Tag Archives: aspiring writers

Writers Need To Capitalize On Opportunities

One of the foremost problems that new writers who are intent on breaking into the literary world face is the quick realization that there is tremendous competition. Sadly, many aspiring writers who are not cognizant of the nature of their profession end up quickly demoralized, as they see that their writing is not reaching an audience, not being published, and being heavily critiqued by those who do read it.

I started my writing career primarily as a poet. My friend Russell Jaffe offered me the opportunity to open at his poetry reading if I were to write a few poems, and I took him up on the offer. I realized, free from the constraints of an organized creative writing program, that I had some talent. From there, I started writing many poems. Later on, I was able to get many of them published once I realized how to find and effective target literary magazines.

After finding success as a poet, I was desirous of publishing short fiction. I was working four different positions at an academic institution, spread out over six days. I didn’t have much time or energy left to write when I was off work. My opportunity came when a friend of mine who believed in my writing offered me free housing in rural Pennsylvania and also promised to edit my writing. I took her up on that offer, producing an assortment of short stories that met my standards and were able to get published.

At present, I am a communications partner for a new startup. My duties entail that I be responsible for producing any accompanying books related to the startup once it goes public, in addition to more mundane duties related to day-to-day correspondence and copywriting. As anyone who has previous experience with entrepreneurship knows, sometimes it can take a bit of time for a venture to go public. Being that I lead a pretty Spartan lifestyle, one that is supported through freelancing my services as an editor and publishing consultant, and that the startup needs some time before it can reach fruition, I have a significant amount of downtime. During this time, I have been writing screenplays.

The reason that I’ve chosen to write screenplays, again, boils down to opportunity. My cousin Andrew Friedman works at FOX. He regales me with fabulous stories of parties with Method Man and Seth Rogen. His mother worked for 25 years in sales at Paramount Pictures. Furthermore, my girlfriend Lauren Rubin, as a graduate of Vassar College, has an assortment of high-powered contacts in the film industry. Her mother, Joanne Larson, through her business dealings, also has access to a multitude of producers and other film professionals. This access, and the potential for serious rewards from success as a screenwriter, has led me to conclude that this is the perfect opportunity for me now.

So, in short, to quickly ascend as a writer, leverage any existing opportunities immediately. 

If you are unsure of the nature of the opportunities around you, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who do I know who has offered to help me?
  2. Who do I know who has a foothold in any way in the writing community? Would they be willing to help me if I asked them?
  3. Are there any opportunities local to your area or current life related to a particular type of writing?

I wish you success in capitalizing on your opportunities.

One Key Reason Why You Might Want To Use A Pseudonym

George Orwell critiqued totalitarianism in government. Hunter S. Thompson explored⁠⁠—and lived⁠—the drug culture. Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic, was perhaps one of the darkest American authors ever published.

Good writing, almost as a rule, challenges its readers. There will be individuals who do not understand or do not want to understand what you are attempting to do with your writing, and they will judge you. It is unconscionable how many readers will assume that authors have the same traits as, or are advocating the traits of, some of the most despicable characters in their fiction. It is unconscionable, but that will not change anytime soon. People’s judgment of your work can cause wedges with family members, friends, publishers, and, most notably, with employers or potential employers.

Writing, at its heart, is all about conflict. By and large, most of the professional world requires the presentation of a clean-cut image. If you are writing about sex, violence, racism, or any other subject that is impolite in conversation (and cast a wide net with this), you might want to consider writing under a pseudonym so as to protect yourself from any harm in the public sphere. Employers can and do Google search potential employees. If your name is John Rogers, you might not have much to worry about, but if your name is a bit less common (like mine!) than you might want to consider if writing under a pseudonym is appropriate.

Some might say that is a cowardly approach. I wouldn’t say so, as many writers can and do make a living from their work, but that requires diligence, consistent writing, networking, editing, and publishing assistance; still, the vast majority have to rely on other means than their fictive works. My own writing tends to be extremely subversive. However, I am a freelancer and entrepreneur, aside from being a writer, so I don’t feel any discomfort if someone were to look up my name and see it attached to works of a transgressive nature. Even while I was in the workforce in a traditional job in academia, I knew who to mention my writing to and who to avoid speaking about it with. This is pretty easy to gauge and I’m sure you’ll be able to discern appropriately.

