Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Publishing, Rejection, and Finding Literary Community in the Digital Age

Recently, I had six out of seven pieces I sent out last spring accepted at literary magazines. If you know that prior to this I’d only published around six essays over a span of twelve years, then you can guess how thrilled I am. I’ve had my reasons for publishing so little-- namely taking a long hiatus from sending stuff out. But I’ve also heard it said that for every acceptance you garner, you will receive about 20 rejections-- and my track record up until now definitely supports this ratio. In fact, I submitted one of my recently published pieces, “Awareness,” 21 times before it finally found its home!

About ten years ago, I first started submitting to literary journals in earnest while in grad school. I’d send out a piece to about five different places, then wait, and wait… for mostly rejection. Some of my pieces might make it to the final round of consideration, meaning the journal might have it for almost a year before I finally received an encouraging yet discouraging note, this came close, but sorry.

These near-acceptances taught me that my work couldn’t be terrible, and so I kept trying. But eventually, I got tired of all the striving and rejection. I’d been calling myself a writer for years, yet hardly anyone had ever read my work! It was time to change gears-- not give up, but just try a different approach. This post is my attempt to retrace the path I’ve taken, and to share what I’ve learned along the way. If you, like me, are tired of rejection or don’t know where to begin submitting, here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. Start a Blog (or contribute guest posts to friends’ blogs):

During my first years of motherhood I stopped submitting to journals, and instead started blogging, which in turn revitalized me as a writer. Blogging was a way to put myself out there-- my voice, my thoughts, my identity as a writer-- and to garner immediate responses from friends and acquaintances, mostly through Facebook. My readership was small, but it was nevertheless exciting to see it grow.

Blogging also helped me to let go of my perfectionist tendencies. The “hey, I just wrote this off the top of my head” format helped me to let go of the idea that everything I wrote needed to be perfect or profound before sharing it. And I didn’t worry much about long lapses between posts or how my blog could reach more people, because blogging wasn’t a social networking strategy for me; it was a lifeline, a much needed outlet to connect my private world to the world outside my home. Blogging was how I ultimately “came out” to the world as a writer, despite my many previous years of toiling on essays and a manuscript, with only a few trusted readers along the way.

  1. Make More Connections in the Literary World

Many writers are introverts. Before I moved to Seattle in 2008, I lived in a cabin on 50 acres and plenty of days went by where I didn’t talk to anyone besides my husband and our cat. We had dial-up, but still no cell phone. I signed up for Facebook before I really understood what it was, then ignored it until people started ‘friending’ me and before long I became intrigued and addicted.

Now, it is easy to criticize the shortcomings of online communities and addictions, so putting that conversation aside for now, I will say that, for me, Facebook has connected me to so many writers in the Pacific Northwest that I seriously doubt I otherwise would’ve managed to connect with in person. And what I’ve found is that most writers want to be supportive of each other and are hungry for connection to other literary souls, whether they are emerging or established writers.

Of course, it’s even better to cultivate live, in-person relationships. But as a busy person who typically does not go out much to readings, parties, or bars, I’ll take an online friendship to nothing. From a publishing perspective, these connections have given me access to more posts about journals, contests, and calls for submissions. And ultimately, these online connections also just give me a livelier, more intelligent newsfeed and a sense of belonging to a greater literary community that I’ve long craved. Plus, I am much more likely to approach someone in person if we’ve already connected online.

  1. Do Your Research-- and Use the Internet!

People have long given me the advice: read and know the aesthetic of the journals you are submitting to. But I confess, I have not always followed it. I’ve been impatient. I didn’t want to go through the long (and expensive, to me) process of ordering, then waiting, then reading all those journals. And frankly, I didn’t even like much of the writing in “those” journals. But I also wasn’t that keen on publishing in online journals because they weren’t as highly regarded back then. And, naturally, I wanted to publish in respected places-- not the “highest tier”; I knew better than to submit to the New Yorker right off the bat (well, actually, I considered it at first, silly novice). But I figured my work at least deserved to be in the “middle tier” journals.

