Friday, February 11, 2011

My Career

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?


Wm Morris said...

Great post, Darlene. I like that you both think about and then share these kind of things.

I will admit that I have a copy of Writer's Market 2010 sitting by my bed that has a bunch of post-it notes in it (and needs to go back to the library tomorrow). And this even though

a) my 2011 is completely booked in terms of my writing and editing projects
b) I have publicly poo-poohed the drive among some Mormon writers for literary respectability
c) firmly believe that Mormon journals should "count" for much more than they do and that Mormon artists need to get over their inferiority complexes

I also don't think the advice to "just write what you are aching to write" isn't entirely useful because the reality is that the promise of publication -- contests, anthologies, journals (new and established), trends, etc.-- does motivate us as writers and help us select what we focus on. As do our past experiences.

For example, the Irreantum contest has been the main drive of my meager output of short fiction. S.P. Bailey has turned to genre fiction because he feels like he's done what he could do with Mormon literary realism and the small market for it. etc. etc.

My suggestion is this: you really want to do an MFA at some point. What is going to give you a better chance of making that happen and even choices when it comes to do it (not even thinking about where it might be)?

You've done a lot for the Mormon market. Try the national one. Or even budget your time: say, for example, you'll submit 5 poems to the national market for every 1 that you do for the Mormon one.

The possibility of rejection will go up, which could be discouraging. But my contention is that once you hit a certain level rejection is less about "this isn't a good poem or story" and more about "this story or poem isn't right for this editor."

Ang said...

Yes, great post, Darlene. I like your comments too, Wm.

My thinking is this: I don't believe it's an either/or proposition. Poets like Lance Larsen publish in mainstream lit mags and in Irreantum, Dialogue, etc. Personally, I think you ought to branch out and submit to the mainstream lit mags, simply because broadening your audience and publishing experiences doesn't automatically diminish what you can do w/ the LDS lit community. In fact, it enhances it, imo. The truth is, publishing outside of Mormonism enhances your clout with Mormon readers, and Mormon readers might be more likely to read and think about a poem of yours that's published in Irr. or Dialogue if your bio has some mainstream publications or awards. Again, this probably has something to do with our own cultural inferiority complex -- a complex which is too bad, but still real, and affects your ability to be ready by other Mormons, or to get into MFA programs (BYU or otherwise).

Anyway -- I say submit to mainstream publications AND submit to LDS ones, too. Just keep cranking out the poetry, kay?

Th. said...


Seems like I agree with everyone else, but let me add one more: If you're sufficiently successful nationally, you'll be doing us all a favor as your shared glory falls on the rest of Mormon letters, potentially increasing our audience. You can't tell me that if Stephenie Meyer won the Irreantum contest that people wouldn't hear about it. We need more artists to go to Paris then return.

Darlene Young said...

Great comments, and from three people whose opinions on the subject I highly prize (you guys care about Mormon letters as much as I do).

Cool link, Theric.

Jennifer B. said...

I agree with the wise comments that have already been posted. Also, I don't think you're selfish for not posting them on your blog. If it's something you want to publish, I definitely wouldn't. But you could send them to friends in the mail. :)

Anonymous said...

This was so interesting, as were the comments.

One that interests me (and has probably been discussed heaps and heaps at some of the other sites you frequent (but that I don't, so far) is whether it's only your less-Mormon fare that would be suited for a national audience. When a Jewish or Catholic writer's religiosity shows itself in a work or a Jewish or Catholic community creates a setting for a work, when is it off-putting to an audience, and when does it conversely make that work all the more intriguing, specific, and meaty?

I'm up a little late and a little sleepy so I'm not sure any of that sounded as clear as it is in my mind-- but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think maybe Mormon artists should be trying to reach a wider audience *as* Mormon artists rather than trying to make our works more "general." I'm trying to imagine Chaim Potok trying to eliminate Jewish culture and questions from his works, for example.

Obviously nobody's very interested in religious propaganda, but real art in a religious setting and dealing with real questions pertaining to faith can still have universal appeal, I think.

Anyway, you'll figure it out--and I'll continue to be interested in your choices.

Now I'd best go see if I can ameliorate my sleep deprivation. :)

Johnna said...

Yes, submit to mainstream literary mags.