Of course, whether you choose to use a pseudonym or not is up to you. If you are unsure, ask yourself the following six questions and then decide:

  1. How edgy is my writing? 
  2. Is there a significant likelihood of damage coming to my finances, family, or person if I were to publish under my own name?
  3. Do I want the privacy that a pseudonym provides or do I prefer the spotlight?
  4. How memorable is my given name? 
  5. How literary does my given name feel?
  6. Do I write in multiple genres and thus want to keep my audiences separate?

Regardless of whether you choose to use a pseudonym or not, I wish you the very best in your literary endeavors.

Sincerely,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game

 

Literary Agents: Are They Worth Querying If You’re An Aspiring Writer?

Since I started working with aspiring writers in December of last year (with my old project that’s currently on hiatus, The Adept Writer, a literary journal designed to promote the work of aspiring writers), I’ve seen a lot of writing from unknown writers. The quality of the work has varied. A writer like Russell Zintel of the University of New Hampshire really impressed me with the quality of his poetry. One fan of the website wrote in to say that he was the next Tao Lin. Maybe.

I met an aspiring writer named Zubair Simonson about six weeks ago. I have some advertising for the website on my briefcase (I admit it looks funny, but it gets the word out.) He noticed it, and after our brief conversation, he sent me the first chapter of his novel. It knocked me out.

After I read Zubair’s chapter, we set up a meeting to discuss his prospects. He asked me if he should query literary agents. Zubair had previously self-published one book that received unanimously great reviews from those who read it, but like most self-published authors, very few people had read his book.

My concern was Zubair’s platform. He had done a few smart projects in film and web TV as an actor and director, but they were not in Hollywood or even in an independent studio, but homemade movies with friends. He blogged for a religious organization, but his name was not huge in that sphere. He had a self-published book that anyone who read loved, but almost no one had read it.

Still, I told Zubair that he should query a literary agent.

Any aspiring writer should query a literary agent. The worst that could happen is nothing. 

Now certainly many literary agents will refuse taking on a client that has no platform. If you haven’t been published in big literary journals, if you don’t have an MFA, if you’re not known in some other sphere, even if your work is dynamic, you will still probably get passed on; however, why adopt a loser’s mentality and not even try?

When you’re an aspiring writer, you need to go for the throat. You need to make things happen. Yes, most likely, if you don’t have a platform, if you don’t have an MFA, if you haven’t published in big literary journals or won contests, and if your work is mediocre or poorly edited, you don’t really have much of a chance. Still, if you work to accomplish as much as you can within where you’re at, then it’s certainly worth a shot. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

How to Deal with Constructive Criticism as an Aspiring Writer

Malcolm Gladwell states that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master of anything.

Have you put 10,000 hours into your writing?

If you’re not even close, it’s going to show. Your writing will be rough around the edges. Your technique will be off. You may make some egregious errors in plotting. Your description could be overdone or nearly nonexistent. Your characters may be poorly developed. Your dialogue might sound unrealistic.

Don’t freak out! All of this is part of the growth process when you’re an aspiring writer. You’re normal. You’re not a bad writer. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

You’re going to make mistakes, plenty of them; and if you show other writers your stuff, they’ll pick it apart. That’s a good thing. They’re helping you, even though it feels like they’re insulting your precious literary babies.

I don’t personally believe in literary genius; I believe in literary effort. If you put the effort in, you’ll become a stellar writer. If you don’t, you’ll have to deal with constructive criticism, which isn’t such a bad thing.

When you do face constructive criticism of your fiction (or any other type of writing), always remember the following three things:

1. Remember that it’s not meant as a personal attack.

2. Remember that’s in your best interest to get critiqued if you would like to improve your writing.

3. Remember that an aspiring writer who puts the effort in is constantly increasing her/his abilities.

How do you handle constructive criticism of your writing? Have you ever felt uncomfortable when receiving constructive criticism? Why?

Do Your Homework Before You Send Out Your Writing

before-you-send-out-your-writing

If you were unemployed, what would be a better use of your time, sending out 100 unedited resumes to different positions, many wildly outside of your skill set, or sending out five targeted resumes to positions that are a match for you based on your skills, experience, and possibly even contacts within the company?

The answer to this rhetorical question is obvious.

The same rule applies when submitting to literary journals, agents, or publishers.

It really is not in your best interest to submit your writing everywhere. Why?

1. It shows a lack of respect for the agent, publisher, or literary magazine. You’re expecting them to work with you, but you’re not spending even the slightest bit of time finding out what they’re about. If you think about it, it’s a pretty classless move.

2. It can seriously damage your reputation. Even if your writing improves dramatically, once you’re inside, you’ll realize that the literary game is a small world. You don’t want people remembering you as the aspiring writer who carelessly sent work out to everyone in the industry.

