Guest post by Robin Mimna
Most writers who have put their work out there have at least one regret that stands out among the buckets of rejection that rain down on them. That one agent or publisher you felt an instant connection with. The one you knew in your soul would not only get your ideas, but champion your work like no other could.
For me, that’s Graywolf Press. In retrospect, I aimed pretty high and it wasn’t publication, but a paid remote internship I was after. Advertised on Instagram, I was one of Graywolf’s 44,000+ followers who got the update the day this “small press” posted the position. I became infatuated with the idea of beginning my publishing career with such a lofty internship and poured over the requirements. Graywolf primarily works with established authors or academics like Claudia Rankine, author of Just Us: An American Conversation. And unlike the scores of younger, college age applicants all over the country, I was over forty with a fulltime job, limited flexibility and not much experience to bring to the table. Nevertheless, I threw myself into writing a killer cover letter outlining why all the knocks against me were irrelevant, and why I was (obviously) the best person for the job.
Founded in 1974 by Scott Walker, Graywolf Press started out as limited hand sewn chapbooks. In 1984 it was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and later moved to St. Paul, Minnesota.
Today Graywolf publishes about 30-40 books a year, mostly poetry, memoirs, essays, novels, short stories and translations. Occasionally, they will have an open period or contest, but otherwise does not accept unsolicited submissions. They vet most of their authors through magazines, writing conferences and agented submissions. In short, it’s an exclusive press.
In preparation for my grand application. I haunted Graywolf’s website and social media. While doing research, I purchased several of their books, including The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang. It’s an intimate view from the point of view of someone who struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness.
I spent weeks working on my application, which included a cover letter and a thousand-word analysis of a book of my choosing. I settled on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Not just because it’s one of my favorites, or because I’ve read it a million times, but it’s also right in line with what Graywolf publishes. Bauby’s short memoir is a day dream-nightmare into his transition from able-bodied, womanizing editor of Elle magazine in Paris, to bed-bound quadriplegic. After a massive stroke took out Bauby’s brain stem, he was diagnosed with “locked-in-syndrome.” This left him unable to move beyond a slight swivel of his head and a single blinking eye, yet his mind fully intact. Using a translation alphabet designed specifically for him, he was able to blink out his memoir using his left eyelid. He did this without losing a hint of his sharp sarcasm or high humor. Sadly, Bauby died two days after the book’s publication.
With the confidence of someone suffering from her own massive stroke, I whisked my application over to Graywolf, wishing only that I could stand over the shoulder of the lucky editor who got to read MY perfect and inspired analysis.
I wish I could write you a happier ending to this story, but this isn’t fiction. During the reading period I checked my e-mail in fifteen-minute intervals and picked up my phone every time it rang. (So many expired car warranties…) But no offer came, and no e-mail was sent. Obviously, I didn’t get the internship. I didn’t even get a rejection. I found out I didn’t get the job when they announced on their website a few weeks later they’d filled the position. I’m totally fine by the way. I hardly ever talk about it publicly anymore. (I’m not crying, you’re crying)
Graywolf posted two new paid internships this year. Although conducted remotely, all applicants must reside in California, Hawaii, Minnesota, or New York for the duration of the internship. Maybe they figured out offering a national paid internship in the middle of a global pandemic would yield more applications than they cared to review.
It’s clear breaking into publishing in the modern age is a complicated process, but not impossible. Take your shots when you have the chance and move on from the rejections. My writing might not be sophisticated enough to grab Graywolf’s attention, but you never know. Paying dues sometimes means finding opportunity in the failures. I ended up using my grand analysis for a literature class later that year and got a B+ on it. Perhaps it wasn’t the inspired piece of iconic work I imagined it was, but it got me through a tough spot while I was struggling with my Spanish II final so, I’ll call it a win. Adios!
Editing and revision can be incredibly hard work, but useful tools can help make the process easier. Over the past few months, I've been keeping a list of my favorite items I use to pour over manuscripts. Everything listed below is something I have in my house and am giving first-hand recommendations for. Hopefully you will find something that helps you be a little more productive so you can reach your editing and revision goals.
