Replay note: It felt like the right time—in this season when people join writing programs and restart sending out submissions to lit mags to replay—this episode on Staying True to Yourself. Even if you already heard this episode, I suggest a re-listen because it’s a lesson we’re all apparently learning and relearning together…This is a special episode of the Write, Publish, and Shine Podcast where you will hear from three writers on their publishing experiences and the journey they took to stay true to themselves as they write and publish their writing in journals.
This is a special episode of the Write, Publish, and Shine Podcast where you will hear from three writers on their publishing experiences and the journey they took to stay true to themselves as they write and publish their writing in journals.
Maybe you have found yourself feeling compromised by the publication process. Maybe even by just anticipating the publication process you have bent your writing into something that doesn’t feel authentic to who you are and what you are here to say.
If you recognize yourself in either of those statements, you’re not the only one. We write to be read and it can be hard to hold that confidence it takes to stay the course and be ourselves with our writing.
So, coming up are, as I mentioned three writers, who are figuring this out, too. You’ll hear about where they went wrong with staying true to their voice and authentic selves and how they found their own unique grooves and continue to work on staying true to them.
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#61 Write, Publish, Shine Episode Transcript
SPEAKERS: Laurel Perry, Tamara Jong, Lyndall Cain, Rachel Thompson
Rachel Thompson: 00:01
Welcome luminous writers to the Write, Publish and Shine podcast. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode, we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication and the journey from emerging writer to published author.
Welcome to the Write, Publish and Shine podcast. This is a special episode, where you’re going to hear from three different writers on their publishing experiences. And the journey they took to stay true to themselves as they write and publish their writing in journals. Maybe you have found yourself feeling compromised by the publication process or maybe even by just anticipating the publication process, you’ve bent your writing into something that doesn’t feel authentic to who you are and what you’re here to say. If you recognize yourself in either of those statements, you’re not the only one. We write to be read. And it can be hard to hold that confidence, the confidence that it takes to stay on the course and be ourselves with our writing.
So, coming up are three writers, as I mentioned, who are figuring this out, too, you’ll hear about where they went wrong with staying true to their voice and authentic selves, and how they found their own unique grooves and continue to work on staying true to them. Our first writer is Laurel Perry, who is currently revising, completed manuscript of stories, fiction, creative nonfiction. So already talked about following your own voice with the mixture and nature of her book. But it wasn’talways so for Laurel, who said:
Laurel Perry: 01:49
Well, I think there’s a whole decade or so of embarrassment where I’ve said work that’s clearly not ready.
Rachel Thompson: 01:54
A surprise publication experience offered her a hard one lesson about staying true to herself. She even made a rule from this.
Laurel Perry: 02:03
There was one incident. I got a piece published in a journal. And I was really pleased about it. Because it was a journal that wasn’t a literary journal, but it had a literary issue. And the promise was that you would get editing support. So, I submitted this thing. It was a long piece, very personal, CNF. And it got published. Without me knowing, it just said, “Here it is.” And I went live, I thought we were going to edit it. It was a very, very dear piece of CNF. But they said it was fiction. And I actually had photos that documented it. And they put their own photos in that they found from the archives, and then went all around to all the government offices. And people said,
“Oh, well, I read your story. Oh, my goodness.”
So, then I wrote them back. And I was like, “Hey, you know…” And they said,
“Well, we were kind of short staffed.”
Anyway, they fixed it online, but not in the physical issues that everybody had read, I ended up making the rule after that, which was,
“Don’t flap your work in front of just anyone.”
It kind of goes with other things too, where people will run into you and they are writers and they say,
“Oh, send me something.”
And then you send it to them, and you never hear back. So, I call that ‘flapping your work.’ And I try not to do that. Although, I think we all succumb to it every now and then. I know I do. But that’s sort of the lesson from that particular piece.
