7 Reasons You Should Never Stop Writing

 

 7 Reasons Blog Photo

by Nathan Elias

Writing is such a mysterious thing. Some people marvel at the task and enjoy its fruits (like books, movies, or music) while others take on the task of trying to create the things that people love. If you’re someone who has started on the writing path, be warned: it can be daunting. But don’t let the winding road deter you—it is a trip worth taking. Here are seven reasons you should never stop writing:

  1. Developing The Habit

Pick up any book about the craft of writing and somewhere the author will advise committing a specific amount of time to writing per day, per week—whatever works for you. Here are some examples:

  • “The first thing you have to know about writing is that it is something you must do every day—every morning or every night, whatever time it is that you have.” –Walter Mosley (This Year You Write Your Novel, p.7)
  • “You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively.” –Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird, p.6)
  • “…in order to achieve mastery [writers] must read widely and deeply and must write not just carefully but continually, thoughtfully assessing and reassessing what [they] write, because practice for the writer as for the concert pianist, is the heart of the matter.” –John Gardner, (The Art of Fiction, p.9)
  • “…successful writers attest that unless they prepare the conscious mind with the habit of work, the gift does not come. Writing is mind-farming. You have to plow, plant, weed, and hope for growing weather.” –Janet Burroway & Elizabeth Stuckey-French (Writing Fiction, p.13)
  • “You just have to sit in the chair,” –Donald Ray Pollock, paraphrased in conversation.

No matter how you look at it, one reason you should never stop writing is the knowledge that if you’re serious about it, you have to commit.

  1. Self-Discovery (and Discovery of the Other)

Fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, screenwriting, journaling—any genre of writing requires a writer to either look into the Self or observe Others (people, places, or things). When learning the fundamentals of writing, even on the most basic levels, a writer begins to see aspects of the world in different ways. Trying to write about characters and bring them to life on the page, a writer might use aspects from their own lives, people they know, or lives they’ve learned about. In attempting to understand ourselves and others truly, self-worth and empathy can help strengthen a writer’s identity as a person.

  1. Literature is a Continuum

So you’ve committed to writing habitually and using writing as a form of discovery—now you’re wondering if your writing is worth it. Doubt starts to creep in, maybe you think your writing is an embarrassment to yourself. It is important to remember that most writers write terrible first drafts, and put relentless hours into perfecting the work we love them for. You might pour your heart into a novel for over a year only to hear back from an agent that it “just isn’t hitting the mark.” Do not fret—if you’ve committed to the writing life, who knows what writing boundaries you might transcend in the years to come? You may rediscover yourself and your book at a time when literary trends are different. Literature is always evolving but is also cyclical—trends usually are “the same but different.”

  1. “You’re not a writer unless you write”

Life gets in the way. It’s a fact. Not everyone can commit to writing every day, as the “masters of the craft” have advised. From family, to school, or work, writing is often a passion that slowly becomes a meager hobby over time. The struggle is to find a way, no matter what, to wedge in some writing time. Get something, anything, on paper. If you only have a few minutes during a lunch break to scribble a few sentences, then that’s what it takes. Keep a project in mind, as small as a poem or as big as a feature-length screenplay. Keep a notebook or a document open on your computer, and get the words down as soon as possible. Not everyone can afford to sit for an extended period of time—but what makes a person a writer is simply getting the words down.

  1. “I write to Save Someone’s Life, Probably My Own” – Clarice Lispector

Stories need to be told, and we all have them. If you’ve ever toiled over a friend or loved one’s real life issues, you probably know the feeling of helplessness. Writing for other people can help us come to terms with parts of life that we cannot control, or even see things from a new perspective. Maybe there is a secret in your own life, or something in your history that won’t stay buried. Writing, like time, can heal some emotional wounds and, like daily vitamins, can be antidotal.

  1. The task is never finished

Like any art, it can be a scary thing to release your work out into the world. How do you know when your story, poem, or book is finished? How does a painter know when a portrait is finished? A song can always be re-recorded or remastered, and books can be rereleased. So where is the line drawn? You could have written a swell book, signed with an agent who is excited about your project, and still wait for years before publication. So you have to keep writing. Think of the next thing and begin again until it is time to revisit old work, if that opportunity arises.

