Advice for the Career-Minded Writer with Liz Breazeale

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Show Notes

In this special live episode, Laura Maylene Walter interviews Liz Breazeale, an award-winning author and NEA Fellow, to offer listeners practical advice surrounding the writing process, revision, rejection, literary agents, publication, MFA programs, and more. During their conversation, Liz equates revision with disaster; Laura reveals why she can’t be Liz’s literary executor; Liz describes how she found her literary agent; and Laura shares how she won a writing grant that will transform her into a mermaid.

This episode was recorded before a live audience on September 10, 2022, at Cleveland Public Library as part of Literary Clevleand’s Inkubator Writing Conference. Learn more about Liz Breazeale by visiting her website or following her on Twitter or Instagram.

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Liz Breazeale (00:00:00):
What a dark void your life would be without me.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:00:02):
Oh, for sure. Actually I think you make the void darker, which is a compliment.

Liz Breazeale (00:00:08):
What a compliment. You always lift me up, Laura. Always lift me up.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:00:13):
Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the book at Cleveland Public Library. I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. And this is our first ever live episode.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:00:32):
We're here at Literary Cleveland's 2022 Inkubator writing conference, one of the largest and definitely the best free writing conference in the country. Today I am joined by a writer whose work is equal parts eerie, horrifying, enraging, and sometimes just downright bizarre. And I mean that in the best of ways. A writer who brings to life stories about multiplying uterus. Satan appearing in human form as a baby girl in Missouri, brides turning into dinosaurs, characters growing new and improved body parts in their gardens, And women made of mirrors or jigsaw puzzles or who are turned quite literally inside out. This writer of course, is Liz Breazeale. As you heard earlier, Liz is an NEA Creative Writing Fellow and won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize for her first collection EXTINCTION EVENTS. Her work has appeared in so many literary journals. If you go to her website, you'll just see a very long list. She is such a hard worker and I feel honored to know her as a writing friend. She's here today to join me in a conversation about building a writing life and a writing career. Liz, welcome to the podcast.

Liz Breazeale (00:01:37):
Thrilled to be here Laura. Thanks for having me.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:01:40):
Well, since this podcast has an Ohio focus, I always ask my guests first what their connection is to Ohio. So Liz, until very recently you were in Denver. Can you tell us what are you doing here, <laugh> and more broadly,

Liz Breazeale (00:01:53):
How did I get here?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:01:54):
<laugh> What is happening and more broadly, what is your Ohio connection overall?

Liz Breazeale (00:01:58):
Yeah, so spoiler, I lived in Denver until about three or four weeks ago. I don't know where I am in time and space, so that number might be a mystery. I have no idea. But yeah, I've lived in Cleveland for about three weeks. I'm from Missouri originally and I went to Bowling Green State University for my MFA and graduated in 2015. And full disclosure, that's where we met and became friends. Yeah, that's um, how I came to know Ohio, I suppose.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:02:27):
The name of the session, the title of the session, is Advice for the Career-Minded Writer. So I thought we should start just by defining what exactly that means. So Liz, what does a career-minded writer, what does that mean to you?

Liz Breazeale (00:02:40):
What I think of is how important our sort of day jobs in our careers are to us as people and also just in our daily lives, we spend so much time there, right? It forms a sort of structure for our lives, right? We have to plan things around work, we have to plan things around our jobs. When I think about being a career mind writer specifically, I'm thinking about forming your life, structuring your life in such a way that you can consider your writing, think of your writing as a job, kind of as a career, as a lifelong career. And in doing so, sort of give it that legitimacy to take time out of your busy day to write just in general.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:03:24):
Yeah. And just this morning actually I was looking at the title of our session and career minded writer. It struck me as almost a bit bloodless as if we are taking the art or the creativity out of it and we're just talking about the business side, that's not what it means actually for me at all. When I think of a career as a writer, it is about building your life around it and at the heart for me that means the creative side. That means the writing side, the time when you're just alone at your desk, which I think is the most magical part of being a writer. We'll be talking about the business side today too, but hopefully we will also get to the heart of writing life, which is that creative side.

Liz Breazeale (00:04:00):
You know, so much of writing is not the actual act of writing, right? Oh my God, that's so many uses of forms of write. But so much of it is thinking and so much of it is sitting and maybe writing out things that constitute sort of a foundation for the world that you're crafting on the page and maybe crafting a foundation for the characters that you're writing about. But most of that does not go into any draft of that story or that novel, right? And so, so much of writing is spending time thinking and sometimes it can be hard to be okay with that and feel productive with that, but it's such an important part of the process that you have to devote time to.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:04:44):
Let's talk about that a bit. Let's talk about the nuts and bolts of how you are able to shape your life around writing. And this is something, I mean, as Liz said, we met in the MFA and we have been friends and over the last several years, you and I have had a lot of conversations just on our own about this, about how we're able to structure our lives about writing, the ways we succeed at it and the ways that we fail at it. The times it's really hard to keep going. So especially, you know, you work full-time of course. What ways do you shape your life around writing?

Liz Breazeale (00:05:12):
For me, what enabled me to maybe give writing a more central focus in my life is finding a routine that worked for me. Finding a routine that was manageable and something that I could do sort of day in and day out. Because writing is such a grind. You guys, writing is such a slog some days, some days you don't want to do it. Some days it's so hard. So you have to find a routine that works for you that you can do even on the days that you really hate yourself and everything you're doing. I personally am a writer who writes best in the morning. That's when I feel most creative. I'm not sort of like worn down by my day job <laugh> as I sort of become through the day. So writing in the morning for me works and that's something that I can keep up sort of during the day. And also for me, setting a lot of boundaries is important.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:06:03):
Yeah, I think we'll definitely need to talk about boundaries. But yeah, I, I agree. Finding the time of day that works best for you. Like Liz, I like to write in the morning because your fresh and your brain is still sort of ready to soak up whatever you want to do with it in that moment, which is hopefully creative work instead of whatever your day job is. And I actually work here so I'm hoping no one is listening to me <laugh> <laugh> thinking I'm not giving it my all at work because I am. But that changes and it's different for people. Some people write really well late at night. There was a time in my life when I had a different job. I was a trade magazine journalist and I would go to work and I would write about literally safety harnesses and personal protective equipment all day long. And then I would go out to a cafe and meet some writing friends and write into the night hours. And now that sounds exhausting, just the thought of it. I don't think I could do that anymore.

Liz Breazeale (00:06:50):
But you didn't find personal protective equipment stimulating and exciting.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:06:54):
And creatively fulfilling, I mean it has its place, you know, the ergonomic chairs, that's where the excitement really

Liz Breazeale (00:06:59):
Speak for yourself lady, speak for yourself.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:07:01):
Um, but yeah, I think finding a way of writing that's comfortable for you, I just try to really pay attention to myself. Sometimes there are days when I don't want to go sit at my, I have a little writing desk that I actually dumpster dived in DC in 2003 and I still write at that desk and some days I just feel like I can't go and sit at that desk, but maybe I can take my laptop to the bed or to the couch or the dining room table. And so I just try to pay attention like is there a way around this? If I'm feeling some resistance, how can I just do whatever my mind or my body needs right now to write?

Liz Breazeale (00:07:33):
I think flexibility is important to kind of meeting yourself where you're at. Yeah. Cause I do that as well since I literally just moved here. I have no desk so I've had to get really creative with my writing spaces over the past few weeks.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:07:47):
I hope you don't mind if I share with everyone in this room that you spent a week and a half with one folding camping chair and an air mattress. So that's kind.

