Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How Important Is Being Published? (10/15/04)

Featured writer: Betty Winslow

Contributors this month:
Angela Kenyon
Betty Winslow
D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards
Joan Zerrien
Justine Wilson
Lizzie Hannon
Maggie Brown
Marlene Cullen
Susan Bono
Susan Winters

Betty Winslow

How important is being published? If a writer wants to make an impact on the world with her writing, publishing in some form or another is important. If she wants to make a living with her writing, it's imperative. But writers also write for therapy, for self-expression, for enjoyment, or as a way to think on paper, and in those instances, publication doesn't matter. The writing is done for its own sake and no else ever needs to see it.

For me, though, publication is important, since I want to make both a living and an impact. No one will pay me for a manuscript that is languishing unseen in my files. And no one's life will be changed or improved if my words never cross anyone's path. Excuse me while I go send out something else...

Betty Winslow, in Bowling Green, Ohio, planning whose path to cross next.

The importance of being published

  by Angela Kenyon

In my experience, it takes 10—15 years to develop within any new craft: 3—5 years to apprentice, to learn to use the tools; 3—5 years to explore the deeper wisdom as a craftswoman; 3—5 years to fully awaken one's own individual passion in the craft. I'm still at the stumbling apprentice stage. Sending my writing out into the world to be read and possibly published is part of my apprenticeship, validation of my work and my aspirations.

But it is the process of writing—the craft itself— that keeps me motivated. It is only when I write that I experience those amazing moments of freedom when something shifts inside me and I understand what I've always understood but in a new and deeper way.

Angela Kenyon, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Betty Winslow

How important is being published? If a writer wants to make an impact on the world with her writing, publishing in some form or another is important. If she wants to make a living with her writing, it's imperative. But writers also write for therapy, for self-expression, for enjoyment, or as a way to think on paper, and in those instances, publication doesn't matter. The writing is done for its own sake and no else ever needs to see it.

For me, though, publication is important, since I want to make both a living and an impact. No one will pay me for a manuscript that is languishing unseen in my files. And no one's life will be changed or improved if my words never cross anyone's path. Excuse me while I go send out something else...

Betty Winslow, in Bowling Green, Ohio, planning whose path to cross next.


  by D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards

My daughter, the negative one,
is sure that being published
is like not being published at all.

Then there's friend, Frank, known as
a writer, world-famous, who repeats,
with gusto, this lit-a-ny:
"I don't know about you, but
I - don't - write - unless - I - get - paid!"

And the refrain I hear, from the rest
of my family and some of their friends:
"You've not made it--you've not been paid,
not in cash, or even subscriptions."

But, as for me, the writer, in the melee
all but forgotten, an online "print job"
for weeks has buoyed me up. Like
a runaway balloon, I'm inflated.

And when the time is right,
my two literary angels whoosh me up
into the atmosphere
on my magic carpet of cloud.

On their feet, clever little clogs,
their soles carved out like a rubber
stamp, and everywhere they tread,
these words they stamp in red:
"Validation," "Validation," "Validation."

D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards, who used thoughts about publication she once e-mailed (from Santa Rosa) to Susan Bono (in Petaluma) as inspiration for this poem.

Joan Zerrien

"How important can it be?" Maxine juts her dyed-auburn head forward in mock astonishment, then decisively flicks the Salem Lite toward the fireplace. "How IMPORTANT is it to breathe?" She coughs slightly while tearing the rejection letter into tiny pieces that slowly settle on the rug, unwelcome as dandruff on Saturday night.

Wynette hunches her shoulders, having asked the wrong question. Plus their mother had that cough and died of it. "We come from a long line of smoking scribblers," Mama used to say. "Not a one of them could write a word without something burning in the ashtray."

"It's just human nature," Maxine puffs away. "Nobody's gonna keep doing a thing unless someone, somewhere, once in awhile says boy, howdy and thank you. Submit, submit, but hell. If it all comes right back at you, what's the point? Here I am talking to myself, sending up a flare, and goddamn it yes, I want to know that someone out there is catching my signal."