  1. Writing is a healthy meditative practice

Whether it is journaling, composing poetry, or any other type of mindful writing—the act of conjuring language into meaning can be a cathartic experience for anyone. From writing about trauma to simple observations about the world, the process of making sense of one’s thoughts can serve as a form of release—a profound letting go of the past, or embracing the present. The act of sitting down to write can be like meditation: focused breaths, clear thoughts, and concentrated energy help stabilize the mind and soul, especially if done in controlled periods of time. And like walking meditation, or hyper-awareness through the day-to-day activities, writing can also become a mental activity carried on by the subconscious.

The amount of reasons to write or be a writer are plentiful—they don’t end here. There is no one way to be a writer, but one area anyone can agree is that a writer is someone who writes. Hopefully this list can help you stay inspired and committed on the path.

Nathan Elias is the program assistant for inspiration2publication, and the author of A Myriad of Roads that Lead to Here (Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, August 2017). His work has appeared in Literary Orphans, Hobart, The Blotter, Red Fez, Eclectica Magazine, Birdville Magazine and elsewhere. In 2015 his short film The Chest premiered at Cannes Film Festival. He has served as genre editor for the literary journal Lunch Ticket, and is working on an MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles. 

 

 

The Resistance Poem, Not Just Now, but Always

originalby Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Those who have chosen to answer the call to write activist poetry before the fall of 2016 are familiar with the naysayers of the elite poetry world. Especially those poets who chose to venture into MFA programs to write this type of activist, political, witness, cultural representation poetry. They did so while enduring endless articles, words from mentors, and books that warned against the dangers of writing political poetry for its seemingly fleeting topics and didactic over lyric sensibilities. But now that the political climate is what it is, suddenly many of those naysayers are scrambling to find ways to write and teach political poetry because as has been the call on social media and beyond, “Now more than ever, we must resist!”

But for those poets who pursued poetry from the beginning as a call to action and resistance, it is because the poetry is their truth, because their truth helps them exist in a world that wants to destroy them, and because resisting has always been a form of survival. These poets have been long at work studying histories, recording stories, invoking the names of the past, and they are not surprised by what has become of our country. Heartbroken, yes, but not surprised. These poets have always known today was possible because they have never stopped fighting for their own existence, and though they are tired, they will be keep fighting and keep writing.

It is as Pinoy poet, Carlos Bulosan, wrote in his memoir, America is in the Heart, about the moment he discovered he could write poems: “Then I knew surely that I had become a new man. I could fight the world now with my mind, not merely with my hands. My weapon could not be taken away from me any more. I had an even chance to survive the brutalities around me.”

But why poetry and what is the connection between politics and poetry? Like many (not all) politicians, the poet has the gift of language and the ability to use language to envision a new future for an audience. Politicians can choose to use this gift to bolster support for programs they wish to champion like John F. Kennedy did in his speech for the space program. But too often the politician uses this gift to inflict fear in citizens in order to pass or uphold unjust laws, maintain power, or gain support for an international war such as George W. Bush did after 9/11 with his “weapons of mass destruction.”\

And so it’s often the poet that is tasked with battling political abstractions and rhetoric with lyricism, symbolism, and personal stories of witness.

What we are seeing today is not new. There is a long list of poets from around the world and throughout history who have endured threats of imprisonment, exile, and even death in order to speak out against unjust governments, to right a wrong, and fight for the survival of their people.

Here are four poems that have supported important movements in the US and beyond with reflections from contemporary activist poets that I admire. This is in no way an extensive list of political poems.

 

ID Card by Mahmoud Darwish

 

Write it down!

I am an Arab.

I am a name with no honorific.

