Tips for Writers on Getting Work and Living the Writing Life

Photo by Nicola Sapiens De Mitri.
Photo by Nicola Sapiens De Mitri.

Since the art of being a creative writer is so loosely defined—I suppose you’re either literary or mainstream, either going the editor or professor route or not—it can be confusing to know how to structure your writing time. In addition, it’s hard to know if there are really any rules as to how to structure your correspondence with journals when you’re submitting work and trying to get published. The answer is while there are no rules, per se, there are guidelines. One other important thing to remember is your fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry is probably not going to make you rich—that is, assuming you write in a literary or non-mainstream style. So you need to write for writing’s sake—because you love the act of writing itself.

1. Style Guidelines for Professional Correspondence and PR

Cross-medium collaboration may inspire you to think differently.

We can learn from other professionals in the writing world, those strange creatures who inhabit the journalism and copywriting professions. There are guidelines for writing in those fields having to do with clarity, politeness, accuracy and style, and we shouldn’t assume that journal readers and editors don’t value the same kind of excellence both in our creative writing and our outreach to them via our cover letters and other kinds of written interaction, such as via Twitter. Don’t underestimate the power of focus, originality and succinctness, as well as good, old-fashioned cleverness. Don’t be afraid to track a record of your progress via MS Excel spreadsheets. Yes, I said spreadsheets.

When reaching out to journal editors, be impeccable with your professionalism and don’t make small talk. Always err on the side of caution with a side of flattery: Say something specific and complimentary about a piece from the latest issue, but keep it short, and limit any information about yourself to educational background and notable past publications. And this should go without saying, but be sure that everything is spelled correctly and that your sentences are complete and grammatically sound. I’ve heard of readers and editors tossing out submissions because of careless cover letter errors.

Don’t be afraid to self-promote on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The more people hear of you, the more likely they are to read your work. You shouldn’t underestimate the potential impact of social media for your fan base and potential publishers and editors. Take these five poets who became famous via Instagram. It may seem unlikely, but social media really can help you. Here’s a great compilation of notable poets on Twitter so you can see how it’s done. One great way to get noticed on Twitter is to participate in conversations around popular or provocative hashtags like the recent #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter.

2. Advice to Writers on the Writing Life

One of the most challenging aspects of being a writer is the relative obscurity we must deal with on a daily basis. For this reason we must avoid writing for external rewards. Rather, we must write for the sake of writing. Do you love the act of creation, alone? I know I do. For me, the act of creating a poem is incomparable. If you’re waiting for the day that people begin stopping you on the street to ask for your autograph, or if you’re hoping that your career as a famous poet will allow you to quit your day job, you’re in for a harsh reality check.

Connect with your community in real life, rather than exclusively online.

So make sure your priorities are in order. If you do yearn to be a famous writer with movie deals and a book deal with Penguin and all that, you’ll definitely want to make sure to get into the business of writing popular and bestseller material. There are plenty of guides to this kind of writing out there, complete with common plot formulas, character archetypes, and common “hooks” that are popular with readers of mass-market fiction. If you write poetry rather than fiction, I wish you the best of luck. You may be able to popularize your writing by tapping into the children’s market, perhaps making your book into an interactive toy with buttons, flashing lights, and other tactile, kid-friendly features.

I don’t mean to come off as condescending or cynical, but literary writing is simply not as marketable as popular fiction and the like. Why is this, do you ask? Well, sadly, people have short attention spans, and the average intelligence level is fairly low. This means that the market for literary writing is a relatively limited, niche market. However, just because it appeals to a specific niche doesn’t mean that its audience is unsubstantial or nonexistent. It’s simply smaller than the populace at large.

What does this mean? Well, we should embrace our uniqueness and differences as assets, rather than liabilities. Literary complexity need not mean inaccessibility; if anything, complexity and ambiguity signal a richness of interpretation that often inspire artistic reaction in the same as well as different disciplines. Therefore, in addition to written response, your writing will ideally inspire musical, visual/spatial, artistic, dance-based response, and so on.

You should also make an effort to stay in contact with other writers and connect with your community in real life, rather than exclusively online. Organize social events around necessary writerly tasks, such as critique, revision and submitting your work to literary journals. Also, make an effort to engage artists in other disciplines in a collaborative project that inspires you to work together around a common goal, perhaps one that involves collective reaction to a common starting point: a manuscript, or a piece of music, or a visual piece of artwork. The cross-medium collaboration may inspire you to think differently about the subject matter at hand, inspiring more work at some point in the future.

The Benefits of Guidelines Over Rules

Rather than rules, loose perimeters and guidelines allow for freedom rather than constraints and encourage progress toward goals and offer clarity for the future. Our conventional, mainstream world is preoccupied with boring, money-making ventures that ultimately serve corporate and corrupt interests. However, art exists to speak beauty and truth to the mundane and commonplace, allowing us to see the world around us in a new and exciting way.

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