8 Ideas for Kick-Starting Your Writing Career During Quarantine

Starting a writing career is often a lengthy process. It doesn’t happen overnight; getting your name out there takes plenty of time, effort, and hard work.

But if you’re one of the many people in quarantine mode right now, there seems to be more time on our hands than ever before. 

So if you’ve got room in your schedule to focus on your writing career, here are eight ideas for getting started

(I’ve mentioned several of these strategies on the blog before, so I’ll also link to relevant further reading where applicable.)

1. Update your writer’s CV, LinkedIn profile, and/or Contently portfolio.

A few weeks ago, I covered the importance of keeping an up-to-date writer’s CV. (So check out that full article if you need a step-by-step guide.)

In brief, creating (and updating) your writer’s CV acts as a handy overview of your writing career — including your past publication credits, performances, and awards. It acts as a resume for creative writing work, so treat it as a priority. 

It’s also a good idea to keep an active LinkedIn profile. Be sure to include your creative writing career and accomplishments under your work experience. Keep your profile current with all of your most recent publication credits and awards (if applicable).

And if you’ve got a poetry reading or book launch coming up, try posting about it on your feed. Staying active on LinkedIn will help build your professional network and let you present yourself as a qualified writer.

Lastly, if you’re a blogger/freelance writer, Contently is a great site to help with building a professional-looking portfolio

It’s free to use and gives you a polished home for your writing credits — which is especially useful if you haven’t built a writer website yet. As with your CV and LinkedIn profile, make sure to update your Contently profile regularly so that you can showcase your most recent accomplishments.

2. Edit your past work.

Editing your work is a detailed and often time-consuming process. 

Much like spring cleaning, editing involves painstakingly looking at every nook and cranny of your work. It takes a lot of effort and mental energy, but it’s one of the best things you can do as a writer.

So while you’re at home, try taking a red pen to some of your past writing. Using either a digital word processor or a printed copy, give yourself some time to really dig into your own work. 

If you’re a poet, check out my past article on how to edit your own chapbook for a full break-down of the process.

3. Try compiling a longer collection/book.

This step goes hand-in-hand with editing: If you’ve got enough drafts of past work, why not try assembling them into a full-fledged book? 

For in-depth tips, check out another past article I wrote about assembling a poetry chapbook. In essence, try sorting through some past drafts to see if there are any core themes. If so, play around with grouping certain poems/pieces together into a larger body of work. 

If you’re a fiction or non-fiction author, try reading through your past notes to see if there are any interesting topics you could flesh out into longer pieces. 

Use this time to sort through your rough work and parse out what’s worth expanding upon.

4. Submit to new publications or publishers.

Again, I’ve covered this on the blog, but now is a great time to send your work out for consideration. Take the time to research calls for submissions in your area and assemble some high-quality samples of your work.

Or, if you’ve got a full-length book, try researching local small presses who are accepting manuscripts. Although tedious, this research could lead you to your first big break!

6. Try journaling.

Another topic I’ve mentioned before is the value of journaling. Whether free-form or structured, journaling is a great way to get your creative juices going.

Try not to put pressure on yourself to create a masterpiece while doing this exercise — instead, treat the process like a warm-up

Allow yourself to flex your writing muscle and see where it takes you. Even if you don’t end up with high-quality writing, you’ll be better off having practised.

7. Use writing prompts.

As with journaling, using writing prompts can really help you move past writer’s block. And during quarantine, you’ve likely been afforded the chance to play around with your writing practice.

ThinkWritten has a handy list, but you can find other prompts online (or in a book on writing). Try using one prompt per day to get yourself writing, and see where it takes you.

8. Start a blog or website.

Lastly, you could use this time to start an entire blog

This is an exciting prospect made even easier by the fact that platforms like WordPress make the process quite simple. You can try free versions to start out, and simply use a basic theme to design the site.

Try to pick a subject that you find genuinely interesting — whether that’s sports, makeup, gardening, or video games. Focus on something you’ll be excited to write about on a regular basis.

Alternatively, if you’re a freelance writer, this is an excellent time to start a writer website. As a digital creative, your website acts as a business card. The sleeker your writer website is, the more professional you’ll look to potential clients.

While you could technically use a free website, try shelling out for a custom domain name if at all possible. Even a super-basic WordPress plan will do you well. Be sure to include an ‘about me’ page, a contact form, and even a relevant blog if you have the time.

Conclusion

There you have it: eight tips for kick-starting your writing career while social distancing at home. These are trying times, but keeping busy with a creative practice can serve as a welcome distraction or soothing activity (especially journaling!). 

I hope you’re all doing well (or as well as you can right now). Thanks for reading this week’s post, and be sure to follow the blog if you’d like to be notified of future articles.

Happy writing!

Why Writing Often Flourishes in Times of Crisis

There’s no doubt that this point in history is frightening. 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated every normal aspect of modern life: the comfort of lingering in coffee shops, the hustle and bustle of busy shopping malls, or even the act of hosting a small dinner party among friends.

Combined with the constant flood of negative news stories, this situation has undoubtedly shaken us all. 

Crises aren’t fun; they come with unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, and danger.

But if you’re a writer, you might have noticed a tricky paradox: that your best work often comes out of the most difficult experiences of your life. 

Let’s dig into that concept a bit more.

[Content Notice: the rest of this article mentions experiences of trauma, mental illness, and hospitalization. Please only continue reading if you feel that it’s safe for you to do so.]

The Myth of the Tortured Artist 

It’s a common stereotype that, especially for poets, you need to experience extreme hardship to create great art. 

This is a dangerous belief: it implies that artists can’t find inspiration from joy or happiness. And it often justifies self-destructive behavior (i.e. alcoholism) as the price of being a creative genius.

I’ve always struggled with this myth of the tortured artist because, on one hand, I recognize that creativity doesn’t require pain. 

On the other hand, I recognize that some of my best poetry has been written during mental health crises. 

My Personal Experience

For example, my experiences of being hospitalized on psychiatric wards informed much of my first chapbook. My chronic depression and suicidality were some of the foremost themes of that collection.

I’ve always considered writing as an act of survival. I truly believe that I would have committed suicide many years ago if I’d never begun writing creatively.

Long before I was able to accept help for my mental illness, I supplemented treatment with the act of writing poetry. Writing was — first and foremost — a way for me to process trauma that I was experiencing in real-time. 

It allowed me to take my overwhelming emotional experiences and not only record them, but transform them into words with meaning.

After all, writing confessional poetry doesn’t just mean dumping all of your unfiltered thoughts onto the page (although some writers may choose to adopt that via a stream-of-consciousness style).

To me, great confessional poetry involves taking something that feels overwhelming (like depression) and reflecting upon it. 

After that point of reflection, the writer uses every tool at their disposal (like literary devices) to re-shape that experience into art. Similar to the act of meditation, writing involves finding distance between you and your thoughts. And that is a powerful process.

And the reality is that many of the greatest writers of all time grappled with severe mental health issues; Dickinson, Plath, and Bukowski (just to name a few) have conveyed their emotional pain in their work.

So, while not a hard-and-fast rule, the myth of the tortured artist holds some truth. While pain isn’t a necessary component of good writing, it has often been a source of inspiration for artists throughout history.

How can we apply this concept to the current crisis?

I mention all of this because I believe that this point in history holds unique potential.

No, it’s not good that tens of thousands of people have died of COVID-19 (and many more have become seriously ill). There is no justification for the global experience of suffering right now — it’s horrible and unthinkable.

But what we can learn from history is that times of crisis often lead to immense creative output. 

It doesn’t make the current situation any better or worthwhile, but perhaps it can motivate us to reflect on our experiences and comment on them through art.

The reality is that, for many of us (who are fortunate enough to not be on the front lines), we’ll be confined to our homes for an undetermined number of weeks or even months. 

So while we’re stuck indoors, perhaps we can use this time to create. Because what’s the alternative?

Yes, working from home can help us feel productive; FaceTiming our friends can help us feel connected to those we love; cleaning our homes can help us feel organized. But what will we do to fill that aching void — an emptiness that threatens to consume us?

If you’re a writer, the keyboard has never looked better.


A Note on Writing Advice 

It definitely feels strange to write my usual Writing Advice articles during this time of global crisis. As such, my blog posts will likely have heavier themes than usual. 

I hope that you still find them useful, and please hit the Follow button if you’d like to be notified of future posts. 

Thank you, as always, for reading the blog, and I hope that you & your loved ones are staying safe during this time.  


Disclaimer 

If you’re experiencing mental health struggles, there are many resources available. For example, if you’re in Canada, you can consult this link for a comprehensive overview of crisis lines and information. International readers can also visit the Suicide Stop website for a list of global helplines. 

However, this article is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis or treatment of any medical problem, consult your own physician.

The Importance of Keeping an Up-To-Date Writer’s CV

For most people, the idea of keeping a resume is pretty par for the course.

Whether you’re looking for a new job or just trying to stay organized, keeping an accurate record of your employment history, level of education, and key skills is a common thing for professionals to do.

But what about a writer’s CV?

Well, if you’re embarking on a writing career, this lesser-known record of achievement is extremely important. And for many years of my career, I skipped this step altogether.

Let’s break down what a CV is, why you should care, and tips for keeping yours up-to-date.

What is a writer’s CV?

CV stands for curriculum vitae.

It’s kind of similar (in nature) to a resume, but is generally a more streamlined list of one’s professional accomplishments.

And as an author, your creative CV will be specifically focused on your writing career.

You’ll usually need a writer’s CV if you’re applying for contests, grants, or residencies. You may also be asked to supply one if you’re submitting a manuscript for publication or trying to get booked for a gig (i.e. a poetry reading).

In essence, your writer’s CV serves as an easy reference for all of your career highlights.

Why should I care about keeping an accurate writer’s CV?

As I mentioned, I actually went many years without keeping an up-to-date writer’s CV. I was still in the early days of my creative writing career and didn’t understand its importance.

I eventually had to draft one up when applying for an editorial position several years ago.

The problem was, I’d been writing for many years and hadn’t been keeping track of every little accomplishment, so I sort of had to scramble while putting my CV together.

The risk that comes with hurriedly drafting a writer’s CV is that you may end up forgetting important accomplishments. If you’re not maintaining a running list of your achievements, you’ll likely forget some.

So, I’d recommend keeping a CV as soon as possible — ideally from the beginning of your career. If you’re a new writer, this should be one of your top priorities!

This will help you stay organized and ready for any exciting opportunities that come up; you’ll be able to easily send one over when applying for a contest or residency. Keeping an up-to-date writer’s CV will help you look polished and professional.

Applying for such opportunities is the main way you’ll grow your career. Especially when you first start out, you’ll want to take every chance possible to get your name (and your work) out there.

An accurate CV will help you put your best foot forward.

How can I draft my own writer’s CV?

Now that we’ve established the basics of what a writer’s CV is and why it’s important, we can go through the steps of actually writing one.

I’d say that your first priority should be creating a detailed list of every single literary accomplishment you’ve had. For this, I’d write a simple list either by hand or in a blank Word document. (You can worry about the design later.)

Remember that, especially as a new writer, no accomplishment is too small! Even if you’ve only been published in small student journals or maintain your own blog, that counts, too.

As a general rule, I like to break my writer’s CV into three sections: publishing credits, notable appearances, and awards/distinctions.

Now, I’m primarily a poet (in terms of my creative career), so this format may not necessarily apply to your genre. For example, if you write personal essays, you may not give many performances (as opposed to poets who regularly give readings).

Be sure to write down every little detail that would make you look like a qualified writer. Every minor publication, performance, or contest you’ve won will help.

If there are particular accomplishments that stand out, consider highlighting them in a separate section.

For example, I have a section titled “Of note”, where I mention the fact that my book is held at the University of Toronto Libraries. This helps the reader zero in on a particularly important achievement of mine.

Once you’ve got a basic list done, you can fuss over the design. I like to use Microsoft Word templates, but you could also use one from Google Docs.

Plug in all of your accomplishments and spend some time playing around with the layout. I’d recommend making it as visually appealing as possible, so that it’s easy to read and gives off a professional look.

One last important tip: regularly update your writer’s CV. A CV is of no use to you if it’s no longer accurate. At least once every few months, take stock of your recent writing achievements, and add them to your CV.

An added bonus? It feels nice to reflect on how far you’ve come, so this process can also give you an added boost of confidence in your career!

Wrapping up

Hopefully, now you’ve got an understanding of why it’s important to keep a writer’s CV. Remember to start small and stay organized.

This simple practice of drafting one can help you give a good first impression to potential editors or contest judges.

Just as a job hunter needs an impressive resume, so too does a writer need a professional CV.

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As always, thanks for reading the Writing Advice column here on my site. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to follow the blog to be notified of future articles.

(I had to skip a couple of weeks, but we’re now back to our regularly-scheduled posts.)

Happy writing!

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.

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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!

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.

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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!

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! 😊

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!