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Writing Advice

Freelance Writing on a Budget

Introduction

Starting a business can be overwhelming.

If you’re looking to become a freelance writer but are working with a limited budget, you may be nervous about up-front costs.

One thing I’ll say is that you should avoid going into debt if at all possible. Don’t take out a small business loan if you can avoid it.

Writing doesn’t require a lot of special equipment, so it’s possible to keep overhead costs very low at first.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Use your existing tech devices (if possible).

When it comes to freelance writing, you’ll definitely want to have a functioning computer.

A laptop is ideal, since you can travel with it easily, but a desktop computer is fine if that’s all you have.

Don’t just go out and buy an expensive computer in the name of starting your freelance writing career.

If you have a computer that works, try to stick with it (at least for the first several months).

A smartphone with data coverage is also pretty crucial, since you’ll need to follow-up with clients in between work sessions.

But, again, don’t go spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on a new phone just because you’re starting a business.

In the beginning, you’ll want to keep costs low as you build your clientele.

2. Opt for a home office, coffee shop, or co-working day pass.

Again, you shouldn’t be spending tons of money at the beginning of your career.

You’ll want to first build your business (and figure out if you’re truly passionate about the job in the first place).

You might end up not liking the gig — so it’s not worth signing the lease for a new office if you’re still in the early days.

If you have a comfortable amount of space in your home, designate a workspace for your freelance writing.

A spare room, nook, or corner of your bedroom could all work.

And keep in mind that you can often write off part of your living expenses as business-use-of-home (contact your national revenue agency for specifics).

On the days that you want to get out of the house, a local coffee shop is ideal.

Starbucks is great, since their business model is built on the premise that many people come in to use the WiFi while sipping their coffee.

But if you have a local coffee shop that allows customers to linger with their laptops, that’s fine too. 

Try to spend minimal amounts of money ($3-10 per visit is ideal) so that you don’t have to invest too much money in the beginning.

Also make sure to keep your receipts, so that you can claim business meals as expenses on your tax return (again, consult your national revenue agency for specific guidelines).

A step above would be to purchase a day pass at a nearby coworking space.

If you’ve never been to a coworking space, they’re basically shared offices for freelancers and other digital creatives. 

They usually include unlimited coffee/WiFi, and offer meeting spaces (for an additional fee).

If you have the funds, purchasing a drop-in day pass every now and then can be a nice treat. (Here in Toronto, they typically cost $20-30 CAD per day.)

3. Utilize free online tools.

When it comes to your digital toolkit, go for free options wherever possible (at least in the beginning).

Google Drive

As I’ve written about here on the blog before, Google Drive is a solid word processor for freelancers (with a comprehensive free version).

The fact that it’s cloud-based makes it simple to move from device to device, no matter where you go. And freelancers in particular are often on the go.

Grammarly 

Grammarly is also a must-have for anyone who writes in a professional capacity. 

It’s the most thorough spelling/grammar check I’ve ever used. Even the free version is more than enough.

Never submit an article to a client without running it through Grammarly first. I can’t tell you how many times it’s picked up minor errors that I would have never noticed on my own (even as an editor).

4. Maximize your local library card.

Many people overlook the offerings of their local library.

The average library card can offer much more than access to free books.

For example, a valid Toronto Public Library card includes free use of Lynda (now LinkedIn Learning), which usually costs $20+ per month.

Those types of online learning platforms can help you get a leg up while also saving money.

[Another digital learning platform is edX, which anyone can use for free. Users can choose to pay for a certificate of completion upon passing a course, but it’s entirely optional.]

Most public libraries also offer plenty of access to digital magazines, ebooks, and audiobooks (all of which can help you stay on top of current industry trends).

5. Use paid services wisely.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s good to keep expenses low when you’re first starting out.

But some costs are truly worth the money, such as:

Plagiarism checkers

I pay for the Premium version of Copyscape, which is a comprehensive plagiarism checker. 

It costs me pennies per article, and it gives me the confidence that my work is 100% free of accidental plagiarism.

Also, many clients will request or require you to use Copyscape, so it’s a good thing to have available.

Accounting software

I don’t know about you, but I’m horrible with numbers.

I tried to do all of my business accounting by myself at first, but it didn’t go too well. I kept losing track of important receipts and missing out on possible deductions come tax season.

So, I now pay $4.99 CAD per month for QuickBooks Self-Employed (which is a promotional rate I got when I signed up). 

