Okay, so here’s the deal. Writing is a battle, a huge one. One is actually writing it. The second is revising and rewriting which is equally important as writing that first draft. These two are taught in school, both high school and in the college arena. And if you decide to head the professional publishing way, submitting can also be a uphill battle. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

Research: Look into the actual magazine you are submitting to. Buy a copy, read it, look online. See what other writers are saying about it. If it helps, try to find a copy of Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market book, it’s around thirty bucks but has a wealth of information. Most book stores have one, and if not, it should be in your local library. If you are submitting a horror story, one would have difficulty finding a home for it in say, The New Yorker. You want to find the right place for the magazine, and the right magazine wants to find the right stories.

Format: Most magazines and websites give guidelines for each medium within writing, but a fairly common guideline found across the board would be double-spaced Times New Roman 12 Font. There are variations off this, but when submitting, it’s safe to start here. Also, make sure the appropriate contact information is found on the first page, and or every page.

Double Check Everything: Grammar, punctuation. The works. You could have a great story, but not finishing it can make it from the acceptance pile to the rejection pile. As an editor of a small college literary magazine, I saw so many stories that fell inches short of being in due to grammar, spelling, and just submitting a first draft cold. Try to avoid this. And double check everything. A good piece of advice would to probably let something sit for a week or two, perhaps even longer, before going back and looking at it. Fresh eyes are a godsend. This is the most important lesson. I rush through things, forget commas, periods, letters. It happens, I’ll admit it.

Cover Letter: Ah, the bane of writers. We write essays, poems, and stories, and now they want us to write a letter about it? A fairly simple and straight forward part of the submission process, it also seems to be a potential deal breaker at times. Writing the perfect letter won’t necessarily help a story get into publication, but it won’t hurt. Keep it short and to the point. Writing a cover letter for a novel in regards to an agent is one thing, but writing a small cover letter to an literary magazine is something different. Don’t offer pages and pages of credentials. Don’t write an essay about the essay you are submitting. This is the spearhead of what you are sending and it’s important to do it correctly. Do drafts of it if you must, I know that’s what I do.

Note: This is a learning experience, writing, and yes, this is a blog written by a young writer with little reputation to throw around. If you are reading this, if you are indeed a fellow writer, this is definitely a post you’d like to read up. Do some research to find more on the information you want. Trust me, there are pages and pages of information. Just remember to keep things simple.


Shared Worlds

Those writers are crazy, I’m telling you. Making up all this stuff.

Something I always found interesting was how writers create worlds, entire settings on their own. One of the most vast is William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Vast in how characters bump into each other through different short stories, novels, and so on and so forth. Faulkner creates a world where EVERYONE knows the Snopes, regardless of which generation they may be part of. Anyway, this is one writer creating all of this. Now imagine a bunch of fool-hearty writers getting together and making a world.

Now that’s worth looking into.

In the world today, where the Internet is part of our every day lives, it’s easy to see the relationship between writers and technology. I know I’m in contact with several fellow writers via email and other web sources. I actually had a blog for my fellow writer friends and I as well. It’s a great place to share what we do. Anyway, back to the shared worlds idea. I strongly suggest taking a look into the two links I’m sharing with you today.

Love and War, Texas
Ho Springs

Both of these places give us a world where there is more than just writing. There’s art, maps, music, but most importantly, there is collaboration. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, getting a bunch of writers together is simply amazing. Every chance I get, I’m always looking to write alongside with a writer, just to see what happens.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out, as the commonly passed around web hit Tandem Story Gone Wrong shows, but overall, it’s a great learning experience and every writer should give it a shot. Whether it’s telling the same story, creating a world for stories to take place, or use the same characters, it’s worth trying.

I’d write more on those two links, but honestly, I get lost within them almost immediately. These are only two examples, and there are a few dozen more worth looking into. But don’t take my word for it, go get lost in collaborated created worlds for yourself.

One of the most interesting conversation pieces I’ve ever said, saying “I’m writing a book” brings out an variety of responses.
Some nod and smile.
Others give a quick laugh and say good luck.
And some even respond “Really? Me too.”

That last one is my favorite.

In the back of my copy of The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, Jon Staford writes of the first time he heard his pal talk of writing. When asked what he was up to, he simply said “I’m writing a book.” Small words, a quick sentence. It has unbelievable power. West went to write four small novella length pieces and suddenly passed away in a car accident. But his legacy continued, his books became something else.

In this day and age, writing is passed off as a hobby.
When will you get a real job?
What are you going to do with that?
It’s impossible to publish anymore.

