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World of Possibilities: Q&A with Publisher Meredith Maslich

–From Cathy

Happy New Year everyone! Hope 2018 finds you well-rested and looking forward to an exciting and productive year.

And now a belated Christmas gift: My publisher extraordinaire, Meredith Maslich, recently sat down for a Q&A with Write Despite. Here she offers up some great insights into indie publishing, info on navigating submissions and rejections, and news about all her company has to offer.

Please welcome Meredith Maslich to Write Despite!


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Meredith Maslich

What made you start Possibilities Publishing Company?

I am, at my core, an entrepreneur, and right before I started Possibilities Publishing, I was working at a desk job, recovering from burnout from the previous company I’d started and run for seven years. Sitting at a desk, working for someone else is kind of soul crushing for an entrepreneur, so I was trying to figure out what my next move would be. Around this time my dad asked me to help him write and self-publish a book based on his career as a sales trainer. I found I enjoyed the work immensely and also started to see that publishing could be a good home for an entrepreneur—there was a lot of structure, a lot of information on best practices, but there was also infinite opportunity for innovation and creativity. As I was finishing my dad’s book, another family member mentioned that he’d already finished a book but needed help publishing and marketing it, so I volunteered to help him as well. Working on this second book gave me more opportunity to poke around in the publishing world, and I became even more intrigued, but I was still a little hesitant. Running your own company can be hugely exhausting and stressful and I wasn’t completely sure I was ready to dive back into that.

A few weeks later a friend posted on Facebook that she was looking for a publisher to take on the digital rights of a book she’d published in paperback, and a mutual friend commented on her post that I’d just started a publishing company and I could do it. That little (public) nudge from my friend was exactly what I needed. I contacted the original poster and we started making plans, and everything else has just flowed naturally from that moment.

What makes Possibilities Publishing different from other publishing houses?PPCoLogoround

We’re a small, independent publishing house, and we have no interest or aspirations to be like the big, traditional publishing houses. Often small publishers try to mimic the “big guys” on a smaller scale, but that doesn’t make sense for me. Habits, practices, and policies of the big traditional publishers are often based on inputs that don’t apply to us—much bigger marketing budgets, bigger staff, and universal name recognition and legitimacy, for example. But at the same time, many of their practices are also based on old, inflexible ways of thinking about publishing, writing, and marketing and I don’t want to get caught up in any of those.

We try to always start from a place of “yes”—from a place of seeing endless possibilities, which means always innovating, always asking why or why not? We love it when an author says “I’ve never seen anyone do this, but what if we tried X?”

We also see our relationship with our authors as a partnership where we each play different roles to help us both achieve our goals of selling books. Our primary role in the partnership is to bring experience, knowledge, and resources to the table, so that when the author brings us a creative marketing idea we can look at what we already know, or provide some context and framework for making decisions. So that, while we’re starting from place of yes, it’s a reasoned yes, or a “Yes, as long as xyz things are set up” to increase likelihood of success.

What are you looking for in a manuscript?

We look for really good writing and really good storytelling. Even in our nonfiction, we want books that flow, and see language as a tool, and thus are pleasing to read. We love novels that are engrossing, that take us to other time periods or just totally put us inside someone else’s life.

But we also look at the author when evaluating a manuscript. We look at whether they have an existing audience, if they seem comfortable with social media, and if they seem like they honestly want to work with a small, nontraditional publisher like us, or if they’ve just come to us because they think they have a better shot getting published by a small indie publisher. We’ve found that the spirit and personality of the author can have as much impact on success as the quality or content of the book itself.

What makes you reject a book?

The most common reason we reject manuscripts is that they have come to us too soon. The story isn’t fully fleshed out, so the arc falls flat, or the characters are one-dimensional, things that working with a professional editor or even a strong writer’s group could catch. The next most common reason is that it’s in a genre we don’t feel we can work with, like science fiction or a very niche sub-genre like “experimental fantasy realism” (that’s an actual phrase someone used to describe a submission). I’ve found that we do much better when I publish books I like to read, because I intuitively understand how to connect with the audiences.

What advice do you have for writers just breaking into publishing?

First, think carefully about what path to publishing is best for you. A lot of writers automatically start with trying to get published by one of the big traditional publishers, but that’s not the only, or best, path for many writers anymore. Many writers are a really good fit for self-publishing or working with indie publishers and I hate to see writers dismiss those options or see them as consolation options when all else fails. The best recipe for success as a published author is to find the path to publishing that works best for YOU, whatever that is.

