Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On Literary Longing, Hope, and Despair

I’ve been working on a memoir for a long, long time. Like ten years long, since I first formed an early draft. Or fifteen years long since I was living in China and writing so much raw material that would inform the heart of it. Or almost twenty years long since I planted the earliest seeds, first grew committed to a writing practice, first allowed myself to dream that I could be a writer. If I keep reaching back, I can see how I’ve been trying to tell my story my whole life.

And yet, I had no idea that it would take so long to form a publishable, marketable draft. To go from writing many of the pieces individually (as stand-alone essays), to editing them (over and over and over), to then merging them into a memoir with a narrative arc. It feels vulnerable to tell you of my struggle, for I have wanted to publish my book for so long now. To gain “success” in the eyes of others and myself, to “prove” to the doubters, to “justify” all this time I’ve spent obsessed with my writing life. And it is tempting to question my process. Maybe if I hadn’t started writing about my twenties so close to my twenties, I would’ve had more perspective from the get-go on the overall meaning and structure of my book—which might have saved me a lot of time. Or maybe I should’ve prioritized hiring more editors to read the whole thing. But editors are expensive, and I’ve written what I’ve felt called to write as I’ve gone. I’ve sought the help of editor friends for feedback, and I’ve intuited a lot on my own. I recognize now how much my craft has grown over the years, and how some of the earlier writing is weak. I’ve gone back and completely rewritten a lot. And I’ve wanted to be done at so many stages, but I’m trying to accept that my book hasn’t been done with me. It has had more questions to ask, more gaps to fill in, more themes to interrogate and connect.

I’m also trying to accept that I am a slow writer, with a slow revision and submission process. Becoming a mother also slowed my process—even as it showed me, all the more, how much I cherish my writing path. No, I will never be one of those writers who pumps out a new book every few years, and yes I’ve let go of many of my earliest writing-related aspirations. But what I know is this: I am still writing. I have been committed to this path for twenty years now, and I know that my core desire to write comes from the most vital, risk-taking, clarity-seeking part of me. Sure, I still want to publish more in order to connect to a larger audience and advance my career. But the seemingly glacial speed of this progress has also forced me to remember why I am drawn to writing in the first place. How writing feeds me; how I’m not happy if I’m not writing—and not just editing, but also actively expressing new ideas and producing new work. Writing shows me how I’m feeling, helps me process my day, my week, my year, my childhood, my unconscious, my future. Writing turns my confusion or grief into story, into poetry, into meaning. Writing breaks silences, creates empathy, seeks redemption and release.  

Yes, the publishing world is incredibly hard to break into, and although self-publishing is a growing viable option, it is also not an easy route if you ultimately want to put out a professional product that can reach a lot of people (via reviews, bookstores, etc.). Over the years I’ve queried agents and presses in several cycles. Each time I’ve received valuable feedback and taken more time to revise. I’ve also shelved the manuscript for years during early motherhood, and started working on a new one. But ultimately, I have not given up hope, and I’ve had enough good feedback to trust that I’m not completely delusional in my efforts. Now, I am gearing up to make a few more edits, and then to send out a few more queries. I know that my book is stronger than it was before, and I see the way I was not ready to send it out when I first did. I also see how I’ve been writing my way out of the middle towards my true beginning and ending for years.  

I’m not saying that the process needs to take this long, and if you are on the path towards publishing a book, I sincerely hope it doesn’t for you. But what I do want to say is that the road from falling in love with the writing process-- to the desire to write a book-- to the reality of writing a book, as well as building a platform that the publishing industry will find marketable—is a long one. It is not the road for every writer. And it doesn’t have to be. There are so many ways to be a writer and to find an audience. Most importantly, you need to keep showing up with the time and means that you have, and to stay connected to what you love about the process. Eventually, or in different phases, it will also be important to find your people, your writing community. A group of other contemplative human beings who understand the beauty, the struggle, the obsession, the fear, and the elation that can come from exploring your most vulnerable and deepest truths through words.

Right now, I’m trying to accept that my publication journey might not turn out the way I hoped it would and that there is so much I can’t control—yet to do this without giving up on my goals. This is a hard, paradoxical state to achieve—and I’d be lying if I said my ego is not still striving for fame, success, and glory (in my own modified terms). But this lens of acceptance is the only sane way that I’ve found to stick with this whole business. I need to continually relearn and remember how the process of writing feeds me—divorced from other outcomes—at the same time that I doggedly return to draft after draft, alone at my desk, the only one who really cares if I do so.