It syncs with all of my bank accounts and credit cards, so I never have to worry about keeping complex spreadsheets on my own.

This is one area that is genuinely worth spending on.

In summary

Every business has unique needs. And these are just my general suggestions.

Take into account your own situation: your finances, goals, and preferences. 

Maybe it’s totally worth it for you to upgrade your laptop or spring for an office space in the beginning. 

See what makes sense for you personally, and try to avoid massive up-front costs if possible.

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Writing Advice

Stuck With Writer's Block? Here Are 5 Tips for Pushing Past It

Every writer’s been there.

You sit at your desk, wanting to draft up some new work…but nothing comes to mind.

Especially with creative writing, waiting for that lightning bolt of inspiration to strike can feel frustrating.

Taking a break from writing is sometimes the answer, but there are practical tips you can take to push past your writer’s block.

Let’s look at my top five:

1. Start journaling.

Sometimes, we as writers get too precious about our creative work.

We feel as if we need to be “on” 24/7 — that every new bit of writing needs to be amazing.

In reality, writing is a muscle.

Just like you can’t expect to start deadlifting 200 lbs. before ever stepping foot in a gym, you can’t expect your creative output to magically appear if you never put in the effort.

Honestly, the bulk of what you write isn’t going to be your best work…and that’s fine.

It’s more important (especially as a new writer), that you just start doing the thing: writing.

So break out a nice journal and start writing.

If you don’t already own one, head over to your local dollar store — they’ve usually got plenty of options that won’t break the bank.

The structure here isn’t important; write whatever you want.

You can jot down an informal diary entry, or you can loosely write a new poem.

You can describe the bowl of fruit sitting in your kitchen, or write about the view from your window.

It truly doesn’t matter what you write — as long as you’re flexing your creative muscle.

Chances are, there will some nugget of interesting content hidden in there.

Whether it’s a single word, phrase, or concept, you’re bound to stumble on something of note.

Then, you can more seriously play with whatever idea you had, and get a bit more intentional with your writing work for the day.

2. Listen to some great music.

No matter what your taste, there’s bound to be certain music that inspires you.

Put on one of your favourite albums — and if you can blast the volume, all the better. (If you’ve got roommates or it’s late at night, use some headphones.)

Sit down and really engage with the music: What are the lyrics? What are the harmonies? What is the artist saying?

Pay attention to what you hear. When you catch something interesting, make note of it.

Maybe a certain word catches your eye, or a guitar solo really speaks to you. Write about it!

The same principle goes for other types of art — if you’re a big movie fan, or a visual artist, engage with other types of work that inspire you.

Watch one of your favourite movies, or sit down with a favourite painting that you have hanging in your house.

Oftentimes, all we need to get a bit of inspiration is to appreciate the work of other artists.

3. Read the work of others.

Last week on the blog, we covered why reading poetry is just as important as writing it.

This ties back in with #2, since reading the work of other writers is just another form of appreciating art.

In terms of developing a personal style and getting inspired, there’s no replacement for reading.

Take out one of your favourite books, or pick up a new one from the library!

Read it closely, just as with the music-listening exercise:

What is the author saying? What rhetorical devices are they using? What are my favourite lines? What are my least-favourite lines?

It can also be very useful to expose yourself to classic works of literature, since they’ll often challenge you and teach you words you may have never heard before.

Shakespeare is good for this sort of thing, since his language is so rich. Hamlet or Macbeth are especially engaging in terms of the writing.

4. Check out local calls for submissions.

Another way to get inspired is to find calls for submissions in your area.

Oftentimes, publications will have specific themes or prompts for each issue.

For example, they might list a word, phrase, or question for potential writers to engage with.

This is an easy way to get inspired and focus on a theme for your work (not to mention that your new work will be pertinent to submit!).

Google “call for submissions” + [the name of your city] to get some ideas, and start drafting up some new work.

5. Interact with other writers.

I’ve touched on this point in previous blog posts, but it warrants repeating.

Interacting with other writers can give you a huge boost of inspiration (and also act as a generally fun social activity).

You could take a writing workshop or class (either a one-time or ongoing thing) to get the ball rolling.

Workshops are especially useful, because they’ll usually involve some type of writing exercise/prompt to get you started.

If you’re in college, trying researching your school’s creative writing courses, and enrol in one (if your schedule permits).

If not, local libraries are often good places to start.

You could also attend general literary events in your city, such as poetry readings.

Google “poetry readings” + [your city] to get started.