Here’s what I know now: do not hoard your work. Of course, don’t give it away willy nilly to the first taker; still be selective and look for journals that are pleasing to your eye and full of other work that you are drawn to read! Yet at the same time, be brutally honest to yourself about the quality of your work, the level of competition, and where your work might realistically find a home. (And trust that you will continue to write more stuff that is even better!)

The good news is, there are SO many more high quality online journals out there now, which makes is so much easier to do your research. It doesn’t take long to scan through a few pieces online and get a sense of whether you resonate with a journal’s aesthetic; you could scan through ten in an hour, which is very different than mailing in $10 to ten different journals and waiting several weeks for each to arrive. Plus, there is no longer the same stigma against publishing online as there used to be. Actually, I prefer to publish oline now because then I can share my work with more people. And since most journals have been shifting to an online submission process as well, it is that much easier now to submit.

  1. Know Your Audience and Target Online or Smaller Niches

How do you find your ideal audience, much less any audience at all?

  • It might mean seizing upon opportunities to submit to anthologies or themed issues of journals that are focused on a specific topic that you already have a perfect piece for (or that inspires you to write one anew), for your competition will be greatly narrowed. Look in the back of Poets and Writers magazine for their “calls for submissions,” or go to to start perusing possibilities.
  • It might also mean writing shorter, web-friendly pieces in the 500-1000 word range (as opposed to the twenty-page double-spaced, MFA low-residency friendly pieces I gravitated towards for years). For online publishing, about 4,000-5,000 words is the maximum that most sites take, although there are exceptions.
  • And finally, for me, it meant targeting journals that were actively publishing women and/or people of color. Is it a coincidence that almost all of the pieces I’ve recently had accepted were through journals who are committed to publishing women or “diverse voices”?  I think not. While this will not stop me from submitting my work to other “higher tiered journals” (which ultimately publish far fewer women and people of color, as documented by the Vida count, but which might count more on one’s book deal-seeking resume), I also realize know that I want to keep seeking out journals who are committed to women’s voices and cultural diversity. After all, these are the kinds of voices and stories I am most drawn to read as well. Here is a great round-up of journals that actively seek out diverse voices.

Who might your ideal audience be? Are you hoping to reach other queer readers, other spiritually-minded readers, other mothers, other animal lovers, other world travelers, other naturalists? There are magazines and journals out there for just about everyone.

Most of all, remember that when it comes to publishing and succeeding as a writer, persistence and patience are everything!!! And lots of rejection does not equal failure. What it may mean is:

·         You need to keep getting feedback and editing your work

·         You’re not submitting to the right places

·         You’re not submitting to enough places or enough times; for example, if an editor says, no thank you but please submit to us again, Do it! Don’t delay; they mean what they say.

·         Or, in some cases, it might not yet be your time yet. Maybe you are not ready to go so public, or maybe your writing is not ready. Maybe you just don’t have the time to commit. In any case, if you know that writing is a path that you love and cannot live without: keep writing. Maybe forget about submitting for a while-- yes, maybe even for years. Be patient. True, it’s satisfying to publish, especially after toiling for so long, but ultimately, for me the greatest satisfaction comes in doing the work itself, not in proving to the world that I am indeed a “real” writer because I’ve published. (Don’t you hate that insinuation?)

Trust that when your work is ready, and when you are ready, you will find your audience, however large or small.

Recent publications include:

- "Learning to Speak" in Duende
- "Open Receptivity" in Literary Mama
- "Sky Burial" in Blue Lyra Review
- "Awareness" in Vela Magazine
- "Merging" in Raven Chronicles

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Writing Process and Writers Who Inspire Me

Xin, the character for heart-mind in Chinese (also, the heart radical)

Many of us writers love to talk and think about our writing process. I am happy to take part in the “Writing Process Blog Tour," which I first saw circulating several months ago. Friend and fellow Seattle writer, Kelly Martineau, invited me to participate, and I encourage you to read her post about her how she approaches crafting her lyrical creative nonfiction pieces, many of which deal with the shadow side of motherhood. Here’s my contribution to the conversation, and at the end I’ll introduce the three writers whom I’ve invited to carry it forward.