And through this all, I have writing. Writing as my witness. Writing as my companion. Writing as my practice and path.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tuesday night section added for Building a Writing Practice!

Hello Writing Friends,

My Friday morning class for this fall filled up quickly, so the Hugo House has agreed to open another section of Building a Writing Practice. I hope this new evening time will work for some of you!

Here are the details:

When: Tuesdays, 10/11 - 12/6 (skip 11/22), from 7:10 -9:10 p.m.
Where: Hugo House (new First Hill location)
Cost: $375 (for non-members) 
Who: All levels and genres of writers are welcome!
To Register: click here 
To learn more: email me at with questions!

This 8-week workshop is akin to a support group/boot camp for writers who need a loving kick in the butt. Together, we will help hold each other accountable to our goals; free-write from prompts; read and discuss pieces about the process and practice of writing; and learn how to start writing groups, set submission goals, and otherwise build a writing life. We will ask: why do we write or want to write-- and how can we keep doing so, even in the midst of rejection, setbacks, and challenges? How can we stick with our writing practice for the long haul? Or simply: how can we start writing, right now? Together we will form a community that is open to all levels and genres, although many of our prompts and discussions will be geared more towards writers of creative nonfiction. Readings will include authors such as Natalie Goldberg, Annie Dillard, Brenda Miller, David Bayles and Ted Orland.

In writing solidarity,

Friday, August 26, 2016

New Fall Workshop- Early Bird Discount Through Monday!


October 14 - December 9, 2016
Fridays, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm; skip November 25th
Hugo House; Seattle, WA
Click here to register and learn more.
This 8-week workshop is akin to a support group/boot camp for writers who need a loving kick in the butt. Together, we will help hold each other accountable to our goals; free-write from prompts; read and discuss pieces about the process and practice of writing; and learn how to start writing groups, set submission goals, and otherwise build a writing life. We will ask: why do we write or want to write-- and how can we keep doing so, even in the midst of life's challenges? How can we stick with our writing practice for the long haul? Or simply: how can we start writing, right now? Together we will form a community that is open to all levels and all genres, although many of our prompts and discussions may be geared more towards writers of creative nonfiction. Readings will include authors such as Natalie Goldberg, Annie Dillard, Brenda Miller, David Bayles and Ted Orland.
I hope you will join us or help me spread the word! Spaces are filling fast.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Writing, Meditation, and Movement Workshop: POSTPONED


Awareness: A Bodily Exploration through Writing, Meditation, and Movement

with Anne Liu Kellor, Amy Selena Reynolds, and Alycia Scott Zollinger

When: Saturday, July 9th and 16th from 12:30 – 3:50 p.m.

Where: University Heights Center; Seattle; WA
Cost: $100 
partial scholarship available

To register: contact; send in a check or pay via Paypal below class description and bios.

In this two-part, co-facilitated workshop, we will seek to build awareness around our minds, hearts, and bodies within a supportive environment.

In Week One: Writing and Meditation, Amy and Anne will introduce us to mindfulness meditation techniques, paired with writing exercises that explore our bodies and our senses.

In Week Two: Writing and Movement, Anne will guide us deeper into writing about our body of stored emotions and feelings, drawing inspiration from poems by Nayyirah Waheed, while Alycia will lead us in experimenting with what happens when we speak, stretch, and move our bodies through our words.

Together we will aim to discover how these different contemplative mediums can inform and feed each other, and to gain trust in our own unique ways of experiencing our bodies and the world. No writing, meditation, or movement experience is necessary. Just come with an open mind and a desire to express and explore in a safe, inclusive space.

