Review of 2017 Write Every Damn Day Book Bingo Challenge

In 2017, I decided to challenge myself and others to a Book Bingo (#2017weddbookbingo)! The card below needed to be blacked out by the end of the year. Although I read more books than the categories listed on the bingo card, this challenge gave me an opportunity to explore different genres and read a few books I might not have prioritized reading. Below is the list of books I read in 2017 for each category.

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A BOOK THAT BECAME A MOVIE OR TV SHOW: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

A BOOK ALL OVER #BOOKSTAGRAM: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

A BOOK FOR YOUNG ADULTS: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

A BOOK IN A SERIES: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

A BOOK YOUR BFF LOVES: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

A BOOK FROM A DIFFERENT COUNTRY: The Storyteller by Walter Benjamin

A BOOK BASED ON A TRUE STORY: Yoga Girl by Rachel Brathen

A BOOK ABOUT WRITING: On Writing by Stephen King

A BOOK THAT RE-TELLS A FAIRY TALE: Cinder & Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

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A BOOK RELEASED IN 2017: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

A BOOK OF POETRY OR SHORT STORIES: Whereas by Layli Long Soldier & Afterland by Mai Der Vang (both were amazing! I couldn’t only pick one for this list)

A BOOK WITH A BEAUTIFUL COVER: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A BOOK WITH TALKING ANIMALS: The Book of Dust by Phillip Pullman

A BOOK YOU MEANT TO READ IN 2016: All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

2018

To kick off 2018, I am participating in a yoga journey hosted by Yoga with Adriene. Her 2018 January series is called TRUE!  Some of you may have noticed that I changed my instagram username to @biblioyoga. I’m constantly re-defining myself and my goals and in 2018, I will earn my 200hr YTT certification to teach yoga! I selected a new name that illustrates my love of reading and writing with my love for yoga.

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I am a fan of having a visual to help guide me in my journey. There’s something about checking boxes that is oh-so-satisfying! If you are looking for a great way to kick off your new year, I highly recommend this Yoga with Adriene’s at-home practice! Namaste y’all!

In 2018, I plan to launch another “challenge” like the book bingo, but I plan to combine reading, writing, and yoga. Keep following my instagram and checking the blog this month for more details. In the meantime, remember to Write Every Damn Day!

Writefest: A Festival for Emerging Writers | Houston, TX

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The morning of Writefest began with me frantically scrambling to try and find the right outfit. What do writers wear? My mind immediately went to the Beatniks…

Glasses.

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Cardigans.

It’s Houston. It’s hot.

Witty t-shirt.

I got rid of all my Urban Outfitters shirts long ago…

I’ve been to several academic conferences, but this is the first creative writing conference I’ve ever attended. It’s the first time that I’ve introduced myself to other people as a writer. It’s the first time I’ve had to vocalize my genre and what my novel is about to other people. Was it intimidating? YES! Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Writefest is a small, local writing conference, so the format was fabulous for someone who is new to the local “writing scene.” It consisted of several panels over a few days – many of which were for individuals new to publishing, which was perfect for someone like me! I received a ton of helpful tips that I would like to share with my readers. You will find these particularly helpful if you are new to publishing poetry and short fiction.

The Importance of Joining a Writing Community 

Writefest was created by a local Houston group, Writespace, that offers classes in writing. Throughout the festival, many of the panels and speakers encouraged the attendees to join a writing community. One way to find members of your tribe is to take local writing courses offered by places like Writespace in order to find other authors in your genre or that have similar goals as you who can offer constructive criticism.

After leaving academia, I personally found it difficult to find classes and establish my tribe of writers. Houston has grown tremendously in creating common spaces for writers, but I have also found that a writing group on-line can be incredibly helpful. If you need a group for motivation, Camp NaNoWriMo is an amazing resource. If you want feedback from beta readers, you can find both in-person and on-line groups on MeetUp. I personally have participated in a writing course through All Writers’ Workplace & Workshop the past few months. In our Thursday Night Novel Writing Group, we are able to submit up to 3,750 words for weekly edits from four other writers that serve as our readers, as well as line-by-line edits from an editor that is a published author. Once a week, we meet in a chat room for two hours to discuss the week’s offerings, and then we e-mail our notes to one another once we finish our discussion.