Second, when deciding to approach a publisher or submit your manuscript, carefully read their website, look at other books they’ve published, look at their relationships with their authors, and be honest with yourself about whether or not it feels like you’d be a good fit with that publisher. And third, make sure you are following whatever submission guidelines they provide, especially with smaller publishers like myself. I’ve designed our submission process to be the most efficient process for us, and to gather important initial information about authors and their work. When authors try to sidestep that process, whether on purpose or because they didn’t see the submission instructions, it tells me a lot about them, and not usually positive things. We like creative authors who think outside the box, but we also need authors who, when necessary, can follow systems and directions, and be a bit inside the box.

Can you tell us about your new imprints—Thumbkin Prints, and Eaton Press?

thumbkinI’m really excited about these new imprints because they let us build on what we’ve learned and have already built, while continuing to learn new things and take on new challenges. Thumbkin Prints is our new children’s imprint, geared toward readers up to age 13. This past November we released our first two titles—one for early readers (Journey to Constellation Station by Lindsay Barry) and one for the 12-13 age range (Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters by Christa Avampato). Both have done really well and it’s been exciting to see the ways in which this market is different from the adult market, but also the ways in which it overlaps. I’m really optimistic about the future of this imprint and looking forward to continuing to build it.

eaton-press-logoEaton Press is our new self-publishing imprint, and we started it in large part as a response to feeling bad for all the authors we weren’t able to work with, either because they were a better fit for a self-publishing model, or simply because Possibilities Publishing was at capacity (we only publish three to four titles a year). So Eaton Press allows authors to access the expertise and experience of everyone who works with Possibilities Publishing, but on their own terms. We can hook them up with editors, or cover designers, or we can help them with every element of writing and publishing start to finish. We’ve ended up working with a lot of business professionals who want to publish books as tools to advance their careers or get more speaking engagements. It’s been a wonderful experience, and so different than what we do through Possibilities Publishing that it’s been really invigorating and rewarding.

You’re having your first Possibilities Conference on April 7, 2018. What will it be like?

I’m beyond excited to see The Possibilities Conference: Transforming Writers into Authors come to life. It’s the result of almost five years of working with a huge variety of authors with varying levels of experience, introvertedness, and enthusiasm, and seeing them all stumble at similar points in the process of transitioning from being a writer (being on your own writing your book) to being an author (publishing and marketing that book). After delivering some short workshops on the topic and getting a hugely positive response from attendees, I began putting together a full-day conference made up of workshops, networking, and skill acquisition. We’re having workshops and study groups that will let attendees not just learn, but practice things like strategies for overcoming fear of public speaking, or strategies for pumping yourself back up after rejection or experiences that fell short of your expectations. The ability to keep going, to persevere after setbacks, or to overcome fear is the single most important factor to achieve success in publishing. But authors need more than pep talks and inspirational quotes. They need to develop new skills and create personalized road maps, and that’s what we want to provide through this conference.

We picked a really small venue for our first time, so when we say space is limited, that’s not a marketing strategy, that’s the straight truth. We only have space for about 50 participants max. But we’ll announce on the website and social media as space starts to fill up.

We’re still finalizing workshop descriptions and exhibitors, so the best place to stay up to date on the conference is our website: ThePossibilitiesConference.com.

Anything else coming up we should know about?

If anyone wants a taste of what the conference will be like, I’m going to be doing a two-hour Writer to Author workshop at the Insight Shop in Vienna, Virginia, on February 5. Learn more and register here.

We’re always innovating and trying new things, so follow us on social media (FB/PossibilitiesPublishingCompany, Twitter: @PossPubCo, and IG: @PossibilitiesPublishing) to stay up to date on our latest endeavors!

 

 

 

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This season of reflection…

–from Karen

Happy Holidays Friends,

It’s tough to write now, especially when you’ve got little kids. School concerts, church pageants, snowy playdates, and the pure joy of encountering the season with them take over. And you know, I think they should.