1) What am I working on?

Too much. Not enough. Mostly, over the last couple years I’ve been editing and writing a few crucial “bookend” pieces for my manuscript, SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL: A MEMOIR, which follows my search for language, love, and belonging as I migrate between China and America in my twenties. I’ve been working on this memoir for something like ten years, or maybe my whole life. Now, I’ve been searching for an agent since this winter, and am determined to get this book out into the world “soon,” whether that means I get an agent and book deal, or self-publish, an option I still haven’t ruled out.

            In the meantime, I’ve got this other manuscript on hold, working title: ARTIFACTS OF LONGING, which explores my relationship to my present-day home, a wooded cabin in Seattle, which I inherited from my old neighbor friend, Frank, in 2006. Frank was a merchant marine, a collector of old things, and an avid reader. His wife, Els, was a poet, a frustrated wife, a feminist and philosopher. Both were dear friends to my family, to children (thought they had none of their own), and to nature. After moving into their home in 2008, I discovered thousands of letters written between them during the thirty-some years that Frank was at sea for over half the year, along with journals, slides, and other artifacts.

            As I continue to learn more about their lives, I am simultaneously sinking deeper into my own role as a mother, a wife, an artist, and a feminist. As such, this book will weave together my evolving relationship to my own longing, creativity, marriage, familial relationships, and understanding of home, alongside my inquiry into the private lives of Els and Frank that I’ve been privileged to witness, posthumously, and interpret anew.

            With all that said, you’d think I’d be madly scribbling away each day, yet the real bulk of my “work” still rests in the care of my son. I have about ten hours a week to myself, maybe half of which goes towards my own writing on a good week, even if that writing is just a few scribbled lines in my journal. Chores, bills, teaching writing, and editing others’ work takes up the rest. I’m not complaining though. I’m really happy to feel this full with meaningful work, and the older my son gets, the more time I keep stealing back to feed my creative passions.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write a combination of memoir and personal essays that lean towards the lyrical side. Love, longing, home, connection, and compassion are big reoccuring themes of mine. While I don’t feel that I am a particularly bold groundbreaker or risk taker when it comes to my subject matter or style of creative nonfiction, I suppose others might call my voice earnest, open, and intimate. I strive for honesty, for transparency and vulnerability in my writing; I seek to keep coming out of hiding, to push myself to say the things that I am afraid to say or to reveal, however bold or safe these confessions may appear to others. Increasingly, I am drawn towards lyricism and brevity, even though my essays and blog posts are more often long than not (case in point, this post). On that contradictory note, I feel like a lot of my work involves some layer of paradox. I’m often noticing the in-between spaces, the lack of one clear right or wrong, the way we are all products of our own environments, histories, and prejudices.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Growing up bilingual and biracial (half Chinese and half Caucasian), I am keenly attuned to issues of identity and perspective; I frequently feel like a shapeshifter, negotiating a territory in between hiding and coming out, aware of all the things that I’m not saying or exposing as I listen to the world around me. This might be related to conversations on race, or conversations about God and spirituality, both of which are topics for me that I am simultaneously eager and hesitant to engage in. But definitely, always, listening for and to.

            The more simple answer would be to say that I write what I do because I have to. I’ve kept a journal for most of my life, and called myself a writer for nearly 20 years. I am married to the process of recording my thoughts and emotions, of charting the opening and constricting tides of my heart. I am also, undoubtedly, a nonfiction writer and reader, drawn to the intimacy, insight, and connection that happens through storytelling with the least amount of distance between the reader and writer. I enjoy writing that invites you in, exposes our own collective vulnerability, fear, and beauty on the page. I’m thinking of recent memoirs by Lidia Yuknavitch and Cheryl Strayed; or the lyrical, activist-fueled work of Terry Tempest Williams and Rebecca Solnit. These are my current writer-heros, and it’s an amazing gift of our mixed blessing of technology that as their “friend” on Facebook, I am now actively engaged with their thoughts and their voices almost every day. The bravery of other writers and activists fuels me, teaches me, reminds me that I still have so much potential to grow and to evolve into a kinder, more compassionate and courageous human being.

