What's a good outlet for me?
August 25, 2012 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for literary/media outlets specifically relevant to purveyors of rambly, tangential narrative mostly-autobiographical non sequiturs (i.e. the sort of writing that's my stock in trade). The recent death of David Rakoff has managed to make my old joke about just accumulating all my writing in a well-marked little box so I can be discovered posthumously seem a little less funny, given that I'm only a few years younger than he is and have been steadfast in my dedication to purposely sabotaging every opportunity that comes my way. Thing is, I have a terrible confession—

—I don't read.

Er, well, I read, but I read science and gearheady stuff and Make magazine and stacks of old Popular Mechanics from the sixties and history and biographies of interesting people and Tom Swift and The Bobbsey Twins and that sort of thing. Since I started writing in earnest, I stopped reading work that had something in common with the kind of writing I do because it has three complicating effects on me: (1) I either end up emulating or trying too hard not to emulate, (2) if it's bad, it makes me feel like a loser because people who aren't good writers are better at marketing themselves than me, and (3) if it's good, great, or transcendent, it makes me feel hopeless, because I'll never do anything that good, and I already have a serious cosmic issue of hopelessness in that I'll sometimes just sit back, overwhelmed by the immensity of human existence, and say "what's the point of all these stupid stories?"

All the clouds turn to words, all the words float in sequence, no one knows what they mean, everyone just ignores them.

I've gotten amazing support from people here at MetaFilter, which is why I started clogging up comment threads with my long-winded and occasionally relevant replies to posts that catch my interest, and I've been making a little list of the venues people list as possible outlets, but I just flat-out suck at the R&D side of trying to get into print and usually give up after hours of finding nothing but content farms and advice for writers about how to find inspiration to write, which isn't a problem for me, as I either write or I become completely insane.

The last straw of late, beyond Rakoff's death revving up my hypochondria to new heights of panicked urgency, has been seeing Mike Birbiglia all over the place, which has ironically put me into a frenzy of sleepwalking in which I keep waking up in an apron after a night of nocturnal housekeeping—whereas he's the more dramatic sort, leaping through windows, I'm a were-Donna-Reed, doing laundry and packing wonderful lunches for the next day and inspecting the air conditioner for birds, and though I was writing and doing arch, Laurie Anderson-aping performance pieces about sleepwalking way back in the nineties, I've blown the chance to be the sleepwalking guy. Now, I think Birbiglia's great, and funny and smart and interesting, so it's not that I begrudge him being out there, but shit, I am my own damn obstacle way too often.

I take some comfort from the fact that my older work just wasn't all that good, and I believe that Fran Lebowitz is right in saying that there's a reason why there are so few writing prodigies—you just need to live to write well, and have age and experience to polish good ideas into great ideas. I just wish on some level that the notion of self-promotion didn't make me feel sick to my stomach (which is why I've written, edited, and abandoned variations on this Ask MeFi question for some time now).

I've heard I should look into McSweeney's, and got the app for my iPad to read from there. What else should I be reading, and where should I be submitting work? I've been stuck in a mid-edit panic with my manuscript for a collection of narrative essays, Scaggsville, since 2004, which started out as an attempt to prune away the "blogginess" of their structure and pacing and became a tribute to Ralph Ellison's self-destructive editing process, but I'm working on a new performance reading that I hope to have ready by next spring and writing lots of smaller pieces that I'm told could go somewhere, but I'm just too ignorant of the actual literary world to know where.

I've sworn myself to send out something every week through the end of the year, because there's no way to get through the world without a first step, and I'm motivated by the lingering bitter frustration that I'd managed to start to get a foothold at least in terms of developing a small audience in Baltimore and then just let all the leads go cold during my big ponderous career change.

Any suggestions?
posted by sonascope to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I enjoyed just reading your question!
I'm not sure where to submit stories (though I'm sure it depends on genre/style and you could consider not just reading but submitting to McSweeney's).

I wanted to suggest that you read excerpts of your work aloud at open mic nights. Might give you some feedback and confidence in the quality of your work. Also might find you people who have suggestions about where to submit your specific pieces.
posted by jander03 at 9:06 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is the first AskMe that I not only favorited, but created a bookmark folder for (writing)... thanks for asking the question, and thanks in advance to anyone who contributes.

I wish I had suggestions for you, but I can state that, in my opinion, you're ready for the big time...go for it!
posted by HuronBob at 9:43 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Argh, this just closed, but keep your eye out for next year's McSweeney's Column Contest.

The Morning News might also be a venue worth exploring.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:52 AM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Locally, doesn't the Struever Brothers' Urbanite take limited submissions? What about the Loch Raven Review?

Instead of looking for publishing venues by reading through them, consider browsing websites that have bios of people who write: they'll typically include "published in X, Y, and Z, participated in the writing contest ABC," and so on.