But for those wrestling with works-in-progress, here are a few thoughts. Anyone rewriting–peeling away the layers of a narrative to drill down, discover, and embellish the real true thing, the core of what you want to say–may especially appreciate this. Rewriting isn’t easy. But keep pushing, and you’ll get there. Don’t look away. Trust the process. It will take you where you need to go. Maybe not where you want to go, but where you need to go. No one ever glimpsed the truth by glancing away at the critical moment. The great James Baldwin put it much more elegantly that I can:

“When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out.”

Keep trying, keep finding out, be honest in your efforts. Don’t be afraid to stumble and try again. The pay-off will be incalculable. This is how great works are made.

Peace.

mistakes

 

 

 

 

From Cathy:

Hello writers! Hope December finds you happy and jolly and hard at work on whatever wonderful pieces you’re crafting these days.

First, a blatant plug for those in (or visiting) the Washington, DC area: I’ll be at the Fairfax City Holiday Market on Saturday, December 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is a brand new event this year, featuring local craft vendors amidst the holiday lights in Old Town Square in the heart of Historic Downtown Fairfax. Look for me at the Possibilities Publishing spot, where I’ll of course be signing copies of A Hundred Weddings. The festival includes live holiday music, hot drinks, gourmet treats, and more. Admission is free. 3999 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.

And now, since you all probably need to do a wee bit of shopping this month, here are a few of Karen’s and my faves for writerly/readerly gift giving.

vonnegut mugI have this mug. I love this mug. If you’re not a Vonnegut fan (no judgement, but seriously?), these nifty mugs also feature quotes from Jane Austen, Poe, Mark Twain, Shakespeare, and others.On Writing

Long live the King! It’s the 10th anniversary edition of On Writing. If you don’t have this one by now, it needs to be on your wish list ASAP.

Writers ToolboxFashioned by a creative writing teacher, The Writer’s Toolbox looks awesome. It gives you exercises and instructions in a “right-brain” approach to writing.Emotion Thesaurus

I have this book on my Kindle, and I use it all the time. The Emotion Thesaurus helps you find whole new ways to say “She was sad/ excited/ angry/ nauseated.” And so many more feels.

rememoryNeed to nudge your brain back to yesterday? Rememory  is for memoirists, story crafters, poets, and anyone who wants to hear more about Grandma’s childhood.litographs

For you literary apparel lovers, check out the shirts, scarves, and totes from Litographs.

Scrivener. I don’t have it yet, but it’s on my list this year. People say it’s one of the bestScrivener-CDWC17-logo-300x177 writing software tools. Helps you create and organize outlines, make notes that you can shuffle on-screen like index cards, and keep all your research in one place. All for a mere $45? Yes, please!writing-retreats

Need to get away? For you big spenders (or lucky friends of ones), how about a writer’s retreat in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, or Hawaii? Check out this list list from The Write Life and get packing.

And with that, we’ll wish you a very happy holiday and an awesome new year to be.

Write well everyone!

A novel for mothers everywhere

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Hey,

Sorry we’ve been…ahem, MIA lately. Too much going on, and too little of it is writing. But this terrific post from Women’s Fiction Writers popped up on my screen this morning, and I just had to share it.

Here’s a novel for any mother who has juggled childcare, work, and life (which means every mother) and especially for those struggling to do it under extra challenging circumstances. We don’t do enough as a nation for parents, especially for mothers who, despite all the advances, still bear the brunt of the job.

I can’t wait to dig into Janet Benton’s debut. Join me?

–Karen

 

Step-by-Step

–From Karen:

Cathy has been basking in glory lately, what with her new novel, all her cool readings and interviews, not to mention her latest score—a flash fiction honorable mention in the acclaimed Glimmertrain magazine.

I could be envious, if I had the time.

But slogging my way through the middle of a comprehensive novel manuscript rewrite—yes, line-by-line, adding new scenes, reworking a viewpoint, the whole shebang—has me just a tad too occupied.

I’m making steady, if slow, progress, but I’m not complaining. My mantra these days: one foot in front of the other—make each scene, and each bit of connective narrative glue, as  compelling as possible.

Of course, I am taking some breaks. My family recently spent a weekend hiking in New Hampshire’s gorgeous White Mountains, where I stumbled (yes sometimes literally) upon a nifty rewrite metaphor: the steep, boulder-strewn trail we climbed.

Okay, it’s a little corny, but also kind of apt, and you can’t beat the scenery.

Our hiking route was the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which winds up the infamous and awesome Mount Washington. Here are a few milestone markers that—when you’re eyeball deep in a big rewrite—resonate both on and off the trail.

