Impostor Syndrome: A Navigational Toolkit

https://www.flickr.com/photos/el_cajon_yacht_club/9335126935

Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things. On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.” And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

-Neil Gaiman
From http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/160603396711/hi-i-read-that-youve-dealt-with-with-impostor

That anecdote illustrates just how pervasive impostor syndrome is, and that it even affects people outside of creative spheres. Both Gaiman & Armstrong are widely celebrated for achievements in their respective fields, so if they feel like impostors, it’s fair to say that nearly everyone falls victim to it at one point or another, no matter where you are in your career, no matter the industry. I’ll direct you to the insights of people much wiser and more experienced than myself, and hopefully this post will serve as a toolbox that you can pull from to hammer, chisel, drill, dynamite, or scream your way out of impostor syndrome episodes whenever they strike!

If you’re still not sure about what exactly impostor syndrome consists of, or have questions about its validity, this piece from Time Magazine is the perfect launchpad. Abigail Abrams runs through its origins and evolutions, references the psychology behind it, and pinpoints the personality types most likely to be affected. http://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/

Kirsten Weir conducted a thorough examination of impostor syndrome in graduate students for the American Psychological Association. While its primary focus is academia, this piece is loaded with information that can be applied regardless of the disciplines, industries, or institutions that have you feeling like an outsider. https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud

This essay by Alicia Liu caught my eye because of a brilliant accompanying graphic, but the text surrounding it is just as exceptional. Liu details her experiences in programming, and has even written follow-ups (linked at the end of the original) to help guide others through the entire arc of impostor syndrome, including moving beyond it! https://medium.com/counter-intuition/overcoming-impostor-syndrome-bdae04e46ec5


https://medium.com/counter-intuition/overcoming-impostor-syndrome-bdae04e46ec5

Sometimes you feel like an impostor when things get more difficult, but Mary Robinette Kowal has a theory that might just set you back on track! http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/impostor-syndrome/

Unfortunately, impostor syndrome can strike twice for people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people, and other marginalized folks. It’s an ugly truth that many establishments have a default of straight-white-cis-het-able-bodied-male rather than qualified. Mario Montoya runs down what it’s like to be othered in an already anxiety-inducing MFA program. http://bmr.unm.edu/2018/11/07/double-impostor-syndrome-being-of-color-in-an-mfa-program/

Afrofuturism! Music! Academia! The power of imagination! What do these things have to do with impostor syndrome? Inda Lauryn lays it all out in this transformative personal essay at The Toast. http://the-toast.net/2014/11/19/afrofuturism-imagination-impostor-syndrome/

Working behind the scenes at Simon & Schuster, Janelle Milanes saw that the reality of publishing wasn’t as daunting as it often appears. In this interview with Vivian Nunez, she discusses impostor syndrome, her Latinx heritage, and how to create a space for your work. https://www.forbes.com/sites/viviannunez/2018/12/14/this-latina-young-adult-author-shares-how-she-navigates-impostor-syndrome/#16752ed9135d

Sci-Fi writer John Scalzi maps out the other side of the coin: a potentially infuriating glimpse into the life of a successful writer who’s never experienced impostor syndrome. He explores the privileges that carried him along the way, but also acknowledges that when you are a writer, you are a writer, no matter what anyone else’s perceptions or opinions may be. https://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/01/30/impostor-syndrome-or-not/

Still need a boost to get you out of the impostor bog? Sonia Thompson is here with motivation, understanding, and a little help from Maya Angelou, Seth Godin, and Tina Fey. https://writetodone.com/how-to-keep-writing-2/

If that wasn’t your speed, try this shouty, sweary explosion of impostor syndrome-checking inspirational hellfire in that only Chuck Wendig could conjure! http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/03/01/please-let-me-motivate-you-with-my-gesticulations-and-screams/

Last but not least, a gift from Kythryne Aisling to take with you on your journey.https://wyrdingstudios.com/blogs/news/83774788-fighting-impostor-syndrome-or-how-to-be-a-real-artist

Dear creative person, go forth and create!

A National Voice: Bringing Your Character Home

by Catherine Foster

For this week’s blog topic, we turn to some aspiring writers on Twitter. Many of you out there have questions about the writing process that aren’t ever answered directly in the manuals. No matter how thorough Strunk and White’s is or how detailed the chapter on commas in The Chicago Manual of Style, some individual questions arise that are unique and require specialized answers. Such a question came up recently thanks to Sophie O’Donnell @odonnellsl_. Sophie’s question was:

Trying to write an American character is a lot harder than I thought. How do I make them sound less British without creating a complete stereotype?!

This is a worthy question, and one I struggled with in reverse when I was beginning as a writer myself. I had a few stories that had been commissioned to be written for a British audience, and I was quickly confounded by the many “Briticisms” that I had never previously encountered or considered. Torches, lifts, digestives … and don’t even get me started on the difference in our pants and theirs. The point is, I understand Sophie’s point completely. While British English is the same language, technically, when I had to write a story for a British audience, it suddenly felt as though I needed to take a course or two on Duolingo, British style, and how to apply it to writing properly. It was easy to get overwhelmed in the little cultural differences that would point me out as a foreigner and an immediate fraud. What’s an author to do?

Well, there are two options here: one is to immerse yourself in the culture that you are trying to write about. It requires careful study and months-to-years of understanding their way of life. If you are going to be writing for that audience for an extended amount of time (like I did), then this is recommended. There will still be minute things that will always be off. You can’t know what you don’t know about the ways people talk and communicate, but you can and will pick up on general slang terms. It will be close enough that most people will understand, and all but the pickiest will be content.