Patient in a land

Where everything lives in bursting rage

My roots were planted before time was born

Before history began

Before the cypress and the olive trees

Before grass sprouted

My father is from the plough clan

Not from the noble class

My grandfather was a peasant farmer

Had no pedigree

Taught me the pride of the sun

Before teaching me to read

A shack to guard groves is my home,

Made of branches and reeds

Are you pleased with my status?
“Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was the voice of an entire country of people who lost their voice when their land fell under occupation by the newly established Israeli military government in 1948. Darwish’s ID Card, written in 1964, stokes a blazing fire that still rages on today. His repeated exhortations of ‘Write it down, I am an Arab,’ spits in the face of political leaders who demanded all Arab people living in Israel be registered and all travel be monitored. This poem echoes loudly today here in the United States in a surreal time where the sitting President has threatened the Muslim population repeatedly. Whether it’s a registry, a travel ban, or monitoring locations where Muslim people gather like mosques and other community centers, Darwish’s poem reminds me that I am an Arab, that I am a Muslim, and I have a duty to express myself and the experience of my people.”

– Ramy Eletreby, a contributing author to Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex and Intimacy

 

Yo Soy Joaquin by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales

 

The thundering hoof beats are my horses. The chattering machine guns
are death to all of me:
Yaqui
Tarahumara
Chamala
Zapotec
Mestizo
Español.
I have been the bloody revolution,
The victor,
The vanquished.
I have killed
And been killed.
I am the despots Díaz
And Huerta
And the apostle of democracy,
Francisco Madero.

 

 

“Yo Soy Joaquin is where a lot of us began. It’s the crack and rumble that precedes the tectonic shift toward Chicanx consciousness. In the Google age, I am Joaquin is an Intro to Chicanx Studies class in eight center-justified pages. You could tumble down the interweb rabbit hole looking up each reference, each name, and place throughout the piece or just marvel at the decolonized gymnastics the mouth is forced to perform when articulating words like Tonantzin, Tarahumara, and Chichimeca. Without question, Corky, like Homer, gave Chicano letters our first great epic.”

Joseph Rios, author of Shadowboxing: Poems and Impersonations is the book forthcoming in October 2017 from Omnidawn

 

I, Too by Langston Hughes

 

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

 

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

 
“The longing in I, Too always talks to me. The inclusion the speaker opens and closes with is longing that sees into the future of this country, hoping for a better place than the present for all “darker brother[s].” In my own work this is vital, because like I, Too, my work seeks to heal without being disparate. Like I, Too, my work longs for learning and self-empowerment, uplifting and leaving no one behind. And the redemptive shine in the second to last stanza—the reason all poets pine over Langston’s work.”

F. Douglas Brown, 2013 Cave Canem Poetry Prize recipient for Zero to Three (University of Georgia 2014) and co-author of Begotten (Upper Rubber Boot Books 2016) with poet Geffrey Davis.

 

Puerto Rican Obituary by Pedro Pietri

 

Here lies Juan

Here lies Miguel

Here lies Milagros

Here lies Olga

Here lies Manuel

who died yesterday today

and will die again tomorrow

Always broke

Always owing

Never knowing

that they are beautiful people

Never knowing

The geography of their complexion

 

“I was lucky to have a faculty member at my high school invite Pietri to perform at my school a few years before his death in 2004. At the time, I had no real sense of Puerto Rican literature and had no idea that there had been a vibrant Nuyorican poetry scene in the 1970s. Pietri’s performance was my introduction to that movement. He was irreverent, hilarious, and political. I was already confident enough to code-switch among friends and family without any self-consciousness, but I had never experienced that aesthetic as art. I was deeply moved and went up to Pietri and introduced myself. He handed me a copy of his book Puerto Rican Obituary. You can imagine my surprise and delight a year later when I was assigned to read the title poem of his collection for my first ever Latino literature course at Yale. In that class I learned that he had recited “Puerto Rican Obituary” at a Young Lords meeting in 1969, making it the poem of the movement. The poem itself rails against a capitalism, racism, a Catholicism that depends on blind faith, self-hate, in-fighting among Puerto Ricans, and various other maladies that keep Puerto Ricans in New York struggling. The hopeful ending imagines an alternate space where Spanglish is the norm, where Negrito means love, where there is, in essence, the possibility of community, hope, acceptance, and love.”

Li Yun Alvarado, author of Words or Water

Xochitl’s class, Writing Poetry for Social Change starts Monday, March 3rd and there are a few spots left!