 

gotta start

Chapter One, get moving. The Mountain—like the last page—won’t come to you.

 

2 keep going

Picking up speed, but pace yourself. One scene at a time.

 

3. early moments of inspiration

Moments of early inspiration.

 

4. gaining altitude

Look out for those rocky patches, and there are a lot of them.

 

5. uphill climb

This is called an uphill climb, dig deep and keep pushing.

 

6. a rest

Save your file, time for a coffee break. God bless the team that pitched these shelters along the mountain trail.

 

7. the end in sight

The end is in sight. Your feet are sore and your legs ache, but there’s no way you’re quitting now.

 

the end

The end: A view worth climbing for. The manuscript’s ending? I’ll let you know when I get there.

 

Book Group Fun

From Cathy:

I just want to say: Book groups rock!

I had a blast with the coolest group of ladies this week. They not only had me come to speak about my book A Hundred Weddings with three combined book groups in their neighborhood, but they put out a food and beverage spread you wouldn’t believe–one of them even brought a wedding cake with bride and groom on top!photo (4) (1)

The best part was they brought pictures from their own weddings and challenged each other to see how many people could guess which bride was which. So very fun! They had great questions for me too, and I hope they all enjoyed the discussion.

photo (6)On June 4 I’ll be having a reading/signing at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Please come out if you’re in the area to meet with author Andrew Gifford and me.

On the progress of current work, I’m now 25 pages into the new book. Yeah, it’s not much, but it’s a start. Karen is on her second or third rewrite of the full manuscript, and it’s a good one, I promise.

Oh, and I now have this awesome little video about my book on Youtube:

How goes it with you? Hope you’re renewed by the spring weather and working away.

Write well, everyone!

–Cathy

—From Cathy

A quick bit of book news:

imagesAn interview I gave on the Authors Show radio program will air tomorrow. Give a listen to this Q&A (about 10 minutes long), where I talk about my novel A Hundred Weddings and how it came to be! This will be up on their site for 24 hours. (No fair making fun of how lame I sound).

red_logoAlso, I’ll be reading at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on June 4 at 2 p.m. with Andrew Gifford, author of We All Scream: The Fall of the Giffords Ice Cream Empire. Please come out to see me if you can!

 

Takeaways from AWP 2017

—From Cathy

AWP17Thumbnail (1)The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference happened a little over a month ago (February 8-11 in Washington, DC), and in addition to all the books, journals, and souvenirs I dragged home, I also took a ton of notes during the sessions and readings, and finally dug them out. Here are some of the best quotes, overheard remarks, and tips, most of them without attribution. Some are true gems, so please enjoy these takeaways from some great conversations about writing and publishing.

Turning Flash Pieces into a Novel, Novella, or Memoir
(Panelists: Abigail Beckel, Kelcey Parker Ervick, Lex Williford, Tyrese Coleman, Tara Laskowski)

“Prioritize clarity over adherence to the form.”

“Flash eliminates all the boring parts.”flashfiction

Try writing flash stories and connecting them together for a novella or novel. This retains the strength of voice and character, and the overall tension of the book will join them and progress the story forward. (Voldemort is the big tension, little problems along the way are the smaller ones.) Tara Laskowski recommends The Desert Places as a great example of a hybrid text novel.

We All Have to Start Somewhere: How Bad Writing Gets Good
(Some raw language in this one. Oh, those bawdy writers.)
(Panelists: Melissa Stein, Richard Bausch, Tayari Jones, Natalie Diaz, Nick Flynn)

Fifty Shades of Gray reads like somebody shat it out.”

“Give yourself the freedom to suck.”

“You cannot fuck it up. You can’t ruin it. You can only make it necessary to do it again.”

“Your writing isn’t bad, it’s just off. Like a sweater buttoned the wrong way. Unbutton it. Rebutton it. It’s a perfectly fine sweater.”

Always read your work aloud.”

Recommended book: The Artist’s Way  by Julia Cameron

Distinguished Editors Panel, featuring Nan Graham, Daniel Halpern, Jonathan Galassi, and Erroll McDonald

“The author/editor relationship is like an arranged marriage.”

“Voice and territory, more than structure, are the criteria by which I judge a book. Structure can be fixed. But you can’t fix writing that’s not fresh, that’s been done before.”

