Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Writing for Anthologies 3, With Writer/Editor Anne Witkavitch

In this installment of writing for anthologies, editor and writer Anne Witkavitch discusses the key ingredients for a successful work, like her Press Pause Moments: Essays About Life Transitions by Women Writers compilation and the Press Pause Project that started it.

AA: In compiling this volume, what impressed you most about the project and the writers?
Poets & Writers Classifieds/Anthologies

AW: I don't think I realized at first how significant the project was. Then, I began to get e-mail messages like, "Even if I don't get accepted, this is a very important book you are creating." Also, I got such a positive response when I told more people about it. The theme really meant something to them.

Regarding the writers, I know it sounds strange, but as I lived with the essays and put together the manuscript, I felt like I got to know each of them personally. Their stories became like old friends. Maybe that's because so many of their transitions resonated with me as a woman in one way or another. But what probably stood out for me the most were their distinct voices each of these women writers had a unique and powerful voice that came through in the prose. I still curl up in a chair with the anthology and enjoy the essays over again which, to me, is a testament to their ability to write.

Tips: Based on Anne's astute observations, writers considering submitting work to an anthology should consider these three key ingredients:
  • A resonant theme: Select an anthology with a theme that captivates you. This increases the likelihood that the story you write will captivate others.
  • A personal story: Personal in this sense doesn't mean TMI. It means sharing a personal struggle, challenge or experience that can benefit others.
  • A distinctive voice: A good anthology is like a good ensemble cast. Each character is discernibly different from the next, yet the production is more than the sum of the parts.

Extra: Anthologies may be the best examples of writing the story after not before you read what the publication is looking.

Two good sources for anthologies are Poets & Writers Classifieds/Anthologies and The Writer's Chronicle from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. But check out each site thoroughly. A listing in a reputable publication doesn't guarantee that the anthology is on the up and up. One place to double-check is the ever-reliable Preditors & Editors Book Publisher and Distributor Listings.       

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Writing for Anthologies 2, With Writer and Editor Anne Witkavitch

This week, we continue our dialog on writing for the currently hot anthology market. Here's the next installment from editor and writer Anne Witkavitch, who compiled Press Pause Moments: Essays About Life Transitions by Women Writers, from the Press Pause Project.
Press Pause Moments
AA: How did you select and compile the storieswhat did you look for?

AW: Professionalism, quality of writing and diversity of stories were the most important criteria for me.  The initial weeding-out process was pretty easyit was clear that many people respond to every call for submissions put out there, regardless of whether their topic fits! Then I started reading the remaining essays for content, voice, pacing and tone. What I also looked for was presentation: Did the writers edit, proofread and submit their best work? Was their e-mail professional? Did they follow the guidelines, including word count? Finally, I wanted to have diversity among the types of transitions represented. Many people assume an anthology like this one would be geared toward midlife, but I believe we experience transitions throughout our lives and at all ages. I could not have done this without my second reader, my college roommate, Ann Zuccardy, who is also one of the contributing writers.

For more information, visit Press Pause Moments or Amazon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing for Anthologies, With Writer and Editor Anne Witkavitch

A post or two ago, we discussed writing for anthologies, a current hot market. From now 'til year-end (can't believe we're nearly at the close of 2011), we'll talk a bit more with editor, writer and instructor Anne Witkavitch, who compiled and edited the new anthology Press Pause Moments: Essays About Life Transitions by Women Writers. The anthology began with the Press Pause Project.

AA: What prompted you to start the Press Pause anthology project?

AW: I was frustrated. I’d completed my MFA in professional writing and left the corporate world to go out on my own so I could pursue my writing. Though some good things were happeningI had landed a gig as a contributing writer and blogger for TravelingMom.com and had a couple of articles accepted for a yet-to-be published anthology I had not yet achieved the big goal, which was publishing my first book. While I kept receiving encouragement from well-respected publishing pros, I got discouraged reading news stories about celebrities and reality stars who were getting their books published while mine sat in my documents folder, collecting rejections. A writer friend had worked on an anthology, and I called him with the classic, “I’ve got a crazy idea and want to see what you think.” He loved the idea of me creating a women’s anthology focused on life transitions, a topic I’d already been speaking about through my Press Pause Now retreats . He walked me through the process, and then I wrote and distributed the submission guidelines, got my first submission and panickedwomen writers actually wanted to be a part of this project! The book became real to me. I was ecstatic and scared at the same time.
 
For more information, visit Press Pause Moments or Amazon.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Flat Screen, Flat Scene: When a Scene Doesn't Work

I recently read part of the first draft of a novel where a 30th-birthday dinner  was to end in conflict. This one didn't. The scene was well-written and the characters distinct, but the scene was flat as a newly tarred driveway. Why? No tension.

A scene can lack tension for various reasons. In this case, it was because none of the characters was allowed to react to the discomfiture of a main character when someone inadvertently reminds him he was away from his wife when she was dying of cancer. Actually, it may be more accurate to say everyone's reactions to the moment were subdued. It made the scene and the characters appear dull, one-dimensional.

Conflict should be palpable
The other reason there was no tension was that the protagonist's own emotions were muted. What did he really feel? How would he show that? How would others respond to his pain, especially his daughter-in-law, whose birthday they were celebrating? Would she feel empathy? Would others sense something is wrong but not be sure how to respond? What about the man's date—does she long to reach out to him but can't because he won't accept her love? What about his son? Does he feel guilt because he was with this mother when his father wasn't? Since he's a doctor, was he complicit in his mother's passing?

In this case, the universal lack of response drained the life out of the scene. Yet, charactersI like to call them peoplelong to get out of their shells if we'll let them. We don't need permission to write the truth; it will set us writers and our characters free.

Tip: The fix in a case like this is to revise by re-visualizing, re-visioning the scene, if we can use those words as Natalie Goldberg did in Writing Down the Bones. Start with a clean sheet of paper or a new document, and close your eyes. Allow the scene to materialize, and watch each person respond. This will deepen the scene and broaden it. For more on this technique, see the post "Stephen King to the Rescue: Using Imagery to Bring a Story to Life." And see the August issue of The Writer, the magazine archive piece by Stephen King called, "Use Imagery to Bring Your Story to Life."
    

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.