This experience is incredibly motivating, and I have received very valuable feedback from individuals living in four other states (there just so happens to be someone from Austin in my course). I chose All Writers’ Workshop because a friend recommended the course to me based on his experience and the low cost. You absolutely do not have to pay for feedback like this. You could easily establish your own writing groups via social media, but for me, selecting to participate in a course I am paying for has also motivated me to keep writing. Finally, if you have friends who are writers, try to set up meet ups or (like I have) find a cheap house on AirBNB and do a retreat!

An interesting idea that was emphasized by a few different voices at the conference was that the writing community is a Give-And-Take community. Do not establish these groups to use other people and not give back. That being said, don’t always expect to get what you give. Different writers have different priorities. This is also very true when publishing. When you send off your work, you are entering into a community, so it is important to make sure you are creating professional and positive relationships with editors.

Writing groups help keep you accountable. They also help you acculturate and become a part of the profession. It’s important to know that you are always writing for your readers, so what better way to understand the reader’s perspective than to get notes from a few friends? Also, the more you can have your writing read, the better. Use social media to share snippets, or even better, find a local establishment that hosts and open-mic night and get up and read. Amplify your voice and share your creativity with the rest of the world!

How To Find Literary Journals and Publications

Prior to attending this conference, I did not know the best way to search for publications. Often I saw calls-for-submissions on my social media accounts, or I would scroll through Poets & Writers website to try and find publications where I could submit my work. Although Poets & Writers is a fantastic resource (especially the magazine), it can be tedious to search for publications this way. There were several resources mentioned for finding places to publish, but the one most commonly used comes at a cost — $5 per month– Duotrope. Duotrope allows its users to sort by genre, pay, deadlines, etc. which is not a feature that other sites have. If you are a writer of speculative fiction, Submission Grinder is a solid resource. A few others that were mentioned that I personally have not used were RalanPoetry Markets website for poetry, New Pages, and Codex for speculative fiction.

The most widely used tool to actually submit your work is Submittable. This is an on-line system that tracks what you have submitted and where your publication is in the process – Accepted (yey!), Rejected (boo!), or In Progress. There are some literary journals and magazines that do not use Submittable, and instead ask for e-mail submissions, but I would highly recommend registering with Submittable. Under the Discover tab, the website also posts calls for submissions as well, but the information is not quite as extensive or searchable as Duotrope.

Finally, another great way to research where to publish is to be a reader of literary magazines and journals. You can also consider looking where your favorite authors have been published in the past to find magazines you might enjoy. If you read an anthology and like a short story or poem in it, look in the acknowledgments section to see where it originally appeared.

What To Consider Before Submitting

Something you must consider before sending out work is the type of writer you are trying to become. Are you submitting your work for payment, prestige or reach? Once you have an answer to this question, proceed according to your goals.

One of the presenters (whose publication goal is a combination of reach and payment), said her target is to publish each short story she writes in four formats – online, in print, podcast, and translated. I had never considered submitting my work for podcasts or to foreign markets. She explained that it is important to look at your rights in contracts in order to be able to publish your work in various formats.

When deciding where to submit your work first, it is a good idea to start with fast rejection/acceptance publication before submitting to ones that take a long time to respond. Duotrope can help you find this information.

Many publications allow for simultaneous submissions, but once your work is accepted for publication, you need to contact all of the others and let them know – check out how to track this in the last section of this article.

Also, I would not pay a fee to submit your work unless it is to a prestigious publication or to enter a contest. It is more common to pay a fee for literary fiction than it is for speculative fiction publications. If your publication goal is related to payment, traditional paid publishing contracts award about six cents per word. Make sure you always read the guidelines before submitting. If you are interested in publishing the story elsewhere or in another format, make sure you look at your reprint rights within the contract you receive. This information is often posted on their website as well. Most reputable publications give your rights back in about six months. Remember often reprints pay less, and royalties only pay is sometimes never awarded.

