OS: Welcome To Karen Bovenmyer, author of Swift for the Sun.
She’s stopped by to share with us her new book and to talk about Fear. Thanks so much for coming today!
Thanks for having me!
Fear: Why Aren’t You Sending Out Your Drafts?
I majored in creative writing for both my bachelor’s and master of art degrees, but I didn’t send out any of my work until I was in my thirties. I felt like nothing I wrote was good enough to be published. What I realize now after attending dozens of writing conferences, earning an MFA, and six years of getting paid for stories and poems, is that writers are both the best and worst judges of their own work—this goes for new writers and experienced authors. I want to share with you some concrete ways to manage your fears and SEND IT IN ALREADY.
Ignoring your Inner Critic, Facing Rejection, and Jumping Before You’re Ready
The first hurdle for me as a young writer, and also for many of my students, is fear. I needed to understand my fears before I could address the root causes and get my work out there. Mine follow here:
1. My work doesn’t read like my favorite writers’ works and therefore sucks. My first drafts seem awkward and clunky in comparison. I’m afraid it’s just not good enough and I’m ashamed to share it with anyone else, even other writers at my level. How totally embarrassing to have a bunch of degrees and still write this way instead of perfectly.
2. If I send my work out into the world, someone is going to reject it. Then I’ll have confirmation of how worthless I am. I’ll know I’m not a writer, because if it was good enough, every editor would accept it every time. Best not to take the risk and live an unsatisfied, frustrating, rejection-free life instead.
3. I’m just not ready. I haven’t written a million words yet (Gerrold’s WORLDS OF WONDER), I haven’t read everything ever published in the genre I want to write in, and I don’t know everything there is to know about writing yet. I just need to write, read, and learn until I’m an expert at everything and one day I’ll wake up and feel ready.
Most of you can repeat back the solutions for these blocks suggested by conventional and collective writer-wisdom: 1) create shitty first drafts anyway, 2) grow a thick skin for rejection, and 3) get your work in the hands of editors even though you don’t feel ready. But do you really grok those solutions enough to push past your fear and follow the advice? Fear is a very powerful monster and the low self-worth it was attached to prevented me from acting.
Subvert your fear.
Pull a piece of paper out of the nearest trash can and write down this: WHY AM I NOT SENDING OUT MY WORK? WHAT AM I AFRAID OF? Write three reasons.
I’m serious. Stop reading right now and do it. Yes, you can cheat a little and use one of mine if you’re not sure what yours are yet.
Now, read over what you’ve written and write at least three solutions for each one. If necessary, do a quick internet search for the conventional writer-wisdom solution, but limit your research to five minutes or so. Even having a starting place toward a solution can be enough to face your fear and get going. Mine were:
1. Afraid of my shitty first drafts: Love your work. Read other writers’ first drafts and compare them to their final drafts. A great book for this is Woodruff’s A PIECE OF WORK: FIVE WRITERS DISCUSS THEIR REVISIONS. Woodruff’s book shows beginning drafts and final drafts so you can compare and see what it is the pros first created and how they refined it. This, and powering through my fear and joining critique groups anyway, helped me understand exactly how shitty my first draft can be and still create a viable story. To this day, my guiding thought is: Does it make me feel? If the writing creates feelings in me, I can work with it in revision so it does the same for a reader. How to edit/revise is a whole blog post by itself, but that was my first hurdle—learning to see and love the kernel of story I was working with.
a. Study pro’s first drafts and revisions
b. Join a critique group
c. Volunteer slush-read for a magazine to understand the levels of quality most writers are submitting
2. Afraid of rejection: Love your work. My first form-letter rejections hurt so much I still have lingering anger. I know it’s both childish and churlish, but those first few, especially from no-pay or royalties-only markets and contests, stung like the dickens and I haven’t worked through that hurt. But I kept sending drafts out and growing a thicker skin. It wasn’t until no-pay and royalties-only markets rejected work that I later sold to $.10 per word markets or subsequently earned Finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest that I really understood what editors at conferences had been telling me for years. If your piece doesn’t speak to an editor, or doesn’t fit well with the other stories they are considering, or they just recently published a story too similar to yours, they will reject your story. It’s not personal—it’s chiefly about the needs of the magazine and the taste of the editor (though the quality of your work must be high). Years of slush reading for a pro magazine and working as an editor for another taught me the truth of this. My work has to meet a baseline of quality, and then it’s up to the editor’s taste and needs if it’s a fit. The only way to learn about the baseline is by reading, writing, revising, and submitting. Love your work and get it to others who will love it too.
a. Send stuff out anyway. Treat rejection letters as badges of honor.
b. Get new ideas for revision from rejection letters (especially personalized ones).
c. Send to a variety of different markets that seem like good fits.