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the 2013 Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange poetry winner and a 2015 Barbara Deming Fund grantee. She has work published in American Poetry Review, crazyhorse, CALYX, and Acentos Review among others. A short dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Chicano activist and Hollywood director, Jesús Salvador Treviño can be viewed atlatinopia.com. She curates the quarterly reading series HITCHED and co-founded Women Who Submit. Her debut poetry collection, Built with Safe Spaces, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications.

 

 

 

 

Submission as Practice

Stack of magazines

If you want to be published, you have to submit your work.

This may seem like perfect logic, but you’d be surprised how many writers don’t get it. I didn’t get it. When I was in my creative writing program, I saw my classmates around me getting published and I was proud of them, a little bit jealous and a little indignant.

Then I realized (facepalm) I wasn’t submitting my work anywhere. It wasn’t ready, I thought. I wasn’t there yet. I was caught up in a cycle of uncertainty and inaction.

But one Saturday morning I sucked it up. I had a short story I had gone through several drafts on, had workshopped, one my mentor deemed was ready for the world.

But where to look first? I started with journals I’d seen friends published in, or journals I’d picked up around at literary events. I finally settled on a few I liked the name of and pressed send. When the rejections started rolling in, I actually was pretty stoked. It meant the inaction and fear had stopped. I’d learned long ago that rejection from any publication isn’t personal. Editors have a vision for each journal and sometimes your story, poem or essay just doesn’t fit. Sometimes it’s too similar to another story they recently ran. Sometimes they just don’t get you. The right match is out there, you just need to keep submitting.

Every Saturday after that, I’d submit something three more places. It took 62 rejections before I placed my first story. Then, by the time I’d hit 260 submissions, I had four pieces published. In seeing these numbers, I realized that it would take a lot of rejections to get my stuff published places. I’ve had stories published after 32 rejections. But it was the practice of submitting them that got them into the hands of the right editors, and only with dogged persistence could I hit those numbers.

Finding new journals was a guessing game. I subscribed to two at a time to get to know them better, but my repertoire was pretty small. Fortunately, technology caught up with me with Duotrope, a fantastic glass bottom boat of all of the literary journals out there with helpful filters and links to all of the journals. I could tell within a few reads whether or not the journal would like my stuff and my acceptance numbers got better as I was able to find the right flavor of journal for my work more quickly.

But I fell out of practice submitting. I got distracted by a novel. I kept writing short stories, and they would go onto my desktop where they would sit. I had forgotten the numbers game and had lost all persistence and I fell into a three year dry spell. Fortunately, I found Women Who Submit. My friends and fellow Antioch Alums Xochitl Julisa Bermejo and Dr. Ashaki M. Jackson started the group with Alyss Dixon in answer to the VIDA count. In an effort to close the tremendous gender gap in journal publications and the confidence gap in the number of women submitting, they created a group that meets once a month, encourages each other and submits together. In meeting with them, I found myself back in the practice of submitting and after a three year dry spell, I have gotten four stories picked up in as many months!

I also started my SUBMIT class on inspiration2publication. Sometimes we need a little nudge and I knew that if I committed to talking about submission with a group of writers, we evaluated strategies from where they should submit and I was able to teach them techniques for locating the best journals and magazines, I would stay in practice. If you sign up for SUBMIT, I will help you create a strategy for submitting your poetry, fiction or non fiction, how to find which journals would best suit it and best, how to get into a practice of submitting. You will also submit five places before leaving the class and you will be doing it in good company.

The best thing about this class is that every time I teach it, I get notices a few weeks later from students whose work has been accepted!

Kate’s class, SUBMIT! begins April 3

Kate Maruyama’s novel HARROWGATE was published by 47North. Her short work has appeared in Arcadia, Stoneboat, Whistling Shade and on Salon, Duende, and The Rumpus among other journals as well as in two anthologies: Winter Horror Days and Phantasma: Stories. She teaches in the BA and MFA programs for Antioch University Los Angeles as well as for Writing Workshops Los Angeles and the inspiration2publication program. She writes, teaches, cooks and eats in Los Angeles where she lives with her family.

Margot Writes a Short Story

wolf

by Natalie Truhan

It’s 8 p.m. Margot is at her tiny living-room desk. She is trying to write a short story. She is about to give up.