Cover Letters

Some of the most helpful advice I received at WriteFest was about formatting a Cover Letter. The most common advice was to be sure to follow the publications guidelines when submitting. If you have never read the magazine, be sure to look at their free sample on-line to make sure your work fits their aesthetic.

The essentials of cover letters it that they are 2-5 sentences (unless a publication specifies otherwise). The panelists said it might be helpful to mention that you are an emerging writer. This lets them know they are one of the firsts to publish you, and they feel more inclined to ask you to make edits, rather than rejecting your story outright.

To show that you are familiar with the journal, writing your cover letter to the editor serves this purpose. It is also good to have one sentence telling the magazine why you want to publish with them specifically. You can mention a story you read and enjoyed from the magazine or align your style to their aesthetic.

If you are submitting the piece multiple places, it might be good to note in your email. Also, if the piece has been published before or appeared on your blog, it would be good to share that information in your cover letter as well.

Do not give a synopsis of your story. The story should speak for itself.

Do not use google docs or weird links to submit your story – do whatever is specified in the guidelines. Do not use font that is hard to read. Typically, literary magazines and journals use a standard manuscript format (SMF). The SHUNN manuscript format is the typically what is expected by publications.

Track Your Submissions!

One of the most important steps that you can take as a writer submitting work is to create a method for tracking your submissions. Some people like to keep a handwritten journal or list, while others like to use their computers. Many of the presenters at Writefest highlighted the importance of knowing when and where you send your work.

I highly recommend using Excel to build a spreadsheet for tracking purposes. You can create columns for your title, genre, word count, acceptance/rejection, and the magazines where you submit your work. I like to put the date I submitted the work (and sometimes the date it is accepted or rejected). I use different colors to label the information. I color mine green when they are accepted, and red when they are rejected. Below is an example:

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I use one spreadsheet with multiple tabs to track all of my publication information.  Each tab is divided by genre (poetry, speculative fiction short story, literary short story) and then a different tab totaling the pay I receive from any of my publications. This is incredibly helpful if you submit a work to multiple places, and it is accepted somewhere because as a courtesy, you need to contact the other magazines you submitted to and pull the piece.

If you are interested in seeing what rejection letters typically look like, check out WikiReject. 

 

Sorry to leave on the note of rejection, but remember, it’s a part of the process! I hope this information finds all of you well and proves to be helpful. Keep Writing & always remember to Write. Every. Damn. Day.

 

Pop! Fizz! Clink!

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At the beginning of the year, our social media swims with epic mountains overlaid with beautiful fonts spouting common phrases like “Every accomplishment begins with the decision to try” & “Dream it. Wish it. Do it.” The beginning of a new year always feels rejuvenating. There is an energy and pulse around everyone in January. As the year continues, the pulse fades rather quickly and everyone settles back into the humdrum of life. Why can’t our entire years be January – how’s that for a cheesy quote with a mountain behind it? Seriously though, for years, I’ve found myself saying, “Someday, I’ll publish my novel. Someday, I’ll publish my screenplay.” Well, my friends, 2017 is going to be my year because I am going to remove “someday” from my vocabulary and work towards my goals Every Damn Day!

In thinking about my personal goals, at the center is always my desire to create lasting happiness. I’ve struggled with depression throughout my life, and I have found that lasting happiness only occurs when I’m being creative and productive. Sure, I can eat healthier and lose some weight too, but I think if Happiness is my central goal, the desire to better myself physically and mentally will spiral from my pursuit of inner peace.

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the quest for inner peace

My 2017 Creative Goals:

  • Finish writing novel with editor/coach
  • Send off for publication by the end of 2017
  • Publish at least 5 pieces in magazines, journals, anthologies, or collections
  • Conduct at least 2 more writing retreats
  • Go on a solo writing retreat – I’m hoping for a solo teepee
  • Read publicly at least once this year
  • Register and attend Writefest in Houston
  • Successfully complete an on-line workshop
  • Attend Texas Book Festival in Austin (I’ve missed it the last few years)
  • Research potential MFA, PhD, and Writing Residencies
  • Continue posting on Instagram and Blog regularly
  • Participate in NaNoWriMo
  • Write. Every. Damn. Day.