"Folks who know me know too much about me already, plus they're too busy looking for themselves in my stories. But seeing my words in print, that's a mirror, and I look pretty acceptable to myself, even on a bad hair day. It's public, and it's still private. I like that combination, like making love on the telephone sometimes."

"Ah", says Wynette with guarded sympathy. She doesn't want to know any more about this. She wants to gather up the paper flakes but doesn't dare. That's Maxine's business. Up to her to decide whether it will be the vacuum or handpicking, then tossing them in the fire. Then Maxine will write it into a story somehow.

Wynette nods to herself, and sets off for the kitchen, where she opens the rest of today's mail.

Joan Zerrien, Idyllwild, CA

How Important Is Being Published?

  by Justine Wilson

So often, it feels like I write into the void. I've got my mouth against the telephone receiver, but the other end of the line rings and rings.

My first novel, an urban fantasy called BLOODANGEL, will be published by Roc/Penguin in fall '05. Before the sale, I wrote six novels over more than a decade and didn't publish anything other than a couple of short stories in an online magazine. Writing was something I told people I did, writing was how I identified myself—but it was also way off to the side of things—done in the corner, in the dark. When you write, there are no co-workers to share the experience with, to gossip and commiserate by the water cooler.

As I climbed through my twenties I saw friends collect graduate degrees, internships, prestigious jobs. I made my own kind of progress. I received personal rejection letters instead of form ones. I landed my first agent. But the only people to understand such milestones are other writers. Everybody else wants to know if you're published—and if you're not, well (or so the implication goes) then you're not a real writer, are you?

But in the end, perhaps our gnawing hunger for publication is simpler than the urge to be recognized, to be made, in some sense, real. Writing may take place outside the established order of things, but when we send our signal into the void, we need to know someone else hears it.

I've got my mouth against the telephone receiver. When at long, last a person picks up and answers, it's like hands of light reaching down through the line. I the writer, am connected.

Justine Wilson lives in Los Angeles, California, and writes about her publishing experience at

How Important Is Being Published?

  by Lizzie Hannon

2003 was a feverish year. Ever the worrier, I decided my writing, which was drawing me deeper and deeper to internal truths, required an external marker of success, a buoy bobbing before me at the deep end of desire emblazoned with the word, "publish."

Several poems and a few essays had managed a strong Australian crawl, kicking away from me with confidence determined to touch that buoy and continue onward. Many returned limp and tired, unsure of themselves, spending several petulant days refusing to return to the pool for practice.

Fast forward to the harvest tide of 2004. In a moment I'll step into my four-pound hula-hoop, pick up the latest edition of "The Cranky Journal" for a good twenty-minute go round of isometrics and poetry. It's been an interesting voyage from valiant writer to practical publisher. It began by towing the buoy closer to shore, determining for myself the "high water" line.

When my friend Marti suggested, "Why don't we start a submissions group?" the creative part of me, which had held her breath hoping to "make it" as she stepped from shore, smiled with relief.

The once a month meeting allows me and the extraordinary writers I'm fortunate to float with, to set goals, share useful information about various journals and magazines, "this one only likes muscular writing," "this one favors traditionalists" or a simple, "Good luck on your crossing, comrade." It has centered me in myself, allowed me to rest and remember wandering Bards walked and memorized verse to keep enchantment alive, it was what they had to share with the village.

I quickly discovered I am more comfortable swimming in areas I've researched, noting the current, determining the tone and temperature of the water. The reconnaissance has led me to new writers, new markets, back to where it all began—my reader self.

Because I am in love with a poem in "The Cranky Journal" I am grateful for the writer who swam the distance to bring it to shore. I don't want what she has. I want to join her, immerse myself in the wonder, the pleasure, throw breadcrumbs to attract the flock flying far overhead, the V formation of imagination, answer the call of creativity. With the hula-hoop doing a heavy "shoop-shoop" now round my waist I'm rereading Martha Silano's poem. I'm meeting her. I'm meeting myself. I am light and hopeful…dare I say, "buoyed."