The second option is this old writing chestnut: write what you know. It’s old but still around because it has value. Write your story; write it true to yourself, effortlessly and with all the characteristics of your own style. Write it how you would, with the details of your own daily life. It’s the best and most authentic way to write, and it will resonate with your readers. After you are done, go back for a round of edits and then change what you can. Some things that you might anticipate changing, you won’t necessarily need to change. You are British and you wrote that your character drinks tea? It’s true that Americans drink coffee, but we don’t eschew tea. That can be left in. It doesn’t have to be coffee to be “American.” The best thing is to be authentic. America is a melting pot, with many people and many traditions. There’s no one way of doing things here, and Americans understand and accept that as easily as anything.

Still worried that you said “bobby” when you meant “cops”? Fair enough. There are many writing groups that have beta readers who can help out with that. A lot of them offer the service for free. In my case, they called it “Brit-picking”: finding the terms that I used that rang a little false on the ears and offering alternatives.

If you are still uncomfortable and you want a perfect story, you can always rely on the services of a trusted editor: find one that has experience with foreign languages. Make sure you communicate whether you want a full edit or just a reading for the style elements that might stand out, such as the foreign-sounding terms. A proofing is much cheaper than a full edit, and can be done much quicker and for half the cost.

I hope this answers your question. Good luck and happy writing!

Aspire to a Child’s Mind

People who get into animation tend to be kids. We don’t have to grow up. But also, animators are great observers, and there’s this childlike wonder and interest in the world, the observation of little things that happen in life. ~John Lasseter~

In yoga, the beginner mind is something even advanced yogis aspire to obtain. In writing, I wouldn’t want to go back to my skills as a beginner, but finding my way back to the Child’s Mind unlocks a whole new power and perspective in writing that can find its way around any writer’s block. Ever sat and just listened to children playing? At the park, in the grocery store, in your living room? They are incredibly adaptive and of course, creative. Ever argued with a toddler? There is nothing more embarrassing, but also instructive. There is never an answer that cannot be overcome.

When kids play they instantly adapt to new events as they collaboratively tell a story.

“MY guy can fly AND shoot lasers!”

“Well my guy is laser-proof and shoots jelly that can jam up your lasers anyway!”

“Okay, well but my guy will just jump and fly out of the way and shoot the ground under you and you will drop in a hole and his jelly gun can’t reach up here now!

“Well my jelly gun is also a bubble gun and it makes me float up out of the hole…”

It never ends. Until interrupted, that is.

Photo Credit: Melissa Heiselt

This practice is exactly what a novelist must do as they consider complications leading to the climax and ultimately the resolution of the story. Problem solve, throw in a wrench, problem solve, throw in a curveball… and somehow the protagonist comes out of it all. So the next time the children in your life want to play, give it a try! It will sharpen your writing skills as well as any prompt I’ve tried.

People who get into animation tend to be kids. We don’t have to grow up. But also, animators are great observers, and there’s this childlike wonder and interest in the world, the observation of little things that happen in life.

John Lasseter

This quote from John Lasseter really applies to all storytellers; whether they be the organic, real life storytellers in our lives, or actors and illustrators, and of course, writers of all kinds. Keeping a notebook of oddities said or done or seen in the world around us is a great practice, not just for the fact that it makes sure we have this incredible storehouse of vibrant detail for our work, but primarily because it keeps this Child’s Mind alive and active in our lives. In any art, learning to see is what makes all the difference.

Icicles cling to the edge on Building 321 on the Fort Myer portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall after a winter storm Jan. 22, 2014. Icicles are only one of many potential hazards to be avoided while working in the winter weather, according to JBM-HH safety officials. (Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall PAO Photo by Rachel Larue)

Hayao Miyazaki, the renowned illustrator and animator expounds on this process in his book, Starting Point, 1979-1996:

When people speak of a beautiful sunset, do they hurriedly riffle through a book of photographs of sunsets or go in search of a sunset? No, you speak about the sunset by drawing on the many sunsets stored inside you—feelings deeply etched in the folds of your consciousness of the sunset you saw while carried on your mother’s back so long ago that the memory is nearly a dream; or the sunset-washed landscape you saw when, for the first time in your life, you were enchanted by the scene around you; or the sunsets you witnessed that were wrapped in loneliness, anguish, or warmth.

Hayao Miyazaki

So record that sunset. Thoughts, emotions, colors, everything. Even if you don’t actively sort back through those notebooks, the act and practice of writing it down teaches your mind what is worth remembering. When you write a scene someday that requires that same depth of emotion and connection, it will be there waiting in your subconscious and ready to spill out onto the page.

Sabrina Pitorre
Totoro Corto Maltese
Water Color
Hommage à Hayao Miyazaki et Hugo Pratt

The final lesson we can learn from kids? Don’t filter. Particularly in the heat of the creative process, just let it all tumble out. There is no such thing as too silly, far-fetched, or random. As an anime aficionado, that is part of what makes some stories so endearing! Let all the ideas have their say. There is always time to edit later. When you are gathering material or working your way through a timeline, write first and think later. You will be well on your way to developing the coveted Child’s Mind.

Take a Breath, Get Inspired

If you’ve found yourself in a creative slump and are coming up short on ideas, or at least any worthy of pursuit, this is the post for you! In these situations, I recommend curating a space to recharge and be inspired. Here are some essays, albums, podcasts, and more that have been getting me ramped up to create so far this year!

