Saturday, March 28, 2015

26 Writing Tips for 26 Years

Last year for my 25th birthday, I wrote a blog post containing 25 lessons that I'd learned so far living as a writer. This time around, I decided to challenge myself by coming up with 26 tips that I’ve learned in the past year as I’ve continued to publish, edit, and work like the madwoman I am. Hopefully these will be as helpful to you as they were/are for me!


1.      Create a submission log so you know what stories/poems are out in the world. Include the date, market, title, whether it’s been accepted or rejected, and whether you are waiting for payment or have already been paid. Also, print out all of your contracts and keep them in a binder so if you ever have any questions or notice a discrepancy, you’ll have it at easy access.

2.      Keep all of your receipts. Even if you’re not making enough to do a tax write-off yet, start learning how to function as a businessman/businesswoman. It's good to know what you’re spending, and knowing that number will help you evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and where you can cut corners or expand in the upcoming year.

3.      Go to different conventions and conferences. Prior to last year, I had only ever attended World Horror. Later that June, I attended NECON for the first time, and this year, I’ll be attending AWP in addition to my usuals.

4.      Attend local events in your area and get to know the writing circles where you live. Attend poetry readings, go listen to speakers. It’s not only a networking opportunity, but it’s helpful to have your city behind you when you start to fly.

5.      Be a good Alumni. Does your university have events/retreats? If so, go to them. Similar to the above, you want your university in your corner as well. Plus, this is a great way to recharge your creativity and reconnect with your colleagues and see what everyone is doing. I try to make the Seton Hill retreat when I can, even if it’s only for a day.

6.      Read more. For the past couple years now, I’ve participated in the Goodreads reading challenge, and by holding myself responsible and tracking my reading progress, I not only read 52 books a year, but I’m soaring past that now. I try to set different goals every year for what I put on my list so I’m not just reading horror, too. For instance, I always do a playwright study (this year it’s Martin McDonagh), always read at least one classic, and then do a healthy mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

7.      Watch movies. In addition to reading, I think it’s really important to follow up on the other media that’s happening in your genre. For instance, this year I started watching a lot of foreign horror, and then doing individual studies of Carpenter, Kubrick, Cronenberg, etc. It’s been very helpful to me as a writer, panelist, and teacher.

8.      Buy a wall calendar that shows you the entire year. I have one of these in my office and every time I find something that I might want to submit to, I put it on the calendar. This keeps my goals realistic and also acts as a permanent reminder that I need to be working and not procrastinating.

9.      Write everything. If someone asks you to write something that you’re not sure you can do…do it anyways. Don’t pass up an opportunity just because you’re afraid and doubting yourself. Say yes, and teach yourself as you go along. Ask questions. Have people beta-read it. Expand, take changes, and grow.

10.  Are you on social media yet? If not, I reiterate that you’re greatly missing out. In addition to my usual media circles, I’ve started/become more active on Instagram, Google +, and LinkedIn and have benefited because of it.

11.  Create a writing space that you feel comfortable in. This will be your place. My desk is one of my favorite places to be and I feel at home when I’m there. In other words, don’t make your writing hut feel like a prison. You want it to be a place that doesn’t reek of stress and deadline. Writing is fun. Keep it that way. For instance, I have a giant skull next to my laptop who wears my headphones when I'm not using them. Keep it light, friends.

12.  Know your novel pitch and be able to recite it on command.

13.  Consider questions that people might ask you either before or after a presentation. I self-interview myself before every reading/lecture and this has been extremely helpful to me considering there are certain questions I always struggle answering depending on my topic. This keeps me fresh, insightful, and most importantly, it prevents me from looking like a complete jackass.

14.  Have a list of magazines that you want to publish with. I have my list taped right next to my computer so that I see it every time I sit down to write. It’s not only a reminder of my goals, but it also lights a fire under me when I need it.

15.  Teach without a classroom and without students. My goal since my first day of undergrad was to be a professor. After I completed my MFA in ‘14 and wasn’t immediately hired somewhere, I decided that I would teach anyways so that when I was hired, I’d be ready. I made sample syllabi, considered books/writers that I would like to teach and then wrote notes/ideas next to them. I kept this all in a big folder next to my bookshelf and now that I’m teaching this summer, I’ve never felt more prepared.

16.  Don’t let someone—especially someone you don’t know—tell you how to write, what to write, or how to manage your career. People who feel they have some weird entitlement to do this make me wish there was a throat punch button on my phone. Get rid of them. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

17.  Do you know your influences well enough to be able to talk about them at the drop of a hat? If you tell me you like Clive Barker, I’m going to ask you what your favorite book was, and whether or not you’ve seen his art. Are you prepared to answer all of that? If not, time to practice your answer.

18.  Be humble. If things start going well for you and you become a dick, people will hate you and they won’t buy your books, no matter how good they are. Stay real and remember to be thankful for everything that happens.

19.  Don’t be afraid. For years, I was afraid of writing an erotic horror poetry collection because I was nervous of how I would be perceived by my readers and colleagues. I sat down a few months ago and made a pro/con list about it, and well, needless to say, I have a market-ready manuscript now. #allthesex

20.  Bleed a bit. Not literally of course, but go to places that make you uncomfortable, that make you vulnerable. I’m a big believer in writing as a form of catharsis and not only will your story be better for it, but you’ll feel better as well. Writing AN EXORCISM OF ANGELS saved my life last summer.

21.  Get business cards and have them on you at all times.

22.  When you get ideas, write them down because I promise you, you’re not going to remember them. Either carry a small notebook around with you or get in the habit of using the note section on your phone.

23.  Remember to say thank you to anyone who has given you their time. I’m a big fan of handwritten notes, but you don’t necessarily have to take it to that extent. Just be appreciative and even if things don’t work out, you look professional and they’ll welcome the chance to work with you again.

24.  Beta readers are your friends. Find them. Love them. Cherish them.

25.  Know your brand and stick to it. I write thematically, and even though I’m not necessarily writing asylum prose anymore, madness will always be my brand and I stick to that and keep that in mind with everything that I write.

26.  Learn how to read and understand contracts. If you can’t wrap your head around it, find someone who is familiar with them and ask for their help. Know what you’re signing your name to. Always.

 

--Stephanie M. Wytovich