Your Writing, Your Soul:
Fear Can Keep Your Writing Closeted,
So Uncloset Your Treasures and Promote!
(This article is reprinted–in part–from The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do
What Your Publisher Won’t by Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
I have tons of “stuff” stowed away in the nooks and crannies of my computer.
I have quotes, ideas, poems, stories, portions of novels and — dare I say it — crap that I can’t decipher, don’t know what I was saying when I read it or even why you saved it.
This doesn’t jibe very well with the fact that I believe, and keep telling other authors — in articles, on message boards, and wherever– that the second most important aspect of writing after the process itself is to be read or, better put, to share what you write.
I nag like this because I believe that writers, especially newly minted writers, worry way too much about plagiarism, copyright, and “giving away their ideas” instead of about sharing their talent. I would rather have a million people read one of my poems in an Abigail Van Buren column, even if it is credited to Anonymous, than have it read not at all. I fervently hope more writers will come to share this view.
At one point I had to ask myself how I reconciled this noble (well, I think it is!) attitude with all those tidbits secreted away like little emerald-cut diamonds in the dark recesses of a safe. What good were they doing anyone that way? I mean, some of this work had once been submitted somewhere, some rejected and some had just been ignored altogether. That made them equal because regardless of the reason, no one had read them! There were even a few that had been printed, first time rights only, and these were also crying out to be read again.
Fear Your Writing Isn’t Worthwhile
Then I started noticing all kinds of literary journals. Print journals. Web journals. Many of them new. These were edited by people who care about literature and about writing, even though they may not pay a cent. I began a rescue mission, a promotion campaign and indulged in some fear-therapy to boot. I retrieved a few stories and poems from my files and some of that work is being published. The ones that were printed awhile ago are being republished with a tagline crediting the first place they appeared. Here is just a partial list of places some of my pieces (other than the book reviews some of you may have seen) have appeared in just the 30 days or so after I began my campaign:
TheCopperfieldReview.com (2 issues)
The Banyan Review www.banyonreview.com
SubtleTea. edited by poet D. Herrle www.subtletea.com
SparksMagazine.com (print) www.sparksmagazine.com
Penumbra, California State University at Stanislauss
annual literary journal (print)
The Feminist Journal, www.thefeministjournal.com
Poetic Voices, www.PoeticVoices.com
The Yarrow Brook Review Journal–two issues (print),
no longer in print
So, my poetry, short stories, excerpts and flash fiction are seeing the light of day. I am listing the publications in the hope that they might be vehicles where other work that has been secreted away or deprecated because of a few rejection notices from places like the Atlantic Review (that, mind you, get like 30,000 submissions a year!). I hope they might bring readers some pleasure and reassure a few more writers that they have voices worth listening to.
Fear of Plagiarism
To give you confidence to do this, however, you may need to know that plagiarism is quite rare excepting for the notorious college paper trade. If you are so worried you’re paralyzed, here are some ways to protect yourself.
Copyright large works with the United States Copyright Office. even though
reliable sources tell us that, because of a change in law, this process is not necessary. Do it because it may make you feel better.
Copyright both your longer and shorter pieces by sending yourself a copy in a sealed envelope. Mark it ‘Copyright’plus the title of your piece. Don’t open it when it arrives in your mailbox. File it for safekeeping.
Here is a way you can reassure yourself:
Ask three writers (critique group friends, perhaps) to write a piece using a very specific subject maybe even something you’ve considered writing yourself. I did this with a friend’s idea (after asking permission to use it). It was a story about how, as a child, she had sneaked into a neighbor’s house and eaten frosted strawberries out of the old woman’s Fridge. We then set a lunch date and read each work aloud. Each was so different we wondered why we had ever been concerned about a fellow writer stealing an idea. Usually, a writer won’t be at all interested in writing someone else’s stuff,anyway. Writing, after all is about self expression.
Fear of Rejection (or Success)!
Another reason that writers don’t put their work on view is that they fear success or rejection. Psychology journals and texts are full of information about how our emotions destroy our chances for success. Some little voice nags you that you won’t be successful when really there is something else silently screaming, ‘And what if you are?’ or the other way around. A good therapist can help you with this. A book for writers that addresses several of the psychological intricacies of writing is Bruce Holland Rogers’ Word Works and, of course, Milli Thornton’s books. If you even suspect “remotely” that fear of rejection or success might be your problem check one or both out. In the meantime, I suggest taking baby steps to overcome them.
Here are seven resolutions that might work:
Today I am going to address or dig up one old piece I wrote from the bowels
of my computer.
Today I am going to rewrite or edit it.
Today I am going to buy the newest edition of Writer’s Markets published by
Writer’s Digest Books.
Today I am going to find one magazine, journal or publisher in Writer’s
Markets. that might be interested in that work.
Today I am going to address the envelope and maybe even (gasp! TWO baby
steps?) write the cover letter that goes with it.
Today I am going to put the cover and written work into the envelope and
Today I am going to mail it.
Seven baby steps and we have achieved the first big step. Add love, a pat on
the back and repeat. Do this at least 13 times in succession; that helps mask
your fears of either success or rejection because you can’t obsessively worry
about each and every one of the thirteen.
Using Writing in Your Branding Campaign
There is another benefit to publishing the little pieces you’ve been collecting over the years. It’s all about branding. Every time your byline appears, you are making editors, agents, webmasters, and other writers aware of you and what you do. Every time you are published, for pay or not, your tagline appears complete with a link to your website or at least an e-mail address. Every time you are published, that becomes part of resume, part of your media kit, part of the confidence you need to promote with a brave smile, with your chin up.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson in the award-winning author of THIS IS THE PLACE and
HARKENING (both available on Amazon) and a chapbook of poetry called TRACINGS,
just released at http://www.finishinglinepress.com . Her poems and short
stories appear regularly in literary journals and she is a popular guest on
radio and TV. A marketing instructor for UCLA’s renowned Writer’s Program and former
publicist, she is also the author of USA Book News’ Best Professional Book of
2004, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON’T. Learn
more at http://carolynhoward-johnson.com .
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author,THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR
Winner USA Book News’ “Best Professional Book 2004″and
Book Publicists of Southern California’s Irwin Award.
Learn more at: http://carolynhoward-johnson.com/
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