You know a story is done when others you show it to disagree about what needs to be changed. If they’re all telling you a character isn’t strong enough or the pacing is slow, for example, believe them and fix the problems. But if they’re all telling you something different, it’s probably finished.

A Novelist’s Job: The Realities, Joys, and Challenges
(Panelists: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Julia Fierro, Celeste Ng)

Being busy, working, having a job, makes you more productive in your writing.

Do not think about writing a successful book. Just “be true to the work.”

Do social media in an authentic way. Use it as a place of community. If you feed into that world, it will work for you too. Help other writers (with reviews, promotion, comments, etc.) and they’ll help you.61399611

On creating more spaces/avenues for writing to exist: “We’re all fighting hard for a piece of pie, when actually there is no pie. Your job is not to get your piece, but to make more pie.” –Celeste Ng

Also try to post enough to stay connected with people, but don’t make it seem like a sales pitch. Tweet an overheard conversation. Do a daily task, like Ellis Avery who posts a haiku every day. Another writer posts dog pictures (often with a link to his book) every day.

Loose, Faithful, and Literal: Adaptation from Novel to Screen
(Panelists: Christine Vachon, Neal Gabler, Magdalene Brandeis, Melissa Bank)

Screenplays make you focus on the narrative—how to bring character and plot into what can be seen and shown.

images“In a movie, action is always character.”

One panelist says she tells her students not to call themselves “filmmakers” but “storytellers.” Because there are so many different forms (like streaming services) today to bring stories to life.

A movie is a “jolt,” whereas a TV show is a life. Characters grow incrementally, and that’s a “novelistic sense of life in real time.”

NO screenplay should be more than 110 pages!

By the time the Q&A rolled around, it was apparent everyone listening to this panel was there to ask the same question: How do you get your screenplay seen? Sadly, the answers were pretty vague.

“If you’ve written ‘trash’ like The Godfather, you may be lucky enough that someone will turn it into gold.” —Neal Gabler

Write a two-page summary of why this should be made into a film. Send it to a producer you think would be interested. A 20-something intern will likely read it, and will pass it along (or not) to the producer. Melissa Bank, author of Girls Guide to Hunting & Fishing, sent a story to Zoetrope. They put her in touch with Coppola.

Ask yourself who’s your dream director? Actress? Work on those connections. “I wrote this for you and here’s why.”

“Great works rise to the top. Books come to our attention through coverage, reviews, agencies, recommendations. It just happens.”

Um, yeah. But how do you get your screenplay seen?

“It’s difficult to get things read, and to work with and without an agent. The only sure way to do it is to make the film yourself.”

Kirkus Reviews was recommended as the primary route for movie companies to see synopses of stories that might intrigue them.

Foremothers: Southern Women Writers
(Panelists: Charlotte Holmes, Cary Holladay, Lisa Parker, Lisa Roney, Adrienne Su)

A panelist talked about her mother, whose family moved from the south when she was young. The kids in her school couldn’t understand her because of her southern accent, so she stopped talking—for a year. She read books out loud, practicing in her bedroom, until she lost her accent.

Read Katherine Stripling Beyer, a writer similar to Lee Smith.

One panelist recalled how Lee Smith studied at the Sorbonne and loved to let people there hear her talk. She could see them taking her IQ down about 20 or 30 points as she spoke. Then she would say something that would “take them out at the knees.”

Live outside the world of your past, but find your background. You have to get away from it to look back and find your voice.

Recommended books:

The Dollmaker, Harriette Arnow

Killers of the Dream and Strange Fruit, Lillian Smith

Trampoline, Robert Gipe, on duality of Appalachia

Panel: Conversation with Ann Patchett and Emma Straub

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Emma Straub, Ann Patchett

“Don’t think, what type of book should I write? Writing is most successful when it sounds the most like you. When the voice is right, it feels alive.” –Straub

“Fiction is a way we can play out an alternate universe. Like in It’s a Wonderful Life. If I’d taken a left instead of a right 20 years ago…” –Patchett

Book lovers want something smart and funny. Where’d  You Go, Bernadette?, Cold Comfort Farm, The Vacationers…things they feel proud for having read. Makes them feel great. –Patchett

Ann Patchett talked about her bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville. Her upcoming picks for best reads:

Lincoln at the Bardo, George Saunders

Chemistry, Weike Wang

Do Not Become Alarmed, Maile Meloy

Sing, Unburied, Sing —“a Beloved for this generation,” by Jesmyn Ward

The Leavers, “depressing but great,” by Lisa Ko

Patchett was asked about the new administration and one thing she’d advise writers and book lovers to do to resist and to make a difference:

“Open a bookstore. People don’t want to be alone. You can’t go to J Crew and come together. At a bookstore, everybody is welcome. And it feels wonderful to have community right now.”

