Tag Archives: Guest blogger

Guest Blogger R.L. Saunders: Things That Happen to Writers (and how to deal)

free adviceDo you love writing? More than almost anything? Possibly more than Doritos and wine for dinner?
     Did you recently decide to start calling yourself a writer (out loud) after years of contemplation and writing lots and reading lots and teaching (English, maybe) and/or working in a library or book store and/or writing for newspapers and magazines and/or getting an MFA or some such writer-type behavior?
     Have you spent the last several months or years reading publishing news and writing advice?
     In the name of industry research, do you regularly cyberstalk authors, agents, and editors?
     Do you fully understand what a long shot traditional publication is, but secretly believe you’re an exception, because who knows, maybe you are?
     If so, I don’t have any specific writing advice for you. Sorry about the buildup.
     But I do want to tell you to stick it out for as long as you love it. If you love it, deeply and genuinely, keep at it even when ugly but normal things happen that nobody likes to talk about–things that make you feel like the ousted mayor of Schmucklandia because you’re too big a loser even for the town where all manner of frauds and talentless hacks go to die.
     Normal things that happen to most writers:
  •  You’ll sometimes feel like a joke nobody gets, and not because it’s a smart joke.
  •  You’ll sometimes feel embarrassed about the stupid shit you say and write while you’re learning how this publishing thing works (see: this). There’s a lot to know and it’s always changing. Forgive yourself and keep learning.
  •  You’ll feel (and be) perpetually ignored, especially at first while you’re trying to build yourself into a circle of writers you’re sure are your people. Some people you admire and were positive you’d like will turn out to be dicks. But some will turn out to be your greatest allies and writer friends. Adjust accordingly. Do not turn into a dick.
  • You’ll experience several dozen fucktons of rejection at every level.
  • There will always be people–even friends and family you love and respect–who just don’t get what you’re doing. And some won’t understand what the big deal is, even if you get an agent or a book deal or twenty book deals. Oh well. You’re not doing it for them.
Reminders for writers:
  • If you choose, over and over, to make it about the journey–about the writing–instead of about “making it” (which is a moving target anyway) you’ll be okay. You’ll be happy, even.
  • Stay humble. Keep growing.
  • So much is outside your control. Try to laugh about that at least as much as you cry. A 60:40 laugh to cry ratio seems healthy.

And remember that there’ll always, always be evil assgadgets who get something from malicious criticism of those who have the audacity to go after seemingly impossible dreams. If you die trying, you’re a thousand times braver than they are, which is probably why they hate you so much. Unless they’re paying your bills, fuckem. Do what you love.

Headshot RhondaR.L. Saunders writes young adult and middle grade fiction. She lives in Key West, where her well-received column in Key West, the Newspaper ran for five years. Saunders was Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at Northwood University, and developed and directed their writing center. You can find her online at rlsaundersauthor.com and @rl_saunders.


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Guest blogger J.M. Cooper: A Badge For Writing

Girl Scouts badgesMy grandfather is a retired Episcopalian minister. He used to talk about The Calling as some kind of mysterious, undeniable force that brought him to the church, a voice that couldn’t be argued with, the most knowable thought one could know, an irrefutable decision. I wanted that assurance—when I was a kid and well into my young adult years. I wanted to know what I was.

One day my daughter and I were looking at my old Girl Scout sash, peppered with patches I’d earned when I was her age. Tracing the colorful badges, she said, “Mommy, you are good at a lot of things.” Initially, it shocked me that my little girl was the first person to say something I hadn’t heard out of anyone’s mouth. But then I had the realization that although I was no longer earning badges, I still hopped from hobby to job to hobby, when what I really wanted was to have that one thing. I wanted to excel at a single thing. I didn’t want to be a collector of patches.

If someone asked me “what I did,” I always said I was a mom. Somewhere along the line, probably around the same time my daughter pointed out my various unrelated skills, I knew I couldn’t go on the rest of my life answering that question the same way. What would happen when I was sixty? Would I then just change the answer to grandmother? The thought haunted me. Yes, I was a mother and someday I’d be a grandmother, but that did not define me or even come close to completing me, nor is it necessarily supposed to, even though that is what common culture often has us believe. It took me a very long time to understand this, but once I did I was able to hear my own calling.

Really, it had been there all along.

I began writing around age ten; journals, stories, poems, observations. I only paused for a few years when my first two kids were babies, because who the hell has time for anything when there are two babies in diapers?! By the time my third child was born, I’d learned a better balance and I labored through writing my first novel. And then, inevitably, somewhere around when I was thirty-five, I began admitting to people that I was serious about writing. When I earned my MFA I could no longer hide behind “Mom.” I was called to write. The voice was loud and in my ear most of my life. The difficult part was that it required me to change my life drastically. I had known that for a very long time and ignored it. Callings are not usually easy.