Co-Facilitator Bios:

Anne Liu Kellor is a Seattle-based writer, mother, and teacher of creative nonfiction. She has taught workshops to people of all ages since 2006. Her work has appeared in publications such as the anthology Waking Up American- Coming of Age Biculturally (Seal Press), The Los Angeles Review, Vela Magazine, and Literary Mama, and she has received grants or residencies from Hedgebrook, 4Culture, Hypatia-in-the-Woods, and Jack Straw Productions. Anne’s memoir manuscript, SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL, traces her migrations between America, China, and Tibet during her twenties. To learn more, go to:

Amy Selena Reynolds is a contemplative artist, a hospice volunteer, and a soon-to-be interfaith minister. Amy has practiced insight meditation for many years and enjoys creating rituals; building labyrinths; making collages, drawings, and sculptures; and studying spiritual teachings across traditions. She loves walking on the beach and in the woods, sharing simple mindfulness practices, and inspiring creativity in others. Born and raised in Seattle, she now lives on the Oregon Coast with her partner and cats.

Alycia Scott Zollinger  is Seattle-based healer, educator, performer and movement facilitator. She has performed around the globe as a solo artist and as a member of multi-lingual collectives dedicated to social justice and the pursuit of sincerity. Her classes embody a spirit of direct compassion and support to move more deeply into understanding, nourishing, and empowering the cellular pulses within our experiences. She weaves her backgrounds in dance, yoga, ritual and Butoh into dynamic offerings to provoke personal engagement, dynamic thinking, and authentic movement. Alycia has been dancing since birth, is a Certified Yoga Teacher, and is currently in the process of becoming certified at the Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy. is a healer, educator, performer and movement facilitator. To learn more, go to:

Alycia Scott Zollinger and son

Anne Liu Kellor and Amy Selena Reynolds

Monday, March 14, 2016

Traveling State of Mind

Traveling through the vastness of China and the Tibetan plateau, many years ago. 

In some ways, it feels strange to offer a travel writing class just as I’m preparing to put down roots in Seattle in a newly committed way. But on the other hand, as I look back on and write about my wandering twenties in my memoir, HEART RADICAL, I am constantly reliving those early years of freedom, confusion, loneliness, and self-discovery in new ways. I see my former bravery, as well as my foolishness. I see my unarticulated neediness, as well as my independence. And I realize what I loved the most about the wandering lifestyle: the ability to see things through fresh eyes; to see my life as an open canvas; to stay open to the many paths that a day’s exploration might take. 

It is true that the older you get, the more doors close behind you. You no longer have all the time in the world to imagine that you will master three language, ride the Trans-Siberian express, or become an investigative journalist. A narrowing window of time, energy, and money forces you to reduce your focus and hone in on what you most want and need-- not all of these glittering yet distracting detours, but the heart of your path which remains the same. And there is a beauty in this narrowing focus, a distillation of how your twists and turns have brought you here: to face and embrace what is.

The other day I took the bus downtown to find a permitting office for a walk-in appointment. The trip there and back took me three hours, only 20 minutes of which was spent talking to someone at the office. But I enjoyed the opportunity to sit back on public transportation and be a traveler again—watching, listening, observing. Seeing a cross-section of young and old; black, Asian, and white; homeless and well-to-do; everyone in their own world, going somewhere to accomplish something, furthering the narrative of their individual stories. I enjoyed walking up and down the steep blustery streets of downtown Seattle, exchanging eye contact or a few words with strangers. I enjoyed this brief respite from the desk at home, where I do the majority of my work now, because it reminded me in part of the open-minded state of being that I once inhabited and learned through traveling—the ability to walk through the world and see all the moving parts, or to hop on a bus and not be certain where it will let me off, yet to trust that my own two feet plus asking for help from strangers will get me where I need to go. I do have a cell phone, an ability to call or google for help, which I never had while traveling abroad—so, in some ways, I’m more “protected” from uncertainty now. Yet in other ways, this sense of safety is an illusion, for I know that randomness could intervene at any moment, whether great beauty or tragedy, and that I am always dependent on others. Always, just a small porous part of this moving, shifting whole.

I like to think that traveling taught me to see the world like this. And that it’s important for me to keep accessing this “traveling state of mind,” even when it feels like I’m in a stage of life that is stationary and settled. I like to remember how to walk out my front door and through my familiar neighborhood with all of my senses alert: curious, open, and willing to be transformed.

To learn more about my Travel Writing as Pilgrimage workshop or to register, visit the 2016 Workshops Tab or click here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Early Bird Rate extended for Heart Beat: Writing as a Spiritual Practice!

