How to Make Your Writing Stand Out to Editors

As a freelance writer, much of your time will inevitably be spent sending your work out to various publications. Whether you’re a poet, blogger, or journalist, much of your career will involve submitting samples to editors/editorial boards for consideration.

And it can feel intimidating — especially when you’re a new writer — to send your work out into the world in the hopes of getting published. I touched on this briefly in my first blog post, 3 Free Ways to Get Published as a New Writer, but today’s article will dig into more specifics on this entire process.

As someone who’s been on both ends of this — as an author seeking publication and as an editor selecting pieces for publication — I’ve got some handy tips to keep in mind.

I also recognize that the best advice will vary depending on the type of writing you do. So, I’ve divided these tips up based on genre:

Tips for creative authors submitting literary work

This advice will be best-suited for authors of poetry, creative non-fiction, and short stories. Most publications you’ll submit to will be literary magazines and journals which ask for pieces of polished, high-quality writing during their call for submissions. If you’re a poet, this will usually be around 1-3 poems. If you’re a fiction writer, this will usually be one piece of approximately 1000-3000 words. 

Here’s how to make your work stand out:

1. Know your audience. 

Try to get a good sense of what kind of publication you’re submitting to. Do they typically publish experimental work, or are they more “high-brow”? 

Better yet, have you submitted to this publication in the past? If so, did they accept or reject your submission? Let that guide you; if you’ve been successful before, aim to take a similar approach. 

If you’ve been rejected by their editorial board in the past, make a conscious effort to tailor your selections to the kind of work they do publish. This doesn’t mean that you need to change your writing style altogether. It just means looking at your catalogue of work and selectively picking the pieces that seem to suit their tastes. 

For example, if you submitted a long-form poem to a publication in the past and they rejected it, take a look at their past issues. Do they seem to prefer snappy, short, and minimalist poetry? If so, next time, pick one of your shorter pieces to send instead.

2. Make note of how much they pay upon publication (if they do at all).

Next, you’ll want to be sure that you understand exactly what publication entails. Read the call for submissions carefully.

Will contributors be paid for their work? If so, how much? Will contributors receive free copies of the publication? If so, how many copies? 

If the publication doesn’t offer compensation (which is quite common), ask yourself: Is it really worth it? Will this specific publication look good on my writer’s CV? Does this publication offer a wide reach in terms of their audience? If so, it may still be worthwhile.

You should also keep in mind that when you later go to apply for writing programs, residencies, or grants, many review boards will refuse to count publication credits as “professional” unless they involve some form of payment. So, choose carefully. The most realistic strategy is to submit to a mix of both paying and non-paying publications.

3. Follow their instructions closely.

Again, I’ve touched on this in a previous blog post, but it’s absolutely imperative that you follow the guidelines listed in the publication’s call for submissions. 

It’s useless to send your work out if you’re rushing through the process and ignoring specifications like font style, font size, file format, length, or title format. Messing up just a single specification can immediately disqualify you from consideration. Some editors are more lax than others, but there’s no way to tell how forgiving a certain editorial board will be. Always play it on the safe side by following the rules.

And, as mentioned before on the Writing Advice blog, you’ll want to make note of whether or not a magazine/journal allows simultaneous submissions. If they allow you to send your work for consideration to other publications at the same time, they’ll likely ask you to reach out and let them know if — in the meantime — it gets accepted elsewhere. 

If they don’t allow simultaneous submissions, then don’t send your work to other journals while waiting to hear back. Of course, this rule can be restrictive for authors and make you wait long periods of time to send your work out to multiple places, therefore limiting your chances of getting published in general. If this bothers you, simply don’t submit to publications who maintain this policy.

4. Take your time, and then be patient.

It doesn’t make sense to rush through this process. Don’t try to bang out 10 different tailored submissions to various journals in one day. Take your time to carefully choose the right publications, understand their compensation rates/guidelines, and prepare your writing sample for submission. 

Many magazines and journals only accept submissions from the same author once per year, so you need to make your one shot count! Put adequate time and effort into your submission. 

But once you’ve done the work and sent your submission in, try to be patient. Editors are often strapped for time. Many publications take several months, or even up to a year, to respond to submissions. 