Liz Breazeale (00:07:55):
Straight up living like a serial killer guys <laugh> living like a serial killer.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:07:58):
That's rough. Well you did mention boundaries, so boundaries and also I think on the other side of the coin, sacrifices that we might make to fit writing into our lives. So what would you like to share about that?

Liz Breazeale (00:08:11):
I do think that when you are integrating writing into your life as sort of a, more central focus, it does require you to give things up. Whether that's like sleep, which look, I love sleep, but if you know you have to be at work at like nine, I mean I used to have to get up early enough to get to work at like 7:30 when I lived in Denver before the pandemic of course. And then that changed everything as we all know. But I used to get up at like 5:00 AM to write because I knew that if I'd left it until after work I just wouldn't do it. It was so easy to just not do it. There are so many ways that I can convince myself not to write today. So it was all about kind of minimizing that that. But anyway, yeah, you know, sacrificing sleep. Maybe there are some days when you know you have to write or maybe you have a deadline or something or you really have great momentum on a piece of work that you're working on. Maybe you have to give up going to get drinks with friends, which is a tragedy. But you do have to sacrifice something at some point. And again, boundaries will get to at a certain point.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:09:19):
Well we can get to it now. What does it mean to you when you talk about having boundaries as a writer?

Liz Breazeale (00:09:23):
Being ruthless with your time and how you spend it. And I don't mean obviously, you know, blood thirsty like boy I feel like I'm really talking myself into a corner about being a serial killer or something, but <laugh>, how do I get out of this? But just really being hardcore about the way you spend your time. Last weekend, Labor Day weekend, I set myself a boundary of this weekend. I really need to deep dive into these revisions for my next project and I can't do that in the mornings before work. So I set myself up at my dining room table cause I have furniture now. It's very exciting. And I put my phone on silent in another room and that was a boundary that I set for myself that I was like, I know I'm gonna be distracted but I can't be distracted. I just have to do it.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:10:10):
And I do think just, I'm generalizing here, but I think it can often be more difficult for women writers to feel they can take that time for themselves. Especially if you, I don't personally have kids, which I'm sure makes it much easier for me. But having a family, and I know there is a session I think earlier today about writing or yesterday writing as a parent. So I hope anyone who needs that session went to that and learned a lot. But just to be able to say, you know, I am going to carve out this time that is for me and for my pursuit of my writing and I do deserve it. And it is worthy, It doesn't matter if you're being published currently because to become published one day you need a lot of time just in the chair writing and failing and writing and failing and getting rejected. So I think, you know, setting the boundary of whether that's just with yourself or if it's with your family or whoever is in your life, to be able to acknowledge that it is a worthwhile pursuit for you, I think can be a big hurdle for some writers.

Liz Breazeale (00:11:02):
Totally. And I also, I don't have kids, I don't have a spouse so it is,

Laura Maylene Walter (00:11:08):
I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm laughing <laugh>,

Liz Breazeale (00:11:11):
I have nothing in my life except furniture now. So that's great. In that sense it is easier for me, right? Cause I don't have those demands on my time and you know, not demands in a bad way. I mean you want to spend time with these people, these people <laugh>. But um, so it is easier for me in that sense. I think also as we're talking about, you know, mental space to write, I'm also thinking of like physical space, finding yourself a physical space that maybe can't always be yours, right? Can't always be like your office or, your dedicated writing room or whatever. But finding a space where you feel comfortable and you can kind of spread out and let the words come. And maybe that's not even like a a separate room, right? Maybe that's just getting the kids and the spouse or whatever saying, Hey, I need this few hours of time, can you go to a movie or something or, whatever. I'm gonna sit at the dining room table and pound this out or whatever. But having a physical space.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:12:05):
And I also realize that we might sound really hardcore right now and I think that is because we kind of are, we're we are, we're both a little ruthless as writers and so we talk about that a lot. I also don't want to imply though, I don't write everyday. I mean I don't always write every week. There might be long stretches where for whatever reason I'm not writing, it's not that I'm some machine who's just constantly writing, but when I do have a project or a goal I'm working on, I make the time and I'm really dedicated. Just before the session was in a meeting with Jami Attenberg, our keynote speaker and I wrote it down, it might be slightly paraphrase, but she said, "I created my life the way I wanted it to look." And she also said, "If you want to do this as a job, treat it as a job." And I really love that with both of that, even though it's a job where you have no benefits and probably no pay and maybe no respect, it's still a job so you gotta treat it as such,

Liz Breazeale (00:12:55):
bummer <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:12:57):
I was trying to be uplifting with that comment and then I just took it right straight down again. So I don't know. Okay, here's along those lines, a really big question for you Liz, which is how long does it take to build a writing career

Liz Breazeale (00:13:08):
Forever? <laugh>, it takes all the time. How long are you on this planet? It takes all that time.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:13:14):
Do you want to talk about that a bit? Like your own journey and how and why it takes so long?

Liz Breazeale (00:13:18):
Yeah, totally. So much of it is just about getting better, getting better. And I'm saying that for myself of like so much of what I focus on is not necessarily sort of the external validation, right? External validation is nice when someone says, you know, I read your book and I loved it. That feels fantastic. Of course it does, It feels awesome. But those things I really have to tell myself not to chase those things because the focus for me has always been on how am I getting better? Am I getting better? That's been my focus. And so that's truly why it takes so long or you know, it should take a long time cause you're working on your craft, right? That's why it takes so long. <laugh>. Yeah, so my personal journey was I went to Bowling Green, I went through straight out of undergrad and that's really when I started writing seriously. Like very seriously because I was surrounded by fantastic writers who knew so much more than I did and I just soaked it all up. My focus for two years was learning. I don't think I spoke in workshop for like months and months and then I'm sure when I did speak up it was like, guys, hey I have a question.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:14:30):
I don't remember you like that at all. I remember you as you are today wearing a giant scorpion necklace, some kind of aggressive jewelry and you were just confident.

Liz Breazeale (00:14:38):
But yeah, I mean that is all I focused on was just trying to be as much of a sponge as I could and just soaking up every bit of knowledge that I could. And so that really was my focus and remains my focus to this day. Just absorbing as much knowledge as I can and having the patience to sort of focus on that instead of publication or you know, chasing these sort of external things.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:15:00):
Yeah, I think there's a lot of things in there I'd want to unpack, but I do think that is just a key reality about the quote unquote writing life. If your goal is to be a published writer to publish either in journals or publish a book through a traditional publisher or whatever your goal is, or self-publishing too, it is slow and long. Of course we might hear the stories of someone who is, you know, 23 years old and they break out with some novel that becomes a hit and a best seller we hear about their stories because they're so, I mean unrealistic for almost everyone else, it's extremely rare. I mean the much more common story is someone works on their craft for years and years and years and they're going to conferences like this and maybe joining writing workshops and failing to find ones that are a good fit sometimes and just keeping at it, getting rejected, getting rejected, getting rejected.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:15:46):
And then slowly over time maybe things start to build and grow. And I always feel we're lucky in this sense. So it's not being an actor in a lot of cases youth is really prioritized either other careers or sports where your body can break down and that could be a problem. And a writer, as long as you can keep your mind sharp ideally and just keep that fortitude and keep going through all the rejection, we are allowed that time to develop and grow. Which I think is a really great part of this career and why I'm glad I'm in it. I just wouldn't make it as a professional athlete or as an actress. So

Liz Breazeale (00:16:17):
For a lot of reasons,

Laura Maylene Walter (00:16:18):
A lot of reasons we don't, that would be a whole other session <laugh>. Um, and you mentioned validation, which I do think ties into this. It's hard, it's really hard to.

