Marginalia, Graduate Blog

One Essay a Day

Jenn Tatum

I recently met with my thesis advisor, Jenny Boully, to discuss the 110 page draft I submitted. We met on Valentine’s Day, enjoyed some coffee and treats, and she gave me a copy of her new book, of the mismatched teacups, of the single-serving spoon: a book of failures, fresh off the press from Coconut Books. I. Swoon.

It’s a collection of “failures,” as she calls it, the bits and pieces that she’s written over the last few years (did she say ten?) that ended up being cut from a previous collection or projects that were started and never finished. I don’t think it’s possible for anything that Jenny writes to be a failure—and clearly after having read her newest book, I know this to be true—but I love the idea of “mismatched tea-cups” and “single-serving spoons,” fragments that sit in unopened word documents and abandoned notebooks, and how upon revisiting them, you realize the common threads in the cast-offs.

The book was a lovely surprise, and Jenny’s advice about my writing was much needed and very helpful, as always. We talked about what’s working, what needs a little more explanation, and where I might think about expanding. I left feeling like I know exactly what I need to do in the next month to finish a complete draft in time for the March 22nd deadline.

I also left with a ton of practical advice about what to do next, as in, after graduation and in preparation for a career after graduation. I think a good thesis advisor is someone who is not only able to comment on your work but also gives you practical advice about being a writer and a teacher at a time when, let’s face it, jobs are limited and the field itself is competitive.You have to promote your own work, be your own biggest fan, because no one is searching for you. You have to get your work out in the public eye, which means that you have to be submitting.

This is something that I haven’t been doing over the past year, because I’ve been writing and revising my thesis. I’ve submitted here and there to a few contests and had work published last semester in Columbia Poetry Review, but I need to amp it up. Nothing has felt “finished,” but writing never really is. My goal over the next month is not only to revise and make sure that my thesis as a whole is in tip-top shape but also to submit, submit, submit! Jenny says submit an essay everyday. I gasp! Everyday, you say? Every, Day, she says.

Have I started? Not at all, but I’m going to. I’ve been perusing Duotrope (which used to be free but now offers a free trial and then a $5/month fee) and New Pages since winter break, and I’ve drafted a spreadsheet (I love Excel!) with a list of literary journals that are accepting submissions this spring and a list of presses and journals that are currently holding writing contests. The list is long enough. It’s time to stop researching and just start submitting.

I’ve learned a lot about the submission process working with Hotel Amerika, so I know what a cover letter should look like and what it shouldn’t (see previous blog post), and I’ve read enough literary journals to have an idea of where I’d like to submit. This is key. You should read any journal that you want to submit to, to see if your work would fit nicely with the work that they are publishing. It’s silly not to, but after working on several journals, I see it happen all of the time.

I’ve got the tools, I’ve got my work, now I just need to set a side a little time every day to actually do it.

So here’s my plan.

I’ve already set aside Thursdays for thesis revising and structuring. I write a little every day, and then on Thursday I compile and construct. A few of us from my cohort call this day “Sacred Thesis Thursday.” I’m now going to be observing “Friggiin’ Get it Done Friday,” which will allow me to set aside time to just submit. If my goal is one a day, then I will be submitting seven essays to seven journals every Friday. This sounds like a lot, and it is—submitting your work should be like a part-time job. Because, as I said before, no one is going to do this for you. I have to be my own agent. That’s my plan.

One Essay a Day

I recently met with my thesis advisor, Jenny Boully, to discuss the 110 page draft I submitted. We met on Valentine’s Day, enjoyed some coffee and treats, and she gave …

Creative Writing - Nonfiction MFA Jenn Tatum, jtatumcotamagana@colum.edu
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605