My calling is not as simple as a single vocation, or title, but more a chosen way of life, a life where I choose to put my energy and passion into what truly fulfills me, no matter how broke I am, or where I live, or who I love. My calling pulls me out of bed before the sun is up, forces me to read the words I’ve written, and then add more. When I can’t do this on a daily basis, I begin to go a little crazy. Nothing in my life has equaled this sustained attraction. And now when I look into my future I’m confident that my answer will never change when someone asks me what I do. I know who I am. I’m a writer. I wonder what the Girl Scouts badge for reaching your vocational nirvana would look like?

Jessica head shotJessica Cooper is a freelance writer and editor with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes middle grade and young adult novels and has been published in Ars Poetica and Curious Parents Magazine. Jessica earned second place for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award and was recognized as one of Warren County New Jersey’s “Writers on the Rise.” Find her online at jmcooperauthor.com and @jm_cooper_


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Guest blogger M-E Girard: A Queer Writing Retreat Where No Writing Happened

M-E Girard Lambda 2015

On June 22, I flew to LA for the 2015 Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices. Lambda Literary is a nonprofit organization that promotes queer literature (by queer writers) through many programs. In 2013, I was accepted into the YA workshop led by author Malinda Lo. This year, I returned to work with author Sara Ryan.

As the title of this blog suggests, I did not write much of anything while there.

Many of us queer writers live in a heteronormative, relatively non-queer world. When I attend writing workshops and meetings, I’m usually the token queer writer. Or maybe there are a few of us there, but we’re not visibly queer, or we’re not all writing queer material. We don’t always find each other. When I’ve had my work critiqued by other writers (nearly always non-queer), I often come away with this sense that every queer element in my work has to be explained and packaged neatly into mainstream’s understanding of queerness in order to be deemed “believable” or “realistic.” On the flip side, I’ve also had people read around the queerness, accepting everything as being relevant and accurate, because they just don’t know how to critique what they don’t understand, what they have no experience with. I’ve found myself experiencing both of these on occasion, when I’ve read works that report experiences of “otherness” that I’m not familiar with.

M-E Girard Lambda 2013In 2013, my world was changed by the Lambda retreat. Upon returning, I started reading up intensively on queer and gender studies. I realized I’d been a feminist all along and that it was badass to own that identity. Along the way, I really figured out what I was trying to say with the YA novel I was working on, which led to a drastic revision. I met some writing friends I kept in contact with—some who still read my work today, and some who simply add a bit of queer insight to my social media news feeds.

This year, I returned as a more confident writer, a more enlightened person. I wasn’t looking to get a lot of writing done. I was looking to spend the week with people who get it, with people whose work I’d want to pick up in a bookstore, with people who make me feel like I blend in rather than stick out. It was about being part of a community, a culture. It was about taking feelings home with me, to have them shape me as a person and as a writer long after the retreat was over.

At the Lambda retreat, I was one of 60-something queer writers. Of course we’re many things as people, but “writer” and “queer” were the two identities we all shared for that week. The freedom that comes with being in that kind of space is indescribable. It’s life-changing. For some, it’s really difficult to let go of, once the week is over. It’s about so much more than just going away for a week and coming home with words written down.

We, at the Lambda retreat, are the people we write about, we are the people we hope to reach with our work, we are the people who can hold each other accountable, who can enlighten each other, who can push each other to produce better work. Lambda Literary gives us the space to come together in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

So no, I didn’t get much writing done on my retreat. Lambda Literary must’ve purposely named its retreat a “writers retreat” as opposed to a “writing retreat” because they knew what kind of experience they’d be offering. What I got are the tools, the inspiration, the friends, and the fire to keep me going while I navigate my regular life, when some days it feels like what I’m saying is too complicated, too big, too queer to say—when it feels like someone else could say it better than me. It’s now that I’m back from my writing-less retreat that I’m ready to sit down and write.

Headshot MEM-E Girard is a writer of YA fiction about teen girls who kick ass in a variety of ways. Some facts about M-E: She’s Canadian, speaks French, was a fellow of the YA workshop of the 2013 & 2015 Lambda retreat, spends hours playing video games, has 2 chihuahuas, buys too many books, and still plays with dolls. Her debut novel, GIRL MANS UP, will be released in the fall of 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books/ HarperCollins. You can find her online at megirard.com



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