In that story of hers, the protagonist—thirteen-year old Tania—is grieving the loss of her Doberman Pinscher Henrietta. The dog’s disappearance is accompanied by Tania’s parents’ non-stop fighting and by a conflict with her best friend.

Margot estimates she’s writing draft #5 (or so she tells herself) of this story. In fact (don’t ask me how I know this)—she has ten files on her laptop in the “IN DEVELOPMENT” folder—all named DATE_tania_next_version.doc. Each of these has one paragraph (max) typed in it—most of them have only one sentence; one of the drafts has just three words:

tania wakes up

Right now, Margot is looking at her coffee mug (it has a raised stamped image of the four yellow-submarined Beatles on it) and is considering pros & cons of making coffee again. If she gets up from her desk now, she will call it a day. Margot wants to quit.

The story starts with Tania’s dream:

All night she was chased by a pack of wolves— a black hairy mass with steamy mouths. Tania ran through the thick of the dark woods, and the trees whipped her on the hands and cheeks with their limbs. She ran across unending fields of snow, tripping and getting up, tripping and getting up again. When she finally found a place to hide—a creepy old barn with a heavy door that felt clammy under her palms as she pushed it—the darkness hissed at her in the voice that Tania recognized as her best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”

Ba-boom. It all exploded into a splash of electric light.

Something is wrong here, but what is it? Margot doesn’t know. On the day the story starts, Henrietta, the dog, has been missing for more than three months. Tania goes on a trip with her father and witnesses a horrendous accident. The image from the accident brings on a moment of deep and hopeless realization for Tania: that her dog is never coming back, that her family is never going to be “normal”.

What if there’s an “I” who is telling this story?

I had a dream I was chased by a pack of wolves. I felt them breathing down my neck with their steamy mouths. I ran through the dark woods. The trees whipped me on my bare hands and cheeks with their branches. I ran across fields of snow, tripping and getting up. When I finally found a place to hide—a creepy old barn with a heavy door that felt clammy under my palms as I pushed it—the darkness hissed at me in the voice of my best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”

Ba-boom. My dream exploded into a splash of electric light.

Margot re-reads the paragraph: doesn’t it feel like it’s told by a much older protagonist? Margot also doesn’t like that she had to cut several images and adjectives which she felt couldn’t remain in the first person narrative.

What if… What if this is a “you”-story? Margot rejects the idea at first: she is suspicious of the second person fiction (“too imposing”). And yet–

You are sleeping; you are having a dream. You are being chased by a pack of wolves, a black hairy mass with steamy mouths. You are running. You run through the thick of the dark woods–the trees are whipping you on hands and cheeks with their cold limbs. You run across unending fields of snow. You trip, you get up again; you trip, you get up. Finally, a place to hide—a barn, old and creepy. You push the door—it feels clammy under the palms of your hands. When you are inside, ready to catch your breath—the darkness hisses at you in the voice of your best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”

…Ba-boom. Your dream explodes into a splash of electric light.

Suddenly, the story Margot is writing isn’t a story of the 13-year old Tania any more. It is a story of the 27-year old Tania in a coma. It is Tania’s long lost memory… Suddenly, the “you” in this story opens up a new distance inside the protagonist—a distance between the older and the younger narrator. It splits the narrator in two: the younger one experiences, the older one explains…

Will she choose this draft to go on with? I don’t know. Would you?

Margot is tired. She’ll get back to the story tomorrow. Let’s hope she finishes it.

Click HERE to learn more about Natalie’s class, LET’S WRITE A SHORT STORY.

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Natalie Truhan received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is a former Translation Editor of The Lunch Ticket literary journal. She lives in Los Angeles where she writes fiction and translates poetry. 

3 Tips for Finding your Spot in the Writing Marketplace

peckpic

by Lisa Peck-MacDonald

How do you find your place in the Writing Market?

Finding the right marketplace for your book can be a daunting challenge. One I haven’t mastered yet, nor will I ever. Truthfully, I don’t know if anyone has, but there are definitely experts on certain parts of the industry and there are key components to think about that I will share with you here.

Thanks to the self-publishing revolution, new genres are being created all the time making the playing field wide, vast and ever changing. Readers’ taste are constantly evolving and the rules of publishing are moving with them. Gone are the days when merely learning the rules and playing meant success. This is an industry that plays by its own rules and one of those rules is: if you have a concept that’s not tried and true, it just might have a chance. So get creative and don’t let ‘we haven’t ever done that before’ stop you here.

