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Writing Tips

As an editor, I love receiving emails from enthusiastic, potential contributors who are looking for advice regarding how to hone their craft and really get their work out there. It’s refreshing to get an email from someone genuinely seeking answers about what they can do to become a better writer.

For example, I recently received an email from an individual asking if I could provide him with any tips or resources (or both) that would help him improve his writing and in turn get his work seen and read by others. Below is an excerpt of the email I sent to this aspiring young author. I hope that if there are any other young writers out there who are working hard to perfect their skills, you will find this information helpful.

Dear [Writer],

First and foremost, the best piece of advice I can offer is a shared bit of knowledge my favorite Creative Writing professor bestowed upon me my sophomore year in college. If you want to be a better writer, you’re going to need to write. You need to write a lot. You need to write every day. Scribble a short story, a poem, an essay, it doesn’t matter because 99% of the time it’s going to be crap anyway. But the only way to become a better writer is to write. If you want to be a great writer, you need to write and you need to learn how to proof-read. Go write your crappy short story and then proof-read that sucker and highlight the pieces you like. Re-write it. Proof-read it again. Highlight some more. Re-write. Proof-read. Highlight. Do this until the entire page is covered in the highlighter color of your choice and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have something that’s worth somebody’s time to read. If you really want to write, if it is the burning passion of your soul, you need to be willing to embrace the fact that this is how you will be spending the majority of your time. Re-writing crap. 

Word for word that is the most straight-forward and honest advice anyone has ever given me. I truly believe every word of it with all of my heart.

Another bit of advice I can offer you is to tell you to get involved. There are classes, groups, workshops and conferences all over the place out there. All you have to do is look and have the guts to give it a try. Whether you’re a published or unpublished writer, I understand the thought of attending something like a conference can be intimidating. The experience itself can be frustrating. But you’ll never know unless you try. Newpages recently released their updated guide to some of the best conferences in the country. Give ’em all a look and see if you can find something to your liking.

A conference or small group gives you the opportunity to share your work with others and receive feedback. You get to brainstorm with other writers who can offer a fresh perspective, pick up other tips and tricks from old pros, figure out what direction you really want to take your work. Getting involved and associating with other writers (I know we tend to be a reclusive bunch) is one of the greatest favors you could ever do yourself.

Back to Newpages. NewPages.com is my go to source for literary magazines and all things writing-related.In fact, Decades Review is listed on NewPages but I’m sure you already knew that.

They’re a great source for researching writing conferences, creative writing programs and publishers. They list creative writing programs from across the country, contests, calls for submissions from top-notch magazines like BoothCarveand The Chatahoochee Review and new hot-shot literary journals like The Boiler, Cruel Garters  and Nichethey even have a place where you can get your own blog listed, here.

So if you are really looking to get your work out there and into the hands and hearts of others NewPages has you covered, all you have to do is work up the guts to submit. From one writer to another, this is the best advice I can give you. I hope it helps.

Paige Edenfield, Poetry Editor
Decades Review

 

Decades Review accepts submissions year-round. We are currently reading for our October, 2013 issue. All submissions may be sent to decadesreview@gmail.com. You can review the submission guidelines here.

 

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What Editors Want

  • Read the magazine. Every magazine editor will encourage a writer to read a copy of the magazine before submitting, and I think that’s good advice. It’s important that you get to know the aesthetics of the literary magazines you wish to submit to, which is (I’ll stress again) best accomplished by reading them.
  • Proofread and revise your work. Submitting your work to a literary magazine is essential to developing your writing career and the writing process should follow as such: compose, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, submit. Submitting your work can teach you a great deal about where you’ve come from as a writer, where you’re at as a writer and where you might be going as a writer.  An old college professor once told me to take a highlighter to one of my poems or short stories and mark only the best lines or sentences: when the entire manuscript is covered in yellow (or in my case, hot pink) highlighter, then and only then is the work done. Hard but true advice that I’ve never forgotten.
  • This one is tough: Send us your heart and soul, but please don’t cry if we crush them. Submit your best work so it can be worked on by dedicated editors who will respond, no matter how brief the response, with something that will teach you about your work. Submit so you may be productively humbled by rejection. Submit so you may be productively humbled by acceptance.
  • Respond appropriately. A standard rejection slip will have a wording that was worked out, sometimes long ago, to let people down and move on. It is in no way personal. Do not brood over it. When your work is accepted, say, “Thank you, I’m thrilled,” and send the editor anything requested: contact info., signed permission form or whatever is required.
  • Follow the guidelines. Always read and follow the submission guidelines of the literary magazines you are getting to know. It’s also a good idea to keep records of what you submit where and when you submitted it.

It is important you understand that a magazine editor is a person who enjoys bringing new writing to the world in a publication that will be seen, read, appreciated, and talked about. The editors are committed to the magazine, to it reaching a readership, to its identity and survival. The editor wants nothing more than to read something so fresh and so powerful and polished there is no question it must be in the journal.

Once you’ve submitted to a magazine it’s easy to forget what’s going on behind the scenes. Much of the editors’ work is invisible. The reading, re-reading and editing. Responding to emails, queries, comments and complaints. The copious amounts of coffee consumed as the reading and re-reading is going on in an attempt not to miss anything and give the submitted piece a fair trial before accepting/rejecting with the vision of the magazine and its reading audience in mind. We love to send out acceptance letters and despise sending out rejections. It’s depressing. You should also keep in mind that we know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of  those letters.

Regardless of how tired or busy we may be though, regardless of how many acceptance/rejection letters we’ve had to send out that day, as long as you promise to do your job (compose, revise, submit), we promise to do ours to the very best of our abilities. We exist because you read us, and having the chance to bring four quality issues to you every year is a privilege, and we’re, always, grateful for all your support.

Decades Review