If you’re in a metropolitan centre, you’ll have an easier time, but don’t get discouraged.

Even if you’re in a rural town, there are usually literary events (even just once a month or so) if you look hard enough.

Wrapping up:

Hitting a writer’s block is truly inevitable — even for the most experienced of authors.

But don’t let the experience dampen your spirits.

Try one of these tips to help you get inspired and back to writing.

_

As always, be sure to hit Follow if you enjoyed this post.

New blog posts are up every Friday and centre around the theme of Writing Advice.

You can also reach me at services@mercedeskilleen.com with any questions, or to inquire about quotes for my writing & editing services.

Happy writing!

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Writing Advice

Why Reading Poetry Is Just as Important as Writing It: The Key to Creating Great Work

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” — Stephen King

In King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he explains how important it is to be continually reading if you want to get serious about writing.

I couldn’t agree more.

The bulk of my education about the English language came from the act of reading.

And I’m not talking about assigned school-work. I’m talking about round-the-clock reading for fun.

When I was a young child, my mom would endlessly read books to me from the local library. She was a teacher in her home country, and is a trained early childhood educator here in Canada, so she’s always appreciated the value of learning.

As soon as I could read independently, I inhaled books to no end.

In elementary school, I’d bring home a backpack full of books I’d borrowed from the classroom — every single night.

At six years old, my teacher remarked that I was already reading at a fifth-grade level. And I didn’t stop there.

I entered and won my local library’s creative writing contests as soon as I was old enough to enter.

By the age of thirteen, I had already won a national youth literary contest, given a paid poetry reading at the reception, and gotten a publishing credit out of the whole thing.

None of this happened by accident.

Why reading is your secret weapon as a creative writer

Fast-forward to today, and I’ve won more literary contests, been published widely in magazines/journals, and written two books for my publisher.

All of these accomplishments started from one habit: regularly reading for fun.

So if you want to embark on a creative writing career, it’s crucial that you start reading.

Read whatever you can get your hands on: poetry, novels, non-fiction.

Every genre has something different to teach you; poetry teaches brevity and emotion; fiction teaches world-building; non-fiction teaches research skills.

And you don’t need to spend a ton of money. Check out your local library (or college’s library) to start.

Used book stores are also gold-mines for finding affordable new reads.

If you have the cash to buy lots of new books, go for it — but don’t feel obligated.

Writing poetry in particular

The bulk of my career has been as a professional poet. Although I dabble in creative non-fiction and do plenty of client work, poetry is my niche.

For poetry especially, you really need to expose yourself to different styles. Read the classics. Read new poetry. Read formal poetry. Read experimental poetry.

Poetry is so incredibly open-ended — unlike fiction, there really aren’t any rigid guidelines for writing it.

You can write a poem that’s one word long, or you can write a poem that’s 1,000 words long. You can have a title or not. Poets have the freedom to basically do whatever we want.

But how can you find your unique style if you’re not a seasoned pro? Just keep reading.

Eventually, you’ll stumble upon poets that change your life. (For me, those include authors like Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski.)

You’ll find poets that write about things you care about. You’ll find poets that have incredible styles the kind you’d like to emulate.

But you’ll also find authors whose work you really hate (for me, that includes ‘Instagram poets’ like Rupi Kaur). And that’s good, too! It’s all part of the process.

You need to dip your toes into many different types of writing — otherwise, you won’t know what you like and dislike.

Reading is a constant process of learning new things about the world (and about your personal taste).

Get inspired, but don’t copy

It’s great to read other poets to get inspired. But don’t try to outright copy another writer’s style. That’s pointless and uninteresting.

There’s no use trying to be the next Shakespeare — because you aren’t Shakespeare.

Embrace who you are: your identity, your life experiences, your preferences, and your thoughts. Look to other writers for influence, but don’t try to imitate them.

Keep reading and keep writing new work. The two practices will feed into each other.

Conclusion

So, always keep a new book on your bedside table.

Constantly seek new literature to read.

And think of reading as a prerequisite for creating great work.

___

As always, thanks for reading my Writing Advice column here on my blog.

Be sure to hit the Follow button to get notified every week when I post new articles.

Happy writing!

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Writing Advice

Some of the Most Unique Spots to Write Poetry: Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places

Introduction

When it comes to writing poetry, inspiration can truly strike anywhere

Whether you’re waiting in line at the doctor’s office, sleepily riding the subway, or walking through a park, that creative spark can pop up anywhere.