Liz Breazeale (00:16:26):
So hard.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:16:27):
Get rejected again and again. I mean all writers are rejected all the time. I don't care if you're a New York Times bestselling writer, they still get various kinds of rejections in their careers. It never stops. And I'm at a point now where I have had to send lots of rejections on my own and I hate it. You know, when I was editing Gordon Square review or even, I don't know, competitive classes or programs that I've had to pick small, small, small percentage of people out of it and it doesn't feel good to get rejected, but it is part of the life. So validation, as you said, you can't rely on external validation to keep you going for your career. You just, I just don't think you can. I don't know,

Liz Breazeale (00:17:02):
You can't, I mean, boy won't get into this now, but I mean we've both had some real experiences with the opposite of validation, whatever that is. Rejection, degradation, I have no idea. <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:17:15):
Yeah and it's, and it's also funny just psychologically I don't think it's just me because I do hear this from other writers, like for example my book, someone in Scotland might email me and say they found my novel in a book shop in Scotland and read it and they loved it and they just wanted to tell me how cool is that? That is amazing. I mean how lucky am I that that ever happen to me?

Liz Breazeale (00:17:35):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:17:35):
Someone across an ocean picked up my book and read it and liked it and told me I should be grateful for that for the rest of my days and I should ride that high for weeks. And what happens is I feel extremely touched and happy for like five minutes and then something else will happen. Like I'll get a bad review or I'll get a rejection in my email and you focus on the bad. I mean do you, is this just me? I feel like it's easier to focus on the bad and let the good go away. So that's a whole other issue.

Liz Breazeale (00:18:00):
Oh yeah, no, I mean when I got the call that I got the NEA fellowship, I celebrated that night. I got a bottle of champagne and celebrated and then the next day the anxiety was right back there where I was like, oh my God, they gave me all this money to work on this book and what if this book is shitty <laugh>, you write the high for a little bit,

Laura Maylene Walter (00:18:21):
It's the pressure.

New Speaker (00:18:21):
You crash right back down.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:18:22):
Yeah and that's a whole other thing, it's not even believing the good news. When I, I had a small story collection that won a prize over a decade ago now they're like my young stories. And I got the call, I was actually in California on vacation and I got the call that I won this contest and my first book of stories was going to be published and I was so excited and then I got on a train and I was traveling around and I couldn't sleep that night. I was like, they clearly called the wrong person. Like this is going to be so embarrassing for them when they have to call me back I better not tell anyone cause it's not real. So it's hard to even let the good news sink in sometimes.

Liz Breazeale (00:18:53):
Oh, god. But when they called and told me about the NEA, there were months where that news was embargoed, meaning I couldn't tell anybody. I mean I told you and like another close friend and my family obviously, but I was like under pain of death, Oh no death again. I was like, you cannot tell a soul about this. So there were months I couldn't announce it until January when they announced it. I think I got the call in like November or something so I couldn't tell anybody. And for two months, full month and a half, whatever, it seemed like years I had to live with the fear hanging over my head where I was like, they're gonna call me back and tell me they got it wrong because they haven't announced it yet. They could change their mind real fast and be like, oh God, we've meant to call Liz Reserk, not Liz, Breazeale,

Laura Maylene Walter (00:19:39):
What a name.

Liz Breazeale (00:19:40):
Right? <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:19:41):
Yeah, I think maybe this speaks to, besides maybe generally having an anxious personality, I think it would speak to, it is so rare to get good things comparatively in the writing world. Like I don't know, I haven't added up my ratios lately of rejection to acceptance, but it's really not good <laugh>. And so when something good does happen, you're like, but everything's supposed to be rejection so I don't understand. So that leads us,

Liz Breazeale (00:20:01):
Does not compute.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:20:03):
<laugh>. It doesn't like I don't, what is this to the point where I've gotten acceptances where I've almost just deleted the email on read because you know when you get like the thing come in and I'm just like, well this is obviously rejection, I don't even feel like looking at it today. So you can miss acceptance.

Liz Breazeale (00:20:15):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:20:16):
So I guess we're moving on to, we're gonna move on to some of the struggles, rejection and struggles, but then we'll bring it back up again I promise. But I have on my notes here, I just wrote rejection, rejection, rejection. Cause what else is there to say? But is there something to say. Would you like to talk about the role rejection has played in your writing life?

Liz Breazeale (00:20:32):
Oh yeah. Where to start. Rejection has shaped who I am. What is that Batman or Dark Knight Rises quote, "You adopted the rejection, but I was born in it." <laugh> Paraphrasing of course, but boy, I mean just, it's all rejection isn't it, as we've said, said, I mean it's, it's all rejection but what that does is when you are immersed in that much rejection all the time, I really do think you just get so toughened to it that you truly just stop caring and you know, I think that's good. But it also teaches you that, again, back to the external validation thing, you can't let those rejections, you really can't let 'em get you down, which is easier said than done. Of course we both have had our issues with that.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:21:16):
Share the times that we can.

Liz Breazeale (00:21:18):
Why not? Let's take it down again, more <laugh> looking at sort of patterns when it's really, really gotten to me has usually been when there have been like other things going on in my life when I've been like really depressed, which I was for most of 2021 and it felt like, oh my god, can I not get a win? Like can I seriously not get a yes out of any of this? You know, in those sort of instances it does start to feel like, wow, okay, we're just piling on, huh? We're just doing this. Okay, great. More, awesome. Especially when there's other things going on in your life.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:21:53):
Yeah that just compounds it. I remember, I'm not sure of the year, but I'm guessing it was at least six years ago, it was before your story collection Extinction Events was out before anything. I was visiting you along with Jackie's in the audience, visiting you in Kansas City where you were living at the time. And I still remember it was nighttime and you had this little patio area outside your apartment and there was a lightning storm. So we all went outside and we're sitting there looking at the lightning storm and you were just so down about your writing and you were saying, what am I doing this for? Nothing good is happening, nothing good will ever happen. I'm failing. I'm failing, I'm failing. And I feel like it was a few months later you got the call that you won that story collection prize.

Liz Breazeale (00:22:31):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:22:31):
And I feel like this is so natural to the life of a writer. You get really down and then something really great happens. And you got the NEA of course in 2020.

Liz Breazeale (00:22:39):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:22:39):
For me, I mean I have a few stories, we'll talk about agents a bit later, but I still remember this was a different book, Not Body of Stars, a book that was never published that I'm glad it wasn't published. But <laugh>, it had gotten some grants, it had gotten some attention. Agents and even editors were emailing me to see it. Like out of the blue I would get emails from people. And so I really thought I was on my way. I thought this book will be it. This book will get published. And there was one agent who was reading the whole thing and seemed so excited about it. And so of course I had my hopes up and I got the rejection.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:23:10):
I was at work in downtown Cleveland, different job. And it was snowing, it was a snowstorm. So we all had to go home early and I didn't have proper boots or anything. I didn't have even like a bag to cover my laptop properly. So I had to leave and just get covered in snow and go to the bus stop and I was just standing there just like soaking with snow, so cold. And I had this agent rejection that to me at the time, really represented all of my dreams dying. And it was just a really pathetic moment, <laugh> in the Cleveland winter.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:23:38):
And now I look back on that and I'm glad that didn't work out. I ended up later with the agent who was better for me with a book that was better. But it's, it's really hard in the moment. It's really, really hard. And I think it's just, I don't know, you have to persist through that. And let yourself feel it if the rejection is really hard and don't beat yourself up. If it hurts, you might need to take some time off from writing to deal with it, whatever you need to do. But it's sort of cliché advice everyone says, but you just have to get back up. And I wrote another book and the next book after that was the one that got published. What if I had just stopped? You know, what if I had said well this was a horrible rejection, my book is dead and I'm done, nothing else would've happened. So.

