The Writers’ House at Seneca Hall held an event with special guest professor of English Tom Greenfield on Wednesday Nov. 30 entitled “Weird Ways Writers Get Published, and Weird Things that Happen to Them When They Do.” During the talk, Greenfield discussed his experiences as a writer out in the field, showcased examples of the advantages of being a published writer and provided valuable insight and advice for aspiring student writers. The presentation not only brought clarity to a process that many students are not sure how to approach, but it also made it clear that Greenfield is more than willing to help Geneseo students succeed at publishing.
Before the presentation, Greenfield met a few of the Writers’ House residents at Letchworth Dining Hall for dinner and casual conversation. These students were surprised that Greenfield would ever want to spend an evening in a dining hall filled with pajama-clad students to eat Campus Auxiliary Services food, but the conversation flowed freely.
As one of the original fellows for the Writers’ House, Greenfield discussed with residents what it means to live there, potential ways to improve its student-writer community and possible future goals.
After dinner, the group made their way over to the Writers’ House for the presentation, where Greenfield began by making perhaps the most important statement of the night: “I encourage writers, especially who are in school, to make sure they are writing for people other than their teachers.”
But what is there to learn about writing that can’t be gained from a teacher in a classroom? Greenfield continued, saying that when he was a student writer, he “wanted a response from A) someone who didn’t know who I was, and B) someone who didn’t care if I lived or died.”
As a student, Greenfield decided early that feedback from his teachers and those that knew him well wasn’t enough, so he started to submit pieces of writing to various editors and magazines. While he admitted that he heard “no” more often than he heard “yes,” it changed his idea about writing and even teaching.
In the presentation, he defined a clear distinction between writing and writing for publication. Through his successes and failures while trying to get published, he realized that it’s necessary to work within a system and to learn what he calls “game theory.”
To get your writing published, you need to determine what an outlet wants and how you can best fill that space. And if you can work within that system, you never know where your writing may take you.
Throughout the presentation, Greenfield provided examples of individuals who published writing in different ways, which led them down rather weird and unexpected paths. For example, Geneseo alumna Tracy Strauss ‘96 started a blog that ended up landing her a segment on “The Steve Harvey Show.”
Additionally, writer David Feldman published a series of curious books entitled Imponderables, where he asked puzzling questions such as “Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise?” and “When Do Fish Sleep?” His series of books created a whole new inquisitive genre and received attention from talk shows like “Late Night with David Letterman” and “Larry King Live.”
These quirky examples showed students how having your writing published and “getting your name out there” can create real opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. And to see faculty members like Greenfield, with a wealth of experience and stories to share, actively working with students outside the classroom was extremely encouraging––not only for those interested in writing, but for the student body in general.
It’s important not to forget that Writers’ House events aren’t exclusive to residents and that anyone can attend. Whether it’s a speaker such as Greenfield or an open mic night to share poetry and short stories, there are always opportunities to take advantage of the resources we are so lucky to have here at Geneseo.