#LiterarySpoons: A New Twitter Hashtag Event for Spoonie Writers

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Welcome to the Q & A for #LiterarySpoons, a brand new Twitter hashtag event hosted by me and @SpoonieCult. The purpose of #LiterarySpoons is for writers who identify as spoonies – which includes those who are chronically ill, disabled, mentally ill, and/or neurodiverse – to share their writing with the community. Our first #LiterarySpoons event will take place Thursday, October 13th from 5-7PM PST / 8-10PM EST / 12AM-2AM GMT.

Question 1: How do I share my original writings?

Answer: Compose a new tweet and include a title, description, and link to each piece. They can be in the form of blog posts, articles, essays, poems, stories, screenshots, etc. They could be published on blog sites like WordPress or Tumblr, in literary magazines or journals, or in online magazines or news outlets. Make sure you include the hashtag #LiterarySpoons and specify any mature content or trigger warnings. The posts will be moderated and any offensive or copyright-infringing content will be reported.

If you need a free, fast, and safe place to post your work, I recommend creating an account on Medium and using that as a platform to host your content. With Medium, there’s no need for layout or website setup.

Question 2: Does the writing I share have to relate to being a spoonie?

Answer: Nope! Subject matter and genre is entirely open. The point of the event is for us to showcase our best work. If that involves being a spoonie, great! If it’s a story about a unicorn, that’s fine too! The material doesn’t need to be new or written specifically for this event. The only requirement is that it’s original.

Question 3: Is there a limit to how many pieces I can post?

Answer: There’s no official limit, but be mindful and considerate of the event. Don’t flood the stream with your work. I’d say five posts total would be around the maximum. That will allow others to share their work without getting lost in the feed.

Question 4: What exactly is a spoonie, anyway?

Answer: The term came from a blog post written by Christine Miserandino called “The Spoon Theory.” Those of us battling chronic illness, mental illness, and disability often have trouble keeping up with day-to-day life. Our energy has to be measured out, and Christine chose the metaphor of measuring that energy in spoons. How we feel can be unpredictable and vary from one moment to the next. That’s why many of us call ourselves “spoonies.”

The term has morphed into a wonderful and supportive online community and a shorthand way of identifying ourselves.

Question 5: What if I can’t attend the event during the date and time it’s scheduled? Can I still participate?

Answer: Absolutely! I recommend scheduling your posts in advance using a free service like HootSuite. You can hop on the thread whenever you’re able to and read other people’s posts.

Question 6: Is this just a one-time event?

Answer: We’re hoping to make #LiterarySpoons an ongoing monthly event. You can follow me, @alanasaltz, and @SpoonieCult to stay updated on future events.

If you have any questions that weren’t answered here, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. I hope to see you and your writing on the hashtag!

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My #PitchWars Mentee Bio

Welcome #PitchWars mentors and fellow participants!

If you’re reading this, you’re either looking to know more about me, or you’re a regular reader of this blog and are currently experiencing some confusion.

For those in the latter category, here’s the deal: I’m participating in a Twitter contest called #PitchWars where I’ll be submitting my YA novel to a small list of potential mentors in the hopes that they’ll work with me on editing and presenting it to a group of literary agents. This is my bio for the competition, a chance for potential mentors to get to know me.

First, A Little About Me

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My name is Alana. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since I was 13, but I originally grew up in a small town in Maryland. I primarily work from home as a freelance writer and editor. I’m also an intern at Folio Literary Management and a part-time after school instructor for Minecraft classes.

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I have an awesome boyfriend named Pj. He’s an artist (and fellow Doctor Who fan).

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Pj has a dog named Zoe (left), and I have a dog named Zephyr (right). I adopted Zephyr from a rescue five years ago. We also puppy sit a neighbor’s dog on a regular basis, so there are a lot of dogs in my life. I love all animals, but I have a soft spot for pups.

When I’m not working or writing, I’m usually reading or watching TV shows and movies on Netflix.

These days, most of my reading consists of YA contemporary fiction and memoirs. I also read a good amount of literary fiction. My favorite authors include Truman Capote, Francesca Lia Block, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Cheryl Strayed, A.S. King, Lidia Yuknavitch, Leila Sales, J.D. Salinger, and Jandy Nelson. You can check out my Goodreads for more on the books I’ve read.