Liz Breazeale (00:24:15):
Yeah, totally. So much of it is about persevering even when you truly feel like, why am I even doing this? I mean there's been many instances in my writing life when I've gotten a particularly harsh rejection that kind of stung a little bit or I've applied for something that I really wanted, a residency, or something I really wanted. I know exactly the feeling that you're talking about where you feel like, boy I got this rejection and it's symbolically like the symbol of it is not good.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:24:43):
I mean It's heart wrenching, it actually, it hurts. You know when, especially when you had a creative project that you really believed in and you sense it going awry, it's really tough. But.

Liz Breazeale (00:24:52):
It can be devastating. I mean I've found that, you know, after a good night's sleep it does feel a little less bleak the next morning, maybe the next day or you know, week from then or whatever.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:25:02):
And the best, in my opinion, the best antidote is writing new things because I really feel the more I write new things over the years, I get better and better and better. I don't even want to look at that novel now. I'm not saying it was bad, it had some good points, but it just wasn't what I would want it to be. So writing new things is always good. Okay, so let's talk about community a bit. This is such a big topic and of course the Inkubator and Lit Cleveland champion community for writers. So we'll get into the MFA in a second, but today, how does either writing friendships or community play into your life as a writer and help you?

Liz Breazeale (00:25:38):
What if I was like, it's terrible, it doesn't help me at all. And you were like, wow, I'm so glad I invited you here <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:25:44):
Especially since I'm one of your writing friends, that would be great.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:25:47):
"They're not helpful."

Liz Breazeale (00:25:48):
"I won't name names but there's a certain person..." But no, I mean it's everything when you're writing. I have an extremely, perhaps to a fault, supportive family who I'm assuming whatever this podcast comes out. Hi mom and dad, cause they're listening for sure. But um,

Laura Maylene Walter (00:26:04):
Terry and Michelle!

Liz Breazeale (00:26:04):
Terry and Michelle, hello. Shout out. You know, I have an extremely supportive family. I have extremely supportive friends who are not writers, who are also extremely supportive, you know, buy my books, read my work, but they're not writers themselves so they don't truly understand the intricacies of like what it feels like to get a rejection or like what the aging querying process is like. They don't truly understand, you know, the intricacies of these things and they maybe don't necessarily understand what it's like to write something that you put so much effort into and also so much of like your heart and your soul into and to put that out into the world. Those are things that are really hard to explain to people who don't write. And so a writing community is everything. It truly is everything when you're in the trenches doing this stuff.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:26:54):
Yeah, agreed. And if you're listening to this and you don't have a writing community yet or you don't have your writing friends, I will just say give it some time and make it happen. I moved to Cleveland a long time ago and before Lit Cleveland existed and I was in my early-ish twenties, I didn't know any writers, I didn't really know anyone here. And I just started going to every writing workshop I could find public workshops, workshops in libraries, workshops and old like futon factories or something, workshops that some of them lasted

Liz Breazeale (00:27:24):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:27:25):
one month and then folded. Some of them lasted six months then folded, some of them are still going on today. I would just find any writing workshop and honestly a lot of them were not a good fit for me because it's hard, it's hard to find the people who are writing kind of the similar things you're writing in the same vein, maybe the same-ish level as you are.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:27:43):
And it took me a long time and it took me, I was in one writing workshop for, I mean I went there off and on for years and I just kept going and there was one woman there and I felt like, oh, I like her writing. And she seems nice, but as an extremely introverted person, it took I don't know how long until finally I think she emailed me and said, do you want to go get coffee and talk about our writing? And I said sure. And then I almost didn't go because there's this huge windstorm and I almost canceled. But I went and she doesn't live in Cleveland anymore, but she is now one of my best writing friends. I met another one that way. It took me years, but I sort of collected writing friends along the way. And now at Lit Cleveland I actually see some of my students from my novel workshop this past spring [in the audience] who are all such wonderful writers and they have continued meeting, which I just love. So using organizations like Lit Cleveland to find your people who will fit with you, it makes such a difference. I mean even just being able to send Liz a message when I feel really down about my writing or whatever's going on, it can be very helpful.

Liz Breazeale (00:28:43):
It can just sometimes just sending, "ugh."

Laura Maylene Walter (00:28:47):
Yeah. Cause writers get it.

Liz Breazeale (00:28:48):
I'm trying to write a verbal sound: "Ughh." <laugh>,

Laura Maylene Walter (00:28:52):
We should talk about the MFA since we did meet in the MFA, we went to the MFA at different times in our lives. So we could talk about that. But I'm always very open about saying, I don't think you need an MFA. I really don't think anyone needs an MFA. They can be really helpful, but I just want to say that outright that I don't think anyone should feel worried if they don't have an MFA, but.

Liz Breazeale (00:29:11):
Totally agree.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:29:12):
Yeah. But Liz, why don't you start, you had mentioned it a bit, but when you went into the MFA and how that was for you?

Liz Breazeale (00:29:17):
I, yeah, came to the MFA right out of undergrad. I think I was 23 maybe. Again, I don't know where I am in time and space. But yeah, so that was where I was and was my early twenties. Um, I got my undergraduate degree in creative writing at Missouri State University and I applied to MFAs because my writing professors were like, hey, you really good at this? And I was like, okay, I guess why not? I don't know what I want to do with my life, but okay, delay adulthood a little bit longer, try to go to a graduate program, why not? And I'd never heard of Bowling Green, Ohio a day in my life, but they let me in off the wait list and that's how that happened. So whoever it was that turned them down and gave me that spot. Good on yah. <laugh>, Thanks a million. But yeah, that's where I was coming into it. A young green, very inexperienced. I'd won like a really small writing contest at my college and I'd gotten maybe like two things published in like small literary journals. But I was so inexperienced at that time. But you were in your early thirties, you were in a totally different place. You left the professional, the corporate world, I guess to.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:30:28):
Yeah, so I was in my early thirties. Going to an MFA program was a decision I had agonized over for years. I mean, I was really on the fence about it. I applied once to just a handful of programs and didn't get in because I, I wouldn't go unless I got funding, which means your tuition is waived and you get a stipend to teach some classes and health insurance. Those were my options because I had the corporate job, the trade magazine journalist job. I mock it cause safety, but it actually wasn't a bad job. I love my boss who was really supportive. I got to travel for work and it was pretty stable and just very comfortable and I knew I could stay there and keep moving up. So it was a big decision. Like I knew going to an MFA was not a good career decision in terms of making money in the world, but I just really, really wanted to do it.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:31:12):
And I had already published just a small story collection that won the prize and I had published in some journals and so I was writing for Poets and Writers already. And so I've already made professional strides in my writing life. But man, I had so much to learn. I look back at what I was writing in the beginning in the MFA and a lot of it just was not good. And so like any writer with or without an MFA, I just needed more time to develop my craft and I think the MFA helped. It was two years of really focusing on writing and that's what I think the value is. You know, our world is not set up to care about creative writers. And if you do go to a program like that, you are just immersed in it and you're talking with your cohort and your professors about it. But again, I think, I know I would just keep going as a writer if I had never gone, it just maybe shortened parts of the journey a tiny bit.

Liz Breazeale (00:32:00):
Yeah, I think a lot about the MFA in terms of community, because we had such a fantastic cohort. I think we got really lucky. Not everyone is as lucky I know, but we had a really amazing cohort full of really awesome writers, really awesome writers, fiction and poetry. And so sort of getting that cross pollination of just being able to talk to the poets and having, you know, when we were first years having our second years and being able to sort of have those cross conversations was really enlightening and just really fun. You know, I also think when I came to the MFA, again, I was so inexperienced, I didn't even really know who I was as a writer. But I look back now, I don't even want to touch those early stories that I brought into workshop. Boy, I will never, should I put it into my will that no one's allowed to go into those Dropbox files? Like ever?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:32:45):
You can name a literary executor.