3. Afraid I don’t know enough yet: Love your work. Give up your perfectionism. You’re never going to be able to know everything and trying to is elaborate procrastination for writing and sending your work out. As you grow more experienced, you’ll learn to recognize when a story has enough of a golden kernel for you to share it with a critique group, revise it, send it out, and keep sending it out until someone buys it. It’s the doing of the thing, not only reading about it, that teaches you the most deeply.
a. Take classes with a homework component to get writing something, anything.
b. Join a critique group and regularly share work with them. Challenge each other to submit to contests. Again, treat rejection letters as badges of honor.
c. Find ways to look at and learn from successive drafts, both for yourself and others.
Much of this advice boils down to “write things and send them in no matter what” but again, it’s hard to do that when fear is standing in your way. I still haven’t sent out anything I wrote while I was in my twenties. If I can even find any of it, the strong feelings of inadequacy tied to each of those pieces would probably still keep me from submitting them. I had to reach a stage in my personal journey where I felt ready to face my fears and SEND IT IN ALREADY. My best wishes as you explore why you’re not sending in your work, and the solutions to help you subvert your fear.
Benjamin Lector imagines himself a smuggler, a gun runner, and an all-around scoundrel. A preacher’s son turned criminal, first and foremost, he is a survivor.
When Benjamin is shipwrecked on Dread Island, fortune sends an unlikely savior—a blond savage who is everything Benjamin didn’t know he needed. Falling in love with Sun is easy. But pirates have come looking for the remains of Benjamin’s cargo, and they find their former slave, Sun, instead.
Held captive by the pirates, Benjamin learns the depths of Sun’s past and the horrors he endured and was forced to perpetrate. Together, they must not only escape, but prevent a shipment of weapons from making its way to rebellious colonists. Benjamin is determined to save the man he loves and ensure that a peaceful future together is never threatened again. To succeed might require the unthinkable—an altruistic sacrifice.
Release Date: Mar 27, 2017
Cover artist: Anna Sikorska
Dreamspinner Press ebook | Dreamspinner Press paperback
Karen Bovenmyer was born and raised in Iowa, where she teaches and mentors new writers at Iowa State University. She triple-majored in anthropology, English, and history so she could take college courses about cave people, zombie astronauts, and medieval warfare to prepare for her writing career. After earning her BS, she completed a master’s degree with a double specialization in literature and creative writing with a focus in speculative fiction, also from Iowa State University. Although trained to offer “Paper? Or plastic?” in a variety of pleasant tones, she landed an administrative job at the college shortly after graduation. Working full-time, getting married, setting up a household, and learning how to be an adult with responsibilities (i.e. bills to pay) absorbed her full attentions for nearly a decade during which time she primarily wrote extremely detailed roleplaying character histories and participated in National Novel Writing Month.
However, in 2010, Karen lost a parent.
With that loss, she realized becoming a published author had a nonnegotiable mortal time limit. She was accepted to the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program with a specialization in Popular Fiction and immediately started publishing, selling her first story just before starting the program and three more while in the extremely nurturing environment provided by the Stonecoast community, from which she graduated in 2013. Her science fiction, fantasy, and horror novellas, short stories, and poems now appear in more than forty publications including Abyss & Apex, Crossed Genres, Pseudopod, and Strange Horizons. She is the Horror Writers Association 2016 recipient of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. She serves as the nonfiction editor for Escape Artist’s Mothership Zeta Magazine and narrates stories for Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Far Fetched Fables, Star Ship Sofa, and the Gallery of Curiosities Podcasts. Her first novel, SWIFT FOR THE SUN, an LGBT pirate romantic adventure set in the 1820s Caribbean, will be published on March 27, 2017. http://karenbovenmyer.com/
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