You're on the menu on the table, you're the knife, and you're the waiter.
posted by Nomyte at 9:52 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I got some decent advice and information in this old thread about looking for an agent. You might want to reach out to some of MetaFilter's published writers to see if they have an agent they could suggest to you. I am a fan of your writing and think there are a few places where it would fit in nicely, notably

- The Sun - they do a lot of publishing of original non-fiction, particularly about somewhat difficult topics such as poverty, abuse, addiction. They also have a section where readers write in monthly on a specific topic and I think you could have it be a writing exercise for you and publish short pieces there just to get used to it. The stories you've written about growing up would be good fits here.
- Good Magazine - more about social issues, can be a little smarmy feeling at times, some of your writing about GLBT stuff you've dealt with would fit well here.
- Advocate magazine - GLBT stuff, they publish original writing. Your background would make you a good unique voice for them.
- Maryland Historical Society - possibly getting outside of what you normally write about and writing about your job might be a good way to flex your chops somewhat.

I also second The Morning News and I'd also look into writing for The Awl (contact this user) or possibly something for Vice that is a bit more on the sexay side of what you write about. Good luck, I think this is a really good step for you to be taking.
posted by jessamyn at 9:55 AM on August 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

It may seem too rarified, and I don't know if they only accept from published & known authors, but Harper's Readings section seems like a perfect fit for you musings.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:10 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't really know where either, but Duotrope doesn't seem like a bad place to do a bit of searching.
posted by solarion at 5:20 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone, for the pointers and insight. I've successfully managed to replace a weekend's worth of chores with a hysterical rush to reconnect with the drive I had to get out there before a chain of misfortunes led me to find a comfortable little hole in which to wait out the sturm und drang.

I've worked up a spreadsheet to track markets and pieces, and signed up on Duotrope, which seems like a really decent resource.

I've also gone back to my files for everything I've been writing in the last ten years, which amounts to about 2600 pages of essays, rants, non-fiction novellas, stories, and random stuff, plus the bazallion variants on what was meant to be a book called Scaggsville, the half-finished trio of ridiculous post-reality Nancy Drew-style YA adventure novels for messed-up adult children, a performance piece about a formerly obese exhibitionist milk fetishist stalking a shock jock and a retired buddhist gay porn star from the seventies (set to the music of ELO), and another book I wrote almost by accident, Scrapple Whore, which I put aside after I wrote it because I realized I could never publish such a filthy, deranged semi-autobiographical confessional book while my mother is alive. She's always desperate to read my work, and that would would send her out on the streets in her nightgown, recreating the photo of that poor napalmed Vietnamese girl with a book in her hand.

I actually sat down and read through a bit of that one, which covers curious friendships with a frustrated bug chaser, a priest named Father Pete (who loved the feet), a vile bukakke impresario, and the circumstances around how I the protagonist ended up as an MC at mortifying sex parties in a fire station bingo hall (and it just gets worse from there). It's a fun, harrowing read, I think. I wonder if a pseudonym and an e-book/Lulubook would be a bad thing? How annoying is it that the most publication-ready thing I've got in thousands of pages of work is a pervy travelogue through a knot of sexual frustration?

Editing kills me. The basic stuff, like the comma harvesting I have to do because my brain instinctively injects a comma wherever I'd take a breath if I was telling these stories to an audience, is straighforward, but the big stuff...gah. It's hard, because I've written so much using the internet as a sort of virtual column in a backwater newspaper, and a lot of what works as essays with a linking arc have a sort of cliffhanger structure that seems silly when it's just words on a page. You'd leave the protagonist on the verge of some big thing — and then you turn the page.

My prime disaster was with Scaggsville, in the two year stretch I had between my old family business career and my current realm, when I was flopping horribly as a building contractor and spending the rest of my time turning decent writing into something stilted and unreadable. That left me so demoralized and frustrated I stopped performing and even writing for a stretch, concentrating on building an adult life in which I could pay my bills and put some money aside for my swiftly approaching decrepitude. MetaFilter's been my pilot light since then, a sort of regular series of assignments and prompts to remind me to prattle on.

Here's a procedural question about AskMe—do I mark best answers as I go along, which seems like it closes down the thread, or let it brew for a while? I'm painfully ignorant when it comes to the finer points of MeFi etiquette.
posted by sonascope at 7:24 AM on August 27, 2012

Leave your thread open for a while, I'd say. And as for your question, why don't you try publishing some short stories or narrative reflections on Amazon or Barnes & Noble through their Kindle/Nook direct publishing option? It'd give you something to work toward without having to rely on (or being able to use as an excuse) any external factors.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 9:37 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm late here, but I'd just like to say that a small portion your "work" on metafilter has already been compiled by *this* young writer and reader for an English class. The assignment was, compile one author's writing who you want to model after on this specific essay we were writing. I chose you're, shall we say, creative nonfiction essays that I see on the blue so reliably.
posted by Taft at 9:07 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, everyone! This was a nice kickstart to get me unstuck from my stuckness.
posted by sonascope at 10:07 AM on October 4, 2012

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