Rachel Thompson: 03:27
So, there’s the lesson: Don’t flap your work in front of just anyone writers. This is such a valuable lesson put in Laurel’s irreverent terms, which I love. I also loved that she took from that not embarrassment about her work, that she wanted an editor to help her shape before publishing, but the recognition of exactly what she wants from her future publishing experiences, and the will to hold out for the right places to submit. Now Laurel knows much more about how publishing works, and how to hold out for those places.
Laurel Perry: 03:59
I didn’t realize how nuanced they all are, how different journals are looking for different things, and that they’re very dynamic and that editors are writers themselves. And they often move around. And I find them to be very social people. And so often, if I follow editors on social media, then I can start to understand the perspective from their point of view. They’re raising families and they’re getting groceries and they’re academically busy and teaching and learning. So, I also didn’t realize how human they are and how busy they are and how generous they are. I didn’t also realize how many there are, because I used to think there’s just sort of a top 10 tier group that I sort of heard about that were on my shelf.
Rachel Thompson: 04:45
Our next writer up is Lyndall Cain, a fiction writer working on a collection of short stories. Lyndall work has a unique point of view and a really specific voice. So, she’s absolutely right to be cautious about where she sends her work, as are all writers really. Here’s a story of how she learned not to flap her work, again, as Laurel puts it, in front of a specific journal.
Lyndall Cain: 05:10
There was a magazine I was going to submit to, and I chose at random three stories to read from the archive. And one of them happened to be a story about South Africa. And just for audiences who don’t know me, I suppose, but just probably most people, I am South African, if you can hear the slightly strange accent. So, I chose this piece of random. And it happened to be a piece about South Africa. And I read it. And the piece read very strangely to me, and very inauthentic. And afterwards, I did an internet search on the writer. And the writer wasn’t South African, that had stayed in South Africa for a month or something, or some short amount of time. Then the problem was, the piece wasn’t that it was someone from another country writing about South Africa. The problem for me was that the person writing about South Africa, the character was a South African. So, they were writing from a South African point of view, and it just felt very inauthentic. So, then I decided not to submit there.
Rachel Thompson: 06:18
Lyndall is currently working on a patient long game for her writing, she continues to be selective about where she sends her work, trusting the process of submitting as much as her voice in her writing.
Lyndall Cain: 06:30
About a month ago, I submitted to a top tier journal, which I really didn’t think I would have a chance with, but I just submitted to them, because they were open, and they’ve always been on my list, and I thought I’d give it a go. And I did receive a very nice personal rejection from them, asking me to submit again and stating clearly that it was not a form of rejection, and that they don’t often send those out. So that was very positive and useful. Rejection is a rejection. But it’s also not always. I guess, I’ve started to think maybe I do have a chance of these higher top tier journals and that I am going to submit to them more. And of course, the journals that have asked me to submit again, they’re higher up on my list to do so when they open.
I think there’s been a lot of outside pressure, or at least perceived pressure, that I should publish as much as possible. And perhaps like an emphasis on the quantity of publications rather than the quality of publications or the quality of the journals where the publications appear. And so, when I first started out, I was just submitting everywhere and then a bit relieved sometimes when I got rejections from places that were in my B, or C list. So now, I started to be a bit more picky and submitting only to my A list first and if I get a large amount of rejections for a piece that I’ve said too many A list publications, then I either have to relook at that piece, or otherwise, if I feel I can’t work on it more submitting to the B list.
Rachel Thompson: 08:11
Aha! so Lyndall didn’t start out not flapping her work in front of just anywhere but learn to become more picky over time. I want this for every writer knowing your worth, being careful about where you share your work and staying true to your authentic voice. Our next writer is Tamara Jong. Tamara is a down to earth kind and thoughtful, creative nonfiction and comics writer. I’ve been honored to witness her following what feels right for her when it comes to choosing how she writes her work in what genre, as carefully as she chooses what to write about. Here, she describes an experience of following her instincts, even when another voice inside her, a more fearful one, suggested she hid a true story in fiction.
