Michelle Wittle On Finding Places to Publish Your Work

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

Before I even begin with that, I have two confessions to make. The first one has to do with the bookstore. You remember how the other day I said that in the bookstore there was this end cap that was bothering me and I wanted to fix it? Well, after about ten minutes of looking at the end cap again, I couldn’t take it anymore. I looked around, saw no one was watching me, and then I fixed the end cap. I felt ten times better after it. I also realized that this does in fact make me a complete dork.

 

The other confession is more of a “hey how dumb am I” kind. After I finished writing my blog, I started wondering how to go about finding other literary journals to unleash my work on. I was like the little kid kicking the can around saying “I don’t know what to do”. Then, I actually went to the Philadelphia Stories Webpage and saw this little dropdown do-hickey (official name, I swear) that said Resources for Writers. Lo and behold, there were about five or six other literary magazines listed. I felt so dumb because here was the information I wanted and it was so close to me it could have punched me in the stomach and cackled. However, that is the way of my life. I am always looking at the distant future that I barely see the progress I am making in the present.

 

So, now that I have that information, I started getting itchy fingers. It is time for my stories to really start coming out and shaking hands with the literary world around me. I will continue to look for new places to submit my work to, but it is nice to know that I have a good place to start.

 

Oh yeah, and I still don’t know why Holden is like Michael. Maybe I should take that part out? 

Review: Georgia Under Water

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If I ever think that it might be fun to be a teenager again, Georgia Underwater by Heather Sellers will cure me of that misapprehension immediately. Granted, Georgia Jackson, the young protagonist of the majority of stories in this lovingly conceived and sensitively executed collection, has a few more issues to deal with than does the average American teenager, but her struggles with family, identity and burgeoning sexuality bear witness to the insecurities that most teens face regardless of background. And, come to think of it, to the insecurities that many adults experience as well. We want to believe that our world makes sense. We want to believe that everything will (somehow, magically, despite all evidence to the contrary) work out in the end. We want to trust in the people and institutions that hold sway over our lives, but sometimes we need to realize that we can’t. Throughout Georgia Underwater, the protagonist’s journey takes her one cautious step at a time toward this realization.

One of the most frustrating elements of Georgia Jackson’s life is her relationship with her parents. Her father is an alcoholic, and her mother suffers from crippling bouts of paranoia. Lacking guidance of any kind, Georgia must learn to navigate the dangerous waters of adolescence on her own, and she does so with the kind of awkward grace and aplomb that only a young girl growing up in Florida can muster. She dreams about boys. She wonders what sex must be like. She wishes her parents would behave like normal adults. She wonders about sex some more. Through it all, she endears herself to the reader — to the point where it’s hard for those among us who are blessed with stable families and relatively “normal” lives to feel anything but pity for the girl. She wants so badly to belong somewhere, to fit in, to be loved (by her parents, by her brother, by boys, by anyone), to be something other than invisible, that one is hard pressed to ignore her.

Part Running with Scissors, part Catcher in the Rye, and completely engrossing, this collection of stories will charm even the most cynical reader. Set against a backdrop of highways and housing developments in the shadow of Disney World, Georgia Underwater speaks to the heart and paints the life of a lonely young girl in the vivid, glowing pink and purple detail of an Orlando sunset.

For more information on Heather Sellers and to order a copy of Georgia Underwater, visit HeatherSellers.com.

Michelle Wittle On Reworking a Story

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

For about two years, I have been off and on reworking this one story. It started out being about a page and a half long and I wrote it for my creative writing class that I was teaching. The characters had no names and there obviously wasn’t a lot of detail. Now, it is six pages long, the characters have names, and the male character even has a mother. I just have to figure out how the main character is like Holden Caulfield and go through it to fix the grammar.

 

I will be the first to admit that I hate grammar. I never could really grasp the concept of it and it always makes me freak out. I always think I am doing it wrong and then I get so caught up in the whole should it be present or past tense that I tend to loose my focus in the story.  You are stunned, I know. You are thinking, but Michelle you were an English teacher, how could you not love grammar? I’ll be honest with you; I should have failed grammar in college. I definitely failed the final and had to retake it. There are just too many rules for me and I get so confused. Also, I don’t really care. I mean if you use the wrong “there” in a sentence or use a contraction in a formal writing piece, I will rip off your head. But I’ll admit it, I sometimes forget about subject and verb agreement. Tenses always make me…well…tense.

 

For me, I get so lost in the story that I just don’t care about the grammar of it. Glaring mistakes will always take away from the story. But small mistakes, I won’t even pick up. It could be because I have that problem with automatically fixing mistakes in my head. So maybe I really do know about grammar, I just don’t know I know…you know?

 

That is why I need an editor. I need someone to look over my work and just fix it all for me. I am going through this story and I am getting annoyed because I don’t know if I fixed all the present tense to past. I feel like I am getting so caught up in all the rules I am forgetting the story.  So, I am saving the story and walking away from it for a bit. I want to have the story completed and ready to go forth and try to get published by the end of the week. But right now, I know I have to step away from it before I destroy it anymore.

 

I will go to the bookstore (the one with the good tea and eats) and just sit. Maybe I will find a comfy chair that smells a bit and settle in with a book. I did that the other day and was amazed at how much fun it can be to do. Sure, I was looking at an end cap that I really wanted to fix (it was about the lives of the Presidents and I couldn’t figure out the pattern…they had Clinton next to John Adams and two Lincoln books next to George W. Bush), but I held myself back and I just read for a while.

 

I’ll let you know how the story goes.