The Day Job series
In this essay series on Medium, writers run down the details of toiling to make ends meet while writing books in their off time. These are must reads for anyone working a day job to support a dream!
https://medium.com/s/day-job?fbclid=IwAR3KrvfR1vb29DAS9eZ2UaSp0GhDlW7_krLtLIiv9SCCfmfc7lbDTy7MFX8

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Daily Routine
“Some of us are Norman Mailer, but others of us are middle-aged Portland housewives.” Here’s an opportunity for those who can dedicate full days to creative work to try out the writing schedule of a master! Personally, I see it as both aspiration and inspiration.
http://www.openculture.com/2019/01/ursula-k-le-guins-daily-routine-the-discipline-that-fueled-her-imagination.html

Ditch Diggers – Drinks with an Agent
On the latest episode of my favorite lit-adjacent podcast, Mur Lafferty sits down and, you guessed it, has drinks with her agent, Jen Udden! I’m always up for any insights a literary agent is willing to share, and this episode does not disappoint!
https://murverse.com/ditch-diggers-74-drinks-with-an-agent/

Yugen Blakrok – Anima Mysterium
I read the Bandcamp Daily feature about this album and, while intrigued, I was in no way prepared for how much I’d enjoy it. It delivers on the promise of a sprawling sci-fi excursion, but it’s so much more. Tripped out, down-tempo sonic atmospheres swirl around cosmic but truthful, potent, and (just like the best sci-fi) relevant lyrics, weaving an engaging listen that I can’t stop going back to. And that closing track? Read the lyrics while listening and try not to visualize the perfect scene to kick off your next masterpiece!

So I wear this cloak of raven feathers, holding a scepter
As letters from the ether fall like rain when I rip deserts
Welcome to the land of gray
Where troubles never cease, and man’s awakening is accompanied by grief

From “Land of Gray”

Stream Anima Mysterium on Spotify or Apple Music, or buy the album on Bandcamp!

Voyage to the Stars
Here’s a completely different take on the cosmos! This new podcast with Colton Dunn, Felicia Day, Janet Varney, and Steve Berg is an interstellar comedy about a group of underdogs stumbling into unfathomable situations. Not only is it hilarious and absurd in all the best ways, but all of the dialogue is improvised! The framework of the storyline is in place, but it’s on the actors to keep it progressing and make it fun. Though it feels like a nice escape, it’s also a great study in character creation and dialogue. This is an Earwolf show, so you’ll find it on the podcast app of your choice.
https://www.earwolf.com/show/voyage-to-the-stars/

Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
While the news cycle can feel inescapable, Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix show focuses more on the often obscured issues and root causes behind the big news stories. New episodes premier weekly, but due to the format you won’t feel behind if you don’t watch as soon as they drop. Minhaj is a sharp host and undeniable comic force, which alone would make for a great show, but he also manages to break down complex situations with a dose of humanity. Even if your work is not overtly sociopolitical, you will certainly benefit from the show’s fresh perspectives and investigative nature, not to mention the plethora of ideas on how to torture your characters from the governments and corporations who do it best! Check out a preview and watch on Netflix.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80239931

Low – Double Negative
This album sounds like nuclear winter. Like everything’s changed. It sounds like the last swarm of bees. It sounds like breaking down. Structures and infrastructures, industries and societies, emotions and mental faculties, all breaking down. Collapse. It sounds like the collapse. Like the Doomsday Clock melting. All precedents are annihilated and you don’t know what’s coming next. It sounds like a warp through time and space, but feels distinctly present.

Low – Double Negative

Double Negative came out last year, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything quite like it and it continues to bloom, each listen dusting me in a new sensation of panic or discomfort or uncertainty or serenity. While it doesn’t stray far from the slow, deliberate movements that Low has come to embody, it also takes new compositional risks and melds them with bold production to construct something larger and far more affecting than just a collection of songs. This record is nothing short of striking, and if you’re in need of something new to shake you out of old cycles, this is that something. Low has been around for over twenty-five years, so for them to create something this unique and potent at this stage is itself inspirational. If nothing else, listen and try writing a description of what you’re hearing and feeling—that’s a writing exercise in itself!
Stream it on Spotify or Apple Music, buy it on Bandcamp!

Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
Can you tell music is my go-to when I need some direction? Stranger Fruit is another release from last year, but I just can’t shake it. Zeal & Ardor is the brainchild of Manuel Gagneux, and seeks to answer an odd, genre-crunching question: what would slave spirituals sound like in the context of black metal? The answer, under Gagneux’s capable guidance, is, well … fucking incredible. While the previous two releases were eye-opening and enjoyable, Stranger Fruit is the most fully-realized yet. It’s the perfect soundtrack for you genre-hopping, interstitial types looking for new ways to blend seemingly disparate elements into something fresh, using tropes as pole vaults instead of borders.
Stream the album with your preferred service or purchase here!

Wondering why there are no books on this list? Check out my previous post, “Reading for Writing!” Additionally, I’ve found I’m too easily influenced by other writers when I’m struggling with ideas, and prefer to reach outside the medium. If you need to read to write (not uncommon!), I suggest starting outside of your preferred genres. Keep your expectations tempered and your mind open, you just might discover new ways to tell stories that you’d never considered!

Has something helped you get out of a funk recently? I want to hear about it!

(Note: We do not benefit from sharing links to purchase any of the works mentioned here, I just think they’re worth buying!)

Black History Month

It’s February, which brings to mind Cupid, valentines, and that predictor of an early spring or a late winter, the groundhog. It’s also host to a far more important month long event: Black History Month! The United States’ celebration of Black History Month began in 1970, although its roots go back far longer than that. It originated as Black History Week in 1926 when it fell during the second week of February to encompass the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Today, Black History Month (sometimes referred to as African American History Month) is observed in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

This last week of February, The LetterWorks honors Black History Month by selecting and highlighting some of our favorite African American authors. This is by no means a comprehensive list; it is just a list of authors who have inspired us or impacted us in some way. We’d love to read about some of the authors who resonate with you, so leave us a note in the comments about your personal favorite Black History Month author and how they inspire you!