Tamara Jong: 08:55
I was going to submit something as fiction to another magazine. And it was something on mental health, it was a theme, because I didn’t want to talk about my own experience. And then I had to tell myself, like,
“I think you’re just embarrassed or shameful or ashamed of what happens. So, you don’t want to say.”
So, I did send it in as my own experience. And then it got rejected. And then of course, I felt terrible. I was like, “Why didn’t I do it as fiction?” And after I dusted myself off, I was like,
“I did the right thing.”
And then I sent it to another publication, and it actually got published, I changed, I think, one line or a couple lines, that was it. Otherwise, it was fine. So sometimes we think something’s like fundamentally wrong with a piece and there’s actually nothing wrong with it.
Rachel Thompson: 09:34
Staying true to your voice who you are as a writer and human, frankly, and what you’re here to say is one of those things that sounds really easy but is harder than it looks for many of us. Here again is Lyndall describing the pressure to write in a certain genre and resisting that pressure following her own path.
Lyndall Cain: 09:55
Trusting my own instincts about my writing. I sort of had pressure from people to move my focus away from short stories and to- this is more on publishing than submitting, perhaps, but to start focusing on novel writing, just because there’s a bigger market for that. And the short story collection doesn’t make as much money, and it’s hard to publish, and all of those sorts of things. In that sense, I’ve had to trust my own gut. And the feeling that I can write- I mean, another piece of feedback I’ve also had before is that my plots and my characters aren’t made for short stories, and that they would work better in long form fiction. So that’s also something I guess I’ve had to sort of follow my own instincts on and make up my own mind about. And I have just decided to go with what I want, which is to write short stories at the moment.
Another time, I’ve had to trust my own instincts is with the weirdness of my writing or the marketability of my weirdness. I think my writing can be a little bit bizarre, and perhaps against the grain or just not quite normal. Not all my writing is very strange, but quite a lot of it can be quite strange. So, I’ve had to decide if I want to go into using my strange characters in perhaps a more normal setting, making it a little bit more palatable. And in the end, I think I’ve just decided to rather lean in fully into the weirdness and become perhaps even more weird. And I think there might be a pilot to find a market for, but it is more, more of a thing than just being in between weird and normal. So yeah, that’s just another little. I mean, I’m trusting my own instincts here. But I’m not actually sure if it’s working out too well. I’ve haven’t had too many publication wins. So,we’ll see. But as I said before, I’m playing the long game and I’m leaning into this.
Rachel Thompson: 11:52
It takes time to develop that confidence and clarity. For Tamara things also started a little murkier, she had trouble finding her authentic voice in her work, in part because of a lack of representation in the writing she had access to growing up.
Tamara Jong: 12:08
I used to write a lot of orphan stories. Jane Austen, like pieces feel good, you know, saver type work. I had seen a read on my bookshelf, and also in school, which for the most part, were kind of white writers who didn’t really look like me. And I’m of mixed ancestry. So, I’m Chinese and White, and Scottish to be more specific. So, the stories I kind of wrote and submitted were not only amateur, but they weren’t in my own voice. And I know that now. But they taught me a framework, so that I can kind of build on. And then that helped me find my voice. But it took like decades, and what really helped his community and other writers. I went to Humber School for Writers. And I had a conversation with the writer [sysco 12:50] Jack White, and he wondered from the story I submitted, why the protagonist can be somebody like me. And that was a big lightbulb moment for me.
“Why can’t you write someone like you?”
I was writing like a white character who was like me, but not me. And it was fiction as well. And the big thing, I think the revelation for me was that I had edited myself out of the story. I think I’ve done that a lot with my older writing, you know, I kind of disappeared in it. And it’s been said to me, by other people, so it’s good. It’s hard. Sometimes when you’re working with your own stuff, you don’t actually see what’s happening. Because you’re just writing, or so you think. So, I think it’simportant to start to listen to yourself, whatever that sounds like. And then you will eventually figure it out, hopefully your intuitions with regards to your own writing. But deep down, though, you have to learn how to trust yourself. But it does take time. But it’s okay to listen to yourself and sometimes fail, which I’ve done. And then sometimes you succeed, which I’vealso done, which is nice in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. So, I’m grateful for all this learning, that I’m still doing, and will continue to do.
