smiling-cat

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Rock Bottom Is a Firm Foundation

Woman-underwater-Kaare-Long-article

Sometimes when you think you’ve reached rock bottom, you’re actually finding firm footing. When you feel stone-cold solid rock beneath your bare feet, curl your toes into it. Press hard. Wipe your tear-filled eyes, and look up. You may be surprised to see the many hands of true friends reaching down to pull you up, while others’ hands are folded in prayer on your behalf, and still others’ hands are lifted in praise for your abundant victories yet to come.

Take the hands reaching out for you. Feel yourself being lifted.

Share your gratitude and joy, as it’s contagious, and so many need your smile.

The bountiful blessing you’ve just received is wasted unless you share it.

Now is good.

Share it now.

And if you find yourself at rock bottom as you read this, reach up. Take my hand.

*

Thank you to those of you who’ve extended your hands, your love, and your friendship to Randy, Jacob, and I, as we toppled, keeled, and pitched headlong downward, found our footing, and looked up toward you for friendship, encouragement, support–and found love.

You know who you are! 

Breaking News on Facebook

              “You have cancer,” the doctor says.

             For a moment, the only sound you hear is your heartbeat thrumming much too loudly in your ears.

             “How bad is it?”

            The doctor’s sincere stare unnerves you.

            “Randy, it’s bad.”

 

This is the exact conversation held last week in the physician’s office between my husband and his doctor. Nothing can prepare you to hear those words. Within seconds, your life has changed.

Minutes later, you’re holding a handful of papers: pamphlets, orders, biopsy results, a CD with photos of the cancer, even the doctor’s personal cell-phone number. It’s pressing toward 5:00 pm, so you’re rushed to the clinic to pick up contrast liquid for tomorrow morning’s CT scan. Drink this. Don’t eat that. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the radiologist. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the surgeon.

Somewhere in there, you remember that you haven’t eaten since breakfast.

*

It’s an understatement to say that my husband and I were caught up in an immediate whirlwind—perhaps tornado is a better metaphor—within minutes of his diagnosis. We cried for a few minutes, but there were simply too many deadlines to meet to cope with the flood of emotions, questions, and next steps for tears just then.

And we needed to tell our son.

How do you break such news to an eighteen-year-old who is a day away from final exams? How do you risk discoloring what should be the happiest time of his life—his high-school graduation—which is only a week away?

When we arrived home that evening, our son was at work, so our decision to wait until after he’d completed his exams the next day was made easier. But in the meantime, we began receiving phone calls from concerned relatives who knew we were to receive the biopsy results—which we’d been convinced were going to be benign—that day.

We broke the news to immediate relatives who called, adding the admonition, “Please don’t say anything to anyone yet, as we can’t tell our son until tomorrow afternoon.” Besides, we’d have the result of the CT scan by then, so we’d know exactly what to tell him.

Relaying this news once is painful. Two or three times is agonizing, but having to say “aggressive cancer” five or six times is excruciating.

Bad news travels fast, and in a small town, it spreads like . . . malignancy.

By the time we received the results of the CT scan the next afternoon, our phones were blowing up. We shared the news with our son and discussed our next options and plan of attack. One day at a time. We will kick this!

As our home and cell phones kept ringing, we realized we had to get ahead of this, and we certainly had to free up the phone lines, as we were expecting calls from doctors and hospitals. Though we’d first said we’d never put such news on social media, we realized we had no other option—if not, someone would likely do it for us and perhaps not with the kind of message we wanted to convey.

That evening, we requested on Facebook the support, prayers, and love of our friends and family as we fight the battles before us in order to win this war. We anticipated dozens of responses, but we were truly humbled by the hundreds we received. The outpouring of love touches out hearts and does much to strengthen our faith and hope.

And then came the other comments: the scoldings via IM or text or phone. “Why didn’t you call me right away?” “Why did I have to read this on Facebook?” “So-and-so told me. You should have called me yourself!”

Hear me when I say this: it’s not about you.

It’s about the patient. And more remotely, it’s about his children and his wife and his parents and his siblings.

