The Foundations of Successful Writing

I’d like to share with my readers The Foundations of Successful Writing. This a set of PowerPoint slides that I created to assist novice writers with the technical aspects of fiction writing. Much of what I post in The Literary Game is about the importance and successful navigation of marketing, publishing, and editing for writers. I also choose to focus a great deal on the psychology necessary for advancement as a writer. Advice on craft is not a main priority of this blog; however, it is of paramount importance for any aspiring writer to know how to write well.

I invite you to download The Foundations of Successful Writing. I hope these slides can serve as an excellent tool to help aspiring writers learn the basics of craft.

If you find these slides helpful, please feel free to share this post on your blog or on your social media feeds, and help other writers improve their work. Thanks!

Warmly,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Founder, The Literary Game

Advertisements

Writers Are Wise: Some of My Favorite Quotes

I want to deeply thank my readers for supporting this blog. It’s quite an amazing feeling to know that many aspiring writers have found my thoughts on the literary game useful. With that said, I’m switching the format up tonight. Rather than offer my advice, I’m sharing some of my favorite quotes from other writers. Many are inspirational; others are thought-provoking. Enjoy!

***

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” – Doris Lessing

“You just keep pushing. You just keep pushing. I made every mistake that could be made. But I just kept pushing.” – René Descartes

“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” – Albert Camus

“I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses.” – Arthur Rimbaud

“When shall we live if not now?” – Shirley Jackson

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery—isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Charles Bukowski

“Don’t complain, don’t explain.” – Raymond Carver

“A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.” – Oscar Wilde

“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

“There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.” – Cormac McCarthy

“All of my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, and brutal.” – Flannery O’Connor

“All men are lonely. But sometimes it seems to me that we Americans are the loneliest of all. Our hunger for foreign places and new ways has been with us almost like a national disease. Our literature is stamped with a quality of longing and unrest, and our writers have been great wanderers.” – Carson McCullers

“I’m an idiot, I’m a fool, I know, but I’ve been a good read, right?” – Hunter S. Thompson

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand

Five Suggestions to Keep Writing From Turning Into a Chore

I’ll start this post with a caveat – I admit that many of the posts in The Literary Game may sound quite trite; however, in such a creative profession as ours, sometimes we writers can easily lose our way, disregarding or forgetting the fundamentals.

When these fundamentals are lost, the wheels fall off of the wagon.

It’s my intention to help you keep that from happening.

***

On that note, there is nothing more fundamental to the profession than for a writer to actually enjoy writing. It may sound strange to think otherwise, but many writers of immense potential simply stop writing. Far too often, it’s because the fundamentals were dismissed, and frustration set in.

Without further ado, here are five suggestions that will keep writing from turning into a chore:

1. Master Your Life – If stresses from various situations in your life are bothering you, then the time and discipline that being a serious writer requires may seem like an unworthy imposition. Counterintuitive as it may seem, for writers whose lives are in turmoil, recognize that your basic needs should always come first, and don’t feel obligated to write. If you can handle writing while your life is insane, go on and do it, but don’t feel guilty if you just simply can’t deal with it at the moment.

I want to add to this suggestion a quote from Doris Lessing, “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” Follow her advice, and don’t use MINOR problems as excuses, as unless you lead a charmed life, recognize that everyone faces difficulties all the time. I only suggest a break from writing if the difficulties are a threat to the physical or mental health of you and/or your loved ones.

2. Avoid overly rigid writing schedules – Everyone loves NaNoWriMo, but the pressure of a consistent writing routine that’s unbreakable can definitely turn writing into a chore. While I strongly advise writers to write on a regular basis (because the more you write, the better your writing will be), if you become more focused on the actual time slot than what you’re writing, the fun will quickly dissipate.

3. Avoid long absences from writing – With the exception of a situation that’s pressing, don’t go weeks at a time without writing. The best ideas flow, and major improvement comes about, from writing on a regular basis. Enjoy life, handle your responsibilities, but be sure to make time for writing too. Writers who stop writing for a while out of ennui or for other reasons often find it a chore to get back into the habit.

4. Depending on your personality, avoid writing-related jobs – Some people can only handle so much of something they love. I personally enjoy balancing time spent on my own writing with helping other writers by working as an editor and publishing consultant. That’s not for everyone though. Some people might really need to work in something totally different until they can support themselves from their creative writing alone, otherwise the constant focus on writing might burn them out.

5. Get social – Writing is a solitary profession. Unless you’re a complete introvert, the isolation of writing may start to wear on you. This is where a healthy social life, especially one featuring activities with other writers, can really help counter one of the profession’s biggest drawbacks.

Thank you for reading The Literary Game! If you found this post helpful, please help spread the word by sharing it on your blog or social media. Thanks! ~ Alfonso

Writerpreneur: Why You Need to Get Over Your Innate Disgust Regarding the Ugliness of Self-Promotion

A – Always

B – Be

C – Closing

No, it doesn’t just apply to sales. It applies to writers too. You’ve written widely, now start getting your name out there. It’s time to close.