Rachel Thompson: 13:51
Back to Laurel, again, who describes why it took years for her to understand how writing differs from storytelling. She comes from a big storytelling family. And it took a while to understand the difference between how writing is taught in school and how writing really works.
Laurel Perry: 14:06
Nobody’s ever really given me another plan for being a writer. But I myself am my own worst enemy. Because I grew up in a family where everybody was always storytelling, you always told stories to each other. And so, I have this way of talking in public at a party or whatever, where if I’m going to bore somebody or say something that’s not true, someone’s going to interrupt me and call it. I have this sort of breathless way of describing, you know, telling a story. And I like to get to the finish and not be interrupted. And the cost of that is that has been interesting. And you’re sort of auditioning, that was how my family did things, and just how I grew up. And I worked in a bar, and I am very social.
So, when I started writing, I thought, that’s how you write. I was trying to copy my sort of storytelling style into writing. And I was always trying to merge those two. And I realized at this age like I’ve been doing it for decades now. Those are two completely different things, that, that story that you tell in a bar, a family story or a funny story or something like that. It’sstructured completely different, because you’ve got people there who got other things to do, and they might just order another beer or walk away, or whatever, or my father might say,
“Cut it, you’re on next.”
Or something like that. So, writing a story, it’s a completely different structure.
When I was in school, we were taught creative writing, in a certain way, by the time you got to high school, which is when I really liked writing. And I realized, my first creative writing workshop as an adult, that, that was completely wrong the way they taught it in high school. They said, if you’re going to enter into writing a story, then you deserve to write a good one. And so, you’d have to structure it. So, before you start writing, do you have to map out your plot. Remember, we always have that drawing of the plot and the arc. And then you have to describe all your characters and write characters. what were they called? character descriptions, or whatever, like biographies of each one of your people, and then you had to do this, and then you have to do that, and then you get your setting, they do the research. And the very last step was to put everybody on the page and make them move around and do stuff.
“Well, that’s really interesting.”
And I tried, and I got decent at it. So then when I went off to university, and I knew I was going to follow some sort of creative path, I went into theater instead. And that’s where you study improv, and all these other things where you’re just accepting gifts and thinking on the fly and all that, which I love. So, I did theater. But it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I took my first creative writing class. And then I learned that all those years, that creative writing is like improv, that you just put unexpected things on the table and move them around and see what happens. And so, I feel like I missed a lot of decades in writing, because I realized now that all that storytelling and theater and everything else was building towards a way for me to develop my own voice as a writer.
Rachel Thompson: 17:00
Laurel learned to trust herself by looking to writers from the past. And the resources she has today that helped her grow as a writer.
Laurel Perry: 17:09
Trusting my own instincts about writing has been one of the most challenging things to do, because I don’t have a huge amount of confidence, and it is a solitary art form. I feel that my challenge is to find the truth in what I’m writing and have the confidence that it will find an audience. And those are two things that are extremely important to any writer. And they’rethe hardest things to do. Because I find that I often will shape a piece of work and add a flourish at the end, or a sentimental lesson or something like that, because I feel that it needs an ending, or it needs a beginning, or it needs punch or something like that. And what I’ve been able to do is to go back to the pieces that I love to read, and those women writers from England in the middle 1900s have taught me so much about humor and structure. And I love the interiority of domestic life in writing.
I love reading about how some woman in the 1950s is obsessed with how she’s going to get the stain out of her couch or something like that. But what she’s really talking about is world peace or something- You know what I mean? So, I’m just trying to have that confidence. And I think I’ve got so much more support than those women did. I’ve got people who read my work, I’ve got lessons. And I wonder about how all these other women were able to carve out a corner of their house and write about stains on a carpet or whatever they were writing about. What but they’re really writing about war or, love or betrayal or, you know, whatever. And they didn’t have the time, they didn’t have the editors, and so I’m just trying to realize that they had their instincts, and I find that I need to trust mine a little more.
