Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Writing and Preparing Your Work for Anthologies

With "After the Sunflowers"
Writing for an anthology is like soup in a can concentrated. I recently had an essay published in the new anthology about women writers, Press Pause Moments: Essays About Life Transitions by Women Writers. I found the writing wanted listing in Poets & Writers Classifieds a great resource, as is the literary magazine database in the Tools for Writers section (and the directory listing for writers under Connect With Others). Here's a step-by-step approach to how I addressed the call for writing, particularly for an anthology.

I knew I had a shot at inclusion in the Press Pause project because the topic — transitions in the lives of women writers — resonated. So I wasn't trying to force myself into a writing slot that didn't fit. I had also recently written several newspaper articles that could fit the topic. So there was a degree of solid footing from the get-go.

Another positive factor was time. Editor and project coordinator Anne Witkavitch had given several months of lead time for the submission deadline. So I had a chance to carefully (and I mean carefully) consider the topic and craft a piece I could put aside and tinker with. Since my submission was on the 10-plus years it took to become an Italian citizen, I couldn't cover such a long transition in the allotted space and time. So, I opted for one aspect of the process that would typify the entire experience a nerve-shredding series of visits to the Italian consulate in New York, one of which involved an armed carabiniere.

I wrote the first draft in one sitting, then put it aside. Over the next weeks, I revised, rewrote and reconstructed the draft to consolidate the story and excise extraneous information. I then put it aside again, leaving it in my pending folder where I could be annoyed by it on a regular basis (I hate stuff hanging around in to-do limbo).

After another week I repeated the process, ever mindful of the project guidelines and continually asking myself what I brought to the compilation that would be different from other writers. The result was "After the Sunflowers," whose title is even more bittersweet now (more about that later).

Now that there are more calls for anthologies, consider these tips as you prepare and submit your work:
  • Use a trusted resource, and do the due diligence in researching the anthology. Not all that glitters …
  • Look for a topic and anthology that resonate with you, preferably on a subject you've written about before, or one you've always wanted to write about.
  • Look for a call with a long enough lead time, and set up a timeline for when you'll write, edit and revise.
  • Consider whether photos, voice or video would enhance the submission, or are required for it.
  • If you're addressing a topic that took awhile, consider selecting one typifying event or occurrence to reflect the whole.
  • Frame your piece from the perspective of the unique characteristics you bring to the story and compilation.
  • Write the first draft in one sitting, then put it aside.
  • Don't skimp on revision, even if it means a rewrite and reordering the story (but keep the first draft as a separate file).
  • Repeat the revision process until you find yourself changing the same words back and forth.
  • Extra tip: Make sure your beginning is captivating and that your ending is satisfying. The ending of my piece took longest to write.
For a firsthand look at "After the Sunflowers" and a compelling glimpse into the turning points in the lives of women writers, see Press Pause Moments: Essays About Life Transitions by Women Writers.

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