Make Time To Write

Writers, by nature, are quite imaginative. We usually have plenty of ideas floating around in our heads. Shouldn’t those great ideas be taken out of the aether and translated onto the page?

Most of us are aware of NaNoWriMo. I love the idea! However, many writers believe it’s impossible to find time to write on a regular basis, let alone complete a whole novel in a month. Many feel that writing a novel is a process that takes years. I don’t. I firmly believe that you can take the NaNoWriMo challenge and pass it with flying colors.

3,000 words a day, every day, will lead to 90,000 words at the end of a standard 30-day month, about the perfect size for a novel. Would it be ready to send a publisher afterwards? No, that’s not likely at all, but the idea would be on the page and after a bit of shaping may soon enough be ready for publication.

Most emerging writers are not fortunate enough to have the financial means to get by without a day job until their work takes off. Many of us have children, families, jobs, girlfriends or boyfriends, social lives. We have plenty of things going on in our lives. Still, through devoting just two hours a day, every day, to writing, I know that your novel can be completed in virtually no time.

It’s simple—once you have your outline prepared, just write. Your first draft won’t be perfect, but it will be complete. Let go of perfection in the immediate. You can worry about that later. For now, all you have to do is write and soon you’ll be on your way.

Personal Rejections Are Good!

For most writers of short fiction or poetry, publishing your writing in top-tier literary journals is the goal (Yes, we write because we love it, but we also write because we want our ideas, our thoughts, our worlds to be shared with others.) Acceptances are great; however, don’t underestimate the value of personal rejections.

I don’t remember the exact quote, but I believe that Charles Bukowski, in a clip from Born Into This, explained what he read into his early literary rejections: “It’s not that you’re not good, son—it’s that you’re not good enough.”

If you are receiving personal rejections from competitive literary journals, you ought to be downright ecstatic. While of course acceptances are the goal, personal rejections are hard to come by in the literary world. The criticisms you receive may cut to the bone. Still, for your own sanity, you should be aware what the editor is doing is performing a service. S/he took time out of their busy schedule to offer their thoughts. If your work wasn’t close to making it, an editor would have responded with a form rejection.

As writers, we have a misguided tendency to believe that our work is always without flaw. It never is. However, if you receive a personal rejection for a piece, know that you are VERY close. Know that you are knowledgeable enough to be submitting your work to appropriate markets. Know that you are skilled enough of a writer to warrant a response. You’re on the right path. Personal rejections are good. Let them spur you on to making the necessary changes and finding a new journal to publish your work!

And please, whatever you do, don’t try to argue with the editor’s points. Just don’t.

How to Deal With Form Rejections

First things first, whatever you do, don’t write anything back after you receive a form rejection.

A form rejection hurts. All writers will receive them at some point in their career if they take their pursuit seriously enough to submit their work to competitive markets. Even if you’ve done the appropriate research and found an excellent match for your writing, you’ll still face form rejections. Even if you’ve polished your story, poems, or manuscript, you’ll still face form rejections. It’s the ugliest part of being in the literary game.

Whatever you do, don’t mirror that ugliness.

A form rejection doesn’t mean that you are a bad writer. Simplistic an argument as it is, know that if it did, there would not be any good writers because every writer has had to deal with form rejections at some point in their career (usually throughout). All a form rejection means is that your work was not an appropriate match for the place that you submitted it to for one reason or another. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have talent. Read that again. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have talent. The publisher or editor is not trying to personally insult you. There are any number of considerations that go into whether a piece is accepted or passed on. The desire to insult a writer’s pride is not a consideration in any publisher, editor, or reader’s mind, so please don’t read a form rejection as such.

When the decision you’ve been waiting for from a literary magazine or publisher comes in, if it’s not to your liking, whatever you do, please don’t blast the publisher or editor. This can do serious harm to your literary reputation. At the very least, it’s the mark of a rank amateur.

Writing is like baseball. They both are slow. They both are pastoral. They both can be construed as largely solitary (compare baseball to other popular team sports…) And like baseball, you’re doing awfully well if you are hitting .300. Actually, you’re a downright star. The point is that when you miss the mark, as you surely will, brush it off as best as you can. Once the pain of the rejection subsides, re-examine your piece. Is there anything about it that you can touch up? Are there other journals or publishers that would be a good match? Go right back out and give it your best shot. In the literary game, your degree of resiliency matters just as much as your innate talent…

How Can I Publish My Fiction and/or Poetry in Literary Magazines?

Publishing your flash fiction, short fiction, and/or poetry in competitive literary journals is rather simple once you know how to navigate the literary market. This holds true regardless of your style, the content of your work, or whether you’ve been published widely (or at all).

Below is a simple step-by-step guide to publishing your writing in online or print literary journals:

1. The obvious step: write your flash piece, short story, or poem. (You don’t want to get caught up in the hoopla that coincides with the thought of getting your work published until you’ve actually written something.)

2. Edit your work. Seriously. Edit your work. Your idea may be brilliant, your literary voice may be powerful, but if there are serious (or even minor) errors in your piece, it will most likely be rejected. You want your piece to be flawless when you send it out.

