For Writers

On Writing

  1. Try to write every day, even if it’s just a sentence or two in a journal, a short poem or a character sketch. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Writing should be something you love to do, not something you have to do.
  2. Always keep a notebook by your bed and in your purse, pocket or glove box. Jot down those ideas or character sketches when the muse strikes. You can always flesh them outlater.
  3. Study your craft. Writing is one thing. Writing well is another. If you can, take classes online or at a community college. If you can’t, buy or borrow books on craft. Be the best writer you can be.
  4. Other classes to consider are psychology, sociology, philosophy and religion. All these give you insight into the human psyched and character, IMHO, is what the best stories are all about.
  5. Read, read and read some more. What is it about a poem or story or book that makes you love-or hate-it? What works for you, and what doesn’t?
  6. Join a critique group. Sit in on a session or two before sharing, so you know if the group seems like one you can trust to offer fair, but kind, criticism of your work. It’s good to have other eyes on your writing, but not mean spirited eyes.
  7. If you can’t find a group you like, start your own. Find other writers in your area, especially those who write the same kinds of things you’re writing. If it’s too hard to meet in person, trade writing for critique online.
  8. Handwritten work is easy to lose, through moves, fires, floods and other events. If you’re going to submit, you’re going to have to put your work into a computer at some point. But even if you’re just writing for yourself, put everything into a universal word processing program (WORD is recommended) and store it both on your hard drive and on a flash drive, which is portable. Keep that in a safe place.
  9. Writer’s block can and does happen. Take a break. Take a walk. Personally, I take a hot tub. The bubbles seem to work wonders for me when I get stuck.

FOR POETS:

  1. Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme at all. And rhymed poetry doesn’t have to use end rhymes. Consider interior rhyme (where the rhyming words are within the sentences, rather than at the end of them), which is less likely to force your language into an unnatural pattern.
  2. Imagery is the heart of poetry, which is about painting pictures with words, so your readers can “see” what you see. (Not just with your eyes, but with all your senses.) Metaphor, simile, sensory detail, etc. will make your poems rise above those that don’t employ poetic devices.
  3. Consider taking the “I” or “me” out of a poem, even one about a personal experience. Using “he” or “she” in your place can allow readers deeper access, by making the poem less about the personal and more about the universal. Experiment with POV and try writing third person.
  4. Line breaks are the words you leave on the end of a line. Often you can add “surprise” by choosing these carefully:

    Rain
    rain, silence
    your song, your pewter
    dirge against my windows.
  5. See how ending a line on “silence” paints one picture, then having “song” below means something else. Same with leaving “pewter” on the end then having “dirge” below.

ON CRAFT

  1. A word about voice: as writers, we hear a lot about “voice.” It’s an elusive concept. Even editors can’t tell you exactly what great voice is, other than they know it when they read it. YOUR voice is the basically the way you put words down on paper. Best advice is not to try and sound like a favorite author or poet, but to develop a style unique to you.
  2. Authorial voice (yours) should not be confused with the voices of your characters. Character voice is dependent on where the character lives, his/her age, social status, race, gender, etc. One thing to watch is not letting your authorial voice interfere with your characters’ voices. For instance, if your character is five, he/she most likely won’t use words like “libido” or “subsidiary”.
  3. Begin with great characters. Let the plot grow/flow from who your characters are, rather than try to force them into situations unnatural to them. As you write, listen to your characters. If they insist a story should move in a certain direction, consider it. (I know it sounds schizo, but my characters talk to me all the time.)
  4. How will you tell their stories? Whose point(s) of view will you choose to tell the story? First person or third? First person tends to make a story/poem more immediate, but also limits the amount of information a reader can get at one time. Ditto present tense versus past tense. These decisions become part of your authorial voice for the project.
  5. Show, don’t tell. You will hear this many times. What it means is, don’t “tell” readers a character is angry or happy or sad. “Show” them through actions or dialogue. Consider the difference:

    Joe got mad and left.
    or
    Joe’s hands clenched into tight knots. “Leave me alone!” He wheeled on his heels and stalked off.

    This is as important when describing non-human story elements:

    It was hot that afternoon.
    or
    The sun beat against the asphalt. Heat rose in shimmery waves.

ON PUBLISHING

  1. First, please remember that the road to publication is rarely short. Often it takes years to start publishing well. Submission and rejection are both part of the process. Accept rejection and learn from it. Perseverance is crucial, and belief in yourself and your writing.
  2. 2) Start with smaller publications. Literary magazines are a great place to send poetry and short stories. Don’t expect payment here. You are building a writer’s bio, and that is priceless. Try writing articles. Even if you want to write fiction, you’ll learn to research and to finish projects under deadlines.
  3. Join writers groups, especially critique groups, where you’ll have other eyes on your work. Often as writers we’re too close to our words to see when a story takes a wrong turn or that a character is flat.
  4. Take classes at a local college or adult learning program. Spelling, grammar, etc. most definitely do count. An editor at a big publishing house will not look twice at a manuscript with glaring errors.
  5. If you’re truly interested in writing for a living, DO NOT self-publish. While there are a few renowned exceptions to this rule, the fact is most big publishers will not pick up a self-published book and go on to publish it. Not only that, but self-publishing signals impatience on the writer’s part, something a big publisher won’t deal with. An exception to this is if your book has a definite niche within the marketplace, one you can fill on your own. For instance, a textbook for your own classroom. Marketing is the biggest issue with self-published books. And most bookstores won’t carry them.
  6. Once a book length manuscript is ready to go, go to writers conferences where you can meet editors and agents face to face to discuss your work. Often, they will critique manuscripts at conferences, and this is the best possible feedback, not to mention a great connection. Much better than submitting to the “slushpile” (just mailing it off and waiting to see what happens, along with those thousands of other manuscripts in the slushpile). And today many publishers don’t accept over-the-transom submissions.

ON AGENTS

  1. Do you need one? Depends. You may very well sell your work unagented, although if you’re trying to sell an adult fiction project, the odds are slim.
  2. Do you want one? If you’re selling novels, yes. Agents can not only get you more money, they are experts on contract issues like subsidiary rights, escalator clauses, etc. And they can act as a go between when there are sticky issues between you and your publisher.
  3. But don’t they cost you money? Compared to how much more money you’ll likely get through their negotiating skills, that 15% is negligible.
  4. But aren’t they hard to get? They can be. But if your work is good enough, you’ll find one. And again, writers conferences are good places to hook up with one.

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