4) How does my writing process work?

Free-writing is my friend. Natalie Goldberg was my earliest and most influential writing mentor. My advice to myself and to others: Write regularly, as much as you can. Write openly and stream of consciously; banish the editor from early drafts. Write a lot, then cut away. Put it all out there, interrogate yourself, follow tangents, be open to the process, to the places where a piece might surprise you. Be open to finding the new beginning in your ending. Be open to cutting two-thirds of a piece, or maybe even everything but one paragraph. Trust, be patient, love the process. Edit, edit, and edit some more. Be patient. Let go of the ego’s striving for more praise and acclaim. Life and writing are not a race. Your time will come. Trust the process. Trust whatever it is you need to do or to write, right now. The goal is authenticity; to find the work, the stories, and the form through which you can express your core in the most real way.

            For many years, I used to free-write every morning religiously, with tea or coffee at my side. Now, it happens in spurts, once or twice a week if I’m lucky, whether in my journal or sometimes, when I’m feeling a little more focused or starved for communication (i.e. for an audience), then as a blog post. Becoming a mother-writer (vs. just a writer) has taught me a LOT about priorities, letting go, and pushing onward. Having conviction in your vision and goals, but also allowing for surprise and for what needs to be-- for the fact that you are not, and will never be, in complete control of your life or your creative work. There’s that paradox again.

            Through my free-writing, I search for those images, memories, questions, or lines that call to me intuitively, that ask me to take pause and to probe, interrogate, and write more. When I find that central imagery, or scene, line, or detail, I hone in there; I start over; I re-focus. I ask: what am I really writing about here, beneath the surface story? Intuition plays a big role, but so does lots and lots of drafts and editing. Letting go of “your babies,” letting go of anything that gives off the slightest hint of falseness. When I get to those more developed stages, reading my work out loud is the ultimate litmus test for me. Or imagining reading it to an audience. If I grow bored or if I don’t feel the words in my gut, more than likely they are ones I can do without. 
          Ultimately, I’m writing to understand, to uncover, to praise, and to mourn. Speaking from the heart, however cliché that may sound, matters more to me than anything in writing. Because we all are starved for real connection.

Now, I am delighted to introduce the following three writers:

First off, Khadijah Queen is a poet whom I first met while getting my MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles. Khadijah curates the Courting Risk reading series which I’ve been honored to participate in, and continues to amaze and inspire me with all she accomplishes. Her essay, "Mothering Solo," is one example of her brilliant mind and voice. 

Khadijah Queen is the author of two books of poetry: Conduit (Black Goat/Akashic 2008) and Black Peculiar, which won the 2010 Noemi Press book award. Individual poems appear widely, and her latest chapbook is I'm So Fine: A List of Famous Men and What I Had On, available for download from Sibling Rivalry Press. Read more at

Second, I have the pleasure to introduce Seattle-based writer and performance artist, Natasha Marin, who awes and inspires me with her continual passion for art-making, whether through collaborative, multimedia projects, or for her continual willingness to initiate provocative and honest dialogues around race, community, creativity, and vulnerability.

Natasha Marin is a poet, a mother, a black woman in America just trying to keep on keeping on. More than a decade beyond graduate school, she still finds people and ideas fascinating. She hosts Miko Kuro's Midnight Tea ( and is the co-founder of SPoCS (Seattle People of Color Salon). She has received grants and awards for her efforts in making poetry more accessible through interactive art events that engage the community. Her first full-length collection, MILK, an exploration of breastfeeding in the Digital Age, and is available at

Last but not least, Olympia writer,Patty Kinney, inspires me with her candid, vulnerable, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and always compassionate writing about subjects such as her family, mental illness, and so much more. 