We’ll be the first to agree that Facebook isn’t the best place to break such news, but in order to maintain some semblance of sanity during an insane period of our lives, it seemed the logical option; the quickest and least-painful way to say those words once instead of dozens more times.

Worse than the scoldings, however, was the IM from an old friend who related the same diagnosis in her church member, and how the cancer had metastasized and invaded other parts of the body, and how he would soon surely die. I stopped her short between messages: “No negativity, please. We are surrounding ourselves with positive vibes, positive thoughts, prayers, and positive people. Faith, hope, and love.” It startled and appalled me several minutes later when she returned an I-wasn’t-finished-yet-here’s-where-else-he-had-tumors message. A few days later, I listened (briefly, before walking away), as someone else tried to tell me a horror story of another person with a similar diagnosis and rotten outcome.

Listen carefully: when you’ve learned that a friend or family member has cancer, if you can’t offer supportive, kind, uplifting, encouraging, loving, or compassionate words, then Shut. The fuck. Up.

Yes, I said that; and yes, I meant it.

I’m grateful to say that these kinds of comments have been few among the deluge of caring and encouraging, love-filled messages we’ve received. The sensitivity and compassion of our family and friends who have rallied around us have helped strengthen our resolve to face each morning and each long, sometimes-scary night with steadfast hope and faith.

Understand that, in the days that follow a cancer diagnosis, a person’s day-to-day life and that of his family is turned upside down and shaken. It’s easy to momentarily forget to call even the dearest of friends. Don’t be offended if, in the great confusion of the days following such news, you feel forgotten, and please don’t be offended if you (aren’t an immediate family member and you) learn such news through social media. Know that your friend still needs you—now more than ever before.

You don’t have to be Shakespeare to send an “I care” note to a friend who’s dealing with a devastating diagnosis; you simply have to be kind. Your friend needs you to remind him or her that there is hope in each new day. Put yourself in that person’s mindset for a moment, and think of what positive things you’d like to hear. Send warm thoughts and well wishes. Light a candle, and say a prayer (or twelve).

And if you have a spare moment, please say another for us.

faith hope love

 ” . . . but the greatest of these is love.” –I Cor. 13:13 (ESV)

Adventures of a Neti Pot Spartan

Meet Glen Hager.

Glen is, among other things, a US Navy Veteran, a skilled craft-beer aficionado, and a CrossFit junkie. He regularly wins or places highly in local Spartan Races. In short, he’s a manly man, and a good-looking one, at that. Glen has no need for the wimpy things in life, so when my husband Randy and I encountered Glen on one of our eight-mile beach walks, we were surprised to see him sniveling. Well, sort of sniveling. Sniffling is more like it.

“Allergies,” Glen said. “I’ve tried everything short of dynamite to open my nose. Nothing works.”

“Have you tried a neti pot?” I asked. I went on to explain where to purchase and how to use this awesome little piece of equipment that’s highly recommended by physicians and surgeons to clear, clean, and soothe the sinuses. “Be sure to boil the water to sterilize it, let it cool to a comfortable temperature, and add a packet of the saline powder that’ll come in your kit.”

neti-pot

“Sounds like waterboarding,” Glen said, then puffed out his chest. “But I can take it.”

I convinced him that it’s an easy process, and while it may take a time or two to get the hang of it, he’d feel much better even after the first try.

If only!

That evening, Glen told us that when he went to pick up the neti pot I’d recommended, sitting just to the right of it was the Spartan version—a squeeze bottle with “a huge, black, nostril-filling power head.” Of course, that’s what he bought. He got it home, breezed through the instructions, and dumped out “a whole butt load of saline packs” that came in the box. The plastic neti bottle he’d purchased was stiff and firm, and it took a little effort to squeeze water out of it when he first rinsed it, so our strong-man friend knew he’d purchased the perfect macho product for his masculine needs. Remembering my admonishment about sterility, he boiled eight ounces of water in a measuring cup.

And that’s when things began to go south.

“If one packet of saline is good for you,” Glen later said, “two would do the job better and faster, right?” He dumped in two packets and poured the boiling water into his bottle and headed for the bathroom sink.