Some of my favorite shows include Gilmore Girls, Freaks and GeeksDoctor Who, Sherlock, PsychDariaFriendsGame of Thrones, and Parks & Rec.

My all-time favorite movie is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. I love it so much that it inspired a solo trip to Japan in 2009 and a tattoo on my ankle. I also love Amelie, The Princess BrideGhost World, and anything with Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart.

If I’m not reading, writing, or watching something, I’m probably rocking out on my ukulele. I’ve been playing for three years, and I write and compose my own songs.

In addition to making music, I also listen to a lot of it. My favorite musicians are Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Andrew McMahon, The Shins, The Rocket Summer, Joanna Newsom, K’s Choice, and Ben Gibbard.

Oh, and for a hot second, I was a meme called “Pelican Girl.” It was a thing on Reddit for a few days after my boyfriend posted a photo of me that looked like I was riding a pelican.

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About My Writing Journey

I’ve been an aspiring author since the age of six, when my mom bought me my first journal. On the gold-lined pages, I recorded random thoughts about my friends and snippets of poems and songs that I created.

A couple years later, I began writing stories and making books. I showcase a couple of my lovely cardboard-covered childhood creations in this video:

I studied creative writing in college and wrote a couple of novels. I then received my MFA in Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles in December 2014. My final manuscript for the MFA program was a memoir about my experiences growing up with anxiety disorder and depression.

Mental illness is a subject I have much personal experience with and write a great deal about. I hope to fight stigma and spread awareness about mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety disorder, through my writing. I’m a contributor for The Huffington PostHelloGiggles, and RoleReboot, and I recently had an essay in the Los Angeles Times. Some highlighted publications are listed on my Writing page.

About My #PitchWars Manuscript

The manuscript I’m submitting is a YA contemporary novel about a girl who runs away from home and ends up homeless on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. She’s struggled with bouts of depression as well as substance abuse issues. Check out the novel’s Pinterest board for some of my visual inspirations.

I wrote the first draft of the novel back in college. I revisited it a couple years later, then revisited it again earlier this year. The story has stuck with me all these years, and with some major editing and rewriting, I’ve transformed the initial idea and rough draft into something larger and more coherent.

The character and her journey are both close to my heart, and with the right mentorship, I think I’ll be able to really make the manuscript shine. I’m very dedicated to my craft as well as the editing process.

No matter what happens, I’ve really enjoyed being part of the #PitchWars community and getting to know so many amazing writers and mentors. Thanks for reading my bio!

Check out more mentee bios on the blog hop.

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What I Learned from Being a #PitchtoPublication Editor

7991795290_4c48627084_nI’ve been on the writer side of Twitter pitch contests for a while now. As an aspiring author, I follow and enter many of these contests with the same hope as everyone else: to land a literary agent. So I was excited to be offered a chance to participate on the other side of a contest called #PitchtoPublication.

For those who aren’t familiar with #PitchtoPublication, a group of about 25 freelance editors each received up to 100 query submissions from writers with completed manuscripts. We each narrowed all of those entries down to one author who we’d spend a month working with on his or her manuscript before it’s presented to a group of participating agents. So basically, the author receives a free manuscript edit and then gets the opportunity to showcase his or her work in front of interested agents. I was chosen to be one of the freelance editors.

When the submission window opened and the entries poured in, I read them immediately, eager to discover a compelling and engaging story. At first I felt powerful and wise, confident that the decision would be easy. But soon I was humbled by the talent I saw, and the fact that I’d ultimately have to reject almost everyone who was submitting work to me. I had been among the contest hopefuls in the past. In fact, I was a hopeful in this contest as well. I’d gotten permission to participate both as a submitting writer and an editor/mentor.

As I went through entries, I posted some of my responses on Twitter without using names or identifying details. I used a tag called #tenqueries that many agents and editors use when going through their queries. It was helpful for me to practice articulating why I was passing or giving a maybe to certain projects, and writers seemed to find the nuggets of advice within the tweets helpful as well.

It was incredibly difficult narrowing down 100 entries to 10. While about half of them were passed on fairly easily, either because the genre wasn’t one I specified interest in or the writing perhaps needed too much work to be agent-ready, most were solid. But I had to look for more than just solid writing. I wanted something special, something unique, and something that I found personally compelling. It came down to taste as much as talent. That’s how I was able to get my top 10 (although I couldn’t quite narrow it down, so I requested more pages from 11 authors).