Liz Breazeale (00:32:47):
Well it's like, didn't...

Laura Maylene Walter (00:32:48):
Although wait, you're, I'm totally not gonna outlive you. <Laugh>

Liz Breazeale (00:32:53):
<laugh> Didn't Neil Gaiman destroy like all of Terry Pratchett like computer or something? Like he put it under a bulldozer or something. So that's what I want, you know, just throw it in the trash. But you know, I was so young, I was so inexperienced and I didn't really know who I was as a writer. And what the MFA did was introduce me to writers, you know, like Laura and like so many of our other friends who were passionate about writing truly bizarre stuff. Weird non-traditional experimental stuff that blew my brain open. And I was like, I want to write weird stuff too. So I look back and I see the inexperienced writer that I was really trying to say this weird stuff and not really knowing how, and the MFA really just exploded my brain in a way where now I'm like, well, traditional storytelling, what's that?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:33:44):
Well, speaking of storytelling, let's move on to quickly cover some craft things before we get to our literary agent discussion. This is a huge, huge question, but revision. What does revision mean to you as a fiction writer?

Liz Breazeale (00:33:57):
<laugh> Disaster. Revision is truly the process of diving in so deep to a story or a novel or whatever you're working on, diving in so deep that you don't know what's what anymore and really feeling around in the dark and trying to figure out, what am I writing? What is this? Why am I here? You know? <laugh> The process is different everyone of course. But that's just my process is doom.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:34:23):
I mean, I agree with that. I can't disagree. But yeah, I think with revision, my outlook on it has changed over the years. I've always known it was important, but especially with something huge like a novel or, I mean a story too, is embracing the fact that revision doesn't mean tweaking a chapter or just cutting a chapter or line edits. I mean revision is dismantling it sometimes. And of course that depends on the type of book, the type of project. It depends on a lot of things. But I have found being willing to go bolder with my revision has been really helpful. And it actually is a shortcut in the long run. The latest novel draft I wrote, we'll get into novel drafting, but I write fast, messy, disastrous drafts where I don't plan them out. And I don't know, in the past when I would do that, I would maybe try to cling to what I'd already written a bit, even as I revised, and now this time I'm so much more efficient, I'll just look at it and say from page 200 to the end, or like the last 150 pages, this is not working.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:35:16):
And I will just cut it and rewrite it from scratch and it's so much better than trying to go in there and reverse engineer, you know, just fiddle with it.

Liz Breazeale (00:35:24):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:35:25):
So yeah, revision. I think the bolder you can go the better sometimes.

Liz Breazeale (00:35:29):
Absolutely. And really not being sentimental about anything you've written. And you know, of course I like to take plenty of time between drafts if I'm able. Right now I'm kind of on a revision, not so much timeline, but you know, it kind of has to get done. But really truly not being attached to anything that you've written. Being able to take that step into the unknown and say, Well, I don't know how this is gonna turn out. I could be making it worse, I could be making it better. Sometimes you can read the same passage and feel both of those opposite ways on different days, but not being afraid of what's gonna come and just letting yourself feel your way through it and trying to enjoy the process as much as you can and being okay with producing something that is totally different from where you started.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:36:18):
Do you want to talk about novel drafting a little bit?

Liz Breazeale (00:36:20):
Totally, yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:36:21):
What is your novel drafting process?

Liz Breazeale (00:36:23):
Messy, <laugh>. Messy. So last year, 2021, I drafted one novel and I think made it through four revisions of it in that year. And I gave that up earlier in the spring of this year, 2022. And again, no human eyes will read that beyond my own, ever, ever. As long as I live, it was so bad. So I stopped with that, gave that up, and I actually in this past spring, ended a long-term relationship. You know, I didn't write for like three, four weeks, didn't even try, couldn't do it. Then, I got an idea for another novel and I was like, this is a great idea. This is fun. I'm gonna do it. I'm just gonna do it. So I like to, when I do a first draft of a novel, I like to write, I got this idea from you of writing 1,000 words everyday until I finished the draft. No excuses, just doing it. And it's really hard. Spoiler, it's really hard to do that. Some days I hated it and some of those words are real bad, but they're all there. And so I drafted it, It took me like two months I want to say. Then I put it away so I could work on the story collection I'm working on right now and I'm excited to go back to it. And I'm excited to completely throw out that draft and write a totally new draft.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:37:45):
Yeah, you're really good about that. You'll write the draft and throw it out and rewrite it from scratch almost, which I have never quite embarked on that.

Liz Breazeale (00:37:52):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:37:52):
But I feel like that's probably coming for me one day. I feel like that's actually a really good strategy.

Liz Breazeale (00:37:56):
It's fun. Yeah, it, it really is fun because that first draft, there's no pressure on it. If you know that's your process, there's no pressure on it to be good. Because guess what? It's not gonna be good. It's gonna be the worst thing you've ever seen in your life. But there's something so freeing about being able to say, okay, well I'll read that through once, just to kind of get a grasp on, you know, these are the characters, this is the world. And then just completely throwing it all in the garbage and being like, Okay, well I kind of have an idea of how I want this to go, but let's do it all again, then do it better. And then I sort of take that second draft, which is, you know, a second, first draft and revise that. Just go from there.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:38:31):
Yeah. And you mentioned writing 1,000 words a day, which of course Jami Attenberg, the keynote speaker will be discussing that tonight because I'm sure many of you are familiar, but Jamie does #1000wordsofsummer, which is kind of a community productivity and accountability project where writers all over the country and world try to write 1,000 words a day every day for two weeks. But I love a word count deadline. It works for me for drafting new material and I'll do it for the whole draft. I'll do 1,000 words a day and I don't even take weekends off, which I think is not,

Liz Breazeale (00:39:00):
You don't.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:39:00):
I might have to change that though. I don't know, maybe you need to relax a little, but it helps me. And I always tell writers, maybe 1,000 words a day isn't for you. Maybe it's 500 words a day. You'll always be able to sit there and think you can't do it or think you can't get your words. But if you really just sit there and actually try, I've amazed myself time and time again of just how I'm not in the mood to write or I think the ideas won't come. And it would be so easy just to walk away, close the computer and leave it closed for a week, for a month, whatever. But just telling yourself, in good faith, I'm gonna try to just vomit out 1,000 words and see what happens, often they're bad. I mean, your first drafts are usually pretty terrible, but you can get little gems in there and things that will crystallize in the future. And really that's the only way to get it done, is to write something. No matter how ill formed it is at first you just need to get something on the page.

Liz Breazeale (00:39:46):
Oh yeah. Well, I mean we have had numerous conversations about this, but truly not being afraid of writing what will be the worst thing you've ever written in your entire life. You'll read back through it and you'll be like, hang on, this character's name changed three times on a page. I wrote an entire scene where a character's house burns down and then in the next chapter a character goes to the house that has been rebuilt again, magically it's there. Like what was that?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:40:13):

Liz Breazeale (00:40:14):
Its fun little things.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:40:15):
Okay, well I think for time we should move on to agents, we can circle back to some other things if we have time. But I know people like to hear about agents and we are here to offer our experiences and whatever tips we can offer. So Liz, you recently signed with your first agent and,

Liz Breazeale (00:40:30):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:40:30):
I would like to point out that you signed for a short story collection. Which as many of you might know is <laugh> is um, way more difficult than, it's difficult to get an agent, but agents generally are looking for novels because novels sell more than short story collections. And to find an agent for a short story collection I think is a huge accomplishment. So tell us a bit about your experience looking for an agent.