  1. Figure out where you want to go.

The truth is there are thousands of paths and most often no two authors share the same path. So, with all the change and options, how do you find yours? The first step is you have to know what you want in the end.

I was at a writers’ event the other day, and a newly published author was asking advice on how to sell her book. So I asked her, “What is your goal with your book?”

She had no clue. She didn’t know who her readers were or why they would want to read her book. If the author doesn’t know the merit of their own writing why would anyone else want to read it? Clearly, she had some specific work that she needed to do before she could be effective in selling her book.

Because she didn’t have the answers, I didn’t know how to help her. I didn’t know how to set her up to win because I had no description of what success would look like for her. So the first step is to think about what success with your book looks like for you. To know what it means for you to sell your book to those who are destined to read it.

Who did you write it for? Why did you write it? Get clear on these questions first before you try to sell it.

  1. Choose the Right Path

The only way to really find the right path for your book is to get in the game.  What choices can you make right now to get you there?  This is the time to dive in see what works and what doesn’t within your genre. It could mean, posting a few excerpts on social media and getting feedback from your audience. It could be posting in groups that like your genre and select some early readers to provide feedback.

What steps could set you on the path of gaining more visibility with your specific audience? With the advent of the e-book and the revolution of self-publishing, the question of where a writer fits in the marketplace has become more complicated and even more important. If you can get creative with social media feedback and crowd-source ahead of time, it can also provide key steps to marketing later.

  1. Know your Audience

The question of where you fit in is an important question to ask at some point in your writing process. I have heard people give the advice to write the book that you want to write and then figure out where you fit. The advantage of this approach is you are freed up as the writer to write what you want to write and aren’t limited by outside influences.

I have also heard from other authors that you should figure out where you fit in the marketplace first so you can conform to the important tropes of that genre and not waste your time. You want to produce a publishable book. The advantage of this approach is fewer rewrites, a higher chance of readers being receptive to your work.

The right choice? Well, there isn’t one. It is about you listening to you. Tune into the bigger reason for why you are writing in the first place and come back to the basics.  It helps to get a general idea of what you are writing. After you have the piece written, if you still don’t know where you fit, ask other people who know the industry—agents, publishers, critique group, or a mentor.

Bottom line, you get to figure out what is right for you based on your goals and what you want.  Starting with your end game is very helpful. By knowing what you want is the foundation of building your author life.

So what do you want? Is your goal to build a six-figure book business? To get published by a traditional publisher? To be a New York Times bestseller? To write a story and enjoy the process? Or is it write a story that captures the something that you want to leave the next generation. Maybe your goal is just to say that you did it and it’s something you’ve always wanted to do.

No goal is better than another.  But it is important to know where you want to go. After you know what your goal is, it is important to determine which genre you play best in and who are the people in that genre that are rock stars so you know have some ideas of what working in the marketing place.

 

Lisa J. Peck-MacDonald is author of 23 books, including The Superstitious Romance, which hit Amazon best-seller list March, 2016.  She will be teaching Finding Your Spot in the Writing Marketplace this October for Inspiration2Publication.com.

 

Show Your Story

showdonttell1

By Elizabeth Lund

When I decided to write for children, I knew I had the writing part down. I’d grown up reading voraciously. I’d always been a good writer. I’d written lots of academic papers, and I’d even written features for a weekly newspaper for a while. But by the end of my Writing for Children Certificate Program at the University of Washington, I had learned that even though I could write, that didn’t mean I knew how to tell a story.

Halfway through the course, I was proud of myself. While other students in the class were writing a chapter here, a chapter there, working on a little bit of this, a little bit of that, I was working on a novel. A whole novel. And my goal was to finish it by the end of the class. I kept plugging forward, writing that first draft. I thought it was pretty good!