I’ve co-authored a non-fiction book, I’ve written a first draft of something fictional, and I’ve been working hard on my projects. It’s not an easy task to say “Yeah, I’ve wrote a book already.” But man, it’ s a doozy to drop into a conversation. Especially with a bunch of non-writers in the room.

My philosophy on writing is simple, good writing deserves a good home. You have to fight for it to get a home, but it’s worth every second of it. We write for something more than that though. We write to stay alive, to live in the moment.
These are all things writers hear constantly. We love our job, no matter how bad it may be sometimes, no matter how much stress.

So when you hear someone say “I’m writing a book” it’s more than just sitting in front of a dinner table with papers flying about and four cups of coffee and a laptop. It’s a way of life. So next time you hear it, give that writer a hug. Sometimes, we can use it.

Top Ten List

I think it’s required for a blog user to have a top ten list. In no real order, here are ten books that have helped me with my own writing and understanding of writing. I hope it’s of some use to you.

1-On Writing by Stephen King
Easily the best book on writing. It’s part his history and part guide. Even if you don’t like King, give it a shot. It’s fairly short.

2-The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
West….paints a beautiful image of Hollywood during the 1930’s and shows a lifestyle similar to the one now. A fragmented text, he blurs the lines of comedy and violence and makes us re-read again.

3-Inglorious Basterds Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
His sense of dialogue is matched by few others. You might not like his films, his excessive profanity, or his face, but please read some of his screen plays.

4-The Futurist by James Othmer
One of the first novels I read in my college career, it’s a quick read and one that travels fast. It’s underrated and under read. Mr. Othmer -like West’s take on Hollywood- shows us the advertising world in a beautiful form.

5-Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
It’s an oldie but a goodie. No explanation for this.

6-Topdog/Underdog by Susan-Lori Parks
Another writer with a knack for words, this “family play” creates tension between Lincoln and Booth. Although I haven’t seen a production, I advise reading it for the dialogue and the relationship she creates with the two brothers.

7-Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison /One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Magical Realism is also underrated. It’s not fantasy. It’s not real. It’s tense. These two books are tied because they both inspired me to write as soon as I finished reading. These two books will be among the first to be read more academically in the classroom within the next forty years. I promise you this.

8-A History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Given to me as an assignment for my Literature of the Holocaust class, this book has a interesting take on point of view and connecting two stories through objects. It reminds me of the narration transition of As I Lay Dying (this isn’t as gross as that though). A fairly new read, it’s a interesting take on the life of someone who’s been through so much in their life. Well, why don’t you go read it.

9-Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
A writer from across the point, Gaiman writes stories others dream of. His introduction gives a sample of what he tries to do with all his stories and includes snippets from his inspiration. He is a good model for how writers should try to write. Maybe not write like him, but damn, that man has a good process of writing.

10-Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories
She is the American short story writer. This collection has a variety of her greatest hits and a bunch that are almost unknown. She has a unique take on Southern grotesque and I think we can learn a thing or two from her characters and her sense of setting.

Lots of things to discuss. Kind of. It’s been a busy week.

I met Shari Goldhagen -author of Family and Other Accidents- this week and had a chance to workshop a Christopher Moore Lambish piece alongside her. Needless to say, it’s always fun to workshop with a experienced writer. Heck, a good workshop is a good workshop, right? We talked about the New York scene of writing, what it was like to write for a magazine and of all things college kids on a boat in Vietnam. All are very interesting and they all had me inspired to do something. I’ll let you know when I go on a boat in Vietnam, I feel like that is something worth writing about.

One of the exercises we did was a 160 character test of writing a story. Twitter creates a limit in which you absolutely have to work around with what you have. It’s truly a difficult task, but as you read the rest of this post, you will see an example of a writer pushing her own limits. First thing that jumped into my mind was a Twitter novel. I no nothing of Twitter but look forward to seeing some kind of update on that front. Moving along…

During one of the countless laps for Relay for Life here at Marist College, I talked to two of my writer pals about the future and what we can do. The topic of the day seemed to float around advocacy writing. Writing for a cause. One of the two writers fiction about her father’s dreams of giving back to a small village in Swaziland, while the other wants to go back to her activist days and help spread awareness about genocide. It had me thinking and I think that’s just one more door to possibly go through. I have some time, but I shall ponder about truly doing something with this English Degree. This whole writing thing will be for something. (And for those soon to be graduating, be ready “real world”, you have some kick ass writers coming your way).

Anyway, go write. Or read.

P.S. Stephen King is coming out with a new book to commemorate the 2010 baseball season. It’s Blockade Billy. Looks interesting.

