Writer’s Block? Try Living More!

Point blank – writers can’t be sheltered individuals cloistered in their troll holes and expect to write anything of substance. Writers must live life!

We’ve all heard the maxim, “write what you know” – it’s good advice (and certainly something to expand on in a future post). However, if your world of experiences is rather limited, your writing will (most likely) be as well.

While it IS important for writers to attempt to write every day, it’s also important for us to live life. Take some chances. Take the road less traveled. If you’ve truly lived, all the other details will take care of themselves. If your world of experience is narrow, your work will suffer. It’s likely that you’ll be beaten over the head with writer’s block, and the ideas you do have will be severely limited by the difficulty faced in trying to generate many scenes and landscapes outside of the breadth of your experiences.

Yes, please do write everyday, but make sure, first and foremost, to live life. Don’t make any excuses. You may have children. You may have a job. You may have many other responsibilities. Just as none of those excuse you from making time in your schedule to write on a regular basis, neither do they or anything else excuse you from living life, having fun, exploring the world, and learning new things. It’s the only way your writing will capture people’s attention.

The stereotypical writer may be an introvert, used to long periods of solitude in front of their keyboard, but stereotypes are just that. If you want to have fresh ideas and sharp prose and rejuvenate yourself for the discipline it takes to write on a regular basis, you better start living.

Here’s the takeaway: Take heed to the immortal words of Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused. They apply to writers and hippies (and hippie writers) alike: You just gotta keep livin‘ man, L-I-V-I-N.”

The Importance of Professionalism for Authors

We can all recite a long list of names of famous authors who are almost as famous for the way they comport themselves as for their writing. Please don’t attempt to mimic their antagonistic behavior. If you do not have name recognition in the popular imagination (i.e. Your books aren’t being sold at bookstores), you must hold your pride at bay, and conduct yourself like a person, not a walking spectacle.

The following are common errors related to professionalism that novice writers often make. These mistakes must be avoided at all costs:

1. Don’t rush the writing process along. Plot out your story. Fix the errors. Make sure the prose is sharp. Your first draft is just that – don’t send it out immediately to publishers. Spend some time ensuring that your work is as tight as it can possibly be before submitting it.

2. Pay attention to submission guidelines. There’s nothing less professional than not following submission guidelines. Doing so will almost undoubtedly lead to a rejection, and worse than that, it will color you as a careless writer in some rather influential people’s minds.

3. Write an appropriate cover/query letter. Think of this like a job hunt. Don’t be the person sending 100 resumes a day with the same generic cover letter. This is insulting to editors and publishers. Show that you are actually familiar with the work they publish, and that your writing would be a beneficial addition to the press or magazine. Do your best to find out the name of the person that you are addressing.

4. On that same note, make sure that your work is an appropriate match for the content of the journal or publisher. Don’t send a genre piece to a literary magazine. Don’t send a noir manuscript to Harlequin. Do your homework.

5. Don’t be goofy or edgy in your communication. Your work may be satirical or hardboiled, but your approach to publishers and other power players must be professional. You’re a writer – you’re not a clown or sociopath.

6. Never respond to a rejection (unless there’s a clear lead in to do so from the editor, which is extremely unlikely). Just don’t. Certainly don’t respond to any rejection with inflammatory remarks. The literary world is small. You want your name to be talked about, but certainly not for this reason.

7. Respond to acceptances from literary journals. Thank the editor for selecting your work. Be humble and gracious.

8. Get involved beyond your writing. Offer to volunteer as a reader for a literary journal. Start your own literary magazine. If you have the money to do so, pursue an MFA to show your dedication, network, and learn from masterful authors.

The takeaway: Never underestimate the importance of professionalism for authors. Conduct yourself in your literary career in the same fashion as you would in any other professional sphere.

To simplify the process of getting published, please click here.

Writing Offensive Characters

There’s a fine line between being an edgy writer and being an offensive one. If your writing tends to be a bit raw, it’s important that you understand how to navigate this tightrope. The literary world does not take kindly to racists, misogynists, homophobes, or other individuals with an overtly offensive agenda masquerading as writers. However, writers most certainly CAN write about racist, misogynistic, homophobic, or other characters with less than desirable traits.