1. These red pens are great for marking up printed pages. The thicker tip is perfect for making those added commas stand out. Plus, I get a whole box so I can always grab a new pen when I leave the other one in some mystery place in the house.
Get a pack of 12 on Amazon, $14.99.
2. This might be one of my favorite purchases of all time for my home office: a coffee warmer. How did I ever live my life without one?! My kids always want 10,000 things in the mornings and I used to microwave my coffee at least three times every morning. Not anymore! I make my cup and set it on this warmer and it's just the right temperature whenever I can manage to take my next sip.
Mr. Coffee coffee warmer, $11.99 on Amazon.
3. Sitting in a chair all day can be hard for your back and bum, but I love this super-comfy chair cushion you can pop on any desk chair. Memory foam and cooling gel? Yes, please!
Get it on Amazon for $33.95. Your bum will thank you.
4. Staring at a screen for a long period of time can be really hard on your eyes. That's why I like to put on these stylish blue light blocking glasses. They have ten different styles to choose from and keep the headaches at bay.
They are only $19.95 on Amazon, which is cheaper than a visit to the eye doctor!
5. Here is an item I use every. single. day: a portable laptop desk. You can use this bad boy while working on the couch, in bed, or as a standing desk. It's so versatile, I use it more than my regular desk!
It's worth the investment; $49.99 on Amazon.
6. Sometimes it takes me a while to get focused, or to stay focused on editing. That's why I like to light up my lavender Yankee Candle. It makes me calm and relaxed so that I can let go of distracting thoughts and focus on my work.
I love this candle brand because they last a long time and the scent carries well. $22.99 on Amazon.
7. You know, I used to tease people who had wireless mice. Why do you need an extra mouse when you have one right there on your laptop? Then I was gifted one. So. Much. Easier. I get it now, and not only that, I'm a huge fan. I love how this cute wireless mouse has so many color choices.
And for only $11.99 on Amazon, it's a steal. (Can you tell I love purple??)
8. There's nothing better for bringing attention to a part of your manuscript than a great highlighter. What I love about these highlighters is the quality of the ink and how you can see how much you have before it goes out.
Plus they have great precision tips. Get them on Amazon for $9.97.
9. I don't mess around when it comes to being comfortable. Cozy slippers are definitely a must-have for me to get any work done at home. These ones are my tried-and-true brand that I can also run outside in to roll the garbage can down when I hear the truck coming. They also have cute colors.
I already had a purple pair, so the current ones are pink. $24.99 on Amazon. Guys, I asked my husband for his slipper recommendation. He likes this shoe-looking style slipper.
10. Let's face it. Editing and revision can be boring. So boring that you might start to nod off. I have a trick to wake myself up and get refocused: chewing on crushed ice. I am kind of picky about the size of the crunched up ice chips. This ice crusher makes the PERFECT SIZE ice chips to munch on and wake yourself up.
For $36.47 on Amazon, it's worth every penny for each hour it buys me.
11. I will confess, my husband teases me about this one, but I do not care. This sleek plastic ruler makes me slow down and focus on a manuscript line-by-line.
The transparency allows me to see the next line if I need to, while keeping my eyes on the current one. It's only $2.69 on Amazon and a cheap, easy tool to stay on task.
12. Ginseng is a wonderful supplement for brain health. I asked my doctor what brand of vitamins she recommends, and her answer was Now brand. This ginseng supplement can help boost your brain power.
Get a bottle of 250 capsules on Amazon for $18.33.
13. If you get nothing else on this list, GET THIS. The Chicago Manual of Style is the number one tool I use while editing, personally and professionally.
There is nothing like being able to go straight to the rule book to answer your grammar and convention questions. This book is HUGE, 1146 pages, which is why it costs $29.62 on Amazon. BUT, you will use it over and over and over again, and have the satisfaction of knowing you've gotten it right.
Well, there you have it. Those are my must-have favorite tools for editing and revision. Now get that manuscript and get to work!
*Note: I signed up for an Amazon affiliate account after I made my list, so if you make a purchase, I may get a small commission...so I can buy more slippers!