When I received the first 50 pages and read the entry of the author I ultimately chose to work with, I knew she was the one. Although I’d had some concerns based on her query, the pages reassured me that the book would be amazing. Her story stuck in my mind despite some other amazing entries. It had the perfect balance of being unique, compelling, engaging, and diverse. There was also enough for me to help her with as an editor, but not so much that it couldn’t be agent-ready in a month. I especially appreciated the issues that the manuscript was addressing, ones that are very important and need more awareness in the world right now.

As a writer, my own work wasn’t selected for #PitchtoPublication. I got a few requests, but none were the perfect fit. For once, I was completely fine with being rejected because I’d seen firsthand how subjective and difficult the decision was. The numbers and odds weren’t in anyone’s favor, and even if my work hit most of the checkmarks, it came down to personal preference as well.

Being an editor for #PitchtoPublication also taught me that having a story that is unique and addresses a larger issue is what will draw an agent in. Having good writing and an interesting story isn’t enough. I got a lot of those submissions, and while many of them could potentially be represented and published, it might be hard for them to get noticed by a busy agent with a thousand other queries in his or her mailbox.

A manuscript needs to be compelling. It must be readable and relatable while also addressing something important that agents and readers will connect with. It doesn’t have to be a big issue, but it has to stand for something. That element was what sealed the deal on my decision, and I imagine many agents are looking for the same thing.

Thank you to everyone who participated in #PitchtoPublication, and a special thank you to Samantha Fountain for putting it all together!

 

(photo credit: Oh Winter, let’s get married via photopin (license))

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How to Get an MFA in Writing

In my last post, I talked about the journey I took to get my MFA in Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. In this follow-up post, I’m going to cover some of the basics for those looking to get their own MFA in Writing.

5821365833_87da1ed90dFirst of all, be prepared for a possibly long and definitely arduous process. MFA programs, especially ones with any kind of funding, are insanely competitive. I read that Iowa Writer’s Workshop is harder to get into than Harvard Medical School, with a 1-2% acceptance rate. The same goes for all of the top, funded programs.

Even programs with less funding and name recognition can be difficult to get into. I have friends who have applied to dozens of schools over several years and still haven’t gotten into the right place for them. However, it’s worth a shot to apply to a school if it looks like it would be a good fit, even if the odds are against you. This is especially true if you have a strong writing background and solid recommendations.

Deciding where to apply can be a feat of its own, especially with application fees ranging from $40-$120. Research is very important. Use sites like The MFA Blog and Poets & Writers’ MFA Database to help you create a list. Poets & Writers used to do an annual ranking, but those turned out to be based more on name recognition than any sort of objective quality assessment, so don’t take them very seriously. There are also some good books with advice and school listings including The Creative Writing MFA Handbook and the Low-Residency MFA Handbook.

Be sure to research individual schools by using their websites, looking them up on forums, and requesting to speak with current students. If location matters to you, keep that in mind as you’ll be living in that area for 2-3 years (unless it’s a low-res program). See who the program’s faculty members are, what their publications are like, and read their books. These are the people you’ll be working with and learning from, so choosing a school with accomplished faculty who write work you admire is a must. Many schools also have open houses and info sessions.

Some schools will require that you take the GRE and submit scores along with your application. In my experience, this was maybe 1 in 5. I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the time and money to add a few more schools to my list, so I didn’t take the GRE.

Otherwise, you’ll typically submit a personal statement, writing sample, and 2-3 letters of recommendation. Send your best work and have at least two other people read it over, preferably people good with spelling and grammar. If you don’t know anyone like that, pay for a professional editor. Also make sure to customize each personal statement and secure recommendations from mentors, teachers, and/or professors who know you and your writing. Give them plenty of time to complete these recommendations and provide them with the envelopes and postage or online form information they need.

It’s also a good idea to check in on your financial situation and decide how much debt you’re willing to take on. Some schools aren’t very transparent about what kinds of funding options they offer, so you might have to email and ask. The top, competitive programs (typically based at large state universities) often offer TAships, which means teaching 1-3 undergraduate classes each term, usually in composition and sometimes creative writing. This does add to your workload substantially and is one of the reasons I opted for a low-res degree instead. I wanted to be able to focus on my writing.

