It’s that time again. My updated guide to Personal Essay Markets is online over at mediabistro. Thank you to all the wonderful editors who gave me the inside scoop on topics, length, pay, submission etiquette, and advice on how to break in. And to the many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many writers who pointed me in the direction of new markets to include in the guide—thank you! I’m so grateful.
Want to break into personal essay writing? I love the way A River Runs Through It demonstrates the writing process. In the movie, Norman is home-schooled by his father, the Reverend Maclean. When Norman hands his father an essay, the Reverend hands it back and instructs, “Half as long.” When Norman turns in the revision, the Reverend says, “Again. Half as long.” When Norman turns in the third draft, the Reverend says, “Good. Now throw it away.”
Let me suggest a slightly different order. Pick a target market and read at least a half dozen examples. Write the first draft. Don’t revise. Just get the words on the page. Done? Throw that away. Pull up a new Word doc and rewrite your essay. You can revise the second draft. Show it to a few people (other writers) and give it a hard self-edit based on their feedback. Resist the urge to send it off. File it away instead. After a week or two, reread it with fresh eyes and give it a good polish. Now you can submit.
All writers deal with rejection. Don’t be discouraged. Take my latest essay as an example. As many of you know, I struggled with our move to the D.C. area. My piece is about how paddleboarding helped me connect to the region. My early draft didn’t have enough substance. It was rejected. I reworked it. It was rejected again. I reworked it again. It found the right home. Yours will, too.
“Whenever I kvetched about being stuck or about having nothing original to say, [my editor] would reassure me with the words, ‘You’re sitting on your brains. Go take a walk.’ So I walked, and it helped.”
-Anita Diamant, Pitching My Tent
A few months ago, I bought a This Book Belongs To: _____ stamp. It’s a wise owl perched next to an open book with a pair of spectacles resting on the pages. I spent hours one afternoon at the Colorado cabin stamping the first page of all my books in the loft. I picked up my pen, poised to write Jenny in the blank space, and . . . paused. I was suddenly overcome with the urge to write You instead. But then I paused again. Was I going to give my books away to anyone who might want, need, or simply come across them? Yes. No. Yes. No. I wish I was a more generous person. I don’t want to be clingy and possessive of material goods that moths and rust destroy.* Then again, I appreciate the value of my personal library. I study my books and refer back to them all the time when I work. They’re part of my files. Eventually I’ll make the call, but for now I have a humongous stack of books that say, This Book Belongs To blank. (*Matthew 6:19)
In other news:
Open Air: I’m a biker. As in cyclist, not Harley-Davidson chick. It happened by accident. I didn’t have a car for two weeks, so instead of renting from Enterprise, I went to the bike store, bought a helmet and a lock, and began pedaling EVERYWHERE. It took 40 minutes (the length of my first ride) to get over my fear of cruising inches away from street traffic. Well, sort of. At least once a ride I have the horrible thought of mangled limbs. Anyway, I discovered a whole new culture. When I zip up to a bike rack, another biker will say, “How was your ride?” Or, “Was it a long ride?” Or the person will launch into a story about the last time he or she crashed. I’ve always wanted a convertible, and wouldn’t you know? I’ve had one all along.
Hot Off the Press: Modern Woman, a magazine published by USA Today, includes my piece on minimally processed foods. On newsstands Oct. 8.
On the Bookshelf: A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie. To officially open my work day, I have been reading one entry each morning from this book. I absolutely love this practice. It’s uncanny how often the entry of the day fits my writing struggles. One morning I woke up with a tight chest, worried to death about a certain piece I was drafting. The topic in Barbara’s book that day? Anxiety. (And that morning’s scripture reading from the Sermon on the Mount was on anxiety, too.) Another day, as I ate breakfast, I mulled over a list of people I could ask to read a few pages for me. When I went to my desk to work, the day’s entry was on finding the right readers and choosing your posse carefully.
That’s all for now. See you next time. Or as a cyclist would say, “Have a nice ride!”
“I think that a “real writer” is simply a person who keeps writing.”
-Barbara Abercrombie, A Year of Writing Dangerously
“Jeff, you still at the office?”
“Do you know what time it is in Tokyo right now?”
“4 p.m. tomorrow. It’s the future, Nick.”
. . .
“Gotta go. That’s London calling. 7 a.m. in the Old Empire.”
“Jeff, when do you sleep?”
–Aaron Eckhart (Nick) and Rob Lowe (Jeff) in Thank You for Smoking.
My article Sleepless in the Suburbs is on newsstands now. Thank you to the residents of Arlington, Falls Church, and McLean who participated in the piece and shared their sleep struggles. Wishing you a full 8 hours tonight.
Waldo Jenny? In June, I’ll be . . .
Teaching a Personal Essay Weekend Workshop at The Writer’s Center; Arlington, VA branch (June 2 & 9). Bring 12 copies of an essay (600-1,200 words) to the first session and revise that essay after receiving feedback. Sign up here.
Reading from Exit Laughing at Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica, CA (June 10).
Reading from Exit Laughing at Book Soup in West Hollywood, CA (June 11).
Exit Laughing: How Humor Takes the Sting Out of Death edited by Victoria Zackheim includes a piece I wrote about miscarriage titled “Baby Blues.” L.A. friends – hope to see you!
On a somewhat similar note, my essay “Hell-bent on Natural Pregnancy” is up on Salon. Hope you’ll take a few minutes to kick back and read it.
The first winter I lived in Maryland, I rarely left my bed. It was 2006, and my husband, Ron, and I had recently moved to Gaithersburg from Santa Monica, Calif. Uprooting our lives had been more difficult than I had anticipated, and I spent hours fused to my sheets. I dozed. I cried. But mostly, I laid flat on my back and stared at the ceiling. I missed California’s sun and warmth; Maryland was cold and gray. In Santa Monica, I had bounded out of bed each day, eager to walk along the beach before getting to work. Now it took hours for me to muster enough energy to propel myself into the shower, and then down the hall to my home office.
Though ashamed of my sluggish behavior, I had a good excuse. In addition to feeling homesick, I had suffered a miscarriage three weeks after the New Year. The loss had been hard. So I didn’t think much about the fact that I continued to nibble graham crackers in bed long after morning sickness was no longer an issue.
A February escape to Mexico helped. As I soaked up the rays, ocean rays lapping at my feet, my sadness subsided. A warm breeze lifted the weight from my chest. When I returned home, cherry blossoms were swirling. Color had returned to the world. I dismissed my seasonal depression as an anomaly. Then winter was back, and my symptoms were, too.
By my third winter, one thing was clear: there was a pattern to my depression, and that pattern perfectly described seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
To finish reading this piece, take a look at Bethesda Magazine‘s Jan/Feb 2012 issue (on newsstands now).
. . . . . . .
A slightly different version of my article “The SAD Season” is also running in Arlington magazine. Ron and I moved to Virginia in the hopes it would be sunnier 30 miles south. The temperature is a little better, but the sky is just as grey. Thankfully, I’m finding the light (literally and figuratively). I once worked with a girl who was bothered by sunlight. Rain and cloud cover lifted her spirits. How about you? Do you prefer the sun? Or overcast skies? Anyone up for a road trip to Arizona?