And in last week’s post, I explained why Google Drive is the optimal tool for writing poetry concepts down while on the go. 

This week, I’ll cover some examples of unlikely spots to find poetic inspiration.

The Important Distinction Between Poetry and Prose

It’s important to note that writing poetry is an entirely different beast than writing prose (especially non-fiction). 

While it’s relatively simple to schedule time in your calendar to work on a research paper, blog post, or book chapter, poetry is quite unique. 

Yes, you can schedule in poetry-writing sessions. 

I recommend this — to some degree — if you want to produce a lot of new work.

However, this system also ignores the more nebulous nature of poetic inspiration.

It’s a great idea to sit down and journal, brainstorm, or do writing exercises on a regular basis. But you can’t really force the poetic process itself

Either you’re in a creative mood or you’re not. Either you’re feeling inspired or you’re not. 

As much as you can work on flexing your writing muscles, brainstorming new ideas, and practising, you also have to realize that ideas for poems often come out of nowhere.

Top Tips

So, my advice? Keep doing things like journaling, brainstorming, and writing exercises. 

And make sure that you’re reading often. You can’t become a great poet without first becoming a great reader of poetry. 

Read the classics — Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Eliot — and also read the work of current writers, such as Canada’s own Souvankham Thammavongsa. 

Expose yourself to as much poetry as possible. Take in work from every style of writer.

You’ll learn a lot by reading different types of poetry.

Then, embark on your own poetry-writing adventures. Get outside and explore the world; ideas will likely find you along the way.

Unlikely Spots to Consider

The stereotypical image of a poet is often one of a lonely, tortured soul sitting at their typewriter, or longingly glancing out their window. 

Sure, some poets may write in that environment.

But seeing the world that exists outside of your small corner will inevitably inspire you.

Here are some of my favourite, unconventional spots to write poetry:

On the subway/public transit. 

This is a big one for me! 

I love people-watching, and find that (especially in a metropolitan city such as Toronto), I encounter the most interesting characters while riding the subway

Snippets of conversations among friends or lovers can trigger new ideas. 

The image of commuters accidentally falling asleep while leaning on one another can bring up warm emotions.

So, the next time you’re riding the train, look around and see if there are any interesting scenes around you: Is there a street performer playing the accordion for change? Are two strangers making light-hearted conversation? 

Notice what’s happening around you, and if inspiration strikes, try writing a brief poem or two about it.

In a park or other scenic spot.

Getting into nature is another great way to feel inspired. 

Try walking to your local park, lake, or river. Find a picnic table to rest on, or a nice spot on the grass.

Observe your surroundings: What kind of animals are around me? What kind of plants? Are there any bodies of water? What does the sky look like? Are there any clouds?

Take time to simply exist within nature. Just be.

You’re bound to find something particularly interesting or beautiful to write about.

An art gallery or museum.

Another way to find inspiration for your poetry is to observe other forms of art

Check out your local art gallery or museum, and take the time to really soak everything in.

If you’re on a tight budget, most art galleries offer some type of discounted/affordable option.

For example, in Toronto, the AGO is free to visit every Wednesday evening.

Roam the exhibits with a notebook or cell phone in hand to jot down ideas. 

Take in all of the beautiful artwork, and pay attention to certain pieces that bring up emotions for you: Did one painting really haunt you? Did another make you confused?

Write about it!

In Summary

As I mentioned, a burst of creativity can find you anywhere. Be open to finding ideas for new poems literally everywhere you go

And if you really need some help, try one of the spots on this list.

As always, thanks for reading! 

Make sure you hit the Follow button to get notified of my weekly Writing Advice posts, and feel free to reach me at services@mercedeskilleen.com.

Happy writing! 😊

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Writing Advice

Why Google Drive is One of the Best Tools Out There for Creative Writers

My personal journey

When I first started writing poetry, I followed the advice of my teacher at the time: to always carry around a small notebook to jot ideas down in.

For a while, that was useful. I’d keep my little “idea journal” in my bag, and scribble down any tidbit of inspiration I happened to have.

Whether I was on the bus, at the park, or in class, I’d keep my handy notebook with me. It’s true: ideas for a poem can find you anywhere, so it’s always best to be prepared.

But years later, my process has changed with the times. While I initially found the act of physically writing my poetic concepts in a paper journal rather romantic, I eventually changed my tune.

Nowadays, I always have my cell phone with me, and instead of writing my ideas in a journal, I simply use Google Drive.