 To the Finish Line: Completing and Promoting the Novel
(Panelists: Melissa X. Golebiowski , Cynthia Bond, J. Ryan Stradal , Katie Freeman, Carmiel Banasky)

“My goal is to get 50 rejections a year.”

Check out the Hot Dish reading series in LA. Maybe start something similar in your town?

The Ten-Year Novel:
On why some novels take so long to write, and what writers can do to sustain themselves. (Panelists: Tova Mirvis, Rachel Cantor, Rachel Kadish, Joanna Rakoff, Sari Wilson)

“It’s the persistence that makes you a writer.”

“My sense is that publishing has changed to the point that, a few years ago, an agent might say this book isn’t quite where I want it to be, but I’ll work with the author a year or so and get it there. No more. Books today need to be as finished and polished as possible before they’re ever sent out.”

cropped-gritlit-logo1Such Mean Stories: Women Writers Get Gritty:
Women writers of the south talk about “grit lit.” (Panelists: Luanne Smith, Jayne Anne Phillips, Vicki Hendricks, Stephanie Powell Watts, Jill McCorkle)
“If we think about the reader as we’re writing, we’re putting blinders on ourselves as writers.” –Jayne Anne Phillips

“There is true fear about the power of women.” –Watts

“In fiction, I love to have that alter ego character who rises up and defends herself.” –Jill McCorkle

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Jill McCorkle

“I’ve probably learned more from my characters than they’ve ever gotten from me.” –Jill McCorkle

On unlikeable characters:

By giving readers the history of unlikeable characters early on, they reveal a life, and it makes the characters human. So even if it doesn’t excuse their actions, it helps readers understand why they are the way they are.

Recommended story: “Lechery” by Jayne Anne Phillips

Recommended book: No One Is Coming to Save Us, Stephanie Powell Watts, E-Weekly Most Anticipated Book.

Next year’s AWP Conference is in Tampa. Go if you possibly can. You won’t regret it!

Deep in the Rewrite Trenches: A Little Inspiration from Author Richard Bausch

the-rewright-40x27-2015From Karen:

So I’m neck-deep in the third rewrite of my new novel. How’s it going? Slowly, occasionally painfully, and all I want is to be done with it. I’m fighting my usual impulse to speed ahead, and instead slow down and stay in the scene. I’m winning the battle—some of the time.

Ever been there? It’s not that I don’t like the story. I do, very much., I’m just not convinced that my skills aren’t doing it justice. And then there’s the old “Just because I like it, doesn’t mean anyone else will.”

At times like this, I like to hop onto the Facebook feed of my old MFA writing professor Richard Bausch. A master himself, Dick is also honest about how hard this is, and he doesn’t mince words. He sets you straight, in the best possible way. All these years later, I want to say, “Thank you, Dick. Your influence is still resonating and more important than ever.”

Check out some of Richard Bausch’s rewrite advice:

“In revision, try not to think of the long outcome much. Just concentrate on this morning’s work. Just be faithful to that. Try to be as good as you can be without straining it: “This morning, I’m just going to mess with this scene. See if I can get it right, or clearer, or sharper. I’m only going to think about that. And when I’ve put in my two hours, I’m going to forget about it and enjoy things without reference to the work. The work’s done for the day. And tomorrow, I’ll come at it fresh. I don’t have to write the whole thing in one morning, so I won’t think about the whole thing. Just this. This here, this morning’s work.”

“About the heavy doubt: it’s normal; it’s the territory, the province, the wallpaper in what Jim Dickey called the cave of making. It is your talent itself that produces it. So write through it. Do the work. If you let it stop you, if you let it make you hesitate, you’re making the first and most elemental mistake, and you’re acting like a dabbler, an amateur. This day’s work. Each day.”

