How’d That Happen? (Well, I’ll Tell You…)

Let’s think for a moment about what really happens when you follow the clichéd advice about being open to opportunity, approaching life with arms wide open (ugh, now I have Creed stuck in my head), etc. It’s annoying, trite, and doesn’t account for those days when all you want to do in stay in bed watching 80s rom-coms because you just don’t want to deal with anything farther away than the fridge at that point in time. That’s fine. I’m talking generally. Take those days off. I do. Some days the best conversation I have is with a bologna sandwich.

Now, if I were an active person who enjoyed sunlight and fresh air, this blog would talk about taking a chance on that 5K your coworker wants you sign up for or volunteering to run the dunk booth at the local fundraising carnival. (And, if you are the type of person who doesn’t mind running, even when no one’s chasing you, then do that 5K!!) But, I am a writer. So this blog is going to focus on the opportunities that have been afforded to me just by being present and participating in the community of writers I’ve cultivated for myself. Most of these came through Facebook. Say what you will about social media being anti-productive, there are still ways of using it to your advantage.

1) Intern-turned-even-awesomer-intern: In my undergrad, I took a class in copywriting. The professor was a member of the editorial collective of a very well-regarded academic journal. I got credit, and got named as a copywriting intern for the journal that semester. When one of my mentors learned of this class, she asked me to edit her book proposal, which eventually became editing her book. That’s the first awesome thing. But the other awesome thing is that the professor of that class liked what I had done in class and offered me an even better internship which involved a stay in Chicago to attend the editorial collective’s annual meeting–which meant I got to see how journals work from the other side–and helping to select articles that would eventually appear in the journal. I also got to write my first book review for the journal, which meant I got free books. That had never happened before. Free books!!! All because I did well in a class and happened to be passing that prof’s office the day it occurred to her that maybe she could use a couple of editorial interns for the journal.

2.) Reading for a Reason: A journal I followed (because Facebook said I should) needed first-round readers. I said I’d be happy to do it, since it involved poetry and the publishing community. A year later, I came away understanding lit journal publication from an editor’s standpoint, especially what and what NOT to say in a cover letter. I also got to be an Assistant Guest Editor for an issue. That was super cool.

3.) Free Books!: I will review anything related to poetry. Yes, I have a backlog of stuff that I need to review. Yes, I was once stuck for a whole year on one book because I didn’t know what to say. But, when someone asks if anyone wants a review copy, I will always raise my hand. I’ve gotten to read stuff I never would picked up off a shelf, and I’ve also gotten to know some pretty awesome poets because of it.

4.) Published!: My chap Pretty the Ugly got published after I entered a contest I found on Facebook. I’ve also been able to publish little essays and some guest blogs because I happened upon a desperate call at the 11th hour and volunteered to churn something out for an editor. If you’re available, and it doesn’t hurt you or leave you sore, why turn it down?

5.) Available at a store near you: My husband demands that any time we go somewhere that may have an independent bookstore, that I carry several copies of my book with me. By doing this, I’ve gotten my book into a couple of really awesome stores. All because I say, “Hey, would you consider carrying my book in your store… Why, yes, I happen to have a copy right here…”

6.) I read out loud!: I used to hate reading my work in public. It made me feel more naked than actual nudity did. I’ve gotten over that, thanks to some wonderful friends and some acting exercises. Now, I’ve read in some cool places, again, because I volunteered on Facebook, or simply because I said, “Hey, I have a book and I’d love to do a reading for/at your event.” Just by letting people know that you’re willing to put yourself out there, you set yourself up to BE out there. And that’s where you’ve been wanting to be anyway, right?

7.) I am an Editor, with a capital E: A few months ago, an editor I met through the press that published my chap (and published his as well) asked on Facebook what kind poetry anthology [the public] would like to see. I made a flippant comment about how I’d like to see something that celebrated the body in all its forms, not just in sickness or erotica. Then I got a message from him: “Great idea. Do you want to edit it?” I said yes, as long as he edited with me, since he had the experience. We’re now equal partners on this project with over 1500 submissions, including poems from poets I admire so much I’ve cried several times just to see their names in my email. Because I commented on someone’s status. Because I said yes to a daunting task that I had no idea how to accomplish. Submissions close in 20 days and I’m astounded at the position I find myself in.

In my first residency for my MFA residency, Kate Gale (whose blog posts, I sometimes post here) gave a lecture about saying yes to pretty much everything and publishing everything you can. Building a platform. Getting your name in print. Never being dormant. I took those words to heart and have benefitted immensely.

The thing is, you don’t have to be outgoing. You can be shy, introverted. All you have to do is volunteer, research, submit things, accept the friend request. Like I said, most of these opportunities came through Facebook. I didn’t have to exert anything but my brain. I just had to have time and something to say. And those two things are most of what of what a writer needs anyway, right?


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