Alice Walker Pulitzer prize for fiction, O. Henry award winner … is there anything this woman hasn’t done? She’s a short story novelist, poet, essayist, non-fiction writer and novelist. If it can be written, she has, and won the award for it, as well.

Langston Hughes “Mother to Son” is one of those poems we were assigned to read in high school. If it’s been awhile, go back and re-read it. It gets better with age and wisdom. He really is worth all that hype. Not only that, he authored more poetry than they told you about, as well as novels, short stories, non-fiction books, children’s books and plays. Plays, for crying out loud!

Ntozake Shange One of the best poets you probably haven’t heard of. She’s a Tony, Grammy and Emmy winner, to boot. Go look her up!

Oprah Winfrey This woman needs no introduction. Though we know her as actress, talk show host and activist, she is lesser known as author. Perhaps her inclusion on this list for O, The Oprah Magazine might raise a few eyebrows. I’ll point out that Forbes named that as the most successful startup of 2002. Another tidbit: her weight loss book of 2005 garnered her the world’s largest advance fee for a book, which had previously been held by Bill Clinton. Books are part literature and part marketing, and Oprah’s got a league of followers that we all wish we had.

Ralph Ellison A huge literary and pop culture icon of its time, Ellison was the man responsible for giving us The Invisible Man. An author dreams of having a smash hit like that, but most of us never achieve that level of success.

Malcolm X While not a conventional author per se, Malcom X was an influential minister and human rights activist who gave many speeches that are recorded and preserved for posterity. He also kept diaries that can be read and reviewed for later generations to understand his message and the importance of the movement he created.

Alex Haley If Malcolm X belongs on the list, so too does Alex Haley, who brought his autobiography to life. He also brought us Roots and Queen, among other works, ultimately winning a Spingarn Medal for his exhaustive research and literary skill.

Zora Neale Hurston Neale Hurston is a notable to this list in that her fame was bestowed decades posthumously. Another quality that renders her unique is that, while she was definitely an author, she was also an anthropologist. This is made even more exceptional given the fact that she achieved this distinction as both author and anthropologist in the first half of the twentieth century, which is a time that is noted for being unforgiving to women’s rights as well as academic achievements. The fact that Neale Hurston was able to accomplish these things, not only as a woman but also as a minority, is nothing short of miraculous.

Michelle Obama Another notable example to this list is the wife of a president. Obama authored one book while she was a current first lady and she wrote another when her term ended. Her husband was the first African American president of the United States, and at the time she published her first book, her popularity rating outranked his. To call her impressive would be an understatement.

Martin Luther King, Jr. No list would be complete without this man. His name alone is now equitable with love, peace and tolerance, justice and equality. He needs no introduction, but go read his words for yourself; this is a perfect time to feel strengthened by his message all over again.

Maya Angelou A personal favorite, Angelou helped guide me to my love of words. I think any author would agree that she had a way with them. Awarded with over fifty honorary degrees, a Tony, three Grammys, a Spingarn Medal, a Pulitzer Prize nomination, the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, perhaps the most fitting is to say that she was called “the black woman’s poet laureate.” Not just the black woman, not just the woman, but a poet laureate for us all.

I leave you with this list; remember, this is not complete, and I know we’re missing quite a few important dignitaries, luminaries and other important figures of the Black History movement. These are just people who resonate with me, specifically. Let me know who you’d like to see represented and why in the comments. Happy Black History Month!

Author Spotlight: Julie Bogart

The Original Brave Writer: Julie Bogart

Internationally acclaimed teacher of writers and author Julie Bogart is the mind behind Brave Writer, a fantastic resource for parents and students of writing. She has authored over 200 curricula teaching writing to various age groups, helping thousands gain a better understanding of the written word, and their own voice. Her podcast is also a fantastic support for homeschool families. The same warmth and insight found in her teaching style is evident as she chats with families about their challenges and helps them find ways through the rough. We were able to score an interview and are so pleased to be able to share with our readers her work and wisdom.

TLW: Thank you so much for agreeing to visit with me about your work and approach to writing! I saw this quote recently, and felt the truth of it regarding my own writing. Even as someone who loves to write, it sometimes takes a lot of guts to put myself out there; sometimes the sacrifices required to see your work through is tough, so this really hit home:

“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life. 

That is the sort of bravery I must have now.” 

― Veronica Roth, Allegiant

Does this relate to your writing students?

JB: Courage in writing, in my view, has to do with showing up as yourself—your ideas, imagination, personal experience, opinions, thoughts. It takes courage to risk exposure of a self. We sometimes forget that it takes just as much courage to write a 4th grade report about dolphins as a poem—to make sure you have the right information in the best sequence, that you’ve shared it in a way you hope is compelling to read. So yes—that there are many ways to be brave resonates. What I notice is that not everyone recognizes the act of courage in writing. That’s my mission: to highlight that fact and help parents appreciate it.

TLW:  Tell me more about why you chose the name “Brave Writer” for your programs and materials.

JB: Both words matter.

“Brave”—because each of us has to be willing to be seen when we write. One of the reasons for the rampant experience of writer’s block is that everyone knows putting your thoughts into written form preserves them for scrutiny, judgment. When we talk, our words are ephemeral, easily revised and forgotten. Writing solidifies and preserves them—we must face our own shoddy thinking or incomplete understanding. The willingness to greet the blank page with openness and optimism often needs to be cultivated. Putting our words where they will be read is a brave act.

“Writer”—because we teach human beings (writers) not a subject (writing). The emphasis in our name is on the people taking the writing risks. Anyone who can externalize language is a writer—whether that person transcribes their own thoughts or gets someone else (secretary, parent, voice-to-text software) to do it. Writing doesn’t exist apart from the writer; writing lives inside the writer. Our task in Brave Writer is to help the writer discover their words within and then to coax those words forward with gentleness and optimism. Once we have the words on the page or screen, we can do lots of things with them—all of which can be shared in a friendly, warm way, which leads to power in writing.