3. Sign up for a subscription to Duotrope.com. It costs only $5.00/month, yet Duotrope’s value to an aspiring writer is worth so much more. Duotrope contains a searchable database that connects you to (at the date of this posting) 4924 competitive fiction, poetry, and non-fiction markets.

4. Search Duotrope.com for an appropriate journal for your needs. You can search by genre, style, length, payment, submission type (electronic or postal), subject, medium (electronic, print, or audio), response time, and acceptance ratio. You can also browse their index and find journals through serendipity.

5. Read the journal. Seriously. Read the journal. If they do not post directly to the Web, buy an issue. Read it carefully. Do the pieces match your style? Is the content similar enough? You don’t want to waste an editor’s time by sending a perfectly good piece of yours to a journal that is a bad match. It will be rejected.

6. Follow the submissions guidelines to a T. If they ask for a bio, read some of the other authors who’ve published with that journal and analyze how their bios look (Are they whimsical? Serious?)

7. Format your manuscript to industry standards. Here is an excellent link on how to do so for short fiction. Also, make sure to comply with the journal’s preference for postal or electronic submissions. If a journal accepts electronic submissions, find out from their submissions guidelines page whether they want submissions attached as a document or whether they would prefer submissions to be pasted in the body of your email.

8. Send out your piece/s and wait for the results. If the journal that you submitted your work to accepts simultaneous submissions, you may want to find other journals that are good fits for your piece/s and send your writing to them as well (so long as they too accept simultaneous submissions). Should your simultaneously submitted work be accepted in a journal, make sure that you notify all other journals that you submitted that piece to of your acceptance ASAP.

Best of luck!

I hope that this guide proves to be of value to you as you go forward in your literary pursuits.

Writer’s Block? Try Living More!

Point blank: writers can’t be sheltered individuals cloistered in their troll holes and expect to write anything of substance. Writers must live life!

We’ve all heard the maxim, “write what you know.” It’s good advice (and certainly something to expand on in a future post). However, if your world of experiences is rather limited, your writing will (most likely) be as well.

While it IS important for writers to attempt to write every day, it’s also important for us to live life. Take some chances. Take the road less traveled. If you’ve truly lived, all the other details will take care of themselves. If your world of experience is narrow, your work will suffer. It’s likely that you’ll be beaten over the head with writer’s block and the ideas you do have will be severely limited by the difficulty faced in trying to generate many scenes and landscapes outside of the breadth of your experiences.

Yes, please do write everyday, but make sure, first and foremost, to live life. Don’t make any excuses. You may have children. You may have a job. You may have many other responsibilities. Just as none of those excuse you from making time in your schedule to write on a regular basis, neither do they or anything else excuse you from living life, having fun, exploring the world, and learning new things. It’s the only way your writing will capture people’s attention.

The stereotypical writer may be an introvert, used to long periods of solitude in front of their keyboard, but stereotypes are just that. If you want to have fresh ideas and sharp prose and rejuvenate yourself for the discipline it takes to write on a regular basis, you better start living.

Here’s the takeaway: Take heed to the immortal words of Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused. They apply to writers and hippies (and hippie writers) alike: You just gotta keep livin‘ man, L-I-V-I-N.”

The Importance of Professionalism for Authors

We can all recite a long list of names of famous authors who are almost as famous for the way they comport themselves as for their writing. Please don’t attempt to mimic their antagonistic behavior. If you do not have name recognition in the popular imagination (i.e. Your books aren’t being sold at bookstores), you must hold your pride at bay and conduct yourself like a person, not a walking spectacle.

The following are common errors related to professionalism that novice writers often make. These mistakes must be avoided at all costs:

1. Don’t rush the writing process along. Plot out your story. Fix the errors. Make sure the prose is sharp. Your first draft is just that—don’t send it out immediately to publishers. Spend some time ensuring that your work is as tight as it can possibly be before submitting it.

2. Pay attention to submission guidelines. There’s nothing less professional than not following submission guidelines. Doing so will almost always lead to a rejection, and worse than that it will color you as a careless writer in some rather influential people’s minds.

3. Write an appropriate cover/query letter. Think of this like a job hunt. Don’t be the person sending 100 resumes a day with the same generic cover letter. This is insulting to editors and publishers. Show that you are actually familiar with the work they publish and that your writing would be a beneficial addition to the press or magazine. Do your best to find out the name of the person that you are addressing.

4. On that same note, make sure that your work is an appropriate match for the content of the journal or publisher. Don’t send a genre piece to a literary magazine. Don’t send a noir manuscript to Harlequin. Do your homework.

5. Don’t be goofy or edgy in your communication. Your work may be satirical or hardboiled, but your approach to publishers and other power players must be professional. You’re a writer; you’re not a clown or sociopath.

6. Never respond to a rejection (unless there’s a clear lead-in to do so from the editor, which is extremely unlikely). Just don’t. Certainly don’t respond to any rejection with inflammatory remarks. The literary world is small. You want your name to be talked about, but certainly not for this reason.