P.S. (Again) This….is a mess of a blog post, but if I don’t get these thoughts out now, I will forget them. I apologize ahead of time….or perhaps after you read this.

To see more about Shari, here is her website. Shari Goldhagen

For Twitter writing (it’s new, but this one is going to be big) follow a young and deeply inspired writer Kelly Gallucci

One more reason why I love the English Department here. And the literary scene in general.

Last night, I had the honor of introducing Rachel Zucker. We’ve read her most recent poetry collection Museum of Accidents in our Poetry Workshop. It’s about motherhood, about politics, about writing, and about the world we now live in. If you know me, I’m not the biggest poetry fan or writer, but this book had me. Yeah, I know, a lot gets me. I’m easy to win over with literature. But I liked it, and I liked it more after she read it too. That in itself was beautiful, to actually see the writer.

Side note: I respect Hemingway, Dickinson, all those oldies. I do. But there’s something about studying and actually hearing what the poet/writer said. Really. The Lecture Series at Marist has been one of the staples of my career here at Marist College. I’ve met some dedicated and true writers, I’ve found out about the community here, and I’ve found many like minded students. I have yet to really find this elsewhere.

I talked to her before the reading for a few minutes, to calm myself down and I found myself enjoying the conversation and completely forgetting what I was about to do. We talked about the fears of being a mother/parent in the 9/11 world. I talked about that because in addition to the Poetry Workshop, I’m working on a major project about the cynicism in our culture because of 9/11.

Eating in the Underworld -her first collection- seems to have some kind of plot line/overall narrative from what I can tell from her reading a few poems from it. I’m excited to read it. It’s the whole idea of Persephone being in the Underworld and her thoughts and letters with Hades and her mother Demeter.

She also co-edited a collection in which 100 writers wrote one poem each for each of President Obama’s first 100 days. The project itself is enticing enough for me to read it. Alas, I will once I have both time and money. Any collaboration in writing with anything current is a must read. But I also read just about everything.

Her reading voice had a touch of slam to it. She was conversational and most importantly, she was normal (Perhaps as normal as a writer can be). She was honest and gave real answers. At one point, she said she didn’t care about if people thought her poetry was prose, or vice versa. I thought the most uplifting part of the whole discussion after the reading was when she said she didn’t care if she broke traditional boundaries of poetry (she didn’t see those exact words, but it was the basis of a question).

All in all, this was a timely event for the writers here. Seniors to Freshmen, it was good to see over 70 people involved in writing in some way in the same area. Frankly, it was kind of weird. Oh, and there was a awkward moment of silence, and I thought my heart was going to explode from the flannel shirt. Anyway, back to what it meant to us. Or at least to me. I think the community here needs to know it’s actually a community. We need to start writing not just for ourselves. Not just for the classroom. We have the talents of every writer before us at the tip of our fingers, we have a right to show what we have.

This is a random mess. There’s no order to me writing it. I don’t think so anyway.

For more information on Rachel Zucker, follow this link. Rachel Zucker

The King Himself

Yes, Stephen King. Another inspiration for my writing.

One thing I want to do is write academically for Mr. King. I think he deserves it and I think some of his books are deeper than people anticipate. Salem’s Lot has the undertone of government mistrust. “Children of the Corn” (A short story) is about the pitfalls of religion. The Running Man is about how self centered and entertainment based we are as people. And then, there’s The Stand.

This was the first piece of writing of Stephen King I ever read and I was hooked immediately after. The epitome of good versus evil. King even said he wanted this to be his Lord of the Rings in a post-apocalyptic American world. He does this and more. There’s a point to this story, it’s human nature. Choices. Mother Abigail is the center of moral good, Randall Flagg is the center of moral evil. Slowly as the pages turn, the line in the sand is drawn and the reader sees the consequences that characters made. Oh, that sounds like a popular television show on ABC right now…

As a side note, I used to be a huge LOST fan up until half way through the series. A friend of mine caught me up and from what she said, the plot line seems awfully similar to The Stand. Also, for you LOST fanatics, people have said that this epic of a novel was a huge inspiration for the show. So if you want something along those lines….you should absolutely read it.

There’s also Stephen King’s On Writing. Now listen, I’m not one to go out and buy every book about how to write, but if you can find a copy, read it. It’s helpful, easy to read, and he’s true to what he says. He’s helpful to young writers especially because he shows the actual reality of writing as a career. He doesn’t make it dreamy, he says it like it is. He does so in such a way that doesn’t defer people from writing.

Stephen King is a inspiration to many in the younger writer generations and I think his writing and influences will stick around a while. But that’s just me saying it.