“I let the water cool for a few minutes, then I bent over the sink, inserted the big, black, power-nozzle into my nose, and gave a mighty power-squeeze. Well, the boiling water had softened the bottle just enough to allow me to generate about 150 PSI of water pressure, so I rapidly injected about four ounces of scalding water—with a saline density approximating that of the Dead Sea—into my skull.

“Hot water shot out of every orifice above my shoulders (and a few below). Snot, earwax, eye boogers, a tooth filling, that ball bearing I shoved up my nose when I was three, and the bug that crawled into my ear when I was six all came shooting out at once.”

“Oh, no, Glen!” I said, trying to contain my giggles, “What did you do?”

“Well, before I fully regained my senses, I quickly injected the other nostril.

“The good news is,” he said, “I have no more congestion! Afterward, I felt so darn good I went on a Harley ride to cool my scalded-and-salt-cured sinuses. Truly, I feel better than I have in weeks!

“I gotta say, though,” he said in a humbled voice, “do-it-yourself enemas are now off my “I Can Do This’ list.”

Yes, readers, I probably should have prefaced this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story with a “Don’t Try This at Home” warning, but surely no one, save Glen Hager, will ever have quite this same experience.

“After all,” he said, “you should keep in mind that I’m the guy who has performed minor surgery on myself more than once with a Kabar.”

True . . . but that’s another story.

 

 

Writing Advice from the Masters: Writing in Paradise

WIP Magnuson

I recently spent eight fabulous days at the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise, under the tutelage of some of America’s finest authors. Set on Eckerd’s idyllic waterfront campus (some of us took a boat ride into Boca Bay as the sun set late one afternoon), we attended readings, social events, lectures, panel discussions, and intensive workshops over the course of the program. I was privileged to be awarded the Sterling Watson MFA Fellowship to attend this exciting conference, and doubly privileged to have a chapter of my novel workshopped by eleven brilliant authors, including multi-award-winning author and conference co-director Les Standiford.

As you might imagine, in a conference of this lauded measure, one receives a plethora of great advice and inspiration. It’s a serious writer’s job, then, to apply that advice to her manuscript and to carry that inspiration into her work. (Check out my brief essay on how to do that here.)

If you have the opportunity to attend a conference of this high caliber, I strongly recommend it. Until then, here’s a tiny taste of some of the advice and inspiration shared by the masters at Writers in Paradise. I hope you’ll support these generous spirits by attending their readings, buying and sharing their books, and reviewing their outstanding work.

 

On the craft of writing:

“Every good story is personal.” –Les Standiford

“Let suspense hook the reader, but don’t show them the hook.” –Dennis Lehane

“We can’t know who you are, until we know what you’ve lost.” –Andre Dubus III

“Don’t shroud the opening in secrecy. Tell the whole story in the first sentence.” –Les Standiford

 

On the writing habit:

“The ones who make it are the ones who stick with it. They’re the grinders.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Sculpt your entire life around getting your writing done. Don’t waste time. Write. Write. Write.” –Ann Hood

“We need special language to commemorate our lives: weddings, love, death, inaugurations. We need poetry.” –Aimee Nezhukumatathil

“Writing is an act of humility, and it takes its own time.” –Ann Hood

 

On researching story details:

“Go where the story takes you.” –Gilbert King

“Writing is problem solving.” –Sterling Watson

“Start from ignorance. Admit you know nothing.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Always be particular. Writers will do anything to weasel out of being specific.” –Les Standiford

 

What success means to you as a writer:

“Success means being able to continue writing. I don’t want to be publishing, marketing, or finishing a book. I want to be writing. That’s where the reward is.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Writing a poem is devastatingly difficult; it’s also a privilege. Writing is a privilege.” –Aimee Nezhukumatathil

 

Do any of these words of wisdom speak to you or your process as a writer? What is the best writing advice you have to give?

 

How to Make Money as a Writer

Can you really make a living as a writer, without being one of the lucky few who make the New York Times Bestseller list? Can you quit your day job, or must writing always come last on your list of ways to earn a living?