Patty Kinney is the recipient of Crab Creek Review’s 2013 “Editors’ Choice Award” for her poem, “How To Talk To Your Schizophrenic Child” which is also currently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Patty has no idea how or when one finds out if they have won this prize? She believes her full-length poetry manuscript, Fertility Is A Found Object may have been “finished” last week. She continues to poem full-time while working on one of many memoirs - Don’t Encourage Her. Kinney, a Seattle-born, native-Olympian adoptee and US Army veteran, embraces mothering six sons, bipolarness, a good Russian Tea Cake and the yellow ranunculus. She also holds an MFA, meets the gaze of most panhandlers she comes across - desiring to one day tell their stories.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

On List-Making, Butt-wiping, and Other Daily Accomplishments

I was going to sit down and start writing right away today, but instead I started shopping online for a new shower curtain. Similarly, ever since I’ve returned home five days ago from my week-long writing retreat, I’ve only managed to scrawl one harried journal entry (truly, just a glorified to-do list), and to read two short essays from a book.

Harried is the word that best describes the mental state I have returned to, or rather, the usual state that I dwell in. I’m not necessarily stressed out or anxious or worried. But definitely I’m in that constant go-go-go mode, monkey mind jumping from one task to another.

Let’s talk first about email. I barely checked it at all the week I was gone. And you know what? I hardly needed to, because I wasn’t sending stuff out. Although I’d created a ‘vacation responder email’ just in case I missed a query from a potential student or agent, I didn’t receive one technically important email that I would’ve felt bad not responding to right away. I’d pretty much taken care of any pressing worldly business before I left, so I could sink fully into my week alone with no outlying concerns. I know most people who work day jobs outside the home wouldn’t be able to do this. I guess I’m lucky in that way.

But does that mean that my life at home with my child is slow and carefree? No, because I’m trying to squeeze in so much into the few hours I have each week to take care of stuff. And because in the eight or so hours I might have to work each week, I’m trying to prioritize between planning and advertise for an upcoming workshop; editing and querying agents for a manuscript; and also actually writing a few things for this blog and submitting my work to journals again. And that’s just the ‘writerly’ stuff. Let’s not get started on family-related tasks and chores.

Anyway, I’m boring myself already with this litany of “how busy I am,” but I suppose I’m just recovering from a bit of reverse culture shock after coming home from my retreat, thrown back into my normal life, most of which is driven by my own desire and need to plan, to feel productive, and to “make the most of my time.” What this means is: contemplative acts like journaling for journaling’s sake, reading, or going on walks immediately fall by the wayside. (Facebook surfing has also, thankfully, taken a less important seat, which is usually the case after I take a hiatus, but I’m quite certain I’ll gradually warm up to it again in the coming weeks.)

I accomplished a lot during the week I was away. As much as I gave myself permission to just be, open and receptive, to sink back into a contemplative and aware space, I also could not (and did not want to) turn off the part of me that is a tad obsessive about making lists of things to do, and, in turn, keeping tabs on my accomplishments. Because, you see, I need to pat myself on the back regularly, take stock of how much I actually do each day, even if to many it may look like I do nothing but cater to my kid and a few loads of laundry. Or especially if. Yes, making lists is my way of feeling better about myself during weeks where I am not able to accomplish a fraction of the lofty writing goals I set on Monday, because I know this lack of accomplishment isn’t due to laziness. It’s just… the way it is for now. And each approaching year brings the promise of a bit more time and space to do these other jobs, namely writing and teaching, that I have missed and craved and gradually started to inhabit more and more over these last four.

So, in the spirit of my obsessive list-making mind and my present-day reality of too-little time to write beautifully edited essays, I will conclude this post with a few lists.