Liz Breazeale (00:40:52):
It was hard. It was really hard. I mean, looking for an agent is so difficult and time consuming and so stressful because it is such an important relationship in a writer's life. You know, I mean, this is the person who is going to go out on a limb for you and fight for you in the industry and try to get you a a deal. And it's really an important relationship and they have to be really passionate about your work, especially a short story collection because they're not making the big bucks off that. So the stakes in your mind can become essentially life or death, like career, life or death, right? Not real life or death, but in your brain it's like, Oh my God, I worked so hard on this project. What if no one cares about it? What if no one cares about it?

Liz Breazeale (00:41:41):
What if I'm the only one who cares about it? So I had had some conversations with some agents a few years prior who had read my story that was in the Kenyon Review and had contacted me and reached out and we'd had some conversations and it just hadn't worked out. One of them, we had a phone call and she offered me representation, but it wasn't a good fit, it just wasn't gonna be a good fit. And the other two, it just didn't work out. They rejected me, which again, all this feels fantastic. So I kind of had those under my belt, you know, the call, the big phone call. I sort of had experience with that by this point and I thought, you know, this book is ready, it's as good as it's gonna get, as good as I can make it at this point, so I'm gonna go for it.

Liz Breazeale (00:42:23):
And so I did and I sent out two batches of query letters. The first one was 10 and I got some full manuscript requests from that, but nothing really hit. And so then the 11th agent I queried wound up being my agent and she's brilliant and wonderful and you know, we hit it off in the phone call and she was great. So I think when you're a writer, you can sort of see an agent as sort of the pathway to like great success, right? The stakes again, are so high in your mind. It's really easy to get so impatient and be like, Oh my God, like just get me an agent. I'll take anybody, take anybody, anybody who wants me, right?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:43:01):
You don't want to do that.

Liz Breazeale (00:43:02):
And you don't want that. That's not good. So yeah, it's so easy to get so impatient. But I think for me, I was prepared for the long haul. I expected it would take longer than it did. And I think it maybe all told was maybe like two months, which

Laura Maylene Walter (00:43:13):
Which is really short.

Liz Breazeale (00:43:13):
Which <laugh>, like I said, I didn't expect it to be that short, so.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:43:16):
Well, I think one thing you were wise about waiting until you knew you were ready and your collection was ready to get an agent, instead of rushing it. I think the majority of writers do rush it and just try to get an agent too soon. And I am one of them because I was writing really bad novels for a number of years and trying to get agents and I mean, I had a few phone calls and I had agents express interest, but no real offers of representation. And I think as is true to my personality, I was probably trying to force something that just wasn't really gonna happen <laugh> or wasn't like prepared to happen. I don't regret it because it taught me a lot about the industry, about different agents, about querying, about the professional side of it. And by the time I did have Body of Stars, I knew by then I was experienced enough to know, okay, this book is different.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:43:59):
I think I can actually get an agent with this book. And I didn't have to query very many. I first had a lot of context from other agents who had rejected me on past projects, but really sincerely liked my writing. So I was able to reach out to them first. I had a few referrals, which by the way, the referrals, nothing really came of them. I think it can be tempting as a writer to think if I only had a connection or a referral, that's what will get me the agent. At least they'll respond because a lot of agents won't respond. So if you have a referral, they'll probably respond and you'll get maybe a faster rejection, quite honestly, because you don't, you also don't want the agent to take you like, I mean, you don't have my agent. We have different agents. You wouldn't want my agent to take you because we're friends and know each other.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:44:41):
You want the agent to take you because that agent is right for your book and wants your book and loves your book. So anyway, when I was finally ready with Body of Stars, I query just a small handful of agents and then my agent actually came and found me because of either a prize or a story or something. She contacted me, which has happened to me multiple times throughout my career. Agents reaching out just as it happened to you and none of them had panned out before. And it just so happened this happened to be the right combination. I had multiple offers on the novel and it was just, I had reached this point where I'd gone through so many years of writing and rejection and learning how to write a novel because I had no idea what I was doing. I just think I got experienced enough to be confident enough in my writing and to know I was actually really ready. And it's hard as a writer to know when that moment is. I thought that moment had come from me years before and it hadn't. So if this happens to you, just write the next book and then query that one. It just keep working on something else. As far as agents go, I know you haven't been with your agent very long, but do you want to share anything about what it's like to work with your agent? And if you have any advice relating to that.

Liz Breazeale (00:45:40):
One thing you really want to get straight when you're having that first call, that first conversation with your agent is, what is their work style? How do they like to communicate? How hands on are they, specifically? Because some agents are very editorial that works for some writers, doesn't work for other writers. For me personally, my agent, her style, I really respond to where she'll make comments but not in the form of specific prescriptive suggestions. She asks a lot of good, smart questions about, you know, maybe something could be more specific or, you know, she doesn't totally see like a connection between some things. So that communication style really works for me. The agent that I wound up turning down a few years previously, she was much different in terms of revision and it would not have been a productive partnership. So really nailing down the way they like to work and how hands on are they gonna be with your work and where do they see themselves in the revision process? Is a good question to ask. For sure.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:46:48):
Just in my anecdotal experience of seeing friends in their agents, it seems that agent/author relationships tend to break down over that communication issue more than anything else. More than even them not selling your book. So it is really important to try to know yourself and what you need and to be able to talk with the agent about how they communicate.

Liz Breazeale (00:47:05):
And you can't know that until you've done the work. To to know what kind of writer you are. And the only way you know that is from writing a shit ton.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:47:15):
Yeah. Yeah. And then also I would say my agent is pretty editorial, which means she'll read my work and give me really great constructive feedback. Very open-ended of course. I'm always making the decisions of how to change it, but she's just really savvy and I think that's important too. There are different types of agents. Some agents aren't editorial and they will take your book because they feel it's ready and they will just try to sell it. And sometimes that works out great. Sometimes though I think it can be a risk depending on where you are and what you're writing if your agent isn't offering editorial feedback. Because the hard truth is, even if you get an agent, a lot of books die on submission, which means they don't get a book deal. Especially if we're talking about the big houses. Right. The big publishing houses and a lot of the indies, you know, I know my agent was really savvy and knew the risks and if your agent sends your book around to all the editors that are appropriate for it and you get rejected everywhere, that's it.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:48:05):
Unless you're pursuing other avenues without an agent, you can't go back to those editors with another agent, you can't do it. So it is I think, important to make sure, especially for novels, the work is really, really ready before it goes out.

Liz Breazeale (00:48:18):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:48:18):
Okay. Anything else with agent realities? You had touched on this, but I just wanted to offer that I know what it's like to want an agent so badly because I spent a lot of years there before I got my agent. I do think a lot of writers might view it as the end game. It is very validating to have an agent, you have a business partner now so you don't feel like you're alone. But I really think getting an agent is the beginning of something versus the end of something. Like your journey is just beginning.

Liz Breazeale (00:48:43):
For sure. I think it's really easy to fall into the trap of once I get an agent, all my problems will be solved and everyone will want me and I'm gonna get a million dollar advance on this short story collection. And it's really, really easy to fall into that kind of thinking. But in actual fact, getting an agent, it solves some problems but you know, then you just have graduated to a new tier of problems. So it's just problems all the way down.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:49:11):
Well let's move on to some,

Liz Breazeale (00:49:13):
God, I'm so fun to talk to

Laura Maylene Walter (00:49:15):
<laugh>. Same. Um, some quick hit pieces of advice and this I would hope could apply to whether you write poetry or essays or short stories. Looking at the literary journal submission landscape. So Liz, you have published a lot of pieces in journals. Uh, if you could offer your top, I don't know, like two or three pieces of advice for submitting work to journals, what would that be?

