Monthly Archives: June 2015

No Arguments? Father Knows Best

As some of you may know, the Globe and Mails’ Facts and Arguments recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the national newspaper held a contest inviting submissions for The Essay that centred on a moment of truth.

As a group, each of the Restless Writers has at one time or another submitted an essay to the Globe and Mail in the hopes of it being published in The Essay. It’s a right of passage for a new writer. We followed the submission guidelines, kept to the word limit, carefully critiqued and then revised our pieces to get them just right. We pressed send on our computers, anxiously awaiting a reply and then zip. Nada. No traction. Among the four of us, we’ve submitted a total of nine essays and have only managed to crack the secret code once with the publication of Maria’s entry about starting a second career.

Despite these terrible odds, some of the Restless Writers decided to once again dust off their keyboards and submit an essay to the moment of truth contest. They were good. One made us cry to read how life can change in an instant when faced with a personal health emergency. The other made us laugh with tales of kicking a serious caffeine habit. Again, we read the criteria, kept to the word limit and worked to polish our drafts. And you know what? That’s right. No dice.

So all of this has got me thinking, what DOES it take for a submission to make it past the steely guards surrounding the desk of the Facts and Arguments editor? In honour of Father’s Day today, I thought I’d ask the one person I know who’s actually had something published in Facts and Arguments – not once, but twice. My dad, Barry.

Writing is something my dad started in his retirement. He’s had some great success with personal essays and travel articles published multiple times in the Toronto Star and travel magazines.

So I asked him.

Me: What advice would you give to a writer looking to have their personal essay published in the Facts and Arguments section?

Dad: I have given it a lot of thought and here are my Top 5 tips.

  1. The editors are looking for a very good story. It doesn’t have to be “professional” but well written.
  2. Write about an honest personal topic, something unique. Humour helps too. Be self depreciating, you don’t always have to look good.
  3. Avoid having an axe to grind or making others look bad.
  4. Make sure your title is an attention getter. Think of what’s trendy in popular culture, alliteration can work well. In my case, an essay titled “A Wedding Trauma” became “One Wedding and a Trauma.”
  5. Give your piece a strong closing that puts it all into perspective.

So there you have it, some insider tips from a real life published Facts and Arguments author.

Believe me when I say, the man knows unique personal stories. One of his published essays detailed the time he accidentally walked into a metal sign and split open his forehead 30 minutes before he was due to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day! He ended up with five stitches. Did I mention it was in the middle of the SARS epidemic in Toronto?

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Me and my dad on my wedding day. Bandages and all!

While I don’t suggest personal injury as a route to publication, I do hope some of my dad’s tips might inspire you to not give up on the quest to be a part of the exclusive Facts and Arguments club.

Rejects Rejoice
In the meantime, for everyone who’s ever had their Facts and Arguments submission passed over, there is now a place where you can share your essay with the world as you intended.

The Restless Writers are proud to introduce a brand new blog called Restless Rejects – the site that will take your Facts and Arguments submission and post it. The only requirements? The essay must have been submitted to and rejected by the Globe and Mail and be under 1,000 words.

If you are still shaking your head wondering how the editors could have passed over your piece, we want it. Read more about the new blog.

P.S. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and a very special thank you to my dad for lending his support with this blog post and every other single thing I’ve ever done – including making it back from the hospital in time to walk me down the aisle! Now that’s a good dad. Happy Father’s Day.

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Tread gently: Some tips for critiquing poetry

photo-1429032021766-c6a53949594f“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
~ Robert Frost

The Restless Writers are a diverse bunch. Our interests range from children’s picture books and YA to memoir to spoken word. Recently, a few of our members have even ventured into poetry. And while we as a group are supportive of all our individual efforts–even if we haven’t had a lot of experience with a particular genre–we are not all confident in our ability to critique poetry.

I have a graduate degree in English literature, so you’d think I would have some skills when it comes to reading a poem and giving feedback to help the poet better express her idea. But my university years are well–well!–past, so I have been trying to find ways that I can offer feedback in a constructive way. Because with our writing group, it’s all about trying to make each other better writers.

Poetry doesn’t appeal to everyone, and you might not get or even appreciate each poem you read. But hopefully my approach to critiquing a poem will help you give positive and constructive feedback to the poet in your group.

Immediate impact: 
The first thing I reflect on when I read a poem is how it makes me feel when I read it for the first time. I try not to get bogged down in the structure or form of the poem at this stage–I let the words and rhythm carry me through. Does my mind delight in the poet’s language? Does she make me think about an object, an experience, a setting in a new way? Do I smile involuntarily because of the way she described a particular moment? Can I relate to the subject? Is it uniquely personal or oddly universal? How did her poem touch me, on an emotional or intellectual level?

Dig a little deeper:
Next, I think about how the poet achieved these impacts. How did she use language and metaphor to evoke a specific mood? How did she structure the poem? Did she employ a specific form, and was she true to the spirit of that form? Was she consistent in her use of meter and rhyme? How did structure and form help to emphasize different elements of her poem? Where could she have used such devices to better effect? How did she use words and sounds to jar, to charm, to tease, or to question? The important thing at this stage is to be honest but respectful, and tread gently.

Move forward:
To wrap up my critique, I provide suggestions regarding word usage, punctuation, and spelling. If I found some phrases to be a little clichéd, I try to help her come up with some fresher or more surprising options. If I really liked a particular stanza or rhyme, I let her know that too. I also like to find out what she wants to do with the poem. Is it a stand-alone piece that she wants to submit to a journal? Or will it be part of a larger work or series of works? Perhaps she wants to read it at an event or gathering, or keep it all to herself. Whatever she wants to achieve, I offer to do a second reading before she considers it done.

I always bring my own emotional state and life context to each poem I read. Different poems with different subjects will have different impacts on me, depending on what is happening in my life at the time of reading. But I think that’s one of the beautiful things about poetry–it can create an intimate connection between the poet and the reader, using language as a bridge. And for the Restless Writers, poetry is just another way we get to explore the ideas, themes, and words that keep us writing.

Happy critiquing!

Maria

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Filed under Group meetings, poetry