Things I Accomplished During My Week at Hypatia-in-the-Woods:

  1. Organized files on my computer.
  2. Edited an old flash nonfiction piece.
  3. Journaled every day, a lot.
  4. Wrote a blog post (to be posted when I returned home).
  5. Wrote and edited a full-blown new essay called, Open Receptivity: On Becoming a Mother-Writer.
  6. Read through my old manuscript-in-progress, Artifacts of Longing, written pre-motherhood and abandoned since giving birth. You can get a glimpse of the original seed for the project here.
  7. Made a new outline for said manuscript and for the chapters and sections I’m newly inspired to write. Later in the week, edited that outline, which now includes lots of highlighter and excited scribbles.
  8. Read seven books (!) and several poems to boot.
  9. Made a new collage from National Geographic images. Actually glued it down this time.
  10. Took a short daily walk through the mossy woods.
  11. Wrote a letter to Cedar in his long-abandoned baby book.
  12. Read and transcribed a few letters between Els and Frank for the manuscript.
  13. Wrote a short piece about Cedar skyping with his great-grandmother.
  14. Talked for an hour on the phone to an old friend.
  15. Re-read or skimmed most of my blog posts on motherhood from the last few years, and free-wrote a response. (Also, noted which were my favorites so I could make a ‘favorite posts’ page when I returned to Seattle.)
  16. Slept in every day.
  17. Read late every night.
  18. Listened to lots of old nostalgic music.
  19. Wasn’t drawn to drinking most nights, except my last night whereupon I overdid it and stayed up late dancing to me and Matthew’s old dance party mix that we made for our wedding. (It’s like five hours long. And very good.)
  20. Met some wonderful people from the board who graciously welcomed me into their home, and fed me pizza and sushi.
  21. Cried and gave thanks to the universe for my good fortune, and for the way life has circled around again to give me this opportunity to sink back into my old identity as a writer. And just to be: a woman, writing, alone.

Things I’ve Done Since I’ve Returned:

  1. Sent something like 40 emails.
  2. Planned two, maybe three, summer vacations.
  3. Organized a rotating schedule of summer play dates (after realizing we couldn’t afford camps).
  4. Budgeted money; made various unscientific calculations.
  5. Bought birthday jammies for Cedar, initiated his first week of not wearing diapers at night!
  6. Spent some good quality time with Cedar, including taking him to a rock and gem show, going to preschool together, hanging out with my sister and niece, going to Dick’s, going to Heaven Sent (fried chicken; it was on my bucket list; needed to see if it was going to be as good as my memory of Ezells; it wasn’t); watching three movies (Dumbo, which has an incredibly psychedelic sequence of dancing/mutating pigs, no doubt what the creators were taking there!; Blue Jasmine (in which Cate Blanchett was really good); and Adore (for those of you who might enjoy a young man/older woman fetish, which I swear I don’t!). Note: the latter two movies were note viewed with Cedar).
  7. Posted my blog post on Day Two at Hypatia, in which I also spread the word about their residency openings.
  8. Made that new “Favorite Posts and Writing” page on my blog.
  9. Shared a few calls for submissions on my Heart Radical Facebook page.
  10. Scheduled various other things: dentist appointment, date night, birthday plans, etc.
  11. Started organizing photos to make photo book for preschool.
  12. Decorated a poster of photos with Cedar for his upcoming “special week” at school.
  13. Marveled at how much things had bloomed in one week: the hyacinths, forsythia, quince next door, Indian plum, a couple more daffodils, all opened up while I was away.
  14. Cooked, cleaned, laundry, dishes, staring at piles of unfinished projects and other dirty or misplaced things. Bought cat food and groceries and tampons. And stamps. (File under: chores).
  15. Took a rejection from a coveted literary agent in stride; mostly (sniff).
  16. Submitted an old piece for publication.
  17. Made multiple new to-do lists for the weeks ahead.
  18. Scheduled more childcare to preserve sanity.
  19. Posted this. (Or I plan to anyway, before dashing off to get Cedar soon.)