Liz Breazeale (00:49:36):
Do your research. Don't try to like have the shortcut of asking people where they think your work would be a good fit. Do your own research because truly nobody knows your work like you do. Nobody does. So do your research. That's important. Follow the submission guidelines. Very important. No better way to get a quick rejection than sending something in like size 16 font. You know, single spaced outside of the times when they're taking submissions. You know, bare bones. Just follow the submission guidelines. And also I think I feel like I'm a broken record talking about patience, but be patient with your work. Be patient with it. Take the time. My rule is whenever I think a story's ready and I finished line editing it and I've put it in Garamond cause it looks nice. Once I've done that I let it sit for a week and I don't look at it and then I come back and I read it through again. And if I can read it all the way through without like hating myself and hating every single word on that page, it's good to go. Or if I feel like, you know, I don't need to make any more changes, this is good to go out, then that's my general rule is I'll let it sit for a week.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:50:48):
Yeah. We haven't talked about patients too much, but that is such a huge part of being a writer on all levels is just having to be really, really patient over and over again. I would add when you do submit to journals is you really have to exercise your patients then in the waiting, if a journal says they aim to respond in say four months, I would just say don't query them after four months in one day. Because in my experience if they say four months, it's not out of the ordinary for them to take eight months to respond to you.

Liz Breazeale (00:51:13):
When they say four months, they mean eight months <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:51:16):
Yeah, they really do. And as someone who's edited a journal, I understand these editors are often not paid and they're working really hard so I don't begrudge them that I understand they're swamped with submissions, just be really patient but don't be afraid to follow up if you think it got lost. That has happened to me before where I had a submission that got lost in their submission manager. I have currently a submission, we're approaching the two year mark on a journal that you have to pay to submit to. So I'm not too happy with them, but now I'm just letting it ride and wait and see.

Liz Breazeale (00:51:43):
See how long it takes, I don't know.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:51:44):
Yeah. Yeah.

Liz Breazeale (00:51:45):
I don't know what the over under is on that but <laugh> maybe three years. Will that be exciting?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:51:49):
That could be. Um, so patience is big. Anything else with lit mag submissions that you would like to share or why they're so impactful for a writing career?

Liz Breazeale (00:51:57):
Oh yeah, I mean it gets you so much visibility. You know, if you can publish in widely read magazines, I mean I got so much exposure from publishing in the Kenyon Review, having that piece online, I mean I got contacted by like three agents from that.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:52:13):
Well, moving on quickly so we can make sure we get some audience questions really quickly. Let's talk about grants and residencies. You won an NEA grant of course, which is huge. I've gotten a few smaller grants and you've been to one residency. And I've been to a few. Can you talk about these other opportunities, and why they should be on writer's radars.

Liz Breazeale (00:52:31):
In the practical sense, they're so important because I mean it gives you a week, two weeks if you were talking about residencies a week, two weeks, three weeks, what have you. Where that is your entire job is to go to probably a beautiful location and sit in solitude and write and then hopefully connect with other writers or other artists and that's awesome. Like what a great use of your time, you know? But grants, I mean the NEA was life changing, it was career changing. It was so extremely validating to get that because I had published my first book before that from the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. But it was just validating on a whole other scale to have someone say, here's a chunk of change and we're gonna give it to you. All we ask is that you use it to write this book. Can you imagine a more anxiety inducing situation as a writer? Here's the government's money. Spend it wisely.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:53:20):
I think for some practical tips for getting grants and residencies because I don't know about you, but I've been rejected by way more than I've gotten.

Liz Breazeale (00:53:27):
Oh my god. So many rejections.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:53:29):
Some really great, Well I mean going to Yaddo was,

Liz Breazeale (00:53:31):
You went to Yaddo. That's awesome.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:53:33):
One of the best experiences in my writing life, which is a residency where they feed you professional chefs cook for you and you just have this beautiful space to write and meet other artists. It's amazing. But a few tips I would have if it's a grant or residency that they are primarily judging based on your creative work. For example, that NEA is like this. They have certain requirements where you have to prove your publications, but beyond that there's no statement of purpose, right?

Liz Breazeale (00:53:58):
Anything goes. Yeah, I mean it's basically,

Laura Maylene Walter (00:53:59):
It's your work.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:54:00):
It's all about the work. It's all about the writing sample. My biggest advice is do not stress about that artist statement or like whatever the hell they call it. It's always different. I mean the NEA, I think it was like the word count that they give you in the little space for your artist statement or like your description of your project. I think it was like 50 words or something.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:54:21):
Yeah they don't, care.

Liz Breazeale (00:54:21):
It was like, nothing. It was so.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:54:23):
It's about the work.

Liz Breazeale (00:54:23):
It's all about the work. So don't stress about the extraneous stuff. Don't fidget too much with the wording. Worry about the work. When I submitted to the NEA, my work I think as you described, is bizarre at best. It is not everyone's cup of tea. So I assumed I would get a rejection.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:54:43):
Yeah. And these are things you can't control. She happened to hit with a committee that really was drawn to her work. The committees tend to change and rotate. You can't control it, you can't know who's on it. You just have to submit what you're doing, what you think is best representative of your work and hope for the best.

Liz Breazeale (00:54:57):
A hundred percent. I totally could have submitted something that was more traditional, less experimental, something with fewer multiplying uterus in it. But that would not have been who I am as a writer. Definitely not me. Put your best foot forward and be yourself. And you know what? They may not like it. And yeah, you just got to throw your hands up and say whatever, I did my best. Right. You're the only person who has to live with your work day in, day out. So.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:55:22):
So I think a lot of these things, it is based on your creative work, but some of them do have longer artist statements. Statements of what you would do with the grant or at the residency. And sometimes these things do count. Your work has to be really strong. My only advice here after being rejected from a lot of them is try to step out of it and be objective and say, I want to write an application that they can't say no to. In the past when I was a younger writer, I probably submitted some applications that were a little more generic. Everyone's gonna say the same thing. Like, I want the time to write, I want to use this money to take time to write. Everyone's saying that. What can you bring to the table that might be a little unique or special to your work?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:56:00):
For example, I was just awarded this year a small grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, which is a feminist writing grant. And I had applied for it, I think I was a finalist years ago and I'd been rejected, like I've never gotten it before. And it's limited funds. And I knew with the project I was working on, I had a specific research goal in mind. And that goal, I haven't done it yet, it's coming up. Going to Chicago and taking a mermaid swimming class, like an aqua performer class. And I wrote that into, into my budget and explained what I wanted to do. And my writing sample reflected that because I had a character who was an aqua performer and I wanted to go and do it so I could learn. And you never know what these things, you never know. There's so many factors that go into it, you can't count on it. But I thought if I were on the committee, I'd want to fund the person who wants to go be a mermaid for her novel and they funded me. So it's just trying to be creative or unusual can help.

Liz Breazeale (00:56:52):
That's totally right. As someone who has been on the other end of like judging fellowship applications, a thousand percent make yourself seem as interesting as possible.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:57:04):
And it should be authentic cause people can tell fake quirkiness or fake like you're trying too hard. I mean this was legitimately in my novel and I could back it up with the work. I wasn't just trying to get money to go be a mermaid.

Liz Breazeale (00:57:15):
Did you put it in your novel so you could go learn to be a mermaid?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:57:18):
I mean, who knows at this point what's going on?

