Rambling thoughts about Community, College, and The Big Secret

Part 1: How to get Published

Who among us, upon completion of our MFAs, did not receive a packet that contained The Big Secret? The Big Secret is why we have all been wildly successful in publishing from Day One.

I’m responding to Cathy Day’s blog post entitled “For the man who called me for advice about how to get published“in which she describes her frustration about, well, the man who . . . His question was impossible to answer, and she was too busy with her own teaching, writing, etc, to give him any answer that he would perceive as helpful. I may never be as well known as Ms. Day, but I get this question, too–enough that I’ve prepped a one-page sheet of resources that I send to anyone who asks.

Now I know my one-sheet is both a deflection and a deception, at least in form. My one-page looks like a guide, but it is really a kind of slivered autobiography, as in “these are the resources that are useful and stimulating to me.” However the format suggests that becoming part of a literary conversation and joining a community of writers is primarily a matter of discipline. Unfortunately, this is the illusion perpetuated by folks who use the word “platform” in conjunction with promoting their writing.

Me: Well, I’m off to build my platform, ttyl. 

SH: Make sure it’s up to code.

In my current novel project, I’m writing a lot about maps, and pieces of maps that look like they should go together but never do.  That’s how I feel about most things. As relates to writing and publishing, there is a lot of good advice out there, but the best of it is never comprehensive. The map is a fantasy.

2. Inside and Outside

The other part of Day’s essay got me thinking about the relationship of the college/university to the community. I grew up in a small town near a large university, and it was a given that if you had a question you could either call the library or the university. Is that still a thing?  I remember my Dad and I took a 20 ft Japanese tapestry to an the Asian studies specialist for an analysis–my Dad had gotten the thing in a mysterious “swap”–and the Professor explained that it was not some rare piece of art but a contemporary advertisement for soda pop. We took up a lot of his time, and never once was there the consideration that 1) the Professor had other things to do, or that 2) we weren’t educated enough to ask the right questions of the educator. Were we intellectual moochers, like Day’s caller? There are a lot of comments suggesting that he was a jerk and a time-sucker.

I’m not comfortable with that. Not yet anyway. Now that I’m in a state sponsored knowledge service industry, and I’m the one getting the questions that range from grammar to writing to publishing, and most recently curricular development from a competing institution, I really don’t know where my sympathies lie.

When we say there are no stupid questions, I suspect we always speaking to our own: students, writers and other insiders who have been through question boot camp. So to those others, the loners and the unconnected, it seems like we need a way to talk about the organic nature of writing and community. Otherwise they tend to fall prey to the map sellers.


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