Some writing needs to stay private, and some writing needs to come out into the open. You will know when you are ready!

I'm excited to announce that you can still register for my class at the reduced rate until the end of the week! I spent much of winter break reading and becoming inspired by many of the texts I plan to share with you. This includes poems by Joy Harjo, quotes from Cheryl Strayed, dense lyrical flash nonfiction by Brenda Miller, and meditative research-fueled meanderings from Rebecca Solnit. I also want to share breathtaking and brave personal essays by Lauren Slater and Kelly Sundberg, both who explore struggling relationships in their work.

If you haven't taken a generative workshop with me before, here's a taste of what it will look/feel like. We will take the time to get to know each other and build trust. We will avoid judgement or naming our writing as "good" or "bad". We will gather with the intension to explore, to take risks, to stay open to the unknown of what will come when you practice putting pen to page without stopping, without editing. We will write together from prompts that are inspired by themes or elements of craft reflected in the readings. I will ask for volunteers to share, and together we will walk that line between daring to write stuff that we feel we can't possibly share yet, and investigating what might happen if we do. 

When we discuss the readings, we will pay attention to things like language, details, point of view, structure, and the balance between showing and telling. We will limit our discussions of the topic of the essay, or otherwise digressing into conversations not related to the writing. This is not a craft or lecture based class, but you will come away learning about craft through the practice of closely reading and discussing texts. This is a workshop designed to help you dig into the stories and themes that you most need to write about. To help you establish a weekly or daily writing practice, if that is your goal. And to help you connect with others who are exploring this same path.

Writing as a spiritual practice. What does that mean? It just means that writing can be an anchor in an otherwise chaotic world and mind. Writing can be a way to connect the logical, ordering and analyizing left side of your brain, with the wild, feeling, and imagining right side of your brain-- a synthesizing, harmonizing connection. Writing can ground you, help you understand why you feel the way you do, what moves you, obsesses you, inspires you, scares you. Writing can be a place to come home to, again and again and again, even in the midst of uncertainty. Writing to me is a form of meditation, first and foremost, a practice, a process. Sure, it is also an artform and a craft, but before we worry about editing, the best writing must come from a place of honesty, from a willingness to be vulnerable and naked on the page, and from a fire for truth and for naming what you have not been able to articulate before. 

Intrigued? Come join us, or write me if you are not yet sure if it is a good fit for you. All are welcome. Details below.  

When: Thursdays, February 4 – March 24, 2016; 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Where: University Heights Center; Seattle, WA
Cost: $230 by 1/9; $250 after 1/9; Early Bird Extended! 
Includes hand-outs, access to writing resources, and individual support for your writing goals. Partial scholarship may be available for those in need.
To register: Email Anne @ to confirm space; then go to Paypal link below or pay by mail.
Pay here:


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Heart Beat: Writing As A Spiritual Practice

New Upcoming Workshop!

Thursdays, 10-12; February 4 - March 24, 2016

Do you long to write, yet struggle to establish a consistent practice?
Do you want to tap into the heart of you most personal and meaningful stories? 
Could you benefit from writing within a supportive and engaging community?

In this eight-week workshop, we will write and share from prompts that allow us to delve into the depths of our memories, stories, and reflections. Each week we will also read essays, quotes, and poems from inspiring writers such as Mary Karr (The Art of Memoir), Cheryl Strayed (Brave Enough), Brenda Miller (Who You Will Become), Rebecca Solnit (The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness) and Joy Harjo (Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings), and discuss the process and craft of writing creative nonfiction. All are welcome.

When: Thursdays, February 4 – March 24, 2016; 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Where: University Heights Center; Seattle, WA
Cost: $230 by 1/4; $250 after 1/4;
Includes hand-outs, access to writing resources, and individual support for your writing goals. Partial scholarship may be available for those in need.
To register: Email Anne @ to confirm space; then go to Paypal link below or pay by mail.
Pay here:


Monday, August 31, 2015

Fall Workshops I'm Teaching

Mind in Motion: Reading and Writing Contemporary Essays with Anne Liu Kellor
Hugo House
6 Saturdays, September 26 -October 31
10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Conversational. Lyrical. Paradoxical. Political. Quirky. Passionate. Intelligent. Compassionate. In this workshop we will read and discuss the works of popular essayists such as Rebecca Solnit, Megan Stielstra, Roxanne Gay, Charles D’Ambrosio, and Leslie Jamison. Each week we will examine the diverse range of voices, styles, ideas, and structures present in this dynamic form, as well as free-write from in-class prompts designed to help us explore our own questions, contradictions, and meandering paths of the mind.
FullSizeRender 3
CANCELLED-- Many Voices, Many Selves: Exploring Point of View in Creative Nonfiction with Anne Liu Kellor
Writers' Workshoppe _ Port Townsend, WA Saturday, November 7th from 10-4, with a one-hour lunch break; $80_
Each of us possesses many layers and inhabits many personas. In this workshop, we will examine our personas, and write from many point of views (1st, 2nd, 3rd person; past and present tense, "hermit crab" form, etc). We will discuss how doing so changes our relationship to the material, as well as look at excerpts from innovative memoir writers such as Abigail Thomas, Brenda Miller, and Nick Flynn to inspire us in this form. Come prepared to connect to yourself and to others as you tap into some of your most essential material.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

One Full Scholarship Available for Renaming the Spiritual Workshop

Spring is definitely here, and I am getting excited about my upcoming workshop at the Hugo House. "Renaming the Spiritual" will run for six weeks on Tuesday mornings starting in May. I just learned that a very generous friend and former student wants to offer someone who can't afford the workshop a partial SCHOLARSHIP to attend! I've decided to follow her lead, and offer up the rest of the fee which means that YOU could receive a full ride to join us in writing about spirituality, whatever that word means to you. This is a $245 value. 

If you would like to be considered for this spot, please email me ( and let me know briefly why you are interested in the workshop. I will let folks know next week who got the spot, and post here too when it's been taken. Visit the 2015 Workshops link above to learn more. Thanks! And may the sun keep softening your heart.

P.S. Please also let me know if you want me to add you to my newsletter. Because I'm not tech savvy, I have yet to add a badge to this blog for you to do so yourself, but someday I'll figure that out.

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Care for Your Own Beating Heart

My son was sick all week. A high fever that lasted for days. Little appetite. A deep cough. It wasn’t terrible. We spent most days alternating between cartoons, books, naps, and toys. He was calmer than usual, we (mostly) didn’t have our usual power struggles. I felt concern and sweet tenderness towards him, taking his temperature under his arm, measuring out small cups of syrupy pink medicine, offering juice and Popsicles like small salves for his (my) feverish soul. I was concerned, but never alarmed. Then finally he started to get better. And although he is still tired and coughing from a deep troubling place, I have faith in his health again and can move on and tend to myself.

The timing couldn’t have been better: two days alone on a sunny holiday weekend, after a week where I had to cancel all of my plans and where very little got checked off the list that I usually rely on to make myself feel better. Thankfully, I did not have any major deadlines that couldn’t be put off. But perhaps this is always the case. Maybe there is always nothing that can’t be put on hold when you are needed to care for your child. If only we prioritized our own health and healing in the same way.

Usually, when I have a weekend alone (gifted by my husband whisking our child away somewhere else), I write. I write for pleasure and healing, but it is also my Work. I tackle the list of pieces to be edited, publishers to query, or lessons to plan. Occasionally, I have enough time and mental space to begin a new piece. And at the end of the weekend, I rattle off my accomplishments: look at how much I got done in a couple days! More than I usually accomplish in many weeks, or even months, of piecing together little chunks of childfree time during the week.

But this weekend, I was tired. Physically tired after caring for my son. And emotionally and spiritually tired after a hard week/month/year. So I gave myself permission to relax. To not tackle the big new piece to be edited if I didn’t feel like it. To not tackle the newsletter to be written. To not even leave the house to enjoy the sunshine if I didn’t feel like it. Mostly, just to be home in my little nest of retreat. To take in deep conscious breaths several different times throughout the day. To listen to my old soundtrack of contemplative music that has been recently liberated from the stored away stacks of c.d.s and uploaded into our computer: Yungchen Llamo, Ali Farka Toure, Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, Ayub Ogada, Ali Akbar Khan. Bring it. Music that lights up forgotten pathways in my chest, neurons, memories of yearning, inner deep resources, and tears.