Try not to take it personally if you’re left waiting — and many calls for submissions will include an estimate of how long it will take to hear back. If it’s been a while and you’re unsure of the status of your submission, you can (politely) follow up with the editors. But — again — try not to take it personally if they don’t respond for a while.

I know that — as an author — the waiting period can feel grueling and frustrating. But I also know that — as an editor — it’s a really lengthy and complicated process to sort through submissions, read them, and correspond with all the potential contributors. Try to have a little grace with us, if you can!

Tips for submitting/pitching your non-literary work

This advice is more applicable to freelance writers of articles and blog posts. You’ll likely be pitching to websites, magazines, or newspapers. This differs from literary work in one very important way: submitting creative writing usually involves sending a sample of “finished” work, whereas pitching an article for a website involves sending an overview of a proposed concept (before even writing the article). 

Here’s how to master the pitching process:

1. Figure out the voice of the publication you’re submitting to.

Your pitch will be most effective if you’ve read several different articles from the publication in question. Get to really know the tone of their writers, and get a sense of what topics they generally cover. There’s no use pitching a light, fun lifestyle piece to a website that solely focuses on tech.

Keep in mind that you want the pitch to both fit in with their current overall voice while still adding something unique to the conversation. Search their website to make sure they haven’t published a story like yours in the past. 

2. Keep it brief.

A pitch should feel snappy, concise, and interesting. You want to pique the editor’s interest while not overwhelming them with excessive details. This is a pitch — not a full article — after all. In general, a pitch of 100-300 words is a good starting point. Be sure to include a potential title (or two) and a summary of your article concept as a whole. 

3. Make sure you’re contacting the right person.

The biggest mistake you can make when pitching is to send it to the wrong person. A pitch is doing nothing if it sits in the incorrect inbox. Take the time to figure out who you need to contact. Checking the “submissions” or “guidelines” page on their website is a good place to start.

Their website will likely list a specific person (like a managing editor) to send your email to, or will simply list a centralized email address that they use to accept submissions (without mentioning who you’re sending it to exactly). If you can find a specific person, all the better! That way, you can address them directly in your email. 

Think of it like applying for a job — you want to get your work in front of the right person, and if possible, you’ll want to address the hiring manager (or, in this case, editor) directly to show that you’ve put in the effort. This is not necessary, but it certainly helps.

Wrapping up

There you have it — my top tips to get noticed as a freelance writer. I hope you found them helpful. As always, be sure to subscribe to the blog to be notified of each new article.

Happy writing!

And let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite way to make your writing stand out?

What Poetry and Resume-Writing Have in Common

On the surface, poetry and resume-writing may seem quite different: the former is a type of creative writing, while the latter is a more professional endeavour. But there is one crucial point of overlap — both mediums are predicated on the art of being concise.

Striking similarities between the two forms of writing

In general, poems are short — and so are resumes. Sure, there are different styles of poetry — some lengthier than others — but poems are typically no more than a page or two each. The same goes for resumes; if they’re done well, the candidate has condensed their key features within one or two pages max.

Both forms of writing call upon the author to keep things short, snappy, and (most importantly) engaging

A 2018 study from TheLadders.com found that: 

Despite operating in the toughest hiring environment in decades, many recruiters are still skimming resumes for details—with the average initial screen clocking in at just 7.4 seconds.”

When a recruiter sees your resume, then, it’s your job to impress them in mere seconds. The process of engaging a poetry reader is remarkably similar. 

Oftentimes, a potential reader will come across your book at a library or bookstore. It’s your job to create a piece of art that is so engaging, it pulls people in. 

Even though the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” seems great in theory, the truth is that many readers will judge your book solely based on its cover (at least as a knee-jerk reaction). That’s why book design is so important — as is the art of choosing the perfect title. 

Once a potential reader picks up your book, they might spend a few seconds glancing at the first poem or two. And, within that very short time-frame, they’ll make a split-second decision on whether your work seems interesting enough to read in more detail. Then, they’ll either put the book back down, or end up purchasing it.

In either scenario (as a job applicant or author), your reader is basically saying: Impress me. Show me what you’ve got. And succeeding means keeping things concise. 

Even stylistically, poems and resumes have a lot in common. In either medium, there’s an art to the way you display words on a page. The formatting, punctuation, and line length all matter.

Your font style, size, and line spacing are all deliberate choices. Your use of em dashes, semicolons, and italics become more powerful. Your choice to keep lines short is methodical.