Low-residency programs are a great option for people with jobs and/or families who can’t relocate (or just don’t want to). Although they typically offer limited funding, you do most of the writing from home, but get to commune with fellow writers, attend workshops and lectures, and work with mentors twice a year for 10-days at a time on the school’s campus. I found this model to be perfect for me even though I’m a younger writer without strong family ties or employment obligations.

Students in these programs range in age from 21-75, with the median probably being 35. I didn’t feel out of place being in my 20s, though. Everyone was very professional and accepting of others. I liked the independence and flexibility this kind of program provided me, and it was conducive to the way I work. Low-res programs still have strong writing communities, and you’d be surprised how much you bond with people you only see a couple times a year.

Those are just some basics to get you started on your MFA research. Feel free to leave specific questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Best of luck!

 

(photo credit: The year is over via photopin (license))

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Why I Chose to Get an MFA in Creative Writing

IMG_0734Last week, I was invited to speak about writing and education at the California Writers Club of San Fernando Valley. Preparing for the talk gave me the opportunity to think more about MFA in Writing Programs: namely, if writers should get one, what kind of writers should get one, and how to go about getting one.

My decision to get an MFA in Writing was both natural and spontaneous. I’ve been writing creatively as far back as I can remember, and I’ve wanted to be a writer for about that long as well. But despite my desire to become a published author someday, I didn’t give much thought to graduate school. By the time I reached high school, I knew that I’d be majoring in English but that I’d probably pursue some other career while writing in my free time. I was realistic enough to know that most writers couldn’t support themselves through their work alone. I thought about becoming an editor for a publishing house or maybe a literary agent.

However, after graduating college in 2009, I realized that finding an entry-level job in Los Angeles with my BA in English Lit was going to be a lot harder than I expected. The economy was terrible and the job market was encountering major changes due to the crash and the ever-increasing and unpredictable rise of technology. Because I wasn’t able to find a full-time job, I began to give more thought to an MFA program.

Being in grad school would give me a chance to focus on my writing, complete the memoir I’d been dreaming about writing since the age of 12, and qualify me to teach writing at the college-level. Although teaching hadn’t been high on my list of potential job opportunities, I was lucky enough to land an internship teaching creative writing courses at a retirement community toward the end of my undergraduate studies. That experience showed me how much I enjoyed helping others find and share their stories.

At first, I applied to a few traditional MFA programs around the country just to see what happened. Unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted to any of the three programs I applied to. I know now that three is a very small list and MFA programs are incredibly competitive. Iowa Writer’s Workshop, for example, is harder to get into than Harvard Medical School with a 1-2% acceptance rate. When preparing for my next round of applications, I decided to put more consideration into low-residency MFA programs.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the low-residency format, these MFA programs are more geared toward writers who have families and jobs that would make relocating and studying full-time difficult. Since I was only in my early to mid-20s, I didn’t think that this format applied to me. But I soon realized that a low-residency program would give me a lot more freedom and flexibility than a traditional program. I could stay in Los Angeles and continue looking for work if I wanted to. I wouldn’t have to uproot my life and put everything on hold to get the degree. Low-residency programs are mostly done from home, with two 10-day residencies on the school’s campus each year for two years. At those residencies, you get to meet other students and the mentors you’ll be working with, attend lectures and writing workshops, and go to readings and parties.

The disadvantage of low-residency programs is that most of them don’t offer much, if any, scholarships or funding. Many traditional programs don’t offer this either, though, and the ones that do tend to be Harvard Medical School-level competitive. I spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons, examining my financial situation and options, trying to decide whether it would ultimately be worth paying out of pocket and through loans for an MFA in Writing degree.

10850318_10152969359721908_5330319045155746042_nIt was a tough choice. But my dream was to become a published author, and I wanted to be qualified to teach writing at a college level so I could pursue teaching as a career path. I also longed to find a tight-knit literary community that I would be part of and would continue to be part of for the rest of my life. The MFA seemed like the best way to accomplish all of my goals.

I ended up at Antioch University Los Angeles’ low-residency MFA program and graduated in December 2014. It was a long journey to get there, but ultimately, I’m so glad that I arrived. I left the program with new friends, a finished manuscript, a tight-knit literary community, and a degree that allows me to teach writing at colleges and universities. I feel prepared to embark upon the next stage of my journey where I look for teaching jobs and submit my manuscript out for publication. I have no regrets.

In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about MFA programs, the admission process, and provide links and resources that will help you decide if an MFA is right for you.

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