One of the greatest tools that any writer can do to learn how to write well is to examine the works of authors who have pulled off what you are attempting to do. One incredibly unsavory character in fiction is Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street yuppie serial killer in Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho.” Bateman is a racist, sexist, homophobic, classist murderer – he’s clearly not a choirboy. However, Ellis’ work was published, became quite popular in literary circles, and even became a blockbuster Hollywood film. Why did it not meet the same fate as other writers who receive immediate rejections when writing similar material? The answer is simple – because Ellis handled his character quite skillfully.

Below are a number of tips that should help those who are attempting the sometimes difficult task of writing offensive characters:

1. Be incredibly careful about using insensitive language. Don’t overdo it (or use it at all) unless it’s absolutely demanded. Don’t use offensive language outside of dialogue unless the narrator is the individual with these tendencies or a similar individual.

2. Write well. It’s simple enough, but if your story is not up to snuff, it’s a lot easier to misconstrue the sentiments of a character for the sentiments of the author.

3. Ensure that the offensive character’s perspective is challenged in some way by reality.

4. Make sure that any other characters that would be subjects for your character’s biases do not fit your offensive characters’ stereotype, unless there is a specific reason necessary for them to do so to make your story work.

5. Don’t resort to cliched tropes. If your offensive character’s been done a million times before in literature and the popular imagination, not only is it unoriginal, but it has quite a higher likelihood of being construed as offensive.

Writers should have no limits. Writers should be free to depict anything. However, make sure that when you’re writing, your readers don’t get the wrong idea about who you are as a person by following these guidelines. If you are having a difficult time with this, or any other editing matter, please click here for professional editing. 

How to Focus as a Writer

I’ll let you in on a secret: the key to being a successful writer is focus.

Writing requires discipline at every stage of the game. Writing itself requires discipline, editing your work requires discipline, finding appropriate places to publish your work requires discipline, networking with writers and others involved in the literary world requires discipline.

If you want to succeed as a writer, you need to learn how to focus. 

Many writers resolve to write on a daily basis. Unfortunately, for many, this important practice is eventually shrugged off and forgotten as easily as a New Year’s resolution. You don’t want to be that type of writer. Those types of writers are WINOs – writers in name only.

Yet maintaining focus as a writer may be quite difficult. Here are a list of suggested ways to maintain your focus:

1. Keep in mind the end goal – getting your writing out there and connecting it with readers who will love your work. If your work remains in the aether, or on your desktop, that won’t happen.

2. Have a set time devoted entirely to writing-related activities. This can be writing, editing, networking, or exploring publishing opportunities. Try to devote at least one hour to this every day. Devote more time during the weekend. Your determination will pay off.

3. When the inspiration strikes, write! If at all possible, stop what you’re doing and take advantage. Capitalizing on your bursts of inspiration will motivate you to persevere during normal times where it may be a bit more difficult to get the creative juices going.

4. If you are writing on your computer, I highly recommend listening to videos on YouTube that help individuals focus through binaural beats and isochronic tones. Here’s one such video that I use (Ultra Focus). Make sure to use headphones and listen at a low volume.

5. Avoid overreacting to mundane annoyances in life. A writer shouldn’t get too high or too low about anything. Being an emotional rollercoaster will hinder your ability to focus.

6. Consider using Reiki or other relaxation practices to calm your nervous system down.

Finding a Good Literary Journal

Hello. Since this is my first post, before I get into the heart of this topic, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Alfonso Colasuonno. I am the founder of The Literary Game, a blog/website that also provides publishing consultancy and professional editing for authors. This blog is a service designed to help writers improve their knowledge in various capacities (craft, publishing tips, etc.).

First off, you should congratulate yourself if you’ve written a strong short story or poem. Never forget that is an accomplishment in and of itself. However, what of the next steps? If writing is your passion, and you want to get your work out there, it’s imperative that you familiarize yourself with various literary journals.

The first key to finding a good literary journal for your fiction or poetry is to read the journals that you may come across and ask yourself if your work deviates markedly from the style, subject, and format of that particular literary magazine. If it does, regardless of how high quality your work may be, you will likely receive a form rejection.

The heart of finding a good literary journal for your work is to find an appropriate match. If the content on the journal is similar enough to your own work, your odds of getting published markedly increase. It may be a good reference to compare getting your work accepted in a literary journal to getting an interview for a job. If you do not research the company, if you do not update your resume to reflect the needs of the job, it is highly unlikely that you will be considered for the job. Such is the case in the literary world.

The heart of this lesson: Make sure that your writing is a good fit for what the journal has already published.

Editing and Advice for Determined Writers