Instagram & Blog Goals

  • Provide memorable and helpful content regularly
    • Instagram – at least 5 posts per week
    • Blog – at least 1 post per week
  • Host a reading and a writing challenge on Instagram
    • #2017WEDDBOOKBINGO – starting January 1
    • Create a monthly writing challenge during NaNoWriMo
  • Be authentic
  • Establish relationships with my followers

On New Years Eve, I posted my first reading challenge to my Instagram followers to help inspire their reading quests. I plan to send prizes to those participating in the Bingo and hope to complete it myself in 2017! The Bingo card is posted below. The rules are simple. You can strive for a regular Bingo (5 in a row) or try to Blackout the entire card by 2018. My followers should be posting examples of what they are reading for each category and sharing the Bingo card with others in order to win swag 🙂 All of the awards will be related to literature and writing 🙂 Be sure to follow me on Instagram at write.every.damn.day

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In order to ensure a successful completion of my personal goals, I’ve made several writing friendly spaces in my home. I fully intend to share those spaces with you in my next entry. Expect lots of pictures and creative ways to make every room in your house, the perfect space to write! In making your own space encouraging, it becomes easier to Write. Every. Damn. Day.

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On Submitting Your Work for Publication

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Tonight, I found myself hoping to write; instead, I revisited a few of my short stories and decided it was time to send them off into the great unknown. Considering how many publications to submit to and finding the write ones to send a story to is completely overwhelming. A fellow writer friend and I chatted on the phone for a bit this evening and we both feel that knowing when a piece is complete is half the battle. Once you feel proud enough of one, the second hurdle  (for me, the more difficult one) is reading and researching where to submit. I’ve found both Poets & Writers and NewPages helpful avenues to begin my search for the perfect publication to print my stories.

The first short story I decided to submit, is entitled “Words.” It’s tale told from the perspective of a cat who wishes she had the words to tell her owner her boyfriend is cheating on her. I’m especially proud of the voice I created in this piece and hope that someone finds my feline raconteur worthy of publication.

The second piece is a work of creative non-fiction entitled “In Every Other Universe”; this piece was harder to send into the cosmos because it is a personal narrative about a failed relationship. It describes the moment that I knew I loved him, but that we could never be together again.

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We were together. I forget the rest. – Walt Whitman

SPOILER ALERT: Last week, I went to see La La Land in theaters. The film is a musical meditation on how our own personal dreams intertwine and beautify our relationships. In love, we are often more likely to chase our destiny; however, when fate and practicality collide, love can fade, hearts can break, and the once harmonious melody that existed between two lovers can become a cacophonous misfortune. The metaphor of jazz as a respectful community of musicians that value the  individualistic talents of one another is carried throughout the film.  At the conclusion of the La La Land, Mia (Emma Stone) unexpectedly attends her former lover, Sebastian’s (Ryan Gosling’s), dream jazz club and envisions an entire future with the man she once loved.

“Every Other Universe” explores this type of junction from my own personal life, and as much as I would like to say those emotions no longer have power over me, I’ve had moments like Emma Stone’s where I envision an entirely different life for myself. This is not to say I am unhappy with my current life or husband; fiction that explores these twinklings is powerful because it is natural to question, wonder, and daydream about the possible outcomes of one’s own life. Is this not why we tell stories? Or how we create relatable characters? 

The occasions where we find a bit of ourselves in other stories, or hell even in the ones we write, are what make us continue to read and write. These moments make us human. These moments make us storytellers.

These moments should make us what to Write.

Every.

Damn.

Day.

Winter Writing Retreat | Wimberley, Texas

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The Spirit of the Texas Hill Country is one unlike anywhere else. The rolling hills, the laid back lifestyle, and an expanse of dramatic sunsets and starry skies. Don Swander wasn’t lying when he wrote about his love of nighttime Texas celestial nirvana, “The stars at night are big in bright, deep in the heart of Texas.” Leaving the Hill Country and relocating back to Houston was one of the most heartbreaking decisions in my own personal life. For almost ten years, I could walk to quaint coffee shops to write and venture to campus to teach philosophy or attend classes and lectures to develop my own intellect. The loss of this community caused my soul to grow weary during my late twenties. The last few years, I’ve made space to write, but my practice is not what it once was. By hosting retreats and this website, I hope to reconnect with other writers, artists, creatives, yogis, intellectuals, and lovers of aesthetics.

