Remember: whether you’re writing fiction, creative non-fiction, graphic novels or a research paper on the mating habits of termites in Madagascar… (wait, whaaaaaat?!) there are some rules of the road that apply to everyone. Today’s post comes from the co-founder of an exciting new literary venture out of Toronto, Nicole Brewer – hold onto your hats, check out her site, and when you’re done – get busy being a writer!
words(on)pages is an organization created by emerging artists for emerging artists, so that we can help writers and poets find the validation and acknowledgement that every budding writer needs to keep going. We want to give writers the opportunity to showcase their work online, in print, and in front of an audience, so that they can value themselves as much as we do. Often, the most difficult part of being an emerging writer is getting yourself noticed, so words(on)pages wants to give you a few pointers on what you can do to help get yourself out there. We may not be experts (this is an art, not a science!) but it’s been working for us.
Take yourself seriously. If you don’t take yourself and your craft seriously, why should anybody else? Write like it’s your job. Write every day, regardless of inspiration or lack thereof. Writing isn’t just about writing, it’s about honing your craft, and that means rereading and editing anything you’ve already written. Don’t say you “want to be a writer,” say you are a writer, and participate fully in that vocation. Realize that a great deal of what you write will never see the light of day, and that’s okay. It’s practice, it’s improvement, it’s proving yourself. You don’t need to pump out War and Peace every single day, just write another paragraph of your novel, another verse for your poem, another entry in your journal. If you can’t write, edit. Still, you’re only human, so don’t beat yourself up for the days life gets in the way. Even the most successful writers need to have a day job.
Read. Read everything. Don’t dismiss anything because of its reputation, good or bad—don’t feel like you should hate a book because it’s commercial, don’t feel like you should love it because it won the GG. Read critically and feel confident in your literary opinions, but don’t let those opinions define what you read. As someone trying to find a place in CanLit, you need to know exactly what CanLit publishers have been doing. On those days when you’re having a hard time finding inspiration, your library should be the place you look for it—you won’t get better as a writer if you aren’t conscious of what came before you. Don’t be afraid to embrace different voices while you’re trying to find your own: there’s nothing wrong with paying homage, just don’t be a rip-off artist.
Go to events. People are scary, yes, but not everyone can be the next Henry David Thoreau. If you want people to recognize you, you’ll have to put a face to a name eventually. So go to book launches, go to readings, go to shows, go to anywhere someone is doing something even halfway literary. Don’t just go out with the intention of networking—people can tell, and it’s gross. Go out with the intention of having fun and meeting and appreciating literature, with the bonus of meeting likeminded people. And don’t just go to events you know you’ll love. Try something new. Go to a non-fiction event if you tend to dwell in poetry, go to a slam if you’ve been steeping in academia. Just go.
Be active on social media. Accept that social media is existentially questionable, and move on. Use the absurdity of the medium to your advantage: follow and befriend publishers, publicists, authors, magazines, and reading series. And then, after you’ve followed them, interact with them! Do something that shows you’re worth following back. Be interactive. Don’t just post or tweet about your own events or books. Always be conscious of your agenda, but don’t draw attention to it. Get involved in the conversation. Publishers like BookThug and Coach House Books, as well as the literary magazine The Puritan, are all prime examples of Twitter and Facebook accounts that get it. On a larger scale, CBC Books has done a great job of staying connected despite its massive size and agenda.
Submit. Regardless of your end goal, you shouldn’t just be submitting your manuscript to publishers. You should be submitting shorter work to literary magazines and contests as well. Don’t take it personally when you’re rejected. You’re going to be rejected. Submitting your work to journals is the only way to ever make a name for yourself, though, and they’re never going to publish you if you don’t send them your work. So submit. The best way of maximizing your chances of getting noticed is to submit critically: don’t waste your time, and don’t waste the publisher’s time. Always be sure to look at what the magazine or publisher has already put out, so that you aren’t submitting literary fiction to a science fiction magazine, or submitting non-fiction to a poetry contest. When a person is being paid minimally (or perhaps not at all!) to slog through thousands of submissions a year, they will not spend time on your piece if it does not adhere to the guidelines the publisher has undoubtedly made very clear on their submissions page. You will get a form rejection, they will be annoyed, and it will be bad mojo all around. Always be conscious of what you are submitting to where. Yes, submitting is by far the most discouraging aspect of being a writer, but with a bit of preparation and a lot of perseverance, a bit of common sense and a lot of luck, the quality of your work will eventually speak for itself.