7. Respond to acceptances from literary journals. Thank the editor for selecting your work. Be humble and gracious.

8. Get involved beyond your writing. Offer to volunteer as a reader for a literary journal. Start your own literary magazine. If you have the money to do so, pursue an MFA to show your dedication, network, and learn from masterful authors.

The takeaway: Never underestimate the importance of professionalism for authors. Conduct yourself in your literary career in the same fashion as you would in any other professional sphere.

Writing Offensive Characters

There’s a fine line between being an edgy writer and being an offensive one. If your writing tends to be a bit raw, it’s important that you understand how to navigate this tightrope. The literary world does not take kindly to racists, misogynists, homophobes, or other individuals with an overtly offensive agenda masquerading as writers. However, writers most certainly CAN write about racist, misogynistic, homophobic, or other characters with less than desirable traits.

One of the greatest tools that any writer can do to learn how to write well is to examine the works of authors who have pulled off what you are attempting to do. One incredibly unsavory character in fiction is Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street yuppie serial killer in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Bateman is a racist, sexist, homophobic, classist murderer; he’s clearly not a choirboy. However, Ellis’ work was published, became quite popular in literary circles, and even became a blockbuster Hollywood film. Why did it not meet the same fate as other writers who receive immediate rejections when writing similar material? The answer is simple—because Ellis handled his character quite skillfully.

Below are a number of tips that should help those who are attempting the sometimes difficult task of writing offensive characters:

1. Be incredibly careful about using insensitive language. Don’t overdo it (or use it at all) unless it’s absolutely demanded. Don’t use offensive language outside of dialogue unless the narrator is the individual with these tendencies or a similar individual.

2. Write well. It’s simple enough, but if your story is not up to snuff, it’s a lot easier to misconstrue the sentiments of a character for the sentiments of the author.

3. Ensure that the offensive character’s perspective is challenged in some way by reality.

4. Make sure that any other characters who would be subjects for your character’s biases do not fit your offensive characters’ stereotype, unless there is a specific reason necessary for them to do so to make your story work.

5. Don’t resort to cliched tropes. If your offensive character’s been done a million times before in literature and the popular imagination, not only is it unoriginal, but it has quite a higher likelihood of being construed as offensive.

Writers should have no limits. Writers should be free to depict anything. However, make sure that when you’re writing, your readers don’t get the wrong idea about who you are as a person by following these guidelines.

How to Focus as a Writer

I’ll let you in on a secret: the key to being a successful writer is focus.

Writing requires discipline at every stage of the game. Writing itself requires discipline, editing your work requires discipline, finding appropriate places to publish your work requires discipline, networking with writers and others involved in the literary world requires discipline.

If you want to succeed as a writer, you need to learn how to focus. 

Many writers resolve to write on a daily basis. Unfortunately, for many, this important practice is eventually shrugged off and forgotten as easily as a New Year’s resolution. You don’t want to be that type of writer. Those types of writers are WINOs—writers in name only.

Yet maintaining focus as a writer may be quite difficult. Here are a list of suggested ways to maintain your focus:

1. Keep in mind the end goal: getting your writing out there and connecting it with readers who will love your work. If your work remains in the aether or on your desktop, that won’t happen.

2. Have a set time devoted entirely to writing-related activities. This can be writing, editing, networking, or exploring publishing opportunities. Try to devote at least one hour to this every day. Devote more time during the weekend. Your determination will pay off.

3. When the inspiration strikes, write! If at all possible, stop what you’re doing and take advantage. Capitalizing on your bursts of inspiration will motivate you to persevere during normal times where it may be a bit more difficult to get the creative juices going.

4. If you are writing on your computer, I highly recommend listening to videos on YouTube that help individuals focus through binaural beats and isochronic tones. Make sure to use headphones and listen at a low volume.

5. Avoid overreacting to mundane annoyances in life. A writer shouldn’t get too high or too low about anything. Being an emotional rollercoaster will hinder your ability to focus.

6. Consider using Reiki or other relaxation practices to calm your nervous system down.

Finding a Good Literary Journal

Hello. Since this is my first post, before I get into the heart of this topic, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Alfonso Colasuonno. I am the founder of The Literary Game. This blog is a service designed to help writers improve their knowledge in various capacities (craft, publishing tips, etc.).

First off, you should congratulate yourself if you’ve written a strong short story or poem. Never forget that is an accomplishment in and of itself. However, what of the next steps? If writing is your passion and you want to get your work out there, it’s imperative that you familiarize yourself with various literary journals.

The first key to finding a good literary journal for your fiction or poetry is to read the journals that you may come across and ask yourself if your work deviates from the style, subject, and format of that particular literary magazine. If it does, regardless of how high quality your work may be, you will likely receive a form rejection.

The heart of finding a good literary journal for your work is to find an appropriate match. If the content on the journal is similar enough to your own work, your odds of getting published increase. It may be a good reference to compare getting your work accepted in a literary journal to getting an interview for a job. If you do not research the company, if you do not update your resume to reflect the needs of the job, it is highly unlikely that you will be considered for the job. Such is the case in the literary world.

The heart of this lesson: Make sure that your writing is a good fit for what the journal has already published.

Honest Literary Evaluations