In the spring I registered for the Western Washington Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Redmond, Washington. One of the things you could do back then was pay to have an agent, editor, or published author read five pages of your work. I registered early and ponied up my money for a coveted spot. I was thrilled to see I’d gotten an agent! I came to the meeting on pins and needles with excitement. I left with my heart broken. The agent was not impressed. She seemed irritated. No, she wasn’t even nice about it. I don’t even remember what she said to me, I just remember being devastated at the rejection. The hard thing is that when a little time had passed and I could hear what she had to say, I knew she was right.

The agent’s response was confirmed when, at the end of the third quarter of my class, our instructor handed back the draft of my novel. She had dutifully written comments on it throughout. And they kept saying the same thing: don’t tell us, show us.

Somehow, I had made it through the whole certificate course without understanding what was so essential to telling a story, especially for young readers, but, according to Stephen King, also for adults. Writers need to show, not tell, their readers. Show the reader the action, show the reader the character, show the reader the setting and let your reader infer the mood. Don’t tell them. It’s showing that draws the reader into your world, makes them identify with your character, and makes them want to go on the journey with you.

Not long ago I took a look at Gary Schmidt’s work. He’s one of my favorite writers for middle grade readers (8-12 years old). I sat with a highlighter and went through a chapter of his novel, The Wednesday Wars. Telling? None. Showing? Pretty much all. That’s a high bar, but it’s one I began to try to reach.

Gradually I’ve learned that the keys are sensory details and scenes. First, sensory details: what does your character see? hear? smell? taste? feel? Visual details are easy – we get those in. But what about the other senses? Not every sense needs to be evoked every time, but take a look through your chapter and see whether you have mentioned smells or sounds at all. If you haven’t, where would a smell or a sound bring us more deeply in connection with your character? Plunge us into the world.

Second, scenes. Scenes set your character in action and let us experience life right along with them. Ask yourself how you can convey information about your character or plot through a scene rather than in narration. What does your character say? What does your character do? How does your character interact with others? How does your character react? What is going through the character’s mind?

Does this mean there’s never a place for narrative summary, which is basically what telling consists of? No. But if you take a close look at the best fiction and creative non-fiction out there, it’s rare.

Learning to recognize the difference between showing and telling, and working on incorporating showing into your own writing, can go a long way to bring your writing to the next level.

Learn some solid tools in Showing in Elizabeth’s online class: Show, Don’t Tell: Make Setting, Dialogue, and Action Do the Telling for You! starting October 31, 2016.

elizabeth Elizabeth Lund is an MFA student at Antioch University Los Angeles, focusing on the genre of Writing for Young People. She also studied at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts focusing on Children’s and Young Adult Literature. She completed a certificate at the University of Washington in Writing for Children. In learning her craft, she found that showing rather than telling was one of the hardest things to learn but one of the most exciting things to practice. She is currently revising a middle grade fantasy novel (for 8-12 year olds) called Finding Memory. In her spare time, she teaches English, hunts for agates, and is an avid reader.

We Need Queer Stories

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by Antonia Crane

I’m in my closet office writing, or rather doing everything in my power to avoid writing. The dog shit has been scooped into tiny knotted bags, the laundry folded. I’ve 409’d the bathroom counter and swept floors. I’ve put away the dishes, which I hate—whipped myself into a procrastination lather both shameful and accomplished. A couple of grubby sponges into my Pine Sol frenzy and I’m soaking in it. I take a well-deserved break to check my email.

That’s when I’m asked what class I wanted to teach this fall. I have no idea. I imagine a class that could invigorate my writing and spark zesty conversations, push boundaries and scrape the grease off my keyboard, but the only classes I come up with are linty, mediocre repeats.

Summer was rock and roll time for those lucky enough to dash off to writing residencies or fellowships. Tin Housers jockeyed for position on the wait list and Bread Loafers cashed in their miles for their plane tickets to Vermont. Bootcamps beckoned, promising bikini-worthy butts and Kindles glow by the pool; kids were marched to museums to frolic in the AC and fuck off.

But now it’s back to school.

Fall is Writing Time.

What do I want to teach, to write? And more important: What stories do we need to tell right now in our culture in order to teach empathy in an era of homophobia, hostility, and terror?

We need the most human stories from the queer community in order to transmit empathy and create change.

We need stories that matter: dangerous, taboo stories with gobs of heart. We need Queerness that pushes against gender and sexuality and transcends what’s