TLW: That is so beautiful and powerful. How did you start your career in writing, and ultimately arrive at teaching writing?

JB: My mother (Karen O’Connor) is a professional author of over 70 books and countless magazine articles. I grew up writing as a natural birthright. As a young adult, I built a freelance writing career that included ghostwriting, magazine editing, and book editing. A homeschooling friend of mine shared her struggles teaching her children to write and asked for my help. When I looked at the materials she was using, I was floored. They were so out of step with everything I knew about the writing life. She then suggested I host a class for her and other home educators. We began with 15 parents and it grew over 7 weeks to 40 people. I discovered that what I taught felt brand new to most adults. That led me to realize that a book teaching parents how to be writing coaches and allies to their kids would be valuable.

Julie’s supplemental materials delve into more than just basic writing.

TLW:  You do have a very unique approach compared to most writing instructors for children. I love that you’ve set as a first priority helping writers find their voice. What advice do you have to writers still struggling in this area?

JB: More freedom, more space to write “badly.” One of the first ways I help kids who feel reluctant to write is to encourage them to focus only on their thoughts (not spelling, handwriting, or punctuation). Give complete attention to the ticker tape of ideas and words flowing through your mind and write down every single word—even words like, “I’m stuck” and “This is stupid; why do I have to write?” As the hand is trained to transcribe the mind, the blocks dissipate.

For especially stuck writers, I go one step further. I tell the young writer than no one (not even your parents) is allowed to read what you write. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes and write the whole time, anything you want to say, anything going through your mind, and share it with no one. Your writing is for your eyes only. Get used to seeing yourself show up on the page without the anxiety that someone will judge you for what you put there. Some kids need months of weekly writing just like this. To help create this space, I tell parents that they, too, must write for 3-5 minutes at the same time. Let’s all take the same writing risks—a democracy of writing.

TLW: We talk often about the bravery required for an aspiring writer to become a published author. What about the bravery required for teaching?

I homeschooled my five kids who are now all grown adults. I went through many of the struggles other homeschooling families face. I had one child with ADHD, another with dysgraphia, a daughter who didn’t read until she was almost 10. My family tested the ideas I share and lived with the challenges of education at home—and I learned so much. Our Brave Writer team has worked with over 100,000 families. Over the last 20 years, the one constant in all that work is this: a parent’s loving, warm relationship with the child is the key foundation for a healthy homeschool AND writing life. It takes courage as a parent to be relentlessly optimistic, to use your friendliest voice when identifying the missing capitalization yet again, to affirm the writing risk rather than to criticize the poorly developed content. It takes faith to believe that your children can arrive on the shores of adulthood ready to tackle their futures, even if their spelling skills are still “woefully behind” at age 13.

I wrote a new book called THE BRAVE LEARNER: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschooling, Learning, and Life that expands on this premise—the notion that parents create a context for the magic of learning to take place. Fortunately, these are skills that can be learned by the parents—if they are brave enough to trust themselves, their children, and the process. The book is available through online retailers and local bookstores. Check out the website for more information: https://thebravelearner.com

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, Julie! I’ve learned so much from your work and am so thrilled to share it with our readers.

A Crash Course in Time Management

Hands down, my greatest weakness when it comes to creative ventures is time management. I usually have at least two projects underway at any given moment and am always plotting at least one more, but I rarely complete any of them in a timely manner. Yes, I work full time on top of these passion projects, but I should still have some time left over to focus on making stuff, right?

On average, I work eight or nine hours a day and sleep about seven, so that’s sixteen out of twenty-four hours down the drain right from the start. Yes, that’s a lot of lost time, but that still leaves eight hours to carve out time to create. Oh, to have eight full hours a day to work on ANYTHING! You and I both know that’s not a likely scenario. What about making and eating dinner? The dog’s getting restless, time for a walk. Dishes are piling up, laundry needs done, gotta get to the grocery store, have some bills to sort out, oh and how about we avoid alienating everyone important in our lives? Eight hours becomes about an hour divided into inconvenient intervals just like that, and I don’t even have kids! Creative parents, I don’t know how you do it, and I salute you.

Now that we’ve identified how precious and fleeting our time is, we need to make some adjustments and mold an itinerary that works for us. A few years back, my work schedule changed from a 6:00 AM start time to 8:00 AM, and I decided I’d just keep getting up around 5:00 and try to utilize that uncluttered morning-brain to work on writing and editing. I was already on the schedule, so it didn’t feel like a seismic shift in my day to day, but it made a massive impact on my productivity, and I still get up way too early every work day. Well… almost every work day. I’ve never been a morning person, but I was surprised to find out how much I’m able to accomplish in this seemingly insignificant window. I highly recommend adding an hour to your morning routine if you find yourself struggling with deadlines or project completions If not for these morning sessions, I think my LetterWorks associates would’ve kicked me to the curb for not keeping up with the workload!

That’s a little over one hour per day that I’ve wrangled for myself, but I still needed more. I started reading time management tips and blogs, and decided to look into auditing my time. I downloaded the Toggl app and have been dutifully logging my activities for about a week now. It seems strange to record everything you do over the course of the day, but since I always have my phone handy, I can update it as an alternative to checking social media. This comes with the added bonus of sparing myself the shot of existential dread from watching society collapse in real time, so it’s already worth it! I haven’t logged my social media use specifically, but using the Screen Time app, I’ve got a few hours per week that I could at very least use for reading, organizing, or otherwise planning something related to my creative endeavors. If you’re interested in auditing your time but don’t think an app is right for you, here’s a handy printable chart you can use!