Certainly you can make a living—and a good one—as a writer, without having a long list of novels under your belt. Here are some steps toward building your writing portfolio; landing paying jobs as a writer, editor, or proofreader; getting published; and yes, eventually quitting the daily grind of your current job.

  1. Tell everyone you know that you’re a professional writer who’s available for hire. One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to become paid writers is keeping their mouths shut! Tell everyone you meet that you’re a writer and that you’re available for work. What kind of work? Any kind, as long as it includes some form of writing and a paycheck.
  1. Successful service industries and businesses get the word out about their services. You do have a business card or contact card, right? And what about word of mouth? It’s vital to becoming a paid writer. Social media? Make sure your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn connections know you’re available for work. Start local. Do you have references? Start a list of your publications and clients for whom you’ve written. Do it today.
  1. Hand out business cards and flyers to bridal shops, book clubs, churches, community groups, your child’s school, libraries, and small businesses in your community. Organizations like the Elks, Moose, Eagles, and Freemasons not only publish national magazines, but often need to have local newsletters and press releases professionally written. Businesses need blog articles, employee handbooks, technical manuals, and company newsletters prepared. If you have specialized training in your background (i.e., medical experience, IT experience, etc.) solicit work from companies in that field, marketing yourself as an expert.
  1. Don’t be afraid to start small. And yes, small can be a synonym for free when you’re getting started. If you don’t have a writer’s resume or list of professional writing references and publications, you must start somewhere. Write weekly bulletins for your church, a PTA press release, a groom’s tribute for a wedding program, or even short speeches for local banquets. Your current employer may need to have the office policy or benefits package updated and rewritten. Offer to do it free, after work hours, in exchange for a letter of reference, testimonial, or recommendation. Then, once you’ve written your company’s policy, you can solicit other similar businesses, charging a fee to update theirs.

The Beginner’s Bottom Line

Don’t look at any of your first writing jobs as “free,” even if they don’t pay with cash. You’re earning a byline, a professional business reference, and perhaps a long-term client who may hire you for higher-paying jobs in the future.

Now, About That Money . . .

You’ve got a bite. There’s a fish on the hook. All you gotta do is reel him in and serve him for dinner. But how much do you charge? Who sets the standards for what you can and should charge, once you’ve established yourself as a professional writer? The short answer: You do!

By the hour – What’s your time worth? How much would you make per hour at your day job? Does the fee you have in mind compete with other writers in your area? How much is too much? Even worse, how much is too little? Always consider your level of expertise. Beginners simply can’t charge the same hourly rate as someone with a long list of bylines attached to their name. Check the Web for information on going prices in your state, and base your price competitively. My recommendation? Consider $20-60 per hour, depending on the project and company, with a set minimum fee. Minimum fees (say, $45-$60) help weed out clients who “only want a short paragraph,” but who will take up three days of your time to get that paragraph “just right.”

 By the project – You might quote large, standardized, one-time projects with a set amount. Be careful not to under-quote yourself in these cases, because sometimes a small article can turn into a huge volume overnight. Consider whether research is involved. If so, can you apply that research to other similar jobs in the future? As an example, early in my freelance career, I wrote employee handbooks for various companies. When I wrote the first one, I spent a lot of time researching federal workplace laws, state employment laws, the employer’s benefit packages, and so forth. Once the first manual was written, subsequent clients only required minor changes specific to their company, because the state and federal laws remained the same. Your client doesn’t need to know that, however. For those jobs, in the early 2000s, I charged a flat rate of $450, which the clients were quite happy to pay. (Maybe I should have charged more!)

By the word – Charging a flat fee per word is an excellent way to receive a fair amount of pay for a fair amount of work, and it notifies your clients what you expect for the quantity of work they want delivered. Then, if they add extra pages to the job, you’ll earn extra pay!

Share the Wealth

If you follow these steps and you provide quality work, it won’t be long until you have more work than you can handle. As you build your portfolio, network with other writers, and read samples of their work. Offer to proofread each other’s project. Then, instead of turning away a job that seems too big, too involved, too rushed, or too time-consuming for you, offer it to another strong writer, with the understanding that they’ll return the favor. You might even retain a percentage of the company’s payment as a finder’s fee.

