Being a Writer: 10 Things I Learned This Week

If you’re studying writing and you don’t learn something everyday, you’re probably doing it wrong. I could name ten things I learned today, but let’s just go with 10 things from this week.

  1. Make your literary life less lonely. Build a network in undergrad/graduate school. Try to find online groups if you can and keep this network going outside of school! You’ll need it.
  2. Experiment. Exercise your brain. Dabble in other formats in both writing and reading.
    “The more things you can try, the better off you’ll be.” – Marcus Wicker.
  3. Make time to write! … Okay, so I knew this already, but after hearing different writers talk about their very different processes, from writing during summer vacation to writing once a week to writing everyday, it feels less daunting. So how about, Make a writing schedule works for you.”
  4. Write the book you want to read! Then ask yourself, why would anyone want to read this? 
  5. ‘“Writer” is not a distinction that is conferred upon us by a degree.”  We tend to feel more like writers when we’re in school. When we’re there, we’re writing and people are reading it and giving us feedback, so we go to grad school to hold onto that, but that isn’t what makes us writers. If you have to be in school to write, then it’s not for you. – Cathy Day.
  6. Graduate school: It’s not a requirement, but it gives you a boost. You get time to write and you find people to work with.
    *Take time off before you go. Get out in the world and have some experiences, something to write about. Get a job that makes you want to quit to go back to school and write; you don’t have to go right after graduation.
    *If and when you do go, USE THE TIME TO WRITE! Your goal should be to leave with something polished.
    *You do NOT have to pay for grad school. Try to find a program that has funding for you.
  7. Be prepared for rejections. You’re going to get them. Remember that you aren’t doing it for the money, you’re doing it for you. It helps to have mentors who remind you that they had just as many rejections at one point in time.
  8. How do I find places to submit? READ A LOT! If you’re starting out and like me, you keep wondering how to go about finding the right places to submit your work when it’s ready, first, read a lot and while you’re reading, pay attention to the publisher. Are they publishing work similar to yours? Those are the places you need to be submitting to. Read journals! There are so many, there’s bound to be one that interests you and that’s probably a good place for you to submit.
    *Before you submit, put your work aside for a little while, a month, maybe longer, and then go back to it. Do you still like it? Do you still believe in it? Send it.
  9. I have my MFA. What do I do with it? Teach writing. Go into editing or publishing. Nothing? Even if your job doesn’t require your degree, you will gain invaluable skills in pursuit of it that will help you in all sorts of areas and if nothing else, it’s going to help your writing. That’s the point, isn’t it?
  10. Be a Literary Citizen! Support the world you want to be a part of. Buy new books. Let authors know you appreciate their work. Suggest things to others. Talk up your favorites.
    Participate in the literary community where you live. If you think there isn’t one, you probably just haven’t found it yet. If there really isn’t one, make one! Start a book club. Host a reading. Neither are as hard to do as you might think. There are local writers everywhere and they want to get their work out there so they’ll be willing to read and venues want the business so they’ll host. If not, do it in your house. Why not?

Keeping with the Literary Citizenship idea, I think this is worth mentioning….

Yesterday I went to a reading at Ball State University’s In Print: Festival of First Books. (All of the visiting writers have recently published their first book. Title-tada.) At the end of it, I was standing in the back of the room by the book table, checking to see if there was anything I didn’t have–there wasn’t. As I was looking, I realized one of the authors was standing next to me, buying both of the books by the other visiting writers.
I made a little memo-to-self to share this. It probably shouldn’t have been so noticeable. I should’ve been thinking of course he would do that, but I was really thinking Wow, that’s really nice of him, as if this was surprising, and then, that’s a good definition of literary citizenship. Now I’m wondering if the other authors have done or will do the same…?

It should be understood with all of this talk about networking and workshopping, but I’ll put it plainly one more time. You can’t expect people to be interested in what you’re doing if you’re not supporting what others are doing. (Pay attention to #10.)

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