I’m in no way affiliated with, or sponsored by, Google. This is a genuine love letter to my new favourite creative medium.

Why Google Drive?

The best thing about Google Drive is that it’s entirely cloud-based. This means that, no matter where you are, no matter what device you have on hand, you can access all of your documents.

As a student, I remember switching to cloud-based word processors after writing an entire essay in Microsoft Word and having my computer die at the last second.

All of my hard work was gone in a flash. So, I vowed to never let that happen again. Enter Google Drive.

Another great thing about Drive is that it’s completely free to start with. I’ve been using it for years: during high school, university, and beyond, and have never come close to maxing out the storage available in the free plan.

If you’re working with larger files (i.e. for audio/video recordings), you may run into the issue of not having enough free storage. But if you’re a writer mainly using text documents, you should be set for years to come.

As the stereotypes suggest, most artists aren’t rolling in cash. If you’re a new writer on a tight budget, opting for free software like Google Drive can help save you serious money.

That way, you can focus on more important things—like actually writing.

The modern answer to a handy notebook

I find that using the Google Drive app on my phone is a completely seamless way to start writing poetry. If I get inspired while I’m on the go, I can take out my phone and start typing very quickly.

I can get down a rough concept, or even start drafting the first version of a piece. As long as I’m connected to the internet, that file will become synced to my Google account, and I can then access it easily when I get home on my laptop.

This makes it so incredibly easy to continue the editing process. I can start editing on my phone, or wait until I’m on my computer to really dig into the nitty-gritty of the work.

Yes, writing things out by hand feels nice—and I’m not saying that you should stop the practice altogether. But if you have access to a smartphone, I’d recommend testing out Google Drive, even if just for the sake of convenience.

Other added bonuses

Another reason I like to use Google Drive as a writer is that I can access my entire writing history easily, from any device.

If I happen to be at a library and use one of their computers, all of my past poemsfinished and unfinished—are easy to download and print. This makes it easy to prep for things like writer workshops.

If I’m heading to a workshop and want to get some hard copies of a piece I’m working on, I can quickly pull it up via my Google account on any nearby computer, print it out, and go on my way. Gone are the days of having to use a flash drive or email myself important files!

Wrapping up

Overall, I’m a big fan of Google Drive. As a writer—of both poetry and client work—I love how easy it is to use.

On rare occasions, I do prefer paid programs like Microsoft Word. For example, when I work as a copyeditor—proofreading and commenting on full poetry manuscripts—I like to use Word’s Track Changes feature.

It’s way more comprehensive than Drive’s editing feature, so it helps me deliver the best possible experience for my authors.

But in general, as a creative writer, Google Drive is bound to become your new best friend. Try it out and see what you think!

As always, thanks for reading my Writing Advice column here on my blog. If you like what you just read, be sure to hit the Follow button so that you’re notified of my new, weekly posts.

And if you’re looking for an editor for your work, give me a shout! I’m available at services@mercedeskilleen.com.

Happy writing! 😊

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Writing Advice

How to Edit Your Own Chapbook 

Introduction

In my last blog post, How to Write a Chapbook of Poetry, I went over the process of completing a short manuscript. I briefly touched on the revision process, but today I’m going to get into the exact steps of self-editing your own book.

1. Decide where to submit.

I’d recommend self-editing your work before sending it out to publishers—this way, you’ll put your best foot forward during the submission process. 

Then, after you (hopefully!) get to work with a publisher, you’ll be assigned an editor to polish your manuscript with.

If, however, you’re planning on self-publishing your chapbook, I’d strongly encourage you to hire a copyeditor.

If it’s within your budget to hire a professional to help you out, I’d recommend it. Nothing beats the process of working with a trained editor to perfect your chapbook for publication.

2. Read over your own work.

Once you’ve assembled your first draft, carefully read through the poems. Pay close attention to spelling and punctuation

Ask yourself: Is everything spelled correctly? If not, are the misspellings made thoughtfully and intentionally? How much punctuation have I used? Am I aiming for a minimalist approach or a formal tone?

Read your poems out loud, repeatedly. Listen to the flow of each piece. Dive deep into the minutiae of the work. Take your time honing the voice of the speaker. 

3. Seek advice from respected colleagues.

As I touched on in my previous blog post, it’s a great idea to ask others for their thoughts. If you have writer friends, ask if you can take them out for a coffee and get their feedback on your work. 