How to succeed at either art-form

Now that we’ve established the similarities, you’re probably wondering: How do I put this knowledge into action? 

Here are some tips that apply to either genre:

  • Keep things clean. The design of your page should appear sleek. Don’t overcrowd the page with information (especially in a resume). The reader wants to feel informed but not overwhelmed.
  • Recognize the added weight that each word carries. When writing in shorter formats, your words are so much more precious. You don’t have time to flesh out concepts and ideas; you need to make your point, and you need to do so efficiently.
  • Dig into the minutiae of your writing. Pause before choosing a semicolon vs. an em dash. Assess the length of each individual line or sentence. Pay attention to the aesthetics of each page. 
  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Imagine if you were reading this particular resume or poem: What would it take for this piece of writing to truly catch your eye? Meditate on that.
  • Don’t be afraid to trim, trim, and trim some more. Many resume writers in particular try to cram as much information onto the page as physically possible. The recruiter does not need to know about every extra-curricular activity you’ve ever done, or every single task you carried out at a particular job. Challenge yourself to cut more words than you think you need to. The same goes for poems — you don’t need to include every little detail. Just the important ones.
  • Always ask for the opinion of others. Pretty much any writer would benefit from getting outside feedback. Have your friends, family, or colleagues read over your work. See what they think. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own heads that we don’t see our work clearly. 

As you can see, either form of writing requires reflection. 

Writing in 2020

With many of us now looking for jobs, the art of resume-writing has never been more relevant. The precariousness of work right now (across the globe) has stirred up anxiety surrounding our careers.

Even if we still have a job, we might worry: What if I don’t have it in six months? Keeping your resume polished is always a good idea.

And as I covered in a recent article, When Hobbies Become Everything: Finding Comfort During a Pandemic, the practice of creative writing is also more valuable than ever. Poetry is a very healing thing.

I hope you found these writing tips helpful! Be sure to subscribe to the blog to stay notified of each new article. And if you have the time, check out a little survey I recently put out for readers of the Writing Advice blog to give feedback about the site (linked here).

Happy writing!

Writing Advice Survey

Hello to all readers! This is a quick note regarding a new survey for followers of the Writing Advice blog.

We’ve got some exciting things coming in the next few months, and I’d love your thoughts about the blog as a whole! Please check out the Google Form here to give your feedback.

The entire survey should take you about 5-10 minutes to complete. Please note that you won’t receive any compensation/gift cards/etc. for filling this out, but I thank you in advance for your time.

This is simply to get your feedback and suggestions on how to make the blog better for you. I want to hear your thoughts and honour what this community needs best!

A new blog post will still be coming this Saturday.

Happy writing!

6 Purchases — Big and Small — That Have Boosted My Productivity as a Writer

A lot of the suggestions given here on the Writing Advice blog are rather conceptual in nature: I recommend strategies, ideas, and practices to up your writing game.

But there are plenty of items — many tactile and physical — which are just as crucial to maintaining a writing career. So, here are six purchases that have helped me stay productive as a writer.

Disclaimer: This is not — in any way — a sponsored post. The recommendations given below are based on my genuine thoughts about the products, and I make no commission or affiliate income if you click the links provided here. 

1. Cute Notebooks

Perhaps the most essential purchase for a writer is a plain old notebook. Having readily-available stationery is a must for any author. 

Of course, you can buy whatever type of notebook you like — whether it be from a pricey bookstore or your local dollar store. 

For me, I find that I work best with cute-looking, distinct notebooks. This is because — in the past — I’ve purchased random, plain-looking, cheap notebooks, and always lost track of them. Since they all looked the same and none of them really caught my eye, I had a hard time staying organized. 

The solution? To spend a little extra on nice notebooks with designs that I love. That way, I feel motivated to grab them and always keep some handy at my desk.

My personal favourite is the Ssuiem & Cclim Compact Notebook, which is from a Korean stationery brand that I found at a local paper shop, Hanji Gifts (more on them later).

The notebook comes in a variety of adorable designs — so I always make sure to have a few on hand: one to consolidate all of my current rough work, and a back-up or two for when the first copy runs out. I like to rotate different designs just to keep things interesting.

But again, you may have different taste; perhaps you prefer leather-bound notebooks. Find a company, store, or style that you enjoy, and stick to a standard one for the sake of simplicity.

