By Cindy Pereira
1. Immerse yourself in the style or genre that you want to write in.
Find inspiration in some of your classic go-to authors, or poke around at your local library or bookseller and discover some new favorites. If something stands out to you in your readings, take a mental note, step back and see how it applies to your own work. What do you like? What don’t you like?
2. Write what you know.
Cliché, but true; using your own experiences as a guide will add a sense of authenticity and realism to your own work. This simple piece of advice is applicable to all styles and genres. I think that the common assumption for some writers in regards to “write what you know” is that it is a death sentence. It isn’t; the advice is whatever you choose to make of it.
If you aren’t sure how one of your characters would react when placed in a particular situation (whether it be finding a book of spells in a dusty attic or failing an important exam), think about how you yourself would react to the situation in question. Now, compare and contrast to what you know about your character and the world that they live in.
See? You just wrote what you knew.
3. Research your markets if you want to be published.
It won’t matter how great your work already is if it doesn’t adhere to the basic guidelines and standards of the publication you are submitting to. Read an issue or two of the publication you want to write for to get a feel of their style. Make sure to double-check their submission guidelines as well and to adhere to any preferences stated regarding manuscript formatting. Finally, deadlines are sacred—make sure you give yourself enough time between completing your piece and getting it to the editor on time.
4. Find a writing buddy.
Writing buddies can give you feedback, engage in brainstorming sessions with you, and perhaps even provide you with that extra little “push” you might need during your process. To me there is nothing more nerve-wracking than handing over a rough draft for critique, but the right writing buddy will know to critique rather than criticize.
They will have answers to some of your own questions, but will also have questions of their own which will force you to look at your work not just as a writer, but as a reader as well. Writing buddies can provide you with important feedback on character development, dialogue, pacing, tone and all that makes up a piece of literature.
My writing buddies over the years have also taught me how to trust others and to be humble in my craft.
5. Not everyone is going to like your work (and that’s okay).
It took me years to figure this one out. In the end you can’t please everyone and if you try to do so, your work may appear inauthentic or may lack focus. Take what you can from criticism, and if you have to, do so with a grain of salt.
6. Have courage, don’t give up.
I’m going to tear the band-aide off right now; you are going to receive rejection slips. If you are like me, you are going to receive many rejection slips.
Depending on the publication or the editor, you will either receive a personalized slip (one with a brief explanation stating why your piece was rejected), or you’re going to receive a generic slip (“thank you for submitting, unfortunately we are unable to accept your piece at this time—please feel free to submit again”).
This is going to be the most difficult, but also the most practical advice I can offer you in the face of supposed rejection—keep writing, learning, and keep growing.
There you have it. Now, get out there and do some writing!
Cindy Pereira is a current MFA candidate at the University of British Columbia where she is studying Creative Writing. Her poetry can be found in ‘The Warbler’s Song’ and ‘Waking Dawn.’
Challenge 6: Write what you know.
Write a story based on something that happened to you this week. It can be any genre, from poetry to essay to fiction, and the event can be as mundane or as extraordinary as you wish, but it has to be at least somewhat related to something that you experienced. Think about how much background detail you need to add and how much a reader can infer without your explicit aid.
Do you feel like you’ve represented the event in an engaging way? Is your writing more exciting to read than it was to experience? Is it less so? Even the mundane can be made fascinating if put in the right context, and sometimes the extraordinary just can’t seem to be put into words. But when it’s something you’ve personally experienced, then you should be able to find the tools to express what you felt at the time, and how it fit in a larger context. If it’s something you know, then you have all the insight you need to your writing shine.