Writer’s Craft: My Favorite Literary Journal Pieces I Read in January 2022

Magazine spread with a femme-presenting person on the left page and text on the right. A pair of black glasses is to the right and a bowl of fresh fruit is to the left.
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It’s not only a good idea to write a lot in order to improve your writing. Being a writer means you have to be a reader, too. So I push myself to read as many books and literary magazines that I feasibly can, even if it ends up only being once piece from an issue or collection.

Keep in mind that just because I read it in 2022 doesn’t mean it was published in 2022 or even in a recent issue. My TBR pile knows no publication dates.

“Virgo Moon” by Kelsey Day (The Athena Review)

“Virgo Moon” caught my attention mostly because I’m a Virgo sun. Egotistical? It’s possible.

In 2021, I began writing poems based off of my daily horoscopes and other readings as a way to generate new poems. In this poem, I particularly admired how Day mixes algae and soap in a mason jar in the second stanza. To me, a lot of this reflects how those with Virgo placements have a need for cleanliness and order, while also honoring Appalachian culture. The power of the last stanza confronts the complicated nature of feeling lonely, even when surrounded by those who adore and love you. For these reasons and more, a PDF file of this poem will be saved in my “Poems I Like” folder in Google Drive.

“False Ancestry” by Yvanna Vien Tica (perhappened mag)

This one spoke to me as a teacher and how we need to always consider every student’s experience in the classroom. “False Ancestry” focuses on a family tree project in third grade, purposefully destroyed and forgotten by the speaker. Except that their history follows them, even at home where they are supposed to feel safe and comforted. The rest of the poem tells how the World War II unit textbook transformed into origami and hours spent in speech therapy and the pressure to assimilate to a culture not of their own. I think this poem would be great paired alongside Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

“Noisetalgia” by MArta špoljar (Lavender Bones Magazine, Issue One)

My little OCD heart connected heavily with this poem. “Noisetalgia” is not explicitly about compulsions or OCD tendencies, but the imagery reminds me so much of the pure panic you feel over things being out of place. In this case, it is a heartbreaking reminder of how trying to forget pain can morph into routines that demolish your sense of self-worth. Into the Google Drive folder you go, little poem.

Have suggestions of what I can read next? I’m always willing to check out new magazines and projects, so don’t be shy.

Writer’s Craft: My 2021 in Review and Tips For Writing Goal-Setting in 2022

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Writers are supposed to reflect and reflect often. In college, I had to reflect on my writing in every writing-based class. I still do it when looking at older pieces, ones I haven’t yet placed and ones that have been published for a long time. What was my process? Did I even have one? Does it matter if there is one? What about my long and short term goals for my writing?

I take part in the 100 Rejections Challenge, a challenge for writers to be, well, rejected from literary journals, fellowships, scholarships, and anything else in our wheelhouse at least 100 times. There are no extra zeroes, you are reading the correct amount. When I announced my total rejections for the year — 90 as of today, but there’s always a chance within the next two days that I will get 100 — I mostly got encouraging responses about my perseverance, how people couldn’t understand how I could do it. I took a moment to remember how just a few years ago, any rejection would have crumbled my self-esteem. Today, I get “No, thank you” repeatedly…for fun. You could say my process is simply being very annoying, and I would not disagree.

Towards the beginning of December, I read If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. I picked it up one day on a whim at Second & Charles and read it out of impulse. I’m not familiar with any of Ueland’s other work, and I saw plenty of problematic or privileged takes in some sections of the book. Thankfully, most of the advice in the book is universal and could have been written today, such as this:

“The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny….And if you have no such friend,–and you want to write,–well, then you must imagine one. “

Brenda Ueland

Without context, the quote can seem like it’s pointing towards finding those that only fill your ego, the ones that are “yes people” and will say anything to please you. However, when relating to my own writing journey up to this point, the most helpful teachers have been the ones that encouraged me in some way. Simply pointing out things that they liked, miniscule, microscopic moments I wouldn’t have thought mattered at all that they asked me to elaborate on further in my writing, was enough to explore other avenues in the revision process. Those who picked them apart like vultures did the opposite. For writers like me, it makes you want to leave your works in progress out to rot and hope that the scavengers take every part of it away, like it never happened.

A couple of times this year, the rejections did hit harder, because I was so close to getting an acceptance, only to be a semi-finalist, or to be the one they told they didn’t have enough room for them in their collections. Then there has been the journey with not one, but two poetry manuscripts that get so close to being chosen, only to not find a home. So encouraging, yet so crushing at once. Somehow those hurt more, but also spur more motivation and action once the grieving period is over.

But hanging onto the parts of the encouraging rejections that have the energy of the TikTok sound “Go Little Rockstar” keeps everything running, another day, another try.

Setting concrete goals, such as getting 100 rejections or a certain word counts can help you realize how much you can and do achieve, especially if you are someone like me and are especially hard on yourself. Thanks to my rejection goals, including submissions from 2020 that weren’t accepted until 2021, I was able to publish a lot more creative writing than I initially thought I did this year.