Writer friend relationships are often reciprocal—if you met in a workshop or class, you’ve likely both helped edit each other’s work. This is an awesome part of finding a writing community—people are often very willing to help each other out.

If you’re lucky enough to have a poetry mentor, such as a professor/instructor you’ve become close with, see if they’re willing to read over your work. Many professionals are very busy, so this may not necessarily be possible—but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Try to offer something in return, such as a coffee or meal, to show your appreciation for their time. Remember that they may be willing to do this out of the goodness of their heart, but they deserve something for their efforts.

If you’re consulting an outside editor (who you’re not friends with), don’t ask them to read your work for free or in exchange for a meal. Pay them. Always.

4. Review the feedback you’ve received, and decide which suggestions to implement (or not).

Once you’ve gotten some solid feedback, ask yourself which of these edits actually make sense. At the end of the day, it’s your book

No matter how much you respect a colleague, they don’t necessarily understand your complete creative vision. Consider each suggestion carefully, but don’t feel obligated to accept every single one.

Thoughtfully implement the edits you find useful, and set aside the rest.

5. With your new edits made, return to step 2.

After consulting your peers and making some changes, read over the new versions of your poems thoroughly. Read them aloud again, and pay close attention to spelling/punctuation.

Once you’re pleased with the draft, submit it to publishers. If you’re self-publishing, move onto the phase of finding and working with your copyeditor before moving to print. 

(Check out my previous blog post for more specifics on the process of finding small presses to submit to.)

Conclusion

I hope you found this blog post helpful. If you want to read more of my Writing Advice posts, don’t forget to click the Follow button!

And, if you’re looking to hire a ghostwriter or editor for your next creative writing project, I offer freelance services. You can reach me at services@mercedeskilleen.com to get a quote.

Thanks for reading!

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Writing Advice

How to Write a Chapbook of Poetry: Tips From a Professional Author

Introduction

Congratulations! You’ve set the goal of writing a poetry chapbook. This is a super exciting endeavour which could totally change the course of your career.

If you’re anything like me, the process can seem intimidating. I know that when I set out to write my first chapbook, I felt pretty lost. I wasn’t really sure where to start, so I did some research online.

Personally, I found this PDF of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s “Why Publishing a Chapbook Makes Sense” extremely useful. It breaks down the basics of what a chapbook is, and why/how you can write one.

And, by consulting this online info, I was able to put together my first manuscript. After assembling the poems, I spent months editing them. Once I was finished, I submitted it to several small presses, and it was picked up by my now-publisher—Grey Borders Books.

So let’s look at my personal tips for writing a chapbook:

1. First things first: get into the habit of regularly writing new poetry

Obviously, you can’t assemble a manuscript without individual poems. So you’ll need to get into the rhythm of creating new work.

The creative process is different for everyone, but here are some potential motivators:

  • Set aside a designated amount of time each day to write new poetry (even if the poems aren’t very good!). 
  • Take a poetry writing course at your local college or library. (This is my personal favourite! While I was in university, I took two different creative writing workshop courses, and in both classes, I ended up writing entire manuscripts.)
  • Go to an open mic night for poets, and share new work. The act of attending these events will give you the incentive to write.


Once you feel like you have a solid chunk of poems to work with, then you can start trying to assemble them into a cohesive publication. This could take months or even years, depending on how much time you want to take.

2. Sort through your poems and ask yourself these important questions.

Upon reading over your work, ask:

  • Are there any central themes that come up over and over again in my poetry? What are they? (For example, when I looked over my own work, I found that many of my poems centred around experiences of mental illness and hospitalization.)
  • Are there any recurring images that come up in my work? What are they?

The basic idea is that, for a chapbook, you want to find a pretty specific theme. 

Since chapbooks are generally quite short (approx. 15-35 poems long), you don’t really have the liberty of jumping around from random topic to random topic. (I mean, you technically could do that, but it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying to read.)

In full-length manuscripts, you generally have more freedom to play around with different themes and images. But chapbooks tend to be a bit less forgiving, in that sense.

Once you’ve recognized a few central themes and images, pick out some poems that are all connected to those same basic concepts. This won’t be your final list—just collect them.

You could put them all in a single Word doc, or make a folder with various documents—whatever organization system is easiest for you. I’d say a group of at least 20-40 poems would be a good place to start.

3. Go through your group of poems, and get a bit more selective.

Now that you have some poems to choose from, go through them and see which ones are the strongest. Have any of these poems been previously published or won awards? If so, start there.