I write about many relevant aspects of breaking out of the “aspiring writer” tag. This post deals with perhaps the hardest part for many aspiring writers – self-promotion.

Point blank – You need to sell yourself, and you need to sell your writing.

Your writing could be stellar. However, if you think it sounds tacky to promote yourself, there is NO WAY you will rise from obscurity to literary renown, there is NO WAY you will have people beyond your friends and family read your writing, and there is NO WAY you will earn a cent from your writing.

So get over your fear of self-promotion!

Is it tacky to promote your writing? The answer is irrelevant, as you have an IMMENSE amount of competition in the field. There are SO MANY writers trying to get some attention, and guess what, many of them are incredible. How do you break in? Well, of course you need to write well, and an editor can help sharpen your work, and a publishing consultant can steer you to the right places to publish your writing, but even after your writing is published, unless it’s at a Big 5 or a top literary journal, you still have tons of work remaining. That work is self-promotion, and you MUST do it if you want to build a literary career.

So, how do you self-promote? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Provide something of value to other writers, or to readers, beyond your own writing – The amount of published writing on the Web and in print is hard to fathom. Unless you’re publishing with a Big 5 or in a top journal, even if you publish widely in the small presses, only a handful of insiders will know who you are. To extend your platform, consider giving back to writers (or readers) in another way.

2. Have your own webpage – Writers, and any artist, should absolutely have their own webpage. This should be your command center for any writing-related projects you have completed. Utilize keyword research to steer traffic your way. If possible, hire an SEO expert to help with the marketing of the website.

3. Network with other writers – The joke is that writers hate other writers. I don’t find that necessarily true, but even so, get over it, and start buddying up to other writers and others in the publishing industry. Talent is talent, but talent can far more easily get recognized when it puts itself out there.

4. Consider obtaining a BFA or MFA – A formal educational program will put you in touch with accomplished writers as professors. If you’re good, they can help mold you to be better, and open up doors for you.

5. Tell everyone you know – This is the part that raises writer’s eyebrows. Yes, not everyone may want to hear about your latest manuscript, but if you took that much time to write it, why not share the information with your circles? Not everyone may be able to help you get your writing out there, but some people just might be able to. The thing is, they won’t do it if you don’t tell them about what you wrote.

I hope you find these suggestions useful. If you found this post helpful, could you please share it on your feed? Thanks!

How I Started Getting My Fiction and Poetry Published in Various Presses

I graduated from Beloit College with a BA in Creative Writing in 2007.

The first journal that published my writing was O Sweet Flowery Roses, a non-competitive journal put out by my friend Russell Jaffe. That was in 2008. He ran some more poems of mine in 2009.

It wasn’t until four years later that I published my first piece in a competitive press, Michele McDannold’s journal Citizens for Decent Literature. That was in March 2013. One month later, I had a second piece accepted by Jack Marlowe’s Gutter Eloquence Magazine.

I was finally getting my writing published in excellent journals, alongside MFAs, and prolific writers with many books to their credit. I had grown enough as a writer in the past decade to have reached a point of being able to write well, but the question was – what now?

I was employed at Monroe College as a librarian, English tutor, substitute professor, and advisor to the campus Poetry Club. I truly enjoyed my jobs at Monroe College, but I knew I had a choice to make. I could either stay in academia, and write a little bit here and there, or I could take a leap into the unknown and really move forward as a writer. I did what I knew was best, and left my position at Monroe.

Some might consider it crazy to leave a good job that you enjoy behind to pursue your literary dream. Maybe it is. However, if I didn’t do that, I know that I wouldn’t be the writer for an upcoming blockbuster TV series’ accompanying book. I know that if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have my writing widely published. I know that if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have had any time to write period.

I left New York for a friend’s home in rural Pennsylvania. She gave me a free room. I wrote, and I let her skewer my writing, working with me as my editor until my writing was flawless, and then I sent out my writing, and much of it got published.

Why did it happen? How did I go from 10 years of no publications, to someone beginning to make a name for himself as a writer? I credit it all to the bold move of burning my bridges, and just going for it.

Now, of course, it’s not just about being bold. You have to mix boldness with intelligence and hard work. I wrote incessantly. I worked with an excellent editor who gave me great feedback, because I knew that no writer can be objective about his own writing. I spent countless hours reading and researching various literary journals to find which ones would be appropriate matches for my writing. That’s how I did it. I realized that there is no other way, but that three part process:

1. Writing: You need to write all the time. Some of your ideas will be great, and others will not, but just keep writing. It’s the only way you will improve.

2. Working with a skilled editor: Rairigh Drum saved my fiction. My stories were good, but she made them excellent. I couldn’t have done it on my own. I needed her. All writers need editors.

3. Researching the publishers: No matter how great a piece of writing is, if you send it to a market that’s an inappropriate fit, it’ll get rejected. The hours I spent researching literary journals online was not only an exercise in finding other amazing writers, but it really allowed me to find appropriate homes for my work.

I hope you found this blog post helpful – now go out there and make your mark on the literary game!