Liz Breazeale (00:57:20):
It's just a, it's just a circle. You know.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:57:22):
Okay, so really quickly, last question before the audience Q and A. We know sometimes Liz and I can be a little harsh on ourselves and our writing, and the writing world and publishing, and we can be downers, but we really love writing. We are here for a reason. So I thought we could each really quickly share some good things. There's a fly coming at me right in this moment.

Liz Breazeale (00:57:42):
It's coming right at you. Yeah, it's coming in hot.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:57:43):
We share some good things that have come in our lives because of writing. You go first, Liz.

Liz Breazeale (00:57:49):
Oh good. Okay. So let's see. The first one I have written down is just community and friends, which we've already talked about meeting amazing people who become like lifelong friends and who really just understand what you're trying to do and what you're chasing after. Laura touched on this with the mermaid school, is research. I think all good writers are curious about the world and there's no better way than being able to like have the excuse of, well no, like I really need to like research dinosaurs cause I'm like writing a story about dinosaurs, so I need to go like look at a bunch of dinosaurs. There's like nothing better than that. And there's also nothing else for me personally, like the rush of just pure creation. Being purely creative and seeing where you're gonna go, it kind of gives you a purpose of doing something that you feel is something that's meaningful to you that also could be meaningful to other people. And sort of communicating with other people that way. Um, I think that's really just an incredible feeling. Also, not to get deep, but I mean storytelling is so fundamental to the human experience and being part of that tradition is really just a phenomenal thing to just be a part of. I'm not saying that my stories will stand the test of time, like the cave paintings, but who knows? You know, they won't.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:59:01):
I have high hopes for you. Well, Liz just talked about storytelling being fundamental to our humanity. And I'm gonna talk about plastic horses, but I'll quickly say that of course, community, friends, the places I've been able to travel by being a writer, just the curiosity of exploring new things that my writing encourages me to explore. But also just on a fun level doing things like, I went before the pandemic to BreyerFest in Kentucky, which is a massive three-day festival devoted to plastic horses as Breyer model horses. And I went, obviously I just wanted to go and see this bizarre place, but I knew I wanted to write about it and I did. I ended up writing about it for an anthology that came out last year. But even when I was there looking at all these people, these model horse collectors who were so obsessive with it and it was just so weird and fun, it was a delight. And I thought if I weren't a writer, you know, would I even be here right now? And so I think experiences like that are so important. The residencies have been amazing. I once did a residency that sadly does not exist anymore, but it was at a health spa and they gave us free massages. I mean.

Liz Breazeale (00:59:59):
it's a dream.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:00:00):
Um, and there's like a hot tub and a spa. These are of course not why we actually do the work of writing...

Liz Breazeale (01:00:05):
But it helps though.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:00:06):
<laugh>,But it helps get through all the rejection. But yeah, I think just community and I wouldn't know you if we weren't writers, so.

Liz Breazeale (01:00:11):
And what a dark void your life would be without me.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:00:14):
For sure. Actually, I think you make the void darker, which is a compliment.

Liz Breazeale (01:00:18):
What a compliment.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:00:19):
So we are now going,

Liz Breazeale (01:00:20):
You, you always lift me up Laura. Always lift me up.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:00:23):
We have just a few minutes, so we are gonna go to audience questions and I see one in the back, so I'm gonna have you just call it out. I'll repeat it into the microphone for the podcast. But go ahead.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:00:31):
The first question was about the actual practicalities of searching for agents. It is such a big topic which, and I swear I'm not trying to be a commercial, but it's such a big topic that I'm leading a two-session Lit Cleveland workshop in September on it, so you can look it up. But, um, there's a ton of information online. I know it can be overwhelming, but I think really just start googling how to query where to get an agent and you'll find tons of research. I think Jane Friedman, is that her name, has a really good resources and...

Liz Breazeale (01:00:56):
Query Tracker.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:00:57):
Query Tracker. I love Poets & Writers.

Liz Breazeale (01:00:59):
Poets & Writers fantastic. Yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:01:00):
Read that publication or website. They usually have special agent issues, but yeah, it is a huge topic, and doing your research is so important. I love that.

Liz Breazeale (01:01:08):
Oh yeah, that's a great recommendation.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:01:11):
We had an excellent comment from the audience about the podcast The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, which I listen to religiously. They do query letter reviews live on the air with two agents or sometimes guest authors. I love to listen to it and I don't, I'm not looking for an agent. It's great.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:01:26):
So this question was about Liz and I both having drafts that will never see the light of day. And so maybe three reasons why those drafts won't see the light of day. Do you want to take this quickly first?

Liz Breazeale (01:01:36):
Boy, they're bad. How many ways can something be bad? All the ways. Sometimes you take time away from a piece because you can tell in the back of your brain you're like, I don't know what's wrong with this, but something is wrong. My spidey sense is tingling. Something's off about this. And you take time away from it. And sometimes the time away can be telling in and of itself because sometimes you will feel no drive to go back to that project. Absolutely nothing calling you. And that is in and of itself is a sign. If there's nothing calling you back to that, then that's for a reason.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:02:09):
Yeah. And I will say quickly, I'm thinking of the one novel draft right before Body of Stars. It had some good points to it, but I would say lack of consistent driving tension, situations that felt a little unbelievable or forced but I was making it happen because I wanted it to happen in the novel. So not quite authentic. So character motivations, tension, those would be the big ones. And it was, you know, I'm sure it was well written and it had some interesting elements and that's why agents were...I mean, I was probably tricking them where they were like, "Oh, maybe this could be good." And then they read to the end and...It's so hard with a novel to define because it's such a complicated piece of work and you could have so many great elements and it just might not all hang together.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:02:46):
And it is something that comes with time and the development of your writer instincts, which you only get by reading a lot, writing a lot over years. And now my instincts are so much better than back when I was working on that book. So I can tell more quickly. Any other questions?

Laura Maylene Walter (01:03:00):
So the question was about, um, we said you don't want to just take any agent who says yes or the first agent who says yes. And if one agent says yes and you don't sign with them the risk of not getting an agent then. And I think what I brought up, you don't want to sign with just any agent is honestly not agents are created equal. And this is where your research comes in. So you should only be querying agents that you know they have the track record of sales that you like, or if they're a newer agent, they're may be with a bigger agency and they have connections that way, which is totally valid.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:03:29):
They don't have to be a superstar. It comes down to doing your research. You'll hear this advice all the time. It is better to have no agent than a bad agent. And I'm using air quotes because how do you define a "bad agent" but a bad agent for you? So they're not going to effectively be able to sell your work, which means your work will not see the light of day. It is better to just say no if you know in your gut and based on your research that the agent isn't right for you. Do you have anything else to add?

Liz Breazeale (01:03:54):
Yeah, I think it's a good question. I think what it comes down to is if you have the phone call with your agent and maybe there's like a couple of answers that maybe they gave you that you don't necessarily love, but you're kind of like, well, but what if nobody else says yes to me? Should I just go with this person? Even though there's one or two things that are maybe not necessarily ringing alarm bells, but that just seem maybe we're not on the same page with some things. Those are instincts that you really want to listen to. So a lot of it comes down to that. Don't override those instincts simply because you're worried that no one else is gonna say yes. Because everything in your relationship with your agent is important. There's nothing that's unimportant.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:04:36):
Yeah, definitely. And I think on that note, we should wrap up, but I want to thank everyone for joining us for our first ever live episode, so thank you!

Liz Breazeale (01:04:44):
Thanks, guys.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:04:51):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. Learn more online at Follow us on Twitter @CPLOCFB, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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