Narrow the group of poems down to your best work. This might end up being 15 poems, or it could be much longer. Just see what feels best.

Once you have narrowed down which poems you’ll include, start playing around with the order. This will be very time-consuming. Experiment with different poems coming first or last. 

If you want to get creative, print out all of the poems, and manually move the pieces of paper around on a floor or large table. Try out different placements.

Once you’ve got a decent draft, move on to copyediting.

4. Edit, edit, and then edit some more.

I’m a bit partial to thorough copyediting, because I also work as a professional editor. And when I was a new writer, I spent 7 months personally revising my poetry manuscript. By the time I submitted it to my now-editor, he didn’t need to change a thing; the book went straight to printing.

The point is that you should edit your work so thoroughly that it will impress any editor who reads it over. When you’re sending out your manuscript, you want the collection to be as polished as possible, so that it gets picked up by a publisher.

Spend at least a few weeks (possibly even months) reading over your poems. Edit them for clarity and correctness. Have some friends read them over. Ask a creative writing teacher/mentor for their thoughts. Get as much feedback as possible—and then decide which advice to implement.

By the end of it, you should have a collection of cohesive, effective poems. 

5. Submit it to publishers. (Or self-publish.)

The next step is to research some small presses in your area (big publishers don’t usually put out chapbooks). If you’re Canadian, Kitty Lewis has compiled a great list here

Then, submit your manuscript—either by mail or online (depending on the guidelines). Send it to several presses in order to keep your options open. And hopefully, all that hard work will pay off!

If you’re planning on self-publishing, this is the point where you’d start printing your chapbook (or hiring an outside editor to copy-edit it for you). 

Conclusion

Writing a chapbook is a great option for new writers. It can help you establish yourself as a published author and seriously advance your career. I hope you found these tips helpful!

Categories
Writing Advice

How to Deal With Rejection as a Creative Writer (Even If You’re a Sensitive Person)

Introduction

I’m not going to lie to you: getting rejected sucks. Even when you’ve been doing this for over ten years, it still stings. But you don’t have to let this inevitable part of the creative process get you down. Here are my top tips for coping with rejection (even if you’re a sensitive person):

1. Always have options. 

You should never put yourself in a position where all your eggs are in one basket, so to speak. Don’t pick a single magazine or journal and only submit there. 

It doesn’t make sense to zero in on a single publication—getting published is a numbers game. Find several publications that you’re interested in, and send out multiple submissions.

Important note: Make sure to check if the publications accept simultaneous submissions or not. Only submit the same piece to multiple publications if their guidelines allow it.

2. Never linger too long on a single rejection.

I know—this is a hard one. When you get excited at the idea of being published in a certain magazine or journal, it can feel crushing when they reject your work. But there is no point in obsessing over a single rejection.

What to do instead? Put in the legwork to get published in the future. If the editors gave you feedback on your submission, then read it carefully. If not, re-read your submission and see what you could have improved. 

When that publication has another call for submissions, take that into consideration: What kind of work did they reject? How can I improve my submissions in the future?

Or, maybe, this just wasn’t the right publication for your style of writing. That’s OK, too! Research different journals and magazines that might be better-suited for your work. Submit to them, and most importantly: move on.

In my experience, there have been multiple well-known literary magazines that took me years to get published in. Those publications rejected me for years, but I kept re-submitting anyways. 

I took into account what kind of style they liked, and eventually, my work matched up with their preferences. I wouldn’t have those high-profile publishing credits if I’d given up the first time.

3. Practice mindfulness; there’s no use fighting the situation. 

One of the most effective tools for dealing with life’s hardships (in my experience), has been mindfulness. The practice of slowing down, doing some type of breathing exercise, and being still, is immensely useful.

As a writer, you can adopt this type of philosophy when getting rejected to help you cope with the unpleasant reality. You can do a meditation, practice some yoga, or simply remind yourself: 

This rejection is not the end of the world. It’s happened, and that’s OK. I can’t control the editorial decision that was made. It doesn’t make me a bad writer; it just means that this particular submission didn’t work out. I can accept this and move forward. 

Try to remember that there’s no use dwelling on the past. Mindfulness can help you realize that the only moment that matters is the present. 

Ask yourself: What can I do to further my career today? What can I do right now to move toward my goal of getting published? Can I work on a new piece of writing? Can I research new publications? 

The sooner you live in the present moment, the better off you’ll be.