2. Easy-to-Use Pens

What is your favourite brand of pens? It may seem like an inconsequential detail to most people, but I think most writers would agree that having an easy-to-use pen makes a huge difference in terms of productivity.

Again, this is all up to personal taste, but my personal choice is the PaperMate InkJoy brand. I find them to be a pleasure to write with, and I use them for most of my freelance writing, personal journaling, or just for making to-do lists.

I often find them at my local dollar store (Dollarama here in Canada), with a box of 12 pens running no more than $2-3. I find that they strike a nice balance between affordability and quality.

So, find a brand that you enjoy using, and make a point of keeping your desk stocked with them for whenever inspiration strikes.

3. Music Subscription Service

This is by no means a required purchase, but I’ve found that having a Spotify Premium subscription (which I split with family members to keep the cost low) is extremely useful. 

Paying the $4.99 a month for ad-free listening is worth it to me — both personally and professionally. For a long time, I opted for YouTube as my source of playlists to use while working on my laptop. If you’re on a budget, it’s a solid option — but the increasing number of ads on each video is kind of excessive at this point. 

Shelling out for an ad-free service makes it easier to stay in my workflow without going back and forth between tabs to skip through ads. I like to listen to instrumental playlists to keep me focused and in the zone. 

Other people might also prefer using a white noise machine, which can play ocean sounds or rain tracks to relax you in the background. That might be a worthwhile purchase if it suits your needs (I have one to keep running in my room at night, as well). Since it’s a one-time cost, it might make more financial sense, too.

Depending on your budget, find some type of music or background noises to help you stay focused on your writing work. 

4. Quality Laptop

Again, this isn’t a must-have, but I’m a big fan of my MacBook Air. I purchased mine seven (!) years ago after saving up money from my part-time job for years and years. It was an investment I made right before starting university (since my dying, old laptop just wasn’t cutting it anymore).

Of course, everyone is working with a different budget. Some people have the funds to invest in a high-quality laptop, while others might resort to using computers at their local library. 

Wherever you are financially, try to strike a balance between a computer that is within your budget but will still serve you well over time. Even though I paid over $1000 for that 2013 laptop, it has served me well throughout university and beyond without a single problem. 

The only thing I’ve ever had to replace is my charging cable, and in the next year or so, I’ll probably shell out for a replacement battery. But when you break that purchase down into its cost-per-use, it’s actually pretty low at this point. 

Having a reliable and fast computer has certainly helped me stay productive as a writer. Try to find an option that works for you.

5. Simple Pen Holder

This item certainly costs less than a laptop! For me, another invaluable purchase has been a simple pen holder that I bought at my local dollar store (again, Dollarama for us Canadians). 

It’s pink, it’s cute, and it helps me stay organized. I keep it beside me at all times while working at my desk, and I can easily access pens, highlighters, pencils, and scissors as needed. This may seem silly and insignificant, but it has genuinely helped me stay on top of my work without having to interrupt my flow to search for a pen.

6. Zine Paper

Lastly, another worthwhile investment has been in high-quality paper to print my zines on. A couple of years ago, in between writing my two poetry collections, I wanted to take a less-structured approach to creating and publishing new work.


So, I opted to make single-page zines on which I’d copied and pasted miscellaneous new poems. I made them using my at-home printer/photocopier, and whenever I table at zine/book fairs, I still sell them in addition to my poetry books.

I found it useful to pay for high-quality, handmade paper which I also found at Hanji Gifts here in Toronto. You can always check out your local paper shop or office supply store for different options.

If you choose to go the self-publishing route, quality paper is a worthwhile investment to make your work look professional and catch the eye of a potential customer.

Conclusion


And there you have it: six essential purchases that help me stay productive as an author. 

As always, thanks for reading the Writing Advice blog, and be sure to subscribe to receive notifications for each new article. 

Let me know in the comments: What is one purchase — big or small — that you’ve found essential as a writer?

Happy writing!

When Hobbies Become Everything: Finding Comfort During a Pandemic

If there’s one illusion the current pandemic has shattered, it’s the idea that work is everything. In our fast-paced, capitalist society, one’s worth as a human being has often been equated with our profession. 

But now that the entire world has essentially shut down, we’ve been confronted with more complicated questions, like: Who am I when I’m not at work? 

