Some Resources For the Aspiring Writer
Occasionally I get asked a few questions about writing. They range from the simple—how do you find the time? To the grandiose—can you get me published in such and such place? To the existential—what gives you the confidence/hubris to believe that other people should read what you have to say about something?
I am not an expert, but I have been asked enough times about writing that I thought it might be good to compile a little post about it, for easy access if nothing else. Plus, I thought I could crowdsource in the comments section if people chose to be so kind. Also, for the purposes of this post, I am assuming you have already worked some of your insecurities and are ready to get published in a public forum. Also, this is not a post about how to become a blogger/build your platform (a different sphere altogether) or how to get famous or how to make money writing. None of those things matter! Also I don’t know the answers to any of them. Here, in no particular order, I will give my own thoughts/journey on writing. It certainly is not the only way to go about it, but it is a way.
Read all the things. Read things that are way beyond your skill set and let it inspire you. Then read places where you think you could write on par with (or slightly better) and start thinking about submitting. But don’t ever, ever try and get published somewhere where you aren’t intimately familiar with the tone/content/taste/interests of the place. So read, read, and read some more.
Start writing. If you have an idea, write it out. If you aren’t ready to submit it somewhere, put it on your blog (yeah, you should probably start one of those, if you want to). Write about what interests you. Write especially if you don’t see your own personal view being expressed (or you see it being expressed very poorly). I have always enjoyed being the splinter in places—writing about Jesus for people who don’t love him, writing about the poor for people who prefer to forget them, writing about white supremacy to people who believe it doesn’t exist, etc. Otherwise, you are just preaching to the crowd.
Befriend other writers. And when I say befriend, I mean actively pursue them, promote the heck out of their work (only if you truly like it, obvi), ask them questions, complain and moan and celebrate with them, get thick as thieves with these beautiful, insecure, narcissistic, deep, wounded, thinkers. They will help you survive the ups and downs. They might even have connections! And whenever you get some, you can share yours with them! It’s this awesome, equitable, partnership. There is no scarcity in the kingdom of God, remember? That goes for good writing, and writing friendships. There are enough pieces of pie for good work (this is what I tell myself, at least).
All of this could really be broadly defined as Pay Your Dues. Do the work of writing and reading and building up friendships. This could take years and years (and probably should). I suppose MFA’s are like the accelerated version of this. For those of us in the real world, it can take a bit longer.
When you have some pieces ready (concise, well-written, edited by friends, something new to say, tailored to a specific website or publication), start pitching them. I started off by e-mailing editors. Usually in the pitch I describe my familiarity with their publication (what I like about it, etc) and then describe my article idea. Then I talk a little about myself and my credentials, with a link or two to writing samples. Then I invite further conversation.
The first place I ever did this at was Relevant magazine and my honest thought was this: I could write that stuff. Except maybe I could talk about refugees. So with that level of hubris I sailed right in. I did the same thing for McSweeneys and their column contest (my life is interesting! I should write something!). In both cases, I had been a reader for years and years and had a gut sense of where my thoughts would be fulfilling a niche—plus, I was also aware of the general style/tone.
Other people say use social media—befriend writer’s you admire and editors and publications and interact. Make relationships. Pitch ideas over social media. Share your stuff with them. Network like crazy (after all, if you write something you are proud of, you should share it!) It seems like for many, this works out well. I am pretty sure this has only worked out for me once, but it was pretty sweet (that piece is actually coming out next week, based on a fluke text that I sent to a very famous feminist comic writer).
But keep pitching. Keep writing. Be on the lookout when the places you read ask for submissions. Read at a wide variety of places, and start small and scrappy (which is where you get to publish some of the best stuff anyways). Get to know the editors, ask them what they are looking for. Give yourself a “beat”—something that distinguishes you, an area of expertise, a tone (but don’t be predictable).
All of this can be filed under Do the Work and then Send it out into the Void, which Hopefully Becomes less Void-like Over Time as People Come to Know You and Your Work.
There are a lot of places to write for. Most of them probably will not be right for you. I already know that I am not nearly as funny/clever as I would like to be (oh the few times I have submitted humor pieces, they are always rejected so carefully as to make me want to cry). The trick is honing in on those places that are a good fit for you and your writing. I bet they are out there.
I, obviously, am a good ol’ Evangelical girl working through mighty issues of social inequity. A mom blogger with the soul of a 4th century martyr. I am the most emotional girl at the snobby theological party. I am the stubbornly religious (NOT spiritual) one at the anarchist protest. I am always just a little bit off.
But though it all, the one constant is that I write about God. So where I write/what I know about publication is quite limited to places that actually publish pieces about faith from amateur writers. I do hope to see this stretch and grow in my own life—I wish more literary journals, for instance, published more essays written by evangelicals, but I have no idea who is to blame there really. But for those who, like myself, are both Christian and looking to write what is hot in your little soul, here is a list I compiled of places to start reading/feeling out for possible opportunities to submit:
-Conspire! (Activist, plotting goodness, started out of the Simple Way)
-Geez (Canadian religious anti-capitalist ad free awesomeness)
-Sojourners (The original title of this magazine was The Post American. Enough said).
-Relevant (slick, very into the 20 year olds)
-Christianity Today (the grand-daddy of Evangelical publications)
-Image (the best journal in the world on Spirituality and Art. Cannot say enough positives).
-The Other Journal (lovely, surprising, academic, all over the map)
-Englewood Review of Books (a great way to start writing for publication is to review books!)
-Books and Culture (once you get real good at reviewing books maybe you could also do it here!)
-Relief (lovely Christian journal on the newerish end of things)
-Cordella (female-centric gorgeous online journal started by a personal friend)
-Ruminate (makes me want to be a poet and write beautiful things)
-The Curator (slow thoughtful criticisms and celebrations of the things of the world)
-Red Letter Christians (activist-y, always looking for a good word from good folks)
-Hermeneutics (female-centric take on basically anything smart and snappy and timely)
-Art House America (slow and thoughtful reflections are their jam)
-Christ and Pop Culture (pop culture! And Jesus! They might let you write about doctor who!!!!)
-Various Denominational Mags (like Timbrel, for instance—the Mennonite Women’s magazine)
Again. Start by reading these places. Then contacting the editors. Then doing a good job by them. Then doing it all over again.
I always have a list running in my head of bigger, less-attainable places to pitch to: The Believer, McSweeneys, The Sun, various lit mags, The Toast, The Millions, N+1, The Pacific Standard. Who knows? Maybe one day I will have a perfect idea for these places and I will write it splendidly and it will all work out. But it probably won’t. But it might!
Nothing can replace good writing. But an active reading life, a curiosity and zest for life, a willingness to share and celebrate the work of others, and writing often and true to your guts all seem like good starting points.
Now it is your turn. I am sure I have embarrassed myself and left out a bunch of other great tips and tricks and advice and places to write. So tell us all in the comments--where do you like to write? How does one get started? And how can we encourage each other?