Rachel Thompson: 18:52
There’s this irony in finding your writing community, at least the way I see writing community, because for me, it’s not about depending on other people, but it’s more of a learning that you can survive the challenges of writing, the vulnerability, the rejection, and depend on yourself, because you’re all doing this really wild, scary, brave thing, and sharing your experience of that wild, scary, brave thing together. Here’s Lyndall describing a game that writers in the community that I host play. The communities called Writerly Love. And by the way, this is not an ad, I encourage you to find whatever connections work for you to keep going with your writing.
Lyndall Cain: 19:33
So, in our community Writerly Love, we have a game called [sysco 19:37] Sync or Submit, which also helps us with our rejections, where every time we submit a piece or we get a rejection, we count that as the point and when you reach a certain number of points, you reward yourself with a predetermined reward. You play with other people on a board so everyone can sort of see where everyone else is but you’renot playing against anyone else. You are playing, I suppose, against yourself, so you’re trying to hit targets, with the point being that you submit as much as possible to get to those targets. But then when you get a rejection, it’s not a complete negative, because that also counts towards your overall goal. And then if you get acceptance, it’s sort of a loss, I mean, it’s a win for yourself. But for the game, it’s a loss because you have to reset your points back to zero and start from there.
So that’s just another little thing we do in this whole submitting process to try and make ourselves feel a little better about rejection. And the more I’ve been submitting, and the more I’ve been facing rejection, I think I’ve started to realize that a large part of it is also a numbers game. You just submit, submit, submit, and hope for the best. I think a lot of that is because so many people are submitting. And also, even if you have a really good piece, the person who reads that, there’s just one person out of however many, and they have to read so many pieces, they probably aren’t able to read each piece as clearly as they want to. So, if you get a rejection, it’s not necessarily that they didn’t like your piece, it’s perhaps didn’t reach the right person at the right time. And I mean, you have no control over that. The only thing you can really do is just to submit to more places.
Rachel Thompson: 21:22
And Tamara, as always, cuts right to the most necessary thing for a writer to hold hope.
Tamara Jong: 21:28
I think if you feel that hope, just go with it. And even if you don’tget the thing, maybe you don’t get that, but you might get the next thing. It’s always building a framework, I feel like for the next opportunity, but just stick to your goal. And then just go for the things that you love.
Rachel Thompson: 21:44
So that was three writers who, like you, I suspect are figuring this out. How to stay true to their writing, their voice and their goals, when it comes to publishing. And my hope is that you’lltake away from this that you can trust yourself and follow your own lines when it comes to choosing the form, subject but everything of your work, and exactly how and where your writing is received.
The Write, Publish and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. You can learn more about the work I do to help writers Write, Publish and Shine, at RachelThompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my writerly love letters, sent weekly and filled with support for your writing practice.
If this episode encouraged you to trust your instincts and not flap your work in front of just anyone, I would love to hear from you. You can always reach me by email at Hello@RachelThompson.co and tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at RachelThompson.co/podcast or searching for Write, Publish and Shine wherever they get their podcasts. And by the way, the most common way that people find the podcast is through word of mouth. So, I really appreciate you spreading the word. Thank you for listening. I encourage you to keep following your own lines as you write and submit your luminous work.
My guest Laurel spoke to me from Whitehorse, Yukon on the traditional territories of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council. Lyndall spoke from Cape Town, South Africa, the original land of the Khoi and San people. And Tamara spoke from Treaty #3 Territory, the occupied and ancestral lands of the Haudenosaunee, and Anishinaabewaki, Attawandaron and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Finally, I am a guest in the South Sinai Egypt on lands, historically and presently occupied by the Al-Tirabin Bedouin.