That’s pretty much it. I’ll spare you the real nitty-gritty, like wiping butts or combing my cat for fleas. No other grand notes to end on. Just my desire to keep writing, in whatever way I can. To actually find (make) the time to keep generating new stuff in the midst of parenting, and all my other teaching and publishing goals. To keep taking things, one day, one list, and one thing crossed off at a time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Week Alone to Write

I just returned home on Saturday from an amazing week spent alone in the 'Holly House' at Hypatia-in-the-Woods in Shelton, WA. They actually have some openings right NOW (now - April 5 and April 13- June 1), for women residents in the arts, as well as women in academia and entrepreneurship to stay for a week or more. Please contact if you are interested in learning more details, for they are no longer the same as what is detailed on the website.

Here is what I wrote on my second day alone, as I started soaking in this gift. I plan to post another post soon, wherein I'll reflect on what I actually accomplished, and my re-entry into my "other life" as a mom and wife at home.

 Day Two at Hypatia

It’s 3:30 on Monday and I am still in my bathrobe. I woke at my usual 6:30, but luxuriously went back to sleep until 9:15. I rose, made coffee, then sat at the table to write, the space all around: silent. Returning to this lost morning ritual of mine felt strange in a way; these days I’m so used to drinking my coffee in the Lazyboy, slowly waking up while checking Facebook on  my i-phone, while Cedar watches cartoons and eats his peanut butter and jelly toast across from me on the couch. Could I really sit down right away and begin writing? And whatever will I work on?

I arrived at the Holly House yesterday shortly after noon. After putting my food in the fridge, my suitcase in the loft, my toiletries in the bathroom, and my writing supplies on the dining room table, I wondered, what should I do? I’m so used to living in the time-space now where one should not ‘waste’ a single precious moment of solitary, potentially writing time. And yet, I knew better than to think I could just start writing right away. I needed to give myself time to settle in. To rearrange the furniture so that the comfortable chair faced out near the window, to make room for my books on the table nearby, and to sit, journal, and read while staring out at the trees.

After an hour or so, I deigned to get out the big folder of writing I brought-- a manuscript, put on hold for the last four years, that I’ve come here to work on. I needed to flip through it, familiarize myself with it again, remember how far into the story I’d once gotten, where I’d left off, what I’d once outlined, and to see if or how any of this still resonated in me. I gave it a quick glance, despaired for a moment at how bad some of the writing was, and wondered if I’d have to start the whole thing over again from scratch. But I knew better than to go down that route of worry or serious inquiry yet. I still needed to just remember how to slow down, how to be quiet, how to be patient, how let my body and heart inhabit this place.

So I decided to start reading one of the 15 (yes) books I brought for my week’s stay, and later to go for a walk around the lovely 12 acres or so of mossy woods that surrounds this cabin, to walk a labyrinth someone built in an orchard, and to familiarize myself with the surroundings. Then, after a bit more sifting through old work and a welcoming dinner with three members of Hypatia’s board (pizza in a couple’s home), I returned home. Yes, home. I fully intend to make myself at home in this cabin and to soak in every moment that I am here.

That brings me to now, to day two. This morning, I was still experiencing a bit of that unsettled feeling: what am I called to work on? How will I utilize my time here? The project that I proposed working on in my application is the one that details the story of my inheritance from my old neighbor: about eight years ago, I inherited a cabin in Seattle, along with the artifacts, slides, journals, and hundreds of letters between the couple, Els and Frank, who lived there for forty-some years. During my pregnancy, I’d read all of the letters, no small feat. Then, two months before giving birth, I spent three amazing weeks at Hedgebrook, working and being fed and nurtured in a community of women writers on Whidbey Island. During those two weeks, I not only re-read and archived many of the letters, but I also completed a first draft of maybe half of the manuscript. I left with the solid form of a real book on my hands, and a clear outline for what remained to be written.

Yet I knew that a baby was soon coming. And although I would write a few essays related to this project in the next few years to come, I mostly just blogged motherhood and worked to finish my first manuscript (SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL), but otherwise accepted that I would need to put this second book (working title: ARTIFACTS OF LONGING) on hold.