As expected, the majority of my pie chart is eaten by work and sleep, but I do have moments here and there to lock into tasks that don’t require the full focus of editing or writing, like catching up on emails. I’ve squeaked in time between getting ready for work and actually leaving (fifteen minutes on Monday!), while dinner is cooking, and then of course in the evening after my other life-essential tasks are done.

You may find as I did, that evenings are not as easy to schedule productivity into as I had assumed. There are the usual day to day activities, but then we also have our loved ones to consider. I have no desire to just abandon my girlfriend between dinner and bedtime, and generally will not unless I have a pressing deadline. I can, however, work on layout, website updates, project promotion, writing emails, or other mission-adjacent tasks when we sit down to watch TV. This doesn’t always happen, but as I continue to monitor my time usage, I get better at spotting windows like this that I can utilize.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that simply scheduling and logging time doesn’t always lead to results. In these cases, I’ve been careful to note what variables are at play so I can try to either plan around them or prepare for them in the event that I can’t reschedule. Sometimes this means skipping an early morning session in favor of sleep after a particularly long or grueling day at work.

Setting goals for each session has been helpful as well. Whether I set a word or page count for a specified period of time, or set a time limit to complete a task, I find that goals are good motivators. This would’ve been utter speculation had I attempted it before keeping track of my productivity, but now I have an idea how long it takes me to write and edit a blog post, or how much of a magazine layout I can get done in an hour. And speaking of motivators, logging milestones and completed projects is a great way to see that you’re making progress and your efforts are paying off!

Here are some helpful links to get you off and running with your own personalized time management regimen!

https://observer.com/2015/06/how-to-be-efficient-dan-arielys-6-new-secrets-to-managing-your-time/
This one is particularly helpful to anyone feeling like society is conspiring to hijack our free time.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2018/05/01/manipulate-time-with-these-powerful-20-time-management-tips/#5f72a4c757ab
This Forbes article caters more to the business-minded than creative types, but still contains some solid points. Plus, most writers are basically one-person businesses!

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/making-time-to-write-time-management-for-screenwriters
Here’s one for screenwriters, but applies to anyone looking to string more words together.

https://toggl.com/time-management-tips/
The aforementioned app, Toggl has some ideas on how it should be done as well.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from the always fantastic Kameron Hurley:

“Time management has been high on my list of things to fix this year, and if I was going to get all the work done that I needed to get done, something had to go. That something was engaging with the internet. When people pop into my Twitter mentions now with a passive-aggressive response or angry point of disagreement, I just mute them. Folks forget that they are talking to a Real Human Being here, with a shitbrick of work to do and no time for their nonsense. I’ve reminded myself over and over this year that the purpose of most abuse you get online for speaking your mind (especially if you don’t present as a Generic White Dude), is done to steal your time. People want to wear you down, to break you, to silence you. And in order to keep working, I’ve had to make some changes to how I interact (or not) in online spaces. Most of the bloviating circle-jerking stuff is just not worth my time. I engage when it matters, not just in reaction to somebody being dumb and wanting me to waste my time bloviating a “response” to something patently ridiculous like “women shouldn’t vote” or “periods make women dumb.” I’m too fucking busy getting shit done over here.”

Source: https://www.kameronhurley.com/the-calm-before-the-storm/

Foreign Language: A Resolution Worth Keeping? by Catherine Foster


January: that time of year redolent with fresh beginnings, new starts, a bright future and all of those resolutions. There are a few resolutions that crop up January after January, those great promises that we make ourselves and intend to keep. Sometimes we do … or at least, we try our best to. This post concerns itself with a particular recurrent resolution that many people fizzle out on not long after they begin: learning a foreign language. For those of you who have decided that this is your year to finally conjugate those verbs in earnest: this message is for you! Especially if, as January draws to a close and February starts to dawn, your initial enthusiasm begins to wane a bit, and you’re beginning to think “Eh, what’s the rush? I’ve got a lot on my plate. Maybe some other time. Maybe next year …”

Not so fast! That resolution was a sound one, and you should keep it if you can. Learning a new language is tough, it’s true. It takes time, commitment, and effort. There’s no easy way, and anyone who tells you different is just trying to sell you their method. This post isn’t about how to learn a foreign language, but why you shouldn’t give up on it. In particular, why it has relevance and benefits to you, as a writer.

There are plenty of benefits of learning a foreign language. We have all heard them, and it only takes a second to Google the word “foreign language” before you are bombarded with endless lists detailing why you’ll be all the smarter and better for attempting it. But if you want to know how it will help you as an author, the field narrows. How does it help you write?

People who study foreign language must begin to pay attention to vocabulary, grammar, diction, syntax, conjugation … parts of speech and complexities of their native tongue that they already have through natural language acquisition as an infant and take for granted. In learning it anew, they must think about and educate themselves in the structure of not only the new language but also the native language. In short, they become an expert in their own language through being a student of another.

Language is something we acquire so early in infancy that we often don’t pay attention to it. Nor to the main purpose: communication. In becoming a student of another language, with its strange new sounds, we are forced to pay focused attention to the sounds we make as well as the sounds others make. This allows us to become better listeners, better communicators, and better writers. Writing is merely speaking in slow motion. Everything is related.

There are countless studies on the effects of foreign language on the brain, but one in particular is important to note here: a study of verbal achievement concluded that performance in reading comprehension, language mechanics and language expression was significantly higher in favor of people who study and learn foreign language than unilingual students. This study shows that the bilinguals outperform the unilinguals on a number of cognitive, linguistic, and metalinguistic tasks, even when the differences in intelligence are controlled. This is an important finding for people who are curious about how their language expression in their own language is impacted by bilingualism. The answer is resoundingly clear: it is one of the best organic ways to improve vocabulary, language expression and language mechanics, all critical skills for an author.