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Texas Sky

We only spent three days in the Hill Country, yet I feel so rejuvenated. My passion is reawakened, and I feel like I have a clear purpose once again. I am a writer. I was meant to put pen to paper and create. The practice of writing transforms when you are in a novel place. All three of us felt that leaving our every day lives in the Houston area behind allowed us to focus. We collectively shared our desire to write and recognized how difficult it is to put pen to paper when you find yourself distracted by the mundane tasks of everyday life. We are all allowing “life” to interrupt our practice of writing, and need to live by the motto of this website.

Write Every Damn Day.

I’ve always been fascinated by how a sense of place can inspire your writing. As an undergraduate, I enrolled in a course called, “The American Novel and Sense of Place.” Our discussions were centered around how the landscape and culture influenced a variety of novelists writing around the same time in America, spanning across the continent. We pondered how a place could influence an Author’s voice and storytelling. In the novel I am currently writing, my characters reside in a town similar to the one I grew up in during the 1930s. Abra draws inspiration from the bordertowns of Texas; interestingly, the décor of our AirBNB inspired her writing as well. The home was a Southwestern style with tribal masks, Mayan artwork, pottery, animal prints, and earth tones. When she and I met to conference about our writing, she kept discussing how the snakes in the artwork around the house were inspiring her story and research.

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Our backyard

I found myself reading and writing near windows or outside in the morning. The backyard was covered in lush greens with the subtle mellifluous tone of wind chimes occasionally sounding. One of the reasons I selected this particular property was the ample mount of outdoor spaces to write. Unfortunately, a cold front blew into Texas, so we were bundled up outside – I took full advantage of the cold weather and used it as an excuse to wear my red panda kigurumi.

I think each of us found a time to enjoy the beauty of the property. Janeen spent a morning drinking tea and writing outside while Abra, a certified yogi, led me through a sequence that inspires creativity. She brought a book titled, Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, and began our practice with an edifying excerpt.

After we bowed to one another with Namaste, we decided to take advantage of the hot tub. Other than eating, this was the only time neither of us was reading, writing, sharing, or editing. I went on the retreat with the goal of writing 10,000 words. I reached 8,000, but I also received some valuable feedback, wrote poetry, read On Writing by Stephen King, and edited the first eight chapters of the novel. Overall, the three of us were incredibly productive, especially in the evenings.

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Janeen writing fireside

Inside, we all found a comfortable spot together in one room by the fireplace at night to write. There is something enchanting about writing by fireside. The glow, the warmth, the crackling – all of it kept me awake and focused longer than I had anticipated. We each had our own room if we needed to be in a space of our own to write or conference one-on-one privately without disturbing one another.

I found myself writing all over the house. I felt invigorated and uninhibited. Writing away from home kept me from thinking about the laundry list of tasks I need to complete daily. Green tea, yoga, nature, and surrounding myself with other constructive and creative women truly made me the most productive I’ve been in years. As much as writing is a solitary activity, doing it in the presence of others is energizing and refreshing.

The only negative about our retreat – it wasn’t long enough. There is nothing more inspirational than being surrounded by writers in a cozy space.

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Do we have to leave?

After checking out of our fabulous AirBNB, we explored Wimberely! It’s a eccentric, artsy town with adorable shops and a welcoming atmosphere. There are boots decorated by artists throughout, so each of us took a moment to snag a picture with a boot similar to ourselves.

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Exploring Wimberley

Personally, I feel like this is the best gift I could have given myself for Christmas. I am a true Cancerian by nature,  constantly doing for others, but in hosting writing retreats, I’ve discovered a way to give to myself and others. If you are interested in participating in a rewarding experience, I intend to host another retreat in the Spring, as well as this summer. If you are interested in renting the same property featured in this post, Casa Grande – A Slice of Heaven in Wimberley, Texas , I highly recommend Mark as an AirBNB host.