Lizzie Hannon, Santa Rosa, CA

Maggie Brown

You can stay in your room talking to yourself. That's fine. The process of writing usually leads to discoveries, delights, surprises, and insights that are personally valuable.

You can show your writing only to your family and friends. That's good, too. We all have aspects that should only be shared with intimates.

And you can—also—be published. Wrap yourself in borrowed courage, and invite yourself to the One World Literary Party. Stop peering in the windows at other writers. Stop comparing and contrasting yourself with the stars. Everyone who has ever published in whatever country or century or language is at the party.

Walk in boldly! You may feel shy, but squelch such thoughts. Force yourself to drift around the room. This is known as market research.

Glass in hand, you eavesdrop on conversations. A group of men by the fireplace argue war strategy. You move on. A gaggle of women discuss shopping. You drift away. Beside the buffet table, a cluster of men punch each other's shoulders and quote statistics. You continue circulating.

Sooner, or later, if you persist, you'll find a group that is discussing something you are interested in. You want to participate. You're excited about joining them.

You sidle up with a cover letter, or query or manuscript. Someone hears you and makes room in the circle for you. You are published. Your thoughts are spoken aloud. You are part of the conversation. Woo Hoo!

Without an audience, writing can be like bouncing a tennis ball against a wall. You may improve your technique, but you won't have nearly as much fun as playing with others.

Maggie Brown, Santa Rosa, CA

How Important Is Being Published?

  by Marlene Cullen

I think writers who want to be published are like actors. They don't mind being in the public eye.

I'm more of a private person. I write for myself, although I enjoy reading my work aloud in my writing group. I have no need nor desire to have my work published.

These Searchlights ditties are an exception, of course.

Oh, and if I were to write something truly wonderful, I would definitely want it to be published.

Or, if I were to write something sublimely witty, or insightful, or a tear jerker, then I would want that to be published.

That's all, though. I definitely have no need to be published.

Unless, of course, my work brought in tons of money, or a little bit of fame, then I would concede and it could be published.

But I truly, honestly, have no desire, nor need to be published.

Except in Searchlights. Of course.

Marlene Cullen practices writing in Petaluma, CA

Susan Bono

When writing comes hard, as it has been lately, I see that simply recording my thoughts is what I must attend to first. Whatever dreams I have of showing up for readers all dressed up in print, first I must appear naked to myself, feeling life against my skin, letting the world enter me.

Writing connects me to my life, whether I'm noticing the flight of six crows against the grey Seattle sky, the gathered hum of an approaching freight train or the remembered savor of ripe pear and Manchego cheese. Writing helps me discover what is important about being alive, also about my limits. As I choose what is mine to remember or ignore, I am my first and most important audience. If I neglect to inform and please myself, concerns about a wider readership are pointless.

But after I have written, the next logical step is to share my words with someone, perhaps by getting published. This is always the hardest part for me. The task of reaching an audience often has little to do with the quality of my writing and much to do with my determination to be heard.

I used to confuse my desire to be published with my willingness to make that happen. These days, I am trying to move from passive longing to committed action, but only after I've put first things first.

Susan Bono is putting one foot in front of the other in Petaluma, CA.

The Importance of Being Published

  by Susan Winters

A wise friend of mine said "It's the doing that makes you an artist, not the accolades."

That being said, there's nothing like seeing your thoughts in print. Someone out there believes your work deserves a larger audience than just your mom. Being published takes the sting out of the slings and arrows of rejection that you have suffered along the way and will continue to suffer in the future. Once you made it the first time, you know you can do it again.

Susan Winters' work has appeared in Sonoma County Women's Voices, Word Riot and the Live Wire Literary Salon. She lives in Reno, NV

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

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