Remember, the best writers are only as strong as their network, so don’t hesitate to pay it forward. Uplift other writers, offering to pick up extra work when they’re overwhelmed, and sharing your overburden in return. As soon as the customers for whom you’re freelancing learn that you are available for any project, regardless of size or deadline, your business will grow–and so will your bank account.

 

 

The Hiatus: Taking a Break from Writing

 

“Write every day.” We writers have heard this mantra from nearly every teacher, writing coach, agent, and editor we’ve encountered. We’ve heard it from other authors who’ve had it drilled into their heads so often they have no choice but parrot it when asked about their writing habits.

I call bullshit.

First, I believe that all writers can—and should—have different processes for creating new work, and that a particular process can—and should—change to fit the creation. If forcing yourself to sit each morning in front of a blank screen until beads of words form on your brow is a technique that works for you, that’s great. Goody for you. And if waking from a deep sleep with a scene in your head rouses you from bed at 2:00 a.m. to pound on your keyboard, that’s equally as wonderful. Or, if staring out the window for an hour, or sitting on the beach for three days, or walking your neighborhood each morning for two weeks is what causes (or allows) a story to jell in your mind before you type the first word, then that’s fabulous, too.

If your particular way of writing works for you, then it’s the perfect way for you to write. One size does not fit all.

There’s nothing like a deadline to encourage your words to appear on a page. When you were in school, your teachers gave you a due date for every assignment, because if they didn’t, you wouldn’t do the research that resulted in ideas that formed the thoughts you typed onto the page. Now that you’re out of school, it may be up to you to set imaginary deadlines, if that’s what it takes to keep you focused. Or maybe you work with a writing group, and you set deadlines for each other to meet. If deadlines are what you need, then set them.

Whether your deadline is real or imaginary, sometimes life gets in the way, and you simply must take a break from writing. Recently, that’s happened to me.

I work multiple jobs (adjunct professor, Realtor, ghostwriter, editor) and have myriad “unpaid” responsibilities (mother, wife, homemaker, book reviewer, blogger). It’s no surprise that these tasks often come with their own deadlines, and sometimes those deadlines bottleneck into the same week or same day. My personal writing simply has to take a back seat for a while.

I’m not advocating putting your writing aside for other duties: no! Writing—if you take your writing seriously at all—must be a priority. However, if you’re sitting in front of your computer in an attempt to get into the mind of your main character while ignoring more pressing responsibilities, your brain often won’t let you slide into the creative mode required to write well. The muse—if you believe in muses—will tell you to get your butt up and do what must be done.

When, then, will you get back to writing?

Here’s what I believe: writers are always writing. Just because we’re not sitting in front of our computers or holding a pad and pen in hand doesn’t mean we’re not creating stories.

During my low-residency MFA days, we were tasked with keeping a writing log that detailed the hours we spent reading and writing. I always struggled with how to approach this log, because it seemed to me then—and now—that rare are the hours when I’m not reading or writing. When I’m driving, I’m plotting. When I’m drifting off to sleep at night, I place my characters in a scene (one that may or may not be appropriate for my story), and I see what they’ll do. When I’m doing housework, I imagine a setting and how I’d describe it from my main character’s point of view. When I’m in the shower, I consider what obstacles I can put in the way of my characters’ goals and dreams. When I’m walking, I figure out how in the world my character can get around those obstacles I’ve created. This is writing.

Sometimes I make notes when a great idea pops into my head. My desk, my purse, and the inside covers of books I’m reading are littered with scribbles; scrawled ideas, scenes, sentences, or even sparse phrases that I know I’ll use when I next sit down to write.

And when time has passed and that precious, quiet hour arrives when I finally sit down in front of my screen, the ideas are all there. The sticky notes and index cards are placed in front of me, the books are stacked within reach, their pages flagged with points of inspiration. My fingers fly over the keys.

It’s then I realize that my time away from the keyboard is not and never has been a hiatus from writing: it is my impetus to create.

 

 

SUBMIT!