Countless people have lost their jobs or been indefinitely laid off. Unemployment rates are skyrocketing. Suddenly, work is no longer a given part of everyone’s lives and identities.

So, where do we go from here? A good place to start is by cultivating hobbies. And creative writing is one of my favourites.

Finding a new sense of value

In the context of a career-driven, capitalist, and consumerist society, hobbies haven’t always been valued. 

Many have wondered: Why “waste” your time on activities that won’t explicitly further your professional ambitions? Why spend hours working on a skill that won’t necessarily make you much (if any) money?

And look — I get it. Money is important. It drives so much of our day-to-day lives. Without adequate funds, you can’t put a roof over your head, feed yourself (and your family), or even afford the time to pick up a leisure activity.

But if your basic needs are being met, there is so much value in picking up a hobby. Because we, as human beings, are not meant to be money-making machines. We’re complex, multi-faceted individuals, each with our own talents, interests, and passions.

Not every interaction needs to be an opportunity to “network.” We can (and should) spend some of our time doing things just because we enjoy them — not in an effort to beef up our LinkedIn profiles.

The psychological benefits of hobbies

And hobbies aren’t just for fun — they can have concrete and seriously meaningful benefits. For example, psychologist Joyce E.A. Russel writes for the Washington Post: “Research has shown that people who have hobbies are generally healthier, and have a lower risk of depression and dementia.”

As someone who’s dealt with mental health issues for basically my whole life, I can attest to the fact that hobbies can help provide meaning and structure.

Engaging in your favourite leisure activity is most certainly an act of self-care — which is a term that gets tossed around a lot these days. As many of us are now adapting to slower, less hurried lives, hobbies are easy shortcuts to accessing moments of joy, relief, and comfort.

Why pick up creative writing?

So, now that we’ve talked about the basics of why hobbies are important, let’s look at an example of what you can pick up. Obviously, as this is a blog about writing, I’m a bit biased. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, writing poetry has personally been a source of life-long comfort.

And the thing about poetry is that there really isn’t much money in it. Unless you happen to blow up and become an international best-seller (à la Rupi Kaur), you should never become a poet with the intention of making a living off it. 

Even the most talented and well-respected poets of our time typically still have “real jobs” as professors, teachers, or publishing professionals to pay their bills. And yet, they still write creatively, knowing that their reward for doing so will likely not be monetary.

The act of writing allows one to process their thoughts and emotions into tangible words. It gives the writer time to pause, reflect, and craft something meaningful out of the mess of existence.

In 2020, amidst a global pandemic (and collective suffering/outrage over racial injustice), we could all use a few moments of reflection. Taking just a few minutes per day to write can have lasting benefits.

The timing has never been better

So, if you’re a writer — even just as a hobbyist — give yourself permission to get creative. Many of us now have plenty of free time on our hands, and writing is one way to keep yourself engaged.

Is there a novel you’ve been meaning to write? A great idea you’ve had on the backburner? Curious about writing a poem or two? Or just interested in starting to journal?

Now is a great time to start. And not for the purpose of “getting things done” or staying “productive” — just because you want to!

Truly: if not now, when?

Wrapping up

If you need inspiration for getting started, check out these past posts from the Writing Advice blog:

No matter what your hobby — whether you’re a painter or a home cook — remember to carve out time for doing the things you enjoy. Just because we’re all collectively going through a difficult time doesn’t mean that you should let your fear or sadness consume you.

Taking time to do things you truly enjoy — regardless of their money-making potential — can help offset the widespread stress of living through a pandemic. Remember to be gentle with yourself and afford yourself the time to unwind.

As always, thanks for reading the blog. Be sure to subscribe so that you can receive new, weekly articles straight to your inbox. 

Happy writing!

Writing as a Form of Mental Health Advocacy

Content notice: This post discusses mental illness, suicidal ideation, and psychiatric hospitalization. Please only continue reading if you feel safe enough to do so. 


As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, I want to talk about the use of creative writing to eliminate stigma around mental illness. 

Throughout my entire body of work, perhaps the most common theme of all is mental illness — and in particular, my experience with it. 

Today, I’m going to walk you through the process of how this happened, and why. And, hopefully, it will encourage you to write about other vulnerable or “taboo” subjects in your own work.

