The Single Best Piece of Advice I’ve Gotten as a Writer
Great Sources for Writers:
Poets & Writers Magazine
The Nebraska Center for Writers
Books on Writing that I’ve Found Particularly Helpful:
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner: perhaps a little overwhelming for new writers, but I go back to the chapter on plotting again and again
The Weekend Novelist by Robert Ray: a goofy title, but it does a nice job of laying out for the beginner a way to write a novel from start to finish
How Fiction Works by Oakley Hall: The Oakley Hall book I have on my shelf isThe Art and Craft of Novel Writing – a great resource for writers at any stage, writing any kind of narrative literature. It’s (sadly) out of print, but his How Fiction Works is a good substitute
The Company of Writers by Hilma Wolitzer: Lovely writing on writing, as well as the importance of calling yourself a writer and gathering with others for support
Two Writers’ Conferences That Helped Me Find My Way:
The Sewanee Writers’ Conference
Community of Writers at Squaw Valley
Sources for Meeting Writers and Learning About Writing:
Readings at Your Local Bookstore
1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started
Submitting Short Works:
A Few Tips for Submitting Short Work to Literary Magazines
Top Five Cover Letter Errors
The Poets & Writers Listing of Literary Magazines
Finding an Agent for a Book:
On Agents and Queries
How to Write a Query Letter
The AAR Listing of Agents
On Slush Piles and Finding Agents
Publisher’s Lunch, a publishing industry email that includes a Friday email of recent deals, including agent names
QueryTracker, an online agent database I offer with the caveat that I don’t actually know how accurate it is
A good agent is well worth the 15% fee they generally take for placing your book with a publisher. My best advice on how to find an agent is here.
For placing shorter pieces, I’ve found a direct approach works as well as any. Please have a look at the links at the sidebar for advice on how to go about that.
Thirteen Tips To Get the Ink Flowing
In The Wednesday Sisters, Linda gets everyone writing by spilling her purse out over a picnic table, telling everyone to pick one item from the contents and write for five minutes. This is how I started writing, when writing teacher Jennifer Allen dumped a bag of goodies on a table in the first writing class I ever took (at age 32) and told us to start writing—don’t worry, she told us, you won’t have to read. And when we finished, she called on me first and directed me to read. A good thing, as if she hadn’t I might have slipped out and never returned. I sometimes wonder if she knew that.
The hardest part of writing for me is to get the ink flowing—a task I find far easier when I remind myself that I can throw anything out if it doesn’t work. I do have a little bag of tricks I turn to on mornings when my fingers creak, though. Some of my favorites are listed below. And remember, the trick is just to write without worrying about exactly what you’re writing. Any sentence will do to start—and if it sucks, you can throw it out later!
• Dig out an old personal photo and write about how it makes you feel.
• Pick a photo of someone from a magazine and write about what their home might look like, how they introduce themselves, or what their most embarrassing moment in high school was.
• Imagine a phone rings—and you don’t answer it. What does the person on the other end think?
• Eavesdrop, pick something someone says—something odd, preferably—and start a story there. (Yes, it is dangerous to hang out near me in coffee shops!)
• Focus on someone nearby and pick out something about them—a gesture, the sound of their voice, the curl of their finger or the smell of their hand lotion or the way their lips look on a coffee cup—and describe it.
• Subscribe to an online word-a-day service like googleword, and each day when you sit down to write start with a sentence that uses your word of the day.
• Visit an art museum or find an online photograph gallery. Sit yourself in front of something you like and start writing about the work, how it makes you feel, or anything else that comes to your mind.
• Open a book of poetry to a random page, read a few lines, and write whatever comes to mind.
• Pick a piece of clothing—like Brett’s white gloves—and write about who the character who wears it is and what it says about them.
• Imagine you are your mother on a first date when she was twenty-one.
• Describe the environment around you to a bind person.
• Write a short description of someone you like, then pick a character trait that would drive you nuts and give it to them.
• You are sitting on an airplane with a stranger you will never see again, who will never reveal a word of your conversation. What one thing do you tell them? Is it true? (For this one, you will NOT be required to read, even by Linda! But it is, perhaps, the one thing you really ought to write about.)