Michelle Wittle On Being Honest

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

I am so sorry. I haven’t written in like a week and I know that goes against all my own rules. I haven’t written anything since that ill-fated trip to Boston and I guess what I like to call “the writer’s disease” was just kicking my butt. I mean I would like to know when this disease is going to get the hint that I will ultimately win. Sure, there have been some really rough or dark days and I thought I was a goner, but then I just get this inner strength to pull through and I am still here. Beaten a bit, but still breathing. I’m talking about depression for those of you who haven’t gotten it yet. If I weren’t writing this, I wouldn’t have gotten it. I would be thinking what writer’s disease and do I have it? What are the signs that you have it and is there a cream for it?

 

Anyhow, I started thinking about being honest and what that really means. Remember when you were a little kid and your mom would always tell you that honesty was the best policy? Normally my mom was saying it because she knew I was lying and was trying to guilt me into a confession. My mother was an odd woman. She would play with bubbles and she once told my sister if she didn’t stop playing with her belly button she would unravel. Sure, you are thinking, oh your mom just said that, but I tend to think that she really believed that kind of stuff. I wouldn’t say she was stupid, I think she was just a bit odd.

 

Let me back up a bit so you can get the whole picture. I have been having this recent all Michelle’s ex-boyfriends showing up thing happening in my life and it makes me question why. The other day I was at a Phillies’ game and then I saw that guy Steve that I had mentioned in another blog. I certainly went up to him and was like hey, how’s your day? Then I fluttered off not because I was cool like that but because I was shaking and freaking out. I wanted to hug him to see if he still smelled good. Sad, I know, but what can you do? I’m a girl who smells guys. But getting back to the importance of Steve…I started to think why am I seeing this guy when I haven’t seen him in like six years? I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and signs are everywhere. So what was Steve’s sign?

 

Simply put, to be honest. I was never honest with Steve. Not that I cheated on him or anything, I just wasn’t honest with who I was at the time. In my life, I sometimes tell people things because I want them to feel bad for me and comfort me. I twist things in my head to pretend that telling someone that I am sick will make them run to me. In my mind I think goody I have this great illness and now you will come and sit with me. In truth, I know this doesn’t work because I know I am not being honest.

 

Recently I reached out to someone and was finally just honest. I am finally not looking for a hello back or anything (sure, it would be nice); I am just finally saying what is honestly in my heart. This is the same lesson we as writers have to put into our work. Before I have wrestled with the idea of changing things to meet market demands. I don’t think that will really work because we aren’t being honest. Kids can always smell when people are being fake and so can readers. We may be telling a story, but our story must be honest.

 

Sure, my mom was wrong about the belly button thing, but when she said honesty is the best policy…well, she was one hundred percent correct. When you are honest with yourself and your writing, people will pick up on it. You can’t have any regrets when you are honest. Absolutely tell a story, but tell an honest one.

Michelle Wittle On When Your Rewrites Are Done

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

Yeah, so about knowing when your rewrites are done. Don’t hate me, but the thing is I don’t know the answer to that question. It isn’t because I don’t want to know the answer, but I think the answer is different for everyone and for everyone’s story. Writing isn’t like a mathematical equation. Two plus two will always equal four, but two characters walking down the street can have many different outcomes. So then, how does a writer know when their story is “done”? First, I never like the idea that anything is ever done. With writing, as with human nature, things are never really done. You will always see something you can change or that ex boy (girl) friend will always find a way to pop into your life again to say hi. Now that I think about it, all my ex’s that I had a significant amount of love for have all come back into my life (well all but Steve…but that is a whole other story filled with tears…ugh) and to be honest, I love having them all back in my life. I think it goes back to yesterday’s blog about knowing your past to see your growth. Wait…did I just turn into Carrie Bradshaw for a moment? No…no…although I do love shoes…but no…back to writing.

 

Things are never really done. There is always something we will find we can add or subtract. A character’s hair maybe should be brown instead of black or maybe another scene should be added. But there has to be a time in which we look at our work and say, “this is pretty darn good and I think others will think so, too”.  You can rewrite too much and it is a fine line between the two. So, how do you know if you have crossed the line?

 

You start out wanting to tell a story. I’ll use my novel this time as an example. My novel is about a punk girl who keeps everyone at bay until she falls for the bad boy in school. Now, we have all either lived this story or knew someone who has and it isn’t that original of an idea. My job was to tell the story and then add some twists to it. When I “finished” the novel, I put it away for about a year. I didn’t send it out much because in my heart, I know it wasn’t ready yet. I knew this because there were things that still bother me about the story.

 

As strange and as practical as it is, I think the way you know a story is done is when the story doesn’t bother you anymore. When you can actually read your story without wanting to throw the computer, I think it is done. But, do not fall into the you have worked on it for two weeks and you are riding the “completion high”. You need to give your story some time to just breathe and sit for a while. Move on to other projects or read a book (I read books when I have completed something). Then reopen your story. Is it still as amazing as you first thought? If the answer is yes, then start moving to publish it. If not, what is bothering you about the story? Fix those things and then put it away again. When you can honestly look at your piece and not be embarrassed by it, then put it out there. I can’t think of anything worse then finally being published and then not being able to look at your work because you see things you hate in it.

 

So, the truth is, only you can decide when your story is done and ready to move out into the writing world. I wish I could tell you that after five rewrites your story is done or a magical fairy pops out and punches you in the face to tell you the story is finished. But those things aren’t real. The only thing that is real is you, your voice, and your story. Only you will know when it is done. Be patient with it and let it have some space.