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Friday Speak Out!: Never Stop Learning


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by Bethany Jarmul

Midnight black, charcoal gray, metallic cobalt—for the last 15 years, whenever I wanted my eyes to pop, I pulled out an eyeliner pencil and in one minute, I’d have perfectly outlined lids. A year ago, I bought liquid eyeliner for the first time. Despite reading the instructions and my confidence in my skills, my lines looked jagged instead of smooth. It just takes practice, I thought. Months later, I wasn’t getting any better. I pulled up an instructional video and discovered I was holding the applicator incorrectly. Once I corrected this, it just clicked.

Similarly, I’ve been writing for many years, first with a purple gel pen in a Lisa Frank journal, later fingers flying on a silver laptop. Having worked as a magazine writer and a marketing copywriter, when I decided, at the beginning of 2021, to write personal essays, I didn’t think I needed much guidance. I read essays published in online journals. I read Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up and Kate Hopper’s Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mother’s. Then I opened up a blank page and started typing.

I wrote a few pieces, sent them out to literary journals, only to receive one rejection after another. I had the base ingredients for chili, but I was missing the paprika and cayenne—the oomph.

Soon after, I stumbled upon WOW! Women on Writing and decided to take Chelsey Clammer’s class “Not What But How: Improving Essays with a Focus on Craft, Not Content.” During the 4-week course, we explored different essay structures—lyric, segmented, braided, hermit crab (that last one reminded me of my childhood pet crustaceans who liked to eat a piece of popcorn as a late-night snack.) We learned to play with the voice and rhythm of an essay and experiment with POVs. I received feedback from Chelsey that helped me to refine my writing, distilling it from corn to moonshine.

I did not need to discard all that I had learned about writing up to that point, but I did need to grow as a writer. A voracious student, I wanted to soak up every drop of knowledge. (I was either Chelsey’s favorite or least favorite pupil that session, because I emailed her at least eight questions about writing before the class began.)

During Chelsey’s class, I received my first acceptance email from a literary journal, a bright green “accepted” rectangle on Submittable. Since then, each new essay or poem that I get published becomes my fuel to keep learning, keep reading, keep writing.

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Bethany Jarmul is a writer and work-from-home mom. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in
Literary Mama, Scribes*MICRO*Fiction, Sky Island Journal, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry & Prose. She grew up in the hills of West Virginia and lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two kids. Connect with her on Instagram or Twitter: @bethanyjarmul.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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