Part One: Denial

I’m going to be completely honest with you: for the majority of my life, I never spoke about my mental illness. In fact, I was in complete denial that I was even experiencing it. I was ashamed of that part of myself and wanted to hide it from everyone possible.

I resisted treatment, even though everyone in my life was urging me to get help. By the time I finally accepted treatment, I was 17 and actively suicidal on a daily basis. That night, I called a crisis line, was brought to the hospital by ambulance, and was admitted on a mental health unit for what would be the first of many times.

My life didn’t magically get better when I started treatment, but it was a pivotal moment in terms of accepting the reality: that I was dealing with severe mental health issues, and I couldn’t handle them on my own.

Part Two: Seeing Others Speak Out

Around that same time, I came upon a TED Talk by Kevin Breel called Confessions of a depressed comic. I’d recommend watching it, but in summary, it’s a brief account of the speaker’s own experience with depression.

Seeing that young man speak so openly about his experience with mental illness was baffling to me. It was a lightbulb moment; I realized, Hey — this thing I’m dealing with, that feels so heavy and so burdensome — can actually be a force for good

I realized that, even though my mental illness was debilitating and suffocating, I could help break down the stigma in society just by being open about my experience. 

It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually — as I cycled through countless medications, psychiatrist evaluations, hospitalizations, and therapy sessions — I accepted the fact that I was mentally ill. 

And I eventually realized that blending my lived experience with my professional writing career could be my way to build awareness. 

Part Three: Merging the Two Worlds

As I’ve mentioned on the blog, for me, writing has literally always been an act of survival. For as long as I can remember, creative writing has been my main source of comfort — long before I came to terms with my mental illness.

So, it was a natural progression that the poetry I shared started focusing on my mental health issues — it was a topic I had a lot of emotions about, and that I felt the need to process through the act of writing.

I should also mention that two of my favourite poets of all time — Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski — also centred their bodies of work almost entirely around their experiences of depression. 

As I read more and more of their work, I saw a model for what my career could look like: that I could be open and honest about my mental illness, but also actively re-shape and re-claim my own narrative into a cohesive, creative vision.

By the time I was 21, my first chapbook of poetry came out. The collection — called tulips — was entirely based around my experience with depression (and in particular, what it’s like to be hospitalized on a mental health unit). 

While hospitalization was, at times, very necessary in the course of my recovery, it was also a traumatic experience. Being locked in a unit — often very unclean, crowded, and full of individuals screaming and pounding on walls — is not the most comforting thing in the world. Being essentially stripped of your legal rights (at least for 72 hours) after being deemed unsafe to yourself is demoralizing. So, that was what I wrote about most in tulips.

Part Four: Connecting With Others

Since I’ve made this theme the focus of my work, I’ve been able to connect with so many people. Perhaps the most rewarding thing in the entire world is to perform somewhere and, after the reading, have people come up to me and talk about their own experience with mental illness.

It’s been a tremendously healing thing — to have honest conversations with other people about their struggles. Because, so much of the time, I feel awkward or uncomfortable even bringing up the subject of mental health (i.e. when starting a new job). 

Our society is inundated with pervasive beliefs about mental illness — that it’s an embarrassing, shameful thing, that it’s “not real,” or that people experiencing it should “just get over it.”

Yet, through poetry, I’ve been able to start conversations with others, and to hopefully normalize the concept of talking about mental health. It’s not a perfect solution; I still feel shame about my mental illness on a daily basis, and I still encounter stigma constantly. But it’s a start.

Wrapping Up

I hope this article inspires others to talk about mental health, to write about mental health, and to actively work to combat stigma. 

So, this May, remember that art can act as a bridge between painful experiences and creative expression. Whatever you feel shameful about —  whatever makes you want to hide — try writing about it. See what happens when you open up (even if you’re the only one reading your work.)


Thank you, as always, for reading the Writing Advice series. Be sure to follow the blog to be notified of each new article. And happy Mental Health Awareness month.


Please note: If you’re dealing with mental health issues (and especially if you’re feeling suicidal), there are resources available. Across Canada, there are many free crisis lines you can call. Or, if you’re in another country, try consulting this list.

4 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month From the Comfort of Your Own Home

We’re reaching the end of National Poetry Month, and although it’s not safe to attend live readings at the moment, there are plenty of ways to celebrate while social distancing.