Guest post by Randy A. Gerritse
This simple statement, which eventually became the title of my first ever poetry book after spending over a year writing daily poetry prompts on Twitter for the #vsspoem hashtag, may not be what it seems. This is not a conclusion, an endpoint. If anything, it signaled the start of my personal journey, a first stepping stone if you will to learning the craft of prose.
My first thoughts on the essence of poetry were on what it is not—that is, what it’s not to me, born from my early frustration with the most widespread form of poetic expression—forced structures of rhymes, connecting every other line in subjects mostly related to love. I felt that there had to be more to this poetry thing. In certain ways, I still do.
You see, I’ve always been a watcher on the sidelines, trying to make sense of the world and its many moving parts, fascinated by the little things that people seem to think that matter, and the big things they dismiss without a second thought. I have always studied patterns of expression and behavior. They intrigue me. As a species, we seem to love these recognizable templates of identity, of communication, of, well, everything. Just pick a form and fill in the blanks—voila, that’s you. Or at least, so the world always seemed to me, call me a cynic.
Today, roughly three years into my poetry journey of discovery of both my inner and outer realities, through even deeper than my usual levels of observation and introspection, what I’ve learned is that this thing we call poetry is highly personal. It is the expression of a moment, a feeling, an observation, in naught but words. It is the art to convey what these most human of time capsules meant to the narrator at their moment of conception, to an unknown future reader—more often than not, a future self.
Where I am now in my journey, is far from where I started. If I look back at my earliest work—still devoid of any punctuation—I see someone who I barely recognize, and not just in the choice of subject matter. My style of writing is still highly lyrical, but over the years my patterns have shifted, reflecting my changing insights and the changes in my everyday reality.
My early work, by a self who despised simple rhymes, despite their already distinct rhythms, these poems are riddled with cliches and naive preconceptions—shifted truths no longer my own. Often these writings feel disconnected to me now and could perhaps have used a little more rhyme to bind them into something more coherent to anyone but my past self. It’s funny how we grow, isn’t it?
Let me state this as clear as I can. Do not let anyone—not even me— ever tell you, what poetry is, or should be, for none but you can see inside your soul, your thoughts. If you feel your expression works best using a meter or a rhyming scheme? Go for it. If you think best in Haiku or Tanka? Five-seven-five the hell out of those thoughts and feelings. There is no right way, nor a wrong way. What there is though? Lots of poetic arrogance.
Where it comes to poetry, write for you, and only you. Go ahead and share those words, light up the world with your uniqueness, but do it for you—not glory in the eyes of others. Even the masters never found that in their lifetime. Cynics though, trolls and critics, those are ever-present, maybe more these days than in any other age before, ever but a click away.
For me, that first statement that became my first book still rings true, be it partly. The part about finding the rhythm, the living heartbeat of existence. I’ve since written many metered works, yet my poems and stories rarely follow conventional paths, for my truth follows a different rhythm than most. It always has. But that is my truth, and there are many.
Find yours, it might set you free—I know it did so for me.
Guest Post by Eva Tortora
Writing. It's the most beautiful word in the English dictionary. Expressing oneself through writing is the most romantic, tangible, symbolic substance. It's artistic and infinite.
When you write about someone you love, they live forever.
I used to go to coffeeshops before COVID for four or five hours at a time, writing, being inspired, and drinking coffee endlessly. Just people watching would inspire idea after idea, with me contributing to everything from magazines to newspapers to bigger companies.
Expression is for anyone and everyone. Anyone can do it in any form and be inspired and change the world, quickly or slowly or anything in between. The written word is powerful and subtle, soft and light, light and dark. It forms beginnings and endings.
Today I will write this, and think of the people I care about, who change form over the years, light my way, and reside in my heart, with words spoken and unspoken. Love is language in any form. Love is light. I capture love in the written word, in silent poetry screaming rhythm and substance.
Today I will write.
I will write until I'm tired, until you change form, until love calls me away in the distance to finish my chores I never started, to dance with me rhythmically into the night. I will stay awake writing, and fitting together words like a puzzle, making you live forever, infinitely in my heart.
Writing is important and silent and loud and rhythmic. Let's write. Shall we dance? forever in my lungs....