I suppose that, in this post-Fifty-Shades-of-Gray era, I should tell you up front that I’m not writing about that kind of submission, though a rough spanking might seem preferable to the pain of formatting, reformatting, searching this-week’s-editor’s name, copying and pasting cover letters, adding your name, removing your name, and paying fees from one dollar to thirty of them simply to have your work read—and likely rejected—by the magazine/agent/publisher/editor you’ve long had your eye on. But if you’re a writer, submit you must!

Is there any way to make the submission process easier?

After several years of occasionally (and sometimes rarely) submitting my work, followed by a year of submitting more frequently, I’ve learned a couple of things. If there are painless ways, I haven’t found them, though here are a few facts you can accept and steps you can take to streamline the process and perhaps even soften the pain of rejection.

It’s not you; it’s them. The best literary magazines, most coveted agents, and biggest publishing companies receive—quite literally—hundreds of submissions each day. Imagine this: you drive to work in the pouring rain, get stuck in traffic, break the heel on your favorite pumps while running for the office door, spill coffee on your desk, and then your kid calls to tell you he forgot his homework, so you have to run home to retrieve the homework, deliver it to the school, and restart the process. You’re behind before you even begin. Then you open your email to find your inbox filled with new submissions. You have phone calls to return and meetings to attend, yet those submissions need your attention. How do you begin to sift through them? Like any smart editor, you sift the chaff from the wheat. You immediately reject any submissions that don’t fit your formatting guidelines, that open with a sluggish first page/paragraph/sentence, and those that are pocked with typos. Out of the dozen that are left, you save the few that fit a theme you’ve noticed coming in this month—they’ll make a nice collection when published together—and you reject the rest. After all, you’ll have a hundred more to scour tomorrow.

It’s not them; it’s you. You know you’ve done it. The Muse sat on your shoulder, whispered in your ear, and you pounded out a 5,000-word story in two hours flat, and the story blew your mind. You read through it a second time, and you only found one misspelled word. A. Maze. Ing. This is the story that will get you noticed. You send it to the top fifteen lit mags you’ve been drooling over since your fingers first fit a keyboard, and later that night, you drift off to sleep imagining the acceptance letters you’ll get, the Pushcart nominations, Best American Short Stories calling to ask for your bio, the movie they’ll make of your story, and what you’ll wear on the red carpet when you accept your Oscar.

And then the rejections start pouring in. Not even personalized rejections; they’re form letters! You take a second look, and you realize you called one of the editors by the wrong name—instant rejection. On the next, you submitted a .docx file, when they specifically requested rich-text files only. Then you notice that on page one your main character was named Kathy with a K, and on page six she’s Cathy with a C. And you accidentally wrote affect instead of effect. Ah, the pain. Self-inflicted pain, at that.

Slow down. Proofread. Wait a week. Proofread again. Send your story to a trusted writerly friend. Proofread again. Reformat. Check submission guidelines. Proofread again. Submit.

Do your research. There are some wonderful web sites that make the process of determining which agent is seeking what kind of story, which lit mags are open to submissions and when, and what the word count and submission guidelines are for your genre. I am huge fan of New Pages, which also offers the free service of weekly emails notifying you of calls for submissions, contests, and even conference and retreat notices, as well as book and lit-mag reviews. There’s also a great list that’s updated quarterly at Entropy Magazine, and author C. Hope Clark runs a website called Funds for Writers that has won awards for its regular market updates. Let these amazing services do the initial searches for you.

Keep notes. The best thing I have done to streamline my submission process is to start a submission file. You can use a notebook, a manila folder, a calendar—or simply do as I’ve done—use a Word document. My submission file is simply a table tracking my submission information (date submitted, publication, story submitted, result), followed by an ongoing list of magazines, web sites, agents, and publishers to which I want to submit, each with very brief notes listing maximum word count, passwords (many require you to set up an account), and web address. Don’t bother listing a magazine’s editor, because that may change before you actually submit your work. Always check the publication’s web site for submission guidelines before sending in your work. Always.

circus master

Submit often! You can’t get published if you don’t submit your work. Editors and agents won’t knock on your door and ask to browse your computer files to find a story they can’t wait to print. You have to send your story out, and typically, you have to send it to multiple places before it’s accepted for publication.

