"Cherish the Early Years..."

Donna Steiner is a greatly loved and appreciated Creative Writing professor here at Oswego. She's taught a wide variety of classes from Intro to Poetry, Intro to Nonfiction, and Literary Citizenship. Steiner is not only known as a wonderful professor but a strong writer as well. I got to interview Steiner via email and ask her a few questions about her writing and experiences with publishing. Many people have different experiences which can alter their views on the publication progress. I deemed Steiner as perfect for this interview because she's seen students submit their work to publications and the effect it has on them and has also sent in her own work to various places.

Steiner has had five poems published in the Cog literary journal that's produced in Cogswell College in San Jose, California. Steiner has been published by other literary journals with larger amounts of readers but she decided to start submitting pieces to smaller journals to promote literary citizenship:

"...a couple of years ago I decided to start sending work to smaller journals. This was a direct result of my work in literary citizenship; I wanted to start supporting some lesser-known literary magazines, of which there are hundreds of good ones".

I was curious to know if she encountered any trouble while trying to publish her work and if she experienced a sense of community in the publishing industry. Many writers form bonds with each other but I have heard stories where small publishers and writers become friends as a result of a successful book publication.

"This particular publication came about in an interesting way. About a year or so before Cog was even in existence, I won a prize for a group of poems. The editor of the journal who printed those poems later became the editor of Cog. When Cog was being born, so to speak, the editor wrote to me and asked if I had any work she might look at. I almost always send poems in batches of 5 or 6. Usually, if anything is going to be published out of the batch, it will be one poem. This time the editor asked for all five. So there was no trouble at all; in fact, it was the opposite of trouble."

It was refreshing to hear someone's story about a publisher reaching out to a writer for pieces of their work for publication. There's proof that it does happen, folks. Steiner's story about how Cog reached out to her made me even more curious: do people in publishing and writers in the writer community actually get along? Or are the horror stories true? Because, as a writer myself, publishers always appear as tremendously intimidating.

"I am not involved in the giant network of editors, agents, publishers and writers who know one another and publish one another, etc. I am very much on the fringe of that. I have a small group of friends who read my work and whose work I read. When I submit my own writing for potential publication, I do that and have always done that on my own, as part of the writing process. I don’t think of it in terms of community or lack of community. It is hard to get published for just about everyone. My way is to just keep steadily writing and steadily submitting work. I get rejected a lot. Every writer I know gets rejected a lot. It’s just part of the job. One of the best things I ever wrote got rejected 36 times. You have to believe in your work and be pretty resilient and focused to get published. There’s some luck and circumstance involved, too.

Of course, there are pervasive, documented obstacles to people of color, women, LGBTQ writers and others. Statistics on who gets published and where they get published can be appalling and depressing. That’s a big topic, so I’ll just say that things are changing, but as is evident in every aspect of contemporary society, progress can be painfully slow."

As my interview with Steiner came to a close, I believe Steiner gave me a ton of information from her experiences that deems true. Us writers have to stick it out and accept rejection. We also have to make our own community as writers and work together to be successful. My last question for Steiner was if she had any advice for aspiring writers:

"My strongest advice is to be patient and to develop professional habits. Make sure you only send your strongest writing, always. If you are not certain that you have proofread the piece to perfection and edited it to be the best work you are capable of sending out, then hold onto it until you are certain. Getting published is not a race or a contest. It is not a badge that says I am a Writer or This is a Good Piece of Writing. It’s just part of the writing process, the visible and public part. When you’re just starting out, publication seems like the prize…seeing my work in print the first few times was exciting, for sure. But trying to say something authentic and meaningful, and to do that in unique and potentially beautiful or memorable ways is where the real life of the writer is centered. This will sound hokey, maybe, but cherish the early years of your writing life. Make friends, support other writers, learn how to write a book review, work on a literary journal, make the most of your education. READ widely, broadly, closely; read for pleasure and to learn. When you get published, feel good about it for a bit. And then get back to your desk."

Thank you to Donna Steiner for willing to let me interview her on her publishing perspectives. As Steiner graciously put it " cherish the early years of your writing" and never give up. Keep reading, writing, and submitting work. Don't give up.

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