 “Be patient, yes, and how hard that is, especially when it’s yourself with whom you have to be patient. It’s very hard, of course. But nobody ever said it would be easy. And one of the traps we fall into is thinking too much about the result–whatever we imagine or hope that might be. The real thing happening is that you are using your time in a way that answers you deep, no matter what fits it gives you, and it always feels better to have worked in a given day, no matter how badly the work seemed to go or how hard it was. To engage in the activity at all is to do something sustaining; and in fact it gives meaning to everything else. That’s why I keep repeating the mantra: this day’s work. Just this day’s work. Did I work today. If the answer’s yes, no other questions. It’s enough. Try to forget about it and go have fun–enjoy that most delicious feeling of wasting time when you have used it well earlier.”

“Someone told you somewhere, or inadvertently communicated to you sometime, that it would get easier? It gets harder, because you know more. Instead of putting down the first or second line that occurs to you IN REVISION, you think of fifty-five others that each have their advantages and disadvantages, and you start really getting down into the deeps of it, including what it is you are seeking in terms that have nothing to do with the STORY: you want others to know how deeply sympathetic you are to human troubles; you want others to have a sense of the sorrows you carry around like everyone else; you want others to know how much you know; you want others–even this–to see what you can do with a sentence, with your extensive vocabulary and your gift for metaphorical speech–and all of that has to be subordinated to the demands of the STORY that you are not even, quite yet, sure of. No, it will not get easier–its complications will change away from the ones you had when you were new; but these complications multiply, and exacerbate themselves as you grow. What you can do, simply, is accept this, and do the work. Even when it seems completely closed to you. Accept it as your destiny as an artist and go on with it. You’re not experiencing anything that everyone else hasn’t also experienced. Remember Joseph Conrad, having his wife lock him in a room and then shouting “Let me out. I’m a fraud. I never could do this.” And he was working on his twelfth novel.”

“I think that no matter how hard it is and no matter how difficult the subject, and no matter how dark your vision, writing a novel is always an act of optimism, even of faith–a generous expansion of one’s being toward something outside the self, and by definition, then, a giving forth for others of your kind. Inherently beautiful and valuable as an occupation, even if it takes years, and, yes, even if no one ever sees it. And, too, even if it is destined to be forgotten, to disappear. Wright Morris: two National Book Awards, one as a photographer, sixteen novels. Gone. Vance Bourjaily, Thomas Williams, William Goyen, George Garrett–one can’t find the books. And they were such wonderful writers. So, do the work for itself. And fuck all else. Make the record, and stop worrying about your place in the scheme of things literary.”

“I used to have terrible anxiety before I’d start a session of work–this was after Iowa, and I was thirty and should have known better. I’d pace and sigh and get a stomach ache, afraid it wouldn’t go well. Such a waste of energy, and what a lot of hell I put myself through, like some atavist cowering at a shape in the clouds. I should’ve been saying prayers of gratitude for the chance to fail my way toward something beyond me. Just for the happy fact that I had this work to do, and a place to pursue it, the need to try. I should’ve been celebrating that.”

A Launch to Remember

From Cathy:

Happy new year to all!

Hope you had a great holiday, did a lot of eating and sleeping and partying—and maybe even got a little writing done in between.

For me, December wasn’t just marked by the arrival of the Big Guy, but also the long-awaited release and launch of my novel A Hundred Weddings. Karen joined me at the launch—devoted friend that she is—and as I said when I took the stage (which is NOT something I ever look forward to doing), it felt like I was at my own wedding. Friends and family and so many people I loved were there at the uber-cool Epicure Cafe, plus a lot of new faces too. It was straight-up fun and cool, and a night I’ll always remember. Here are a few pictures.

Since then I’ve had the amazing experience of hearing from people who’ve read the book. I can’t explain how great it feels to get a call or text or email from someone who just finished it and had to tell me how much they enjoyed it. (Of course, they’re not going to call and tell me they hated it, but you get the point.)

By the way, if you have read A Hundred Weddings and you did enjoy it, would you please pop over to Amazon and leave a quick review for me?

hearthside-booksIf you happen to live in or near Bluefield, Virginia, my hometown, you can grab a copy from lovely Hearthside Books at 1603 Bland Street, which was kind enough to put a couple on the shelves for me. They’ve now announced they’re closing and are having a 25% off storewide sale, so you can snag it for even less. But hurry!

That’s it for now. Hope you all have a year filled with creation and brimming with ideas and fun.

Write well, everyone!

—Cathy

 

 

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