Friday, December 15, 2006

A Closer Look at First Books

This morning I finished re-reading Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist, one of my favorite collections of his work. It's also the first book he published, at the age of 27. Given that my goal for the year is to ready a manuscript for publication, it occurred to me that I should take a closer look at other first books by poets I like to see how they pulled it off. If you have suggestions for particularly remarkable ones, let me know.

In the meantime, I will try to avoid thinking too much about the fact that Heaney wrote Death of a Naturalist when he was 27. On the one hand, very inspiring. On the other, hugely depressing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Structuring My Time

I'm going to be spending about 30 hours a week on my regular job. Why 30 hours? Originally I envisioned working around 25, but earlier this fall I learned that I needed to work 30 in order to retain my benefits. So, 30 it is. Since I work from a home office and don't have to factor in commuting time, 30 still leaves me with a good amount of time for writing.

When my boss and I started talking about how to divide up those hours across the work week, I wasn't sure what would be best. Three full days? Five half days? I didn't have any immediate preference. I could see benefits to having two days a week to focus entirely on writing, but being able to write everyday was also attractive. As for the downsides, I worried a little that a whole day devoted to writing seemed like an intimidating expanse of time; on the other hand, I imagined that having only half days to work could be frustrating.

I did know that, if I was going to work half-days, I wanted to have the mornings to write. The organization I work for is fast-paced and it would be hard to stop work abruptly each day after I'd already started. Experience had also taught me that I did my best creative work first thing in the morning.

Ultimately, I left it up to my boss whether she wanted me to be available everyday (but only in the afternoons) or only three days a week (but all day). She decided she'd prefer the former. So I'll be writing from about 7 AM until noon, then starting work.

Now, one year is not a lot of time, so I want to be as productive as possible. To that end, I'm going to try to ensure my daily writing time is structured, by breaking it up into blocks of time for different purposes, without being overly rigid. Here's how I'm imagining the schedule now:

7:00 - 8:00 - Reading (poems/poetics)
8:00 - 8:15 - Breakfast
8:15 - 10:30 - Writing (new poems and/or revisions)
10:30 - 11:30 - Flexible (writing, submissions, letters/articles, blogging, etc.)
11:30 - 12:00 - Lunch
12:00 - 6:00 - Work

Of course, those are just my initial thoughts. I expect that schedule will change as I start doing the actual work, and I intend to be flexible. If I feel like starting a new poem at 7:30, I will (schedule be damned!). It feels a little silly adding breakfast and lunch in there, but hey, those things take up time and they have to happen. Else I get ornery.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

About the "Rate the Rejection" Series

Before anything else, let me say that I have the utmost respect for literary magazine editors. They have a hard job that provides little recognition. Most face chronic budget limitations and a contracting base of subscribers, but they're also receiving more submissions than ever. So it's no surprise that they often take months to read what you send them and, when it's not up to par, return the kinds of generic rejection slips that anyone trying to get his or her work published knows so well. There's just not enough time or money, and no other way to survive.

Still, equally hard-working writers who do their best to respect literary magazines (by not submitting materials simultaneously to multiple journals, for instance) deserve to be treated humanely. So A Writing Year will hold them to account. I'll post all the rejection letters I get (though let's hope there aren't too many) and grade every one, looking at everything from the quality of their sentiment to the thickness of their paper. Egregiously long turnaround times are a pet peeve of mine, so I'll tell you how long they took to respond as well.

Here are the rejections I've rated so far. Check back often as I'm certain the list will grow over the course of the year in a depressingly fascinating way.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Count the Clock

It's official. On January 2 my writing year begins. Each day, I'll have the mornings to write before starting work for my regular job about noon. I'll post more on my thoughts for structuring my writing time in the next few days.