If you’re leaning towards learning a language, you don’t need to wait for next January or make a resolution to do so. There’s no better time for anyone, especially an author, to jump in and get started. Your brain will thank you, and so will your flagging manuscript! Try it and see!

Worth Every Sacrifice

Like most artists, the road to becoming a published author is unique for each individual traveling it. But anyone planning for success must also plan for one thing: sacrifice. Whether the path is long and arduous like it was for Michael J. Sullivan, or enviably short like Brandon Mull’s, there is no way forward without surrendering a few things.

It’s Time

The most obvious sacrifice necessary is of time. Regular, consistent, methodical, reliable, scheduled TIME. Many aspiring authors disappear into the ranks of the wistful wishful because they fail to dedicate the necessary time to see their vision through, push through the walls, and lulls in creativity between projects. If you are not committing to regular time for writing in your schedule, then you are not a writer. Even the aspiring kind.

Pride

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something” (The Princess Bride). “Get used to disappointment” (also The Princess Bride). Even some of the biggest best-selling novels in history were rejected many, many times. Harry Potter? 12. A Wrinkle in Time? 26. Kate DiCamillo received a staggering 473 rejection letters for various efforts before publishing Because of Winn-Dixie, arguably one of the most-read books in Middle School. To succeed in publication, one must sacrifice their pride, and recognize that even a well-written manuscript may not be picked up right away for publication. It’s also worth remembering that the quality of the manuscript is (obviously) not determined by how many rejection letters the author receives in the attempt to publish. It may be rejected because of that particular publisher’s goals, what kind of works they are currently interested in publishing, or because it’s just not well represented.

And Prejudice

You’ve just written the best thing you’ve ever attempted. The characters are alive and real to you, the story moves along at a good clip and has some exciting plot twists you’re excited for readers to discover. It’s perfect. With all due respect: nothing is perfect straight out of the gate. As the author you see and live the story in a way no one else can. And there’s the rub. No one else can. Which is why every published author has a favorite editor, and many a forward dedicates some space for gratitude toward their editor(s) for helping make the book the best it could be. The editor’s job is to help draw out your vision and trim back the weeds to bring into focus what the readers need to see to experience your work in the best way possible. Check your pride and author’s prejudice at the door, and let your baby grow up and move out into the world!

Worth It

To live is to sacrifice. Each moment of the day we are choosing how to spend that moment. We are giving up infinite possibilities to choose the one thing we are doing right this minute. If your goal is to be a published author, choose to leave behind whatever is holding you back from that reality. Check your pride at the door an acknowledge that rejection is just part of the process. Not everyone is going to love your work, or have room for it in their lives. That is not a value judgement, it just is. Set aside your personal preferences and listen to a good editor help you refine your work and prepare it for publication. Then get to work. And keep working.

Winter 2019 Submission Roundup!

Welcome to 2019! I don’t suppose anyone out there has resolved to publish a story this year, or more stories than last year? Anyone? I knew there’d be a few of you! Whether you’re here because of a resolution or not, if you’re looking to publish your work, you’ve come to the right place. Kick off the new year by getting your work into some of these respectable, and often paying publications!

As with our last roundup, I have not listed any magazines that charge a submission fee but don’t pay for acceptances. I may sound like a broken record, but perhaps this will become my catch phrase: “If they’re making money on your art, you should be making money on your art.”

Never, never, never, EVER submit anything without fully reading and understanding those submission guidelines first! If you’re unsure, ask for clarification via email. Some guidelines are very dense, but most editors would much rather respond to a quick email question than spend time reading something that doesn’t qualify for publication. Might I also recommend my post on making the cut with journal submissions as a fine companion for your approaching submission mission.

Godspeed! Read the guidelines!

Paying markets with no fees

Lackington’s: Outstanding speculative fiction, currently open for the “Voyages” themed issue. 1 cent CAD per word. This was featured in our last roundup and is still open, so assemble your best voyage ASAP! https://lackingtons.com/submissions/

Apex Magazine: Apex is a long-time standout in genre fiction. They publish sci-fi, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, and genre-defying work by some of the best writers out there. Payment is $.06 per word, and there’s a chance that they’ll podcast your piece for an additional $.01 per word. There’s no specified deadline, so they will likely close soon! https://www.apex-magazine.com/submission-guidelines/

Rattle: This well-known poetry magazine is looking for poems that first appeared on Instagram, and they’re paying $100 per piece! This opportunity ends on January 15th, so get on this one soon! https://rattle.submittable.com/submit/28742/instagram-poets

Great Weather for MEDIA: Accepting “edgy, fearless, and experimental” pieces for it’s annual anthology. Contributors earn $10 and 1 contributor copy, open until January 15thhttps://greatweatherformedia.submittable.com/submit

Ruminate: A beautiful publication rooted in healing contemplation, Ruminate pays $20 per page of poetry up to $80, $20 per 400 words of prose, and $20 for visual art. Submission cycles vary, so get your poetry in by January 15th and non-fiction by May 31st. Fiction submissions will be open from February 19th-August 14thhttps://www.ruminatemagazine.com/pages/submissions

Prairie Fire: Traditionally styled, but creatively energized, Prairie Fire is looking for work-related stories for their “Work Matters” issue. Fiction and non-fiction earn $.10 per word up to $250, $40 per poem. Deadline: January 18thhttp://www.prairiefire.ca/submit/submission-guidelines/current-submission-calls/call-for-submissions-work-matters/

FIYAH: If you’re not familiar with this magazine of Black speculative fiction, get familiar, because these folks are not here to mess around! FIYAH pays $150 for short stories, $300 for novelettes, and $50 for poetry. The theme for this issue is “Hair” and submissions close on January 31sthttps://www.fiyahlitmag.com/submissions/

