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Writerly Roundup – October 2016

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.

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Photo by Jena Schwartz

6 Writing Tips from John Steinbeck, Maria Popova (@brainpicker), The Atlantic

If you’re going to take writing advice, it might as well be from one of the greats. In 1975, John Steinbeck shared his writing advice with The Paris Review. In this piece from few years ago, The Atlantic has assembled a list of his wisest tidbits from that interview, one of which addresses the tendency to edit as we go:

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

Many writers get hung up on the idea of their audience, and it can hinder the writing process. Writers are taught to always consider the broader audience for a piece, but Steinbeck advises against this.

Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

We hear a lot of writing advice, but it's hard to ignore the bits that come from a man like John Steinbeck.

It’s My Story (and I’ll Tell It If I Want To)Allison K. Williams (@guerillamemoir), Brevity's Nonfiction Blog

In this Brevity blog, Allison K. Williams recalls an essay by author Roz Warren about Warren’s cheating husband. In the essay, Warren reveals how she was duped and simultaneously finds herself just a bit excited by the prospect of writing about the topic. Where is the line between a writer’s right to write and the privacy of the people in the story?

Roz Warren’s partner was, not unnaturally, unhappy about her new topic. Furious, in fact. But one of her friends quoted Anne Lamott–“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people want you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Williams writes about her own life with the same frankness, and she offers some ethical guidelines for writers who tell their own truth.

I also write personal essays. I also talk frankly about bad behavior. And I believe that not only is it possible to do so ethically and kindly–for a given value of “kind”–but that writing ethically makes better work.

Ultimately, Williams concludes with the belief that writers must tell the truth as they experience it. I find this to be a slippery slope. How do you balance privacy vs. truth in your own writing? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The One Literary Agent Interview All Writers Need To Read, Bryan Hutchinson (@ADDerWORLD), Positive Writer

Despite the click bait title, this interview with literary agent Mark Gottlieb, a well-known player in the world of publishing who has an impressive list of author-clients, gives us a look into that realm from the agent’s point of view. Hutchinson queries Gottlieb about the growing self-publishing trend, and Gottlieb makes a compelling argument for going the more traditional route.

The odds of that success [in self-publishing] can be lower than were an author to try and approach a literary agent as an author attempting to make their major debut in trade publishing. The bar is quite high in terms of self-publishing to attract an agent or publisher. An author usually needs to have sold at least 50,000 copies at a decent price.

Gottlieb talks about what a literary agency is looking for in an author, the most important being what he calls “an amazing read.” Writers must be aware of the rules of writing before they try to bend them, he cautions and goes on to suggest several books on craft. He also touches on some of the pitfalls to avoid when working on a manuscript.

A piece of advice I tend to share with clients in such a pitfall is a famed quote from the author Charles Bukowski: “An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” That will help the moral of the book shine through, which is ultimately what attracts me to a manuscript, since many of the books I represent are concerned with important social messages.

This short interview with Gottlieb redirected my thoughts towards one of the ultimate goals of writing: publishing. It’s a good reminder of why I get up early to write and why I need to keep doing so. When it's time to publish, an author's choices continue to expand.

Do Writers Need A Social Media Following?, Abby Norman (@abbymnorman), Hippocampus Magazine

When it comes to the writing life, how important is social media? I think we all know that it’s a vital component, but Abby Norman explores why this is the case. First and foremost, publishers want to see that some percentage of the reading world is interested in what you have to say.

One thing that agents and publishers look for is platform. If you’re proposing to write a book, or you’ve written one already, they want to know that there’s interest. In the book, sure, but also in you.

Norman writes about the role social media has played in the development of her own career. She has more followers than she can respond to, now, and sometimes her social media responsibilities overwhelm her. But the chance to connect with readers, publishers, editors, and other writers justifies the effort.

Yes, sometimes the work feels mindless, endless, and senseless — but then, a writing gig comes along, or I connect with someone I’ve long admired — or someone connects with me and I get the chance to help them along on their journey — and it feels worth it.

She concludes the piece with a few tips for writers who may not be thrilled about the idea of a social media platform, including scheduling tweets ahead of time, staying current, and not obsessing over numbers of followers.

35 Books for Writers, Penguin Random House

Finally, just in case your nightstand is looking a little empty, Penguin Random House has a list of books for your perusal. Short stories, long stories, hard stories, comic books, grammar, punctuation, memoir...after all, who doesn't need a little literary support?

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Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!


Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer living with her husband and their young sons in West Virginia. She holds an MFA from Chatham University and writes humor. Her work has recently appeared on Matador Network, in Brain, Child MagazineVandaleer, Animal: A Beast of  Literary Magazine, DefenestrationThe Higgs Weldon, and the Erma Bombeck humor site. She also writes a regular nature column, Valley Views & Varmints.


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