This weekend I’ve also been reading. Sitting at the window seat in the sun, staring out at the mossy yard. Sitting where Frank used to sit, the man and my friend who left me this cabin. Frank, who knew more than most people in the world about what was important. About not striving for great wealth or achievement, but enjoying what you have. About appreciating the freedom to be home, with your books and your squirrels and a pot of tea. About appreciating what you have.

This weekend I’ve read from: Pema Chodron’s Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears; Emily Kendal Frey’s The Grief Performance; and Brenda Miller and Holly Hughe’s The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. There were more books I wanted to get to, but this is what surfaced. And this was enough. A few chapters at a time, no hurry, take it in, scribble a note or two, an idea, a phrase.

This weekend I’ve also been preparing my body, mind, and heart for Ovum Siahl, a butoh-inspired offering that Matthew and I will be a part of. Neither of us have danced butoh for many, many years. I really only studied it for a semester at Evergreen, then danced occasionally in my bedroom in the months that followed. Danced to express some kind of essential longing and pain. Pain, informed by love. Longing informed by breath, by fire, by rage, by prayer, by need.

Some essential seed of this dance, its core, has been stored in my body for over a decade. In hibernation. I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever dance it again. Butoh seemed far away from my current list of priorities. Writing and publishing were up near the top. Exercise, therapy, planning date nights, confirming childcare, teaching workshops, updating bios, social networking, planning play dates, assessing marketability and employability, and many other things such as buying a new refrigerator occupied my mind instead.

But somewhere in between exercise and therapy this thing called Butoh has slipped back into my consciousness, unconsciousness. Somewhere in between “I need to find a new Zumba class” and “I need to prioritize my relationships, set boundaries, find my bottom line, express my feelings,” Butoh has reappeared. Just three rehearsals, one performance/offering, a scattering of hours. Manageable. But, of course, it has to enter in deeper. It can’t just be a few hours and then I’ll be on my way. There is a glorious timing to these things. To Matthew and I dancing Butoh together. To Matthew and I doing something creative and new, yet old, and slightly scary and WTF?! together.

It feels right. We have both become too removed from our own essential longing. Our pull, that pulled us together. Our need to express in deep and meaningful ways besides our most familiar paths: writing for me, fishing for him. Which are both keys to our sanity and passions in life, but which we do separate from each other. So here, now, is a gift to finally share Butoh together. A dance we both were trained in and gravitated to, a dance we have both witnessed in others and professed to love, but never danced together. Isn’t that strange? How do two people share something yet never really share it?

So here we are, here I am. A total beginner. My body weighing more than it has in years, not having exercised beyond an occasional walk for over a year. My core weak, my body stiff, my range of movement untended. Here I am, about to perform? It’s best not to think of it as a performance. Think: offering. Think: take my soft and trampled body. I will give you what I have. Here. You appeared, and I am listening. Here. I will do this because we both said, Yes.

This is what I have done this weekend: I have read dharma books and poetry; I have listened to old music; I have lit candles and donned white and danced, a little. I have fed myself and showered and done a load of laundry. I have still taken care of a few tasks I owe to others, yes emails because I’m responsible like that, but mostly I have gifted myself this weekend to be slow, to be receptive, to be dumb. To not accomplish anything that great, not even to “take advantage of the great weather.” To just be here and enjoy the quiet of my usually not-so-quiet home. To enjoy waking up slowly with the cat at my side. To enjoy paying attention to my breath and to drinking enough water. To take care of myself and my heart in a slow, measured way. My heart who has been neglected for too long. Forced to have just a quick cry, before turning to greet my son. Or just a quick conversation that brings up all kinds of layers of shit, but that you don’t have time to fully process because life and dinner and dishes and bedtime simply must go on.

Oh, my heart. I am tending to you now. I am loving you. My sweet and tender heart. You are mine. I know you. I feel you. I accept you. I massage you and your needs. I honor you and your pain. I touch you and will your layers of resistance to slowly dissolve away. I am here, you are here, I am here, you are here. Feed me, I will feed you. Love me, I will love you.

You must ask for what you really want.

All of this moment. All of this breath. All of this beauty, in here, out there. I want to stay with it all. I want to not be afraid to show you my tears. I will wait for you to meet me here. I have been waiting a long time.

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


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