Event: One of Canada’s finest! Paying $30 per page up to $500 of prose, and $35 per page of poetry up to $500. Deadline: January 31st. https://www.eventmagazine.ca/submit/

Augur Magazine: This newer Canadian magazine has hit the ground running. They’re looking for pieces that defy easy genre categorization, but lean towards literary speculative fiction. Their target is to publish 75% Canadian and Indigenous artists, so while all are welcome to submit, local creators will have some preference. $.06 cents per word for short fiction, $60 for flash, and $40 per poem—all payment in CAD. Deadline January 31st http://www.augurmag.com/submissions/

Room: Another Canadian gem, this time Room is looking for a new take on “Sports” for their upcoming themed issue. Accepted pieces will earn $50-150 CAD depending on length. Submissions open until January 31sthttp://roommagazine.com/submit

Arc: Long-running poetry journal offering up $50 per page plus a contributor copy. Get your lines in by January 31sthttp://arcpoetry.ca/submit/

Ninth Letter: This University of Illinois publication is a standout in the sea of university journals. The pieces and layout design are always top-notch, and they publish a wide variety of work. The print edition pays $25 per printed page up to $150, plus two contributor copies. Submissions of fiction, poetry, and essays accepted by February 28thhttps://ninthletteronline.submittable.com/submit

Zyzzyva: Beautiful, reputable magazine. No online submissions, snail mail only! Token to semi-pro rates. Open January 7th-May 31st. http://www.zyzzyva.org/about/submissions/

The Deaf Poets Society: Not to be biased, but this might be my favorite new magazine! This digital multimedia platform publishes deaf and disabled artists, and is on the forefront of media accessibility. They’re running on donations, so payment amounts depend on gifts from fans and donors. No submission deadlineshttps://www.deafpoetssociety.com/submit/

The Masters Review: This is a big time mag known for its massive contests, but now they’re open year round and paying $.10 per word up to $200 for fiction and non-fiction by writers who have yet to release a book-length work. This is a great jump start for you up-and-comers! https://themastersreview.submittable.com/submit/26106/new-voices-free

Pseudopod: Hear your fiction in podcast form! Very cool and forward-thinking fiction podcast looking for dark, weird fiction. 6 cents per word, Rolling deadlinehttp://pseudopod.org/submissions/

Nashville Review: One of only a handful of university journals on this list, traditional format with a refreshing approach. $25 per poem, $100 for prose. Now accepting translations! January 31st deadline. https://as.vanderbilt.edu/nashvillereview/contact/submit

One Story: Exactly like it sounds, a slick magazine featuring a single piece of fiction! Acceptance gets you $500 and 25 contributor copies, so have your best, most polished work ready for this one. Open from January 15th-May 31st. https://www.one-story.com/index.php?page=submit&pubcode=os

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet: This is the best lit mag you’ve (probably) never read! A true gem by the fine folks at Small Beer Press. No online submissions—snail mail only! 3 cents per word with a $25 minimum for fiction, $10 per poem, plus two contributor copies and a discount on additional issues. http://smallbeerpress.com/about/submission-guidelines/

Beneath Ceaseless Skies: They publish a very specific style of fantasy, but they do it very well. Now publishing stories up to 15,000 words at 6 cents per word, rolling submissions. http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/submissions/

Smokelong Quarterly: Flash fiction only, no deadlines. $25 per story. http://www.smokelong.com/submissions/guidelines/

No fee, no pay

Ink & Nebula: Interesting new digital poetry mag that highlights established poets on the “Ink” side, and features previously unpublished poets on the “Nebula” side. Submit up to 5 pieces by February 1sthttp://inkandnebula.com/submissions.html

The Account: Here’s a magazine carving its own space into the digital realm! The Account is looking to explore the relationship between the words on the page, and the ideas that led the writer to those words. Each submission must be accompanied by an account of writing that submission (Read the guidelines!!!). Deadline: March 1sthttps://theaccountmagazine.com/guidelines

Crab Fat Magazine: Crab Fat might just be the hardest working non-paying magazine going. They consistently put out solid issues, plus a yearly print anthology. This is a great place cut your teeth in the lit world with the best new talents! Rolling deadlinehttp://crabfatmagazine.com/

Always Crashing: Looking for something different? You found it! Always Crashing is an ever-mutating multimedia entity that also publishes a print issue annually. No deadline listed. https://www.alwayscrashing.com/submissions/

The Wax Paper: A quarterly print broadsheet style publication inspired by “Studs” Terkel? Of course that sounds awesome! Submit by June 30th, accepted artists will get a lifetime subscription. https://thewaxpaper.com/submissions/

Asymptote: Bring your translations here! Rolling deadlinehttps://www.asymptotejournal.com/submit/

Small fee, paid publication

Witness: Brought to you by the Black Mountain Institute (who also publish The Believer), Witness is looking for innovative poetry, prose, and photography with a unique perspective. Payment is $25 for every 1,500 words, and $25 per poem and they charge a $3 Submittable fee. Submissions are open from January 15th-March 1st. https://witness.blackmountaininstitute.org/submit/

Zizzle: Flash fiction that appeals to all ages. $100 per piece with a $3 submission fee. Accepting submissions year-round. http://zizzlelit.com/submit/

Ploughshares: You’ve heard of this one, right? $3 fee, $45 per printed page with a $90 minimum and a $450 max. Deadline: January 15th. https://www.pshares.org/submit/journal/guidelines

Driftwood: A fairly young journal coming into its own. Fees from $2.99, pays $15 per poem, $75 for fiction. Rolling deadline. https://www.driftwoodpress.net/submit

There are more lit mags than I could ever hope to list here, so if there’s one you like that’s open for subs, drop it in the comments! And read the damn submission guidelines!!!