3. It will bruise your ego. Facing countless rejections without any acceptances mixed in will hurt. That’s not to say that you won’t get rejected if you strategize, but you’ll mix those rejections with more than a few acceptances.

So, how do you research publishers, agents, or literary magazines?

Two websites and one book can help you to target effectively. They are Duotrope.com, PW.org (Poets & Writers), and the 2014 Writer’s Market.

With that information at your fingertips, you can begin the process of researching good fits for your writing.

You Are The Final Arbiter of Your Writing

“Beware of advice—even this.”
—Carl Sandburg

This message may seem a bit counterintuitive coming from a man who runs a blog that offers writing advice, but it’s the truth—don’t take my blog posts for gospel truth.

I love writing The Literary Game. I love the opportunity to help aspiring writers through this simple daily blog. I hope that some of my posts are useful to you, wherever you may be in your literary journey.

But know this, I am not the final arbiter on good writing.

I may have published some poems and stories in a few good literary magazines—so what?

But it’s not just me…

Stephen King said to do such and such in On Writing—so what?

A professor in your MFA program said you should consider doing this and that—so what?

It’s not that my advice or their advice is bad. You should want to learn from those around you, from your friends, from other writers, from your professors, from esteemed authors, but at the end of the day, don’t forget that it’s your writing. While the advice that you may read or hear may be spot on, there’s a possibility it may be wildly inappropriate for your writing or situation. 

You know yourself and you know your writing better than I do, better than Stephen King does, better than a professor in your MFA program will. Yes, it is important to embrace the possibilities to learn that are all around, but please don’t neglect your inner compass. Measure the information in front of you. If it works, go ahead and embrace it, but if you know it’s not right, never be afraid to blaze your own path.

Have you ever listened to others’ advice and took a wrong turn because of doing so? Have you ever had a major accomplishment because you disregarded others’ well-meaning advice? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Writing Beyond Novels

books

To all the writers currently at work on a novel or who have already written a novel (or two, or three, etc.), I applaud you.

Writing a novel is a war of attrition. It’s you versus every test of your patience. If you’ve completed a novel, again, congratulations.

I’m certainly not against writers who choose to write a novel. I just want to remind them that there are many ways to present their ideas.

Call it a gut feeling, but I imagine that many aspiring writers (perhaps subconsciously) believe a novel to be a mark of validation offering the status of a “real writer.” I don’t believe this to be the case.

There are many literary forms that can capture an idea. A novel is certainly the longest form. When you get a great idea, it may be perfect for a novel. If so, go right ahead and write a novel. However, your idea may work much better as short fiction, a play, or a screenplay, perhaps even a poem. You can take the fictional aspects out and turn it into creative nonfiction. You can even take the creative aspects out and turn it into pure nonfiction.

But it’s not just that. Aspiring writers should be aware of the fact that writing is all around and goes beyond novels, beyond all traditional forms. Writing is everywhere. Writing includes the cover letters that you write when applying for jobs (or for publication in literary journals, for that matter). Writing includes the comedy routine that you perform at a local open mic. Writing includes the blog posts that you share with our community on WordPress.

Yes, go ahead and write your novel. It’s a wonderful undertaking. I have the highest respect for all writers who work in the form. Just please, don’t think that novels are the only form that you should work in.

Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear from readers with dissenting opinions. Do you believe novels have more value than other forms of writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Excellent Writers Are Voracious Readers

“I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read” – Samuel Johnson, English author

Excellent writers are voracious readers. There is no way around this point. If you are not a regular reader, your work will suffer.

Some may argue that writing is an exercise in imagination and can be successfully done independent of acquainting yourself with a wide variety of other writers. Please note the level of esteem and success of any writer who says that and then think twice about adopting that belief.

Reading is critical because it stimulates your literary imagination. You may read a work like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and be inspired to write a new take on the post-apocalyptic novel. When you read the work of other authors, it stimulates the formation of ideas (and acts a surefire cure for writer’s block).

The other major reason why writers must be voracious readers is that through reading, a writer learns how successful writers tackle the fundamentals. You’ll learn how they structure their work, how they address topics, how they construct sentences, how they describe environments and individuals, how they express themes without being didactic. You’ll absorb much of it subconsciously, and when you have difficulties in the writing process, you’ll have a wide variety of works to draw from as templates to help you power through any challenges.

Reading other writers is not just a feel-good act, one that is optional. Reading other writers is the foundation on which all your future success will be built. It removes the whiff of dilettantism from your work. Read more, write more, and build your name!