4. Know that, with each rejection, you’re building resilience. 

Every time you get rejected, you get a little bit more comfortable with the experience. After you get used to the process, it will become easier. Yes, it will still be uncomfortable, but you’ll be able to move on quicker.

As somebody who deals with anxiety, I know this first-hand. When I started out as a creative writer, it was so nerve-wracking and upsetting to submit my work to a journal and get rejected. I’m sensitive, so the entire process felt overwhelming.

But now I’m at a point in my career where I’m comfortable with rejection. Obviously, it’s still a bit disappointing, but I don’t focus on it too much. I just move on, keep writing, and keep submitting my work to different publications.


Thanks for reading! Please share this blog post if you found it useful 🙂

And let me know in the comments: What has helped you deal with rejection in the past?

Categories
Writing Advice

3 Free Ways to Get Published as a New Writer

Introduction

For many people, getting published as a creative writer can seem daunting. Between mailing out manuscripts and paying for contest entry fees, the costs of pursuing your passion can quickly add up.

Thankfully, you can build your creative writing career without any real up-front costs, if you’re savvy about it.

Although many publications and organizations require fees, you can still find legitimate, free options. It just takes a bit of extra legwork.

I won my first literary contest at the age of thirteen—and, obviously, I didn’t have much (if any) cash to invest in the process.

Still, I was able to cement my first professional writing award, got invited to perform at the prize ceremony, was published in the organization’s anthology, and even got interviewed by The Toronto Star.

Over ten years later, I’ve now been published in numerous magazines/journals, won multiple literary awards, and written two collections of poetry with my publisher.

And I’ve managed to accomplish all of those accolades without spending much (if any) money at all.

So, regardless of where you’re at in your creative writing career, you can find ways to get your work out there–for free. I write poetry and creative non-fiction, but many of the principles will apply to other genres.

Here are my tips:

1. Find reputable, local publications.

The first step to getting published is to find the type of publication you’d want to get accepted by. For a poet, this will likely be in the form of a local literary magazine.

A good place to start is with your nearest college/university. Many schools have high-calibre literary magazines run by students. Although some require you to be a student to submit your work, many do not.

I’ve found that student-run publications usually don’t require entry fees (at least where I’m from).

For example, I studied at the University of Toronto, where I was published in several student journals—many of which I still submit to (even though I’m no longer enrolled there).

If you look hard enough, there are many reputable publications that charge no fees for submissions/contest entries. Here are some great examples, for Canadian writers:

A simple Google search can help you locate calls for submissions in your area. Try using terms like “poetry contest” or “call for submissions” + the name of your city.

2. Prepare your submission.

Once you’ve found some solid publications to submit to, make sure that you read their guidelines. Thoroughly reading these instructions will save you—and the editor—a lot of time.

Be sure to find out the following:

  • Does this publication only accept submissions from local writers, or are they open to international work?
  • Do I need to be a student to qualify for publication here?
  • Is there a word limit for submissions?
  • Should I use a specific size/style of font?
  • What is the deadline to submit to this publication/contest?
  • Does this publication accept simultaneous submissions? (AKA: Am I allowed to send my entry to multiple journals at the same time?)

Find the important details, and follow them. There’s no use submitting to a publication you’re not eligible for.

It’s also a good idea to read samples/past issues of the publication you’re submitting to. Get a feel for their style, and figure out what kind of work they like.

Then, looking at your own work, strategically decide on which pieces you should send them.

Format everything according to their specifications, and be sure to note whether or not they accept simultaneous submissions (if they don’t, then make sure that you’re only sending that poem to one journal at a time).

3. Get ready for rejection.

I’m going to be totally honest: whether you’re a new writer or a seasoned pro, you’re going to get rejected at some point.

I often joke that 90% of being a writer is just getting rejected. There’s no use getting embarrassed about it, because every single writer has faced this reality.

Don’t expect to be published in every journal you submit to, because it’s not going to happen. The same thing goes for contests: you can’t possibly win every single one.

When you submit to a publication, go into it with the following mentality: It would be nice if I got accepted, but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world.

And what to do when you get your inevitable first rejection letter? Shrug–and move on. So, you didn’t get in this time. You can always try again in their next call for submissions, or look into alternative journals.

Conclusion

You can build an entire literary career without ever spending a penny. All you need to do is spend some time researching local publications, and focus on the ones without any entry fees.

And as you submit to more journals, magazines, and contests, you’ll gradually find new avenues to publish your work.