Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Where to Start?

Writing students, especially beginning memoirists, will often ask me where they should start writing: The beginning, middle or end?

I always suggest starting with what interests you the most. After all, if you're excited about a scene, moment or description, your reader will be, too. You can build the rest of the piece or manuscript around these beginning moments (or not, if they don't work out.) Sure, you will likely return to these first lines and have to make small and large edits and revisions, but start there.

Once you have a sense of what you want to write, you can write an outline and use it to help organize your materials. But in the beginning, use your excitement to your advantage. After all, if you're bored as your writing, the reader will be bored. Or, as Robert Frost wrote, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."

You don't need filler or background information to bring your reader up to date. Work to integrate the key pieces of information in your sentences, paragraphs and chapters. Dive right in and trust the reader to follow along with you.

How have you successfully started a new writing project? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Submit! Submit! And Submit Again!

If you have work that you feel is ready, it is time to send it out. Right. Now. Many journals closed their submissions over the summer and should be open at this point. It can take a while for a journal to respond to you, so the earlier the send it out, the sooner you'll hear a response.

Research the literary journals that seem like the best fit and then follow their instructions when you submit your work. If the piece comes back to you, send it out to the next magazine on your list.

Poets & Writers Magazine has a great database of literary magazines and journals, as well as calls for submissions online and in the print magazine. NewPages lists calls for submissions regularly, too. Lynn Barrett wrote a clear piece in The Review Review about what editors are looking for.

For more on submissions, read what I wrote about submission spreadsheets (keep yourselves organized!), guest blogger Faye Rapoport DesPres' piece on Submitting to Literary Journals, and why rejection letters might be cause for celebration.

What's your favorite literary journal?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brainstorming Identity for your Personal Statement: Who are you?

Your personal statement for undergraduate or graduate applications should help fill out your application by giving a sense of who you are. The admissions counselors don't want to see a list of your achievements (those should be clear from your transcript and the rest of your application), but rather a piece of writing that expresses you.

Who are you? 

I still ask myself this question (most ridiculously when I'm clothes shopping; do these jeans represent my inner self?) and it isn't an easy question. You don't need to - and can't - express every aspect of yourself. But you can give a sense of yourself through a focused essay. You might choose a single experience, describe it clearly and offer some analysis that connects the experience to your mindset and the world around you. You might explain a blip on your transcript in the same way (did your grades go down one semester because of something that happened?) What about yourself - your history, goals, aspirations, experiences - is missing from the short answer questions throughout the essay?

To brainstorm ideas, you might start with your resume. Then, expand your resume by adding in other achievements that might seem smaller (and irrelevant to a formal resume), but help to show the reader who you are. Did it take particular courage to try out for the improv group? Even if you weren't selected, did you learn something from the tryouts? 

For more help, you might find it helpful to work with me as a private writing coach. I can ask you questions and provide writing assignments that will help you to brainstorm, draft, and edit your essay.  I look forward to hearing from you. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fall Fresh Beginnings

I love the fresh start that September implies, even if I'm not standing at the corner in new clothes waiting for the school bus. Give yourself a fresh start this fall with permission to set writing goals and take some time to self-evaluate. Now's the time to readjust and make the necessary changes for the new semester (er, season?)

You might set up a new, fall writing schedule. Don't forget to include attending fall literature festivals and readings in your schedule. You might join a writer's room (like this one in D.C.)

What do you have planned for your writing?