Writing Lessons: Emily Maloney

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Emily Maloney, a student in the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh. You can follow her on Twitter @emilyfmaloney—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

emily_bridge_photoI registered for my final required workshop last fall. Up until that point, I had mixed feelings about my MFA program. I felt disconnected. I loved teaching but it took so much energy, and I never seemed to have time to write. Enter final required workshop.

There were six of us (seven if you count the professor), including one student from another discipline altogether. I hadn’t been the best about writing regularly. I prided myself as someone who wrote when I had deadlines. Have to turn in an essay for workshop? Fine, I’ll write something and send it in. Need to submit something for a contest? Maybe I’ll revise that thing I wrote last year. I had something of a routine before graduate school, mostly structured by my job and my commute, but the acres of free time I had accumulated since leaving made me procrastinate.

The official class met once a week, like many workshops do. But what our professor suggested we do before we did anything else, seven days a week, was show up to a coffeehouse close to where most of us lived. Starting at 6:30 a.m., you could show up and write. If you missed a day, that was fine. It was like a yoga class, or a dojo (our professor used to teach Judo, so this analogy made sense). Continue reading

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: You’re Not That Busy.

just omg so busyMeet the Busy Brag: social media’s hate-worthiest addition to the human experience. I am important, cry the crafted tweets and updates,

because busy. Did you guys happen to notice I’m busy? If not, here are some pics about my busy. It’s a good thing you’re not as busy as I am, or you’d miss my social media updates re: busy. I won’t see YOUR pics or posts, because busy. In demand. Hashtag overwhelm. Hashtag cost of success.

In her recent piece for Slate.com, writer Hanna Rosin backhands the busy brag with a headline stating simply, “You’re Not As Busy As You Say You Are,” inviting raised eyebrows from “busy” readers everywhere. They rechecked their iCals, then immediately questioned Rosin’s significance as a human being.

Because obvs, if Rosin were truly significant, she’d be busy… and telling us about it. Instead, she’s so UNbusy that she’s actually convinced herself that the whole of mankind is as lax and leisurely as she and her uber-free time.  Insert contemptuous huffs here, because—articles be damned—busy.

Except Rosin’s right. And we know it. “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in the New York Times.

[It's] a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

Writers and those in other creative industries seem particularly susceptible to the notion that Busyness = Significance. This is in part because we feel undervalued by society; we’re often afraid everyone’s looking down his nose at our writing/editing/painting/music-making, wondering when we’re going to grow up and get a real job. Continue reading

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Indy Spotlight: Rose Metal Press

imgresWhen Rose Metal Press entered the book scene in 2006, they quickly established themselves as a go-to publisher for experimental flash and micro work. The range of their list is impressive, from Jim Goar’s Louisiana Purchase, a poetry collection giving a surreal spin to the history of the American West, to Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson’s I Take Back the Sponge Cake: A Lyrical Choose Your Own Adventure, a mix of poetry and imgres-1art that offers more clever and thoughtful page-skipping options than the old grade school chapter books. More recently, their fall 2013 release, Liliane’s Balcony, is a fascinating novella-in-flash exploring the story behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s construction of Fallingwater.

In addition to publishing these artfully designed collections, Rose Metal also produces “field guides”—how-to books for flash fiction, prose poetry, and flash nonfiction—that utilize advice and examples by established artists to help writers of all abilities further explore the possibilities of these uniquely modern and fluid

imgres-4For the Ploughshares blog, Press founders Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney share the origin story of Rose Metal, the titles they’re publishing, and what kinds of work they hope to see in the future.

Q: Plenty of artists recognize the difficulty of finding a platform for experimental work, but most don’t take the risky step of founding a press. What caused you to take the leap with Rose Metal? What’s been your greatest challenge? Continue reading

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How to Charm the Pants Off an Editor with the Power of Your Words

4639772572_c536c5b1dc_oI have to imagine that, within the Ploughshares community, there are just about as many writers as readers: those who love stringing words together, seeing how they taste when they read them back to themselves… Those who continue to look for the best words with which to hit readers in the gut with the greatest possible impact.

And I assume that you yourself are one of these writers—a writer who doesn’t simply write into the void, but who writes to connect with readers.

Assuming I’m correct, you want to give yourself the greatest possible chance of charming editors, eventually making your way to publication. Because the business of writing isn’t just about creating art. It’s about drumming up actual business.

This is where I come in. Continue reading

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Unburied Memories: A Tiny Interview with Carlos Villacorta Gonzáles

alicia-capitalismoMy newest literary kick is immersing myself in literature from Latin America that hasn’t been translated to English yet. Reading outside of the American canon, you learn new tricks and new ways of cutting familiar narratives—but if you’re lucky you learn a new kind of reading altogether. Continue reading

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The Editor’s Shelf: Spring 2014

We asked our advisory editors what they’ve been reading this past year and their responses cover a wide expanse of modern literature. Here is what our editors recommend you read in 2014:

B. H. Fairchild recommends Curvature of a Fluid Spine by Kenneth P. Gurney:

“Self-published books of poetry have been the lost orphans of the poetry world for far too long, borne mostly of prolonged frustration with the mysteries of poetry competitions and arcane politics of literary publishing in general. Kenneth Gurney stood as one of the central figures in the New Mexico poetry scene for several years, with his work appearing regularly in scores of small magazines here and in the UK. Gurney is a skilled practitioner of classical free verse, acknowledging in the “Author’s Note” his particular indebtedness to the work of Mary Ruefle. But his approach is entirely his own: astonishingly perceptive, Gurney reveals small moments of large import while balancing bursts of lyric spontaneity with unusually precise portraits of the natural world. This, combined with his nimble use of wit, allows his readers to locate light within apparent darkness. He should be read.”

(CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 2013) Continue reading

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Spring 2014 Issue

401 Flat CoverWe are very excited to announce the publication of our Spring 2014 issue, featuring poetry and prose compiled by guest editor Jean Thompson. This issue includes the work of several award-winning writers, including prose by Jennifer Haigh and Kim Chinquee and poetry by Campbell McGrath, James Kimbrell, and Ronald Wallace.

Acclaimed novelist and short-story writer Jean Thompson (The Year We Left Home) guest-edits this issue of prose and poetry. As she writes in her introduction, “The thing that gives me hope for the enterprise of writing is the incredible variety and vigor of the terrain.” With poets ranging from Erin Belieu to the Uruguayan Tatiana Oroño, and stories that move from the eerie (Peter Rock’s dreamlike story of a mysterious stalker, “Go-Between”) to the comic (Elizabeth McCracken’s story “Hungry,” about an overweight young girl) to the tragic (Dan Chaon’s “What Happened to Us,” about a family transformed by fostering a disturbed child), Thompson’s issue celebrates writers as they “grapple or dance with the world we live in, reflect or distort it, embrace or escape it.”

The issue also features Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Plan B essay about learning to play the accordion (“Welcome to Hell”), and an exploration of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities by John Domini.

We are thrilled to share the work of these astonishing writers with you. The Spring issue has been mailed to our subscribers, and is available in book stores on online today. You can purchase single copies or subscribe by visiting www.pshares.org.

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: Four Kinds of Editors (and Agents) You’ll Meet In Publishing Heaven

A rule I learned as an editor: when you look at a book’s acknowledgments, the effusiveness of praise for an editor is inversely proportional to the effort he or she put into the book. If a writer goes on and on about her editor, that editor did almost nothing. However, editors who wrote whole sections of the finished book are likely listed there as one name among many.

5cp0d0hI’ve had my name in all kinds of acknowledgments. I’ve had books I barely edited and books I waded into with a machete, a pair of hip boots, and a warning to my wife I might not make it back in one piece. I’ve also had plenty of people tell me I was an old-fashioned editor, since I still edited. That always made me wonder: Was I really alone? Was I the only one who edited?

What’s Gone Down

The most interesting thing I’ve read in the last two weeks was an article for The New Yorker’s website by Barry Harbaugh, an editor at Harper, arguing that yes, editors do edit:

I probably mark up fifty to a hundred pages a week, most of it on the weekend. I ask questions and cut sentences and write chapter titles and all that stuff. The other editors at my company, and editors I know socially from other companies, are just as rigorous.

Harbough’s article took on a new book of essays called MFA vs NYCwhich I’ve already written about here. For the most part, his piece is a testimonial: he and his colleagues edit. But it’s also an argument against the nonsensical nature of the claim. “In a business as reliant on hope and potential as book publishing is,” writes Harbough, “the accumulation of exceptional anecdotes of perfect manuscripts does not tell the whole story.”

The article takes a useful stab at figuring out where the idea that editors don’t edit came from, and why it persists; Harbough does a great job of showing how publishing really works. But I would take his analysis one step further, and divide editors into four different categories: therapists, writing teachers, producers, and visionaries. (There are also some editors who are just terrible at everything, but they eventually leave publishing.)

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I’m in Love With a Writer: A Survival Guide

Being in a relationship with someone in the same profession is tricky business. While there is a shared understanding of the ins and outs, it can also cause friction, particularly in competitive fields. Dating a writer was one of my bigger relationship snafus—his ego often made our duo a trio.

My spouse is a reader but not a writer, so though he has literary knowledge, he is what I call an Innocent Bystander: while he wisely dwells in the science world, he has the arduous task of being involved with a woman in a crazy-pants profession. He patiently waits while I pause movies to talk about the brilliance of the writing. When I publish something new, he promotes it with pride and diligence. And he doesn’t flinch when I’m working on a project and become the Angst Monster I was a few weeks ago.

Sadly, not everyone who ends up loving a writer is as well prepared. For those not-so-lucky Innocent Bystanders struggling with your blessing and your curse, here are some things to help you navigate these treacherous waters.

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Episodia 2.4: Lessons in Creativity from “Mad Men”

Don DraperTonight the seventh and final season of “Mad Men” premieres on AMC. I’ve loved this show and the slow, magnetic swirl of 1960s Manhattan ever since the episode “Babylon” aired in 2007. The entire series might be considered in terms of the opening credits we’ve all grown familiar with: a man in a suit-silhouette of black and white falls through the sky against a backdrop of skyscrapers and advertising billboards.

Week after week, “Mad Men” sifts through the detritus of a life spent in advertising—the ghostly cigarettes, empty decanters, door-jamb nooses, and the insistent chatter of a typewriter that soothes a desperate heart. And though most writers will never be flown west to meet with Sunkist or to broker a deal for a television spot, I still find many parallels between literature and advertising, two artistic endeavors in which creative work sometimes turns a profit. So what might writers learn from this show, its characters, and its creator?

Continue reading

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