Submit a lot! I’m talking quantity, here. At any given time, I have around four to six stories and essays floating among ten to fifteen lit mags and publishers. I know other well-respected authors who can claim four times those numbers. If you always have submissions out there, you always have hope, so the sting of rejection is softened. Just when I’d almost given up (much too easily) on one of my stories finding a home, I received a publication agreement from a magazine I’d long admired. I’d sent the story so long ago that I’d assumed they’d lost it in the slush pile, yet it had been making the rounds from the slush reader, to the fiction editor, to the senior editor.

Following these simple guidelines won’t guarantee your work will be published—if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that there are no publication guarantees for writers. But if you’ve worked hard, written the very best story you can write, and followed these guidelines, you’ll stand a much better chance of seeing your name in print.

Write well, and keep submitting!

submit

The Cost of Romance: Can You Afford It?

Romance

I don’t have to tell you that Valentine’s Day is approaching. From Kmart and Walgreens ads in your newspaper to Neiman Marcus and Louis Vuitton pitches in your inbox, retailers are quick to cash in on this made-for-lovers holiday. But do you really have to spend money to show your significant other that you care? Are you obliged to invest three month’s salary to prove your love? And in this month where all things heart-shaped are celebrated, must romance be measured by a dollar figure on a receipt?

As an experiment, I spent most of last week asking friends, family members, acquaintances, and—I’ll admit—more than one total stranger, “What is the most romantic (non-sexual) thing your significant other can do for you?” The majority of those I polled are long-married couples, though some are newlyweds, some are engaged or in a committed relationship, and a few are still single.

Pleasantly, I learned that the majority of answers had nothing to do with a purchased present. Instead, the masses (four dozen or so counts as “the masses”, right?) expressed more often than not that it’s “the little things” that they find most romantic. So what makes up the little things? Here are a few confessions about romantic actions—actions are the true gifts—that make the recipients’ hearts sing and stomachs flutter:

  • He goes for long walks with me.
  • She/he brings coffee to me in the mornings.
  • He leaves surprise love notes for me to find.
  • She’s an amazing mother to our kids.
  • He’s a wonderful father to our children.
  • She so strongly believes I can do difficult things that I begin to believe it, too.
  • He emails or texts me in the middle of his busy day, just to see how I’m doing.
  • She does my laundry.
  • He picks wildflowers for me.
  • She sometimes plans the weekend for us, so I don’t have to do it.
  • He talks to me—really listens and talks to me.
  • I overheard her telling someone how much she’s still attracted to me after all these years.
  • He dances with me in the kitchen.
  • She holds my hand in public, showing people that she’s proud to be with me.
  • He surprised me by painting the living room for me while I was at work.
  • She hugs me. You can never go wrong with a hug.
  • He holds my face in his hands and kisses my nose.
  • She/he sometimes cooks/bakes [my favorite meal].
  • He/she trusts me with his secrets.
  • She/he volunteers to run errands for me.
  • She gives me a kiss on the cheek to encourage me.

Out of all whom I polled, only three mentioned purchased gifts; one husband planned a honeymoon after a 25-year wedding vow renewal, one husband planted rose bushes for his wife in honor of each of their children; and a third husband took his wife for a Happy Meal as a warm reminder of one of her happiest childhood events—each a sweet, romantic gesture that had significant meaning going far beyond the typical florist delivery or satin jewelry box.

Gifts and surprise presents are wonderful, no doubt, and I’m sure they mean a lot to the recipient. Still, it’s important to recognize how much each of these small moments, these priceless gifts of thought and time, mean to those who received them. Yet in this crazy-busy world, those things seem to cost us more than whipping out the Visa, and that’s exactly why they’re so precious.

While I’m not suggesting you forgo the cards, flowers, candy, or perfume, I am absolutely advocating for a gift from the heart; one that doesn’t cost a dime, but will be treasured more than any trinket money can buy. Can you afford it?

When love is at stake, how can you not?

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