People who know I write ask me about it when they see me. “How’s your writing going?” I’m glad they ask, because that is one of the few things I use to define myself and my life separate from the grueling, nebulous task of raising children. (Which is why it is so psychologically and emotionally dangerous when I consider giving up writing, which I do with regularity. If it’s part of my definition of myself, it rips the rug out from under me if I consider jettisoning it. But that’s a whole nother blog, which I’ve probably already written here too many times.)
Anyway, it’s a hard question to answer, and the answer often depends on the asker. How much does she know about what’s involved in leading a writer’s life? Has she tried to get anything published herself? Attended workshops? Queried? Tried out different writing groups and partners? Revised, revised, revised? Is she even a reader?
Some people think (my husband was one, but I think I’ve educated him), “Why don’t you get your novel published and make lots of money like J. K. Rowling?” Others actually think the same about poetry! As. if. poets. ever. made. money. ever.
You may know I’ve been leaning more towards poetry lately and away from YA fiction. (Again, another blog, which I’ve already written.) Which is very silly, since it never pays and hardly anyone reads it. And also since it is very hard to find the right place to publish and then convince them to publish you.
So in my current poetry workshop, my teacher has been encouraging me to try to publish in literary magazines. As you know, I’ve already published in a few (Segullah, Dialogue, Exponent II, Irreantum), but they are all LDS-related, and “don’t count,” in some ways of thinking. And this is what I’m exploring these days. Why don’t they count? Sure, they don’t help at all (and even hurt) in my efforts to get into the BYU MFA program, or probably into any program. And they don’t carry any cache towards getting a collection published by a national publisher. But they’d probably help me get published by Signature who is, at this point, the publisher most likely to be interested in my work. AND they get my stuff in front of the audience who most appreciates what I write, an audience that I consider well worth writing for.
If I send a certain poem to a literary magazine and if, with luck, they want to publish it, then I can’t send it to the publications that my friends, my LDS audience, read. That bugs me. Because I have fans (both of them) who seek out my stuff and relish it. Why wouldn’t I honor them with my stuff instead of sending it to obscure lit. mags that no one reads but the other people trying to get published?
So my question to myself is: what are my goals? Is it important to branch out to national publications? Do I really, truly want to do all I can towards getting into an MFA program someday or getting some “national” attention (which is actually quite minute for any given poet) instead of serving the people I love in the LDS population? I’ve felt like my true, deep-down reasons for writing are 1) to help myself relish my experiences more, 2) to get at truth, and 3) to share that truth (I admit it). Often, my “truth-getting” is deeply entangled in my religion. I don’t want to turn that off, or turn away from that. But not all of my work overtly mentions my religion—with those poems and/or stories, should I stick to the audiences which support and love all my work, or try to branch out to other audiences? Is any (probably small) acknowledgement I could earn on that bigger (well, probably not bigger by much—probably just different) stage? (And this is all assuming that I could even hold my own “out there.”)
Wait a minute. Did that last parenthetical comment imply that I have some sort of inferiority complex about LDS publications? Have I been confining myself to these because I think I’m not good enough to compete elsewhere?
Don’t know, don’t know. But I love my people, my community. I want to write for them. I also really, really want to go to school. I also wouldn’t mind writing for the world as well, like Flannery O’Connor. (A girl can dream.) So I’m puzzling all this out and, for the time being, hoarding my poems until I decide. I HATE that. I wish I could just not care about my “career” and post my poems here on my blog for all to see. Am I selfish not to?