Now, I finally have some breathing space. Enter: this week-long retreat. Hypatia-in-the-woods. I packed my computer, printer, books, both manuscripts, and some collage supplies (for evening art-making, if so inspired), and drove two hours south to Shelton, a town outside of Olympia, my old college stomping grounds and Matthew’s hometown. It felt a homecoming of sorts. Back to the last place I lived before I was married or with a child. Back to a familiar, yet also distant and foreign, immersion in solitude and nature. Back to a span of days before me where my sole goal is to sit at a desk and write. What a luxury! It feels like a circle completing itself from the last time I worked on this project, in a cabin at Hedgebrook, while pregnant. Yet now, as a mom, I understand this luxury in a whole new context. And not just to write for seven whole days, but also to read and make art at night to my heart’s content! It is hard to describe how happy and grateful I am to be here.

Yesterday, it was all I could do but sit in a chair, read, and scribble a few lines of this gratitude. But today, I am warming up to a more productive, humming mode of creativity. I’ve given the old manuscript a thorough reading. I’ve made notes about what pieces (or whole sections) might still be missing or how others might be rearranged. I’ve poured over a few multiple drafts of the same chapter, in order to figure out which to throw out or keep or integrate together. In short, I’m already feeling reinvested in this work. True, it also feels very daunting right now to think about re-immersing myself in a new book when I don’t even have an agent, much less a book deal for the first one. But, that’s precisely what this week is for. To get over the daunting-ness. I knew that it would be hard to make that transition in my normal day-to-day where I’m still lucky to squeeze out a few hours of writing time most weeks, and that the ideal way to “re-enter” would be to spend a few concentrated days with the material, and to give myself the gift of this in between breath, this interlude, this transition.

So now it’s 4:00. The day feels long and spacious, especially without T.V., Internet, or even cell reception. I’ve been listening for hours to an old, mellow world music mix on my I-pod player. The sky is blue. The forest beckons. I’m ready to get dressed, go out, and then come home to my cabin again and eat, read, and sink into the evening hours. Tomorrow, I think I’ll be ready to dive into new writing. And to practice staying open and receptive to the moment and how it calls me to follow one subject or another, and one form or another-- be it list-making, free-writing, editing, or poetry. Yes, poetry! After my walk yesterday I found myself spontaneously writing in verse. This hasn’t happened in a VERY long time, and I’ve always hesitated to call anything I write poetry. That tells me something about the ripe potency of this week to come.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Writing and Publishing Flash Nonfiction:  A Four-Week Intensive

Saturdays; April 19 - May 10, 2014; 
10 a.m. -1 p.m.

Where: Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford
Cost: $160 if you register by 2/28/14; after that:
$180 by check or $185 by Paypal (complete registration details below)

Flash nonfiction is a popular short form that is dense with lyricism and meaning. In this four-week intensive, we will dive into writing and revising our own flash nonfiction, aiming to push our own boundaries of voice and experimentation. 

Together we will:

  • Generate plenty of new writing from prompts;
  • Read and discuss diverse examples of flash nonfiction;
  • Share from our writing (on a voluntary basis) in a supportive space;
  • Learn how to respectfully give feedback to our peers;
  • Discover online literary journals that publish flash (like;
  • And learn about submitting work for publication.
Registration Details:

  • Please first email me (Anne) at to confirm space in the workshop. Please note that I cannot hold your spot until payment is received.  
  • You may pay either pay by check sent to my secure mailbox, or by Paypal below:

  • Flash Nonfiction

    Refund Information for all workshops:

    1) If the workshop does not fill to the minimum (4 students), I will notify you in advance and issue a refund to your credit card or by personal check. 
    2) Full refunds may be obtained if I receive written notice at least 2 weeks prior to the first day of the workshop. 

    3) Full tuition minus a $20 cancellation fee can be refunded if written notice is given at least 3 days prior to the first day of the workshop. If you need to cancel later than this, due to my own commitments (i.e. space rental) I unfortunately can not offer a monetary refund unless I am able to fill your spot, although I can offer credit toward editing and mentoring services, or future classes. Please let me know if you have any questions and thanks for your understanding.  

    Please don't hesitate to email me at if you have any questions about any of my workshops!

    Warm wishes, 


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