Aspiring Writers Need To Have A Bias Towards Action

Hey everyone. It’s been some time since my last post. In the interim, I was interviewed by Pretty Owl Poetry, one of the finest (relatively) new online literary magazines. If you’d like to read my Q&A where I share my thoughts on writing, editing, and publishing, please click here.

***

As writers, the process by which we compose our writing is generally a slow one. Few writers take the track of Jack Kerouac, composing whole novels in mere weeks. For the vast majority of us, composing our novels can take years, and our short fiction and other literary projects can take similarly long periods of time to complete.

This aspect of our profession lends itself to one of the biggest problems that faces aspiring writers today – a lack of action after the completion of their writing. When you complete your writing, you need to move on it. You can’t let your stories sit gathering dust. While we all would agree that writing is a deep passion of ours, and that’s why we write, realistically, we also long for others to appreciate our writing. Writing is borne out of a desire to share your soul. You can’t share your soul if you let your writing sit on a computer file for years.

I imagine that few people reading this are actually able to financially support themselves from their writing; however, that should be the goal of every writer who is stuck in a soulless job. Shirley Jackson worked at Best Western. Charles Bukowski worked for the USPS. If you’re flipping burgers at a fast food establishment now, that doesn’t mean you should, or will, be doing that your whole life. You should burn with passion to get your writing out there, so you can do what you love.

Rapper Mos Def had a great quote, “I’m a hustler. And my hustle is trying to figure out the best ways to do what I like without having to do much else.” If you are a writer, and it’s not just a diversion for you, then you need to figure out a way to be able to write more often, and be able to support yourself from your writing. It’s not an ugly thing to say. It doesn’t mean that you’re writing just for the money. Let’s face it, few writers, other than say a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling, are making millions from their books. That said, you CAN make a living from your writing, or other similar endeavors, and leave other unnecessary endeavors behind. Furthermore, you should! Being stuck in bad situations, or time-consuming situations, will only hinder you as a writer.

So, how do you get this done? Well, you need to publish NOW. Are you going to send your manuscript to a literary agent and immediately get a $10,000 advance from one of the Big 5? It could happen, but realistically, that’s not likely. Here are a few steps that all aspiring writers need to start doing RIGHT NOW:

1. Work with a skilled editor – You need to hire a qualified editor. I’d be happy to help shape your writing to a publishable standard. If you are struggling financially, there are ways around this, as you can probably find some literary-minded friends who would be willing to volunteer their time to help you. This very approach worked for me. My friend Rairigh Drum offered her time when I was struggling financially and vetted my writing for free, and it led to a slew of publications. Of course, make sure that your friend is actually a skilled editor/writer, as your fawning mother or boyfriend/girlfriend won’t do. Regardless of whether you choose to work with me, another editor (hopefully not), or with a friend volunteering her/his time, partnering with an editor is a necessity. No writer can escape the myopic view we have of our own writing. Of course we think our writing is great and there are no visible problems. That’s never the case, and that’s why editors are absolutely essential.

2. Publish NOW – Are you going to get your writing into Ploughshares, Tin House, PANK or Word Riot immediately? No, of course not, that’s about as likely as landing that $10,000 advance from a Big 5 publisher. However, find places to publish your writing, and then actually submit your work. You can use Duotrope to find appropriate literary journals. The Writer’s Market book also has a great list of publishers. Of course, if you’d like a more personal touch, and to save a lot of time and effort, as well as receive the insight of someone who has published before, I am certainly able to assist you as your publishing consultant. Understand this, no matter what you write, there are many literary journals and independent publishers that would welcome your writing. Find them. And if your premise is great, and your writing is as perfect as a Madison Bumgarner start in the World Series, then hey, it’s possible that you may even get the nod from the top literary journals or publishers, even as a newcomer.

3. Hustle – Make yourself known in the open mic circuits and the writer’s workshops in your local area. Leverage social media, YouTube, and the blogosphere. Ensure that people begin to know your name. You can’t be afraid to self-promote. Doesn’t this whole process seem a bit ugly? Well, nothing is as ugly as a starving artist – it’s your choice. On that note, nothing is more appealing to publishers than a platform. When you’re talking about the Big 5 publishers, it’s not a labor of love – it’s a cold business. Your writing could be stellar, but if NO ONE knows who you are, and you’ve done virtually nothing of any note in life, and haven’t published on smaller presses or online, the chances of you getting published are nearly zero. So don’t just embrace moving forward as a writer, move forward as a person, and get attention NOW.

4. Embrace Speed – You don’t have a second to lose. The field is competitive, but so many writers are making the mistake of not pushing hard enough, and that’s why they aren’t breaking in to the profession. Will many publishers reject you? Yes. Will your editor force you to change your entire premise and rewrite whole chapters that you worked so hard on? Yes. Get through it ASAP. Execute. Execute. Execute.

If you want to move forward as a writer, you need to embrace your killer instinct. Don’t wait around forever; you have to embrace the attitude of wanting to advance now!