2021 Poetry

Plainsongs – “Gonna Tell My Kids”

Flora Fiction – “Pandemica VII”

Heart of Flesh Literary Magazine, Issue 6 – “a·poc·a·lypse”

Headlight Review – “Refuge” (forthcoming in 2022)

Sheila-Na-Gig Online – “Projection”

2021 Prose

Monstering Magazine – “Rating Suggested Cures for My Various Mental and Chronic Conditions”

YourTango – “You Don’t Actually Care About My Health If You Congratulate Me On My Unhealthy Weight Loss”

The Mighty – “Targeting ‘Illness Fakers’ Doesn’t Help Disabled People”

Setting Writing goals for 2022

Want to keep track of your goal(s)? I tend to use phone apps or simple Excel spreadsheets to keep track of where and when I’m submitting. I make a new one every year to keep track of the number of rejections. In a few days, I will reset with another one. If 100 rejections is too intimidating, start with smaller numbers. Raise your goal once you surpass smaller milestones.

If there’s anything you should take away from this, it’s to set yourself up for success in the new year by embracing a lot of failure.

Writer’s Craft: Writing Workshops with Merit and Need-Based Scholarships

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If I could take the amount of writing classes I wanted, I would need a lot more time and a lot more money. Thankfully there are writing centers with plenty of classes that can help with at least one of those things. (Did you guess what I meant? It’s money.)

Classes from nonprofit organizations, individual writing professionals, and many more are included on the list along with information on how to apply for merit and need-based scholarships.

This list is updated as of October of 2021. Bookmark this page to keep tabs on updates.

Hugo House

Based in Seattle, Hugo House hosts both in-person, asynchronous, and Zoom courses. They offer scholarships to anyone in need, so long as you fill out the application. It will ask what you’d like to learn from the course, if you’ve ever participated in their writing programs or a similar program, and any factors limiting your ability to pay for the course. They grant up to two scholarships (two classes) per year per person.

Early bird rates are also available if you sign up for a course in advance. Discounts range from $10 to $30 off.

Occasionally, they will offer free courses. They are marked with FREE and the title of the course.

The Writer’s Center

Based out of Washington DC, The Writer’s Center offers both in-person and online courses.

They offer the Ann McLaughlin Scholarship Fund to help writers with financial need enroll in one of their eight-week classes. All you need to do to apply is to fill out the application and send a 500 word written statement about how the scholarship would positively impact you as well as any relevant circumstances.

Want to take it up a notch? Their Compass Fellowship offers $1,000 worth of credit towards their classes within a two-year period and a cash stipend of $300. The trick is that you need to be from either Washington DC, Maryland, or Virginia and be able to travel to Bethesda as needed. You will also be expected to write two pieces for The Writer’s Center Magazine among other duties.

Grub Street

Remote and in-person classes are available from the Massachusetts-based writing center. Divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses, you can take Grub Street courses on prose and poetry. Scholarships for teens and adults, some reserved specifically for genderqueer, transgender, and nonbinary writers.

Life in 10 Minutes and Richmond Young Writers

If you are local to Richmond, Virginia or are able to take Zoom courses, both Life in 10 Minutes and Richmond Young Writers offer partial or full scholarships to cover classes for adults, teens, and children. Should be based on need. More details can be found here.

Classes That Offer Discounts

Many writing centers and other places that offer writing workshops with discounts. Some require memberships and others may offer early bird discounts.

Creative Nonfiction

With early bird discounts, you can enroll in an online course through Creative Nonfiction for $50 less than list price. They also have the Refer-A-Friend discount where if you and a friend enroll in a course for the same term, you’ll both get $25 off of your classes.

If their instructor-guided classes are still out of price range, their self-guided courses are very affordable at just $29.99.

I’ve personally taken both kinds of courses through Creative Nonfiction and greatly benefitted from both. The instructor-led courses are often asynchronous, meaning that you can join in at anytime and not have any scheduled meetings. Some classes have optional meetings for those who wish to interact in real time. The instructors are knowledgeable and have real-life experience publishing their work in their niche. My favorite course so far has been the Spirituality Writing class!

Their self-guided courses have correlated readings, prompts, and discussion boards to complete. However, instead of instructor feedback, you just get feedback from your classmates. Thankfully, many of the participants have a background in writing or are enthusiastic about the course, giving you plenty of valuable information for the money.

Gotham Writers

If you enroll in one course through Gotham Writers, you are eligible for a $30 Returning Student discount on future 10-week classes. In person and Zoom courses available. If you’re based in NYC, Monday Matinee classes are offered at a reduced rate.

Books: Poetry Collections I Read for the 2021 Sealey Challenge

I’m not exaggerating when I say I only found out about the Sealey Challenge a day into August this year. With the amount of poetry books I’ve collected over the years from my alma mater’s book sales and various PDFs in my Google Drive, this was the perfect excuse to catch up on reading poetry.

While I couldn’t read a collection a day—actually, only three in total— I did want to show which books and chapbooks I was able to finally enjoy.

Xenos by Joanna C. Valente

Valente’s other collections have always been hauntingly beautiful, and this chapbook of the immigrant experience is no exception. I read Valente’s collection Marys of the Sea a few years ago, and I’ll always be stunned by their work.

(Agape Editions/Sundress Publications, 2016)

Jeanette Killed Her Husband (And Buried Him Off Of Shades of Death Road) by Robin Sinclair

If you’re like me and have an obsession with murder ballads and true crime, Sinclair’s collection from Ghost City Press is like reading a song by The Chicks. Yes, that’s a high tier compliment.

Similar songs that give the same vibes are “no body, no crime” by Taylor Swift and “Martha Divine” by Ashley McBryde. Basically any song about killing a cheating husband could easily make it on a playlist for this chap. Jeanette Killed Her Husband also loops in folklore and hometown legends, another common guilty pleasure of mine.

(Ghost City Press, 2020. )

A Song for PTSD by Sarah Lilius

This microchap was able to capture the pain and horrors of PTSD and lost girlhood in just a few poems. A Song for PTSD is one of many debut chaps from the press, which also has a magazine dedicated to centering disabled voices of all kinds. With lines like “Paranoia built in me like a bone” and “I can’t imagine that you bleed like a human”, it’s hard to not want more of Lilius’ sharp verses. Thankfully, this is just one of her five chaps, so I’ll have more material to dive into when the time comes.

(Blanket Sea Press, 2021)

Hopefully next year I’ll be able to be more faithful to my goal.

Writer’s Craft: 4 Reading Challenges for Writers to Spark New Ideas and Fall in Love with Reading Again

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There are plenty of good reasons why someone would do a reading challenge. I personally love Goodreads holding me accountable for reading new and exciting books when it’s tempting to slack off. Some challenges force you to read outside of your comfort zone and experience new genres and forms you wouldn’t think of reading. Besides, how long has it been since you were told to read something? Your undergraduate degree? Or if you didn’t major in English in college, it may have been since your high school literature classes since you were assigned a book. Regardless, reading challenges are an asset to a writer’s craft.

For writers, reading is one of our most valuable tools besides plain practice that can help boost your writing abilities. Maybe you’re in a submission slump or just need an excuse to read more books. Reading challenges have helped me read outside of my normal go-to genres and forms, and I can assure you that in the long run it will inspire you, too.

The Sealey Challenge

Named after poet Nicole Sealey, the goal of the Sealey Challenge is to have you read a full-length or chapbook poetry collection every day in August. Luckily poetry is more accessible than ever with books and short collections in a lot of places, from big chain bookstores to independently-owned stores. Try browsing different indie presses for their own poetry collections and purchase a few to support their mission. Low on funds? There are so many great indie poets and presses to support for little to no cost. See below for a list of publishers both active and archived with open access poetry collections.

This is the first year I’m doing the Sealey Challenge and I wanted to recommend some collections I’ve really loved in the past in case you’re still looking for quality picks:

  • Theia Mania by Dallas Athent
  • Wolf Girls vs. Horse Girls by Catherine Weiss
  • Marys of the Sea by Joanna Valente
  • American Sentencing by Jen Karetnick
  • all girls will not feel pretty at some point by Elizabeth Ribar
  • Evergreen by Sarah Frances Moran
  • Dream-Like Houses by Joyce Chong
  • The Politics of Being Ugly by Kayla Altman
  • La Belle Ajar by Adrian Ernesto Cepeda
  • The Red Files by Lisa-Bird Wilson

The New Release Challenge

While this challenge is marketed towards any reader, especially with those who have access to ARCs, I think reading new books that hit the shelves is essential for writers to know what is on the market. What’s already been done and what is being reinvented? While the 2021 challenge is already underway, why not start planning for next year? Or if you want to at least get a taste for it, try some of these new releases:

  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness by M. Leona Godin
  • The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

How do you get new releases? Besides buying them off of the shelves, there are many opportunities to review new releases from authors. Some may even send you review copies as PDF files or print books sent to you in the mail. Heck, I’ve seen publishers already preparing their roster for 2023 and are often looking for beta readers and reviewers to help with promotion. Follow some small presses and see the upcoming releases you may want to read and write about. Goodreads also has giveaways in exchange for an honest review!

Out of Your Comfort Zone Challenge

This challenge is exactly what it sounds like: read books that are out of your comfort zone. Do you normally read and write science fiction and fantasy? Why not try a memoir? Reading different forms can inspire you to write something different…or to know what you don’t want to write. Either way, you can say you’ve tried a new kind of book the same way you try a new food dish or hobby.

Genre or topic-based challenges

Maybe you’re trying to come up with the next bestselling memoir or want to reinvent what it means. Maybe you need to do some research on character development or what has already been overdone in your genre. You can create these on your own based off of your interests and needs. For example, you could read exclusively LGBTQ+ literature during the month of June or pledge to only read underrepresented authors for the entire year. Your only limit is your imagination.