Here are four easy ways to get in the poetic spirit this April:

1. Watch poetry readings online.

Any poetry fan can attest to the magic of attending a live performance. There’s something so intimate about hearing an author read their work aloud; often tucked into small bars and coffee shops, such gatherings are romantic and contemplative.

Yet, even though current social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders have all but cancelled live poetry readings, there are many alternatives. For example, you can find recordings of past poetry readings on sites like YouTube.

Simply try searching for the names of your favourite poets, and see what you find. Here are some recommendations to start with:

Another option is to purchase/listen to spoken word albums. Many poets opt to release such albums to accompany their poetry collections, and there are plenty of titles out there from classic authors.

Check out this Qwiklit article for a list of poetry recordings offered on Spotify, which includes work from acclaimed poets such as Billy Collins, T.S. Eliot, and Elizabeth Bishop. 

And simply search around on your preferred music platform — whether that’s Spotify, Apple Music, etc. — to find albums that speak to your taste.

2. Find some new (or old) poems to read.

Of course, the most common method of consuming poetry is to read it. The interaction between an author and their reader is a unique experience facilitated by the text.

So, if you want to celebrate National Poetry Month, try reading some new (or old) pieces. Crack open some print copies of your favourite collections, or try finding work online. Even just 20 minutes spent reading poetry can provide a welcome reprieve from the current stress and anxiety consuming the globe. 

And, as previously mentioned on the blog, the Poetry Foundation website is an excellent resource. On there, you can find individual poems, bios of famous authors, audio recordings, and more.

Let National Poetry Month serve as a reminder that poetry is an incredibly healing force; it allows us to think, feel, and reflect on life in a profound way. 

3. Support your favourite poets, small presses, and publishers.

Another great way to engage with the poetry community is to financially support writers and their publishers. Ask yourself: Who are some of my favourite living poets? Which local, small presses are regularly putting out important work? What about larger publishers?

If you have the funds, purchase poetry books (either in print or ebook form) from writers, presses, and publishers you enjoy. In the midst of this global pandemic, artists of all kinds are struggling with a lack of funds from gigs and sales. Providing financial support is invaluable in allowing them to continue their work.

Other options are to donate directly via their websites/Venmo accounts or to become members of their Patreon fundraising efforts. If you’re short on cash but have the time to spare, you could share their work via social media, write a blog post reviewing their book(s), or leave them positive reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon.

(Note: Small presses and independent authors are often the most cash-strapped members of the poetry community; supporting them in particular can be wildly helpful.)

4. Try your hand at writing a poem or two.

Lastly, another way to engage with poetry is to get writing yourself! 

It’s a myth that poetry writing is a pretentious, elitist practice; at its best, poetry appeals to the everyday reader. There are many different styles, of course, but you shouldn’t feel scared to start writing poetry just because you haven’t studied it in university or aren’t well-versed in traditional works.

Anyone can be a poet: a child just learning how to read/write, a teenager looking for a creative outlet, or an adult simply looking for a new hobby. Poetry is for everyone — unlike prosaic forms such as fiction, poetry is extremely lax in terms of rules.

Because, well, there are no rules. You can spell words wrong (intentionally or unintentionally), use odd punctuation marks/combinations, and choose to write one or one thousand words in a single piece. There are no limits, and no strict guidelines. As a poet, you have complete creative freedom.

So, grab your favourite notebook or laptop and start drafting up new work. If you need motivation, try using writing prompts, like the 22 listed in this article for Read Poetry.

Once you’ve written a few poems, try editing them yourself (or with the help of a friend/teacher), and consider publishing them. You can post them on your social media accounts, a free blog, or even submit them to various publications/contests. 

Wrapping up

Poetry is a beautiful thing. Especially in the midst of this current global crisis, we need it more than ever. Try one of these tips today, and see how much they change your life.

As always, thanks for reading the Writing Advice column. Make sure you follow the blog here on WordPress to have weekly articles delivered straight to your inbox.

And if you’re interested in reading my poetry, you can find two full collections at my publisher’s site.

Grey Borders is offering their entire digital archive for free at the moment, with the option to donate if you feel so inclined. (They publish a lot of excellent Canadian poetry, so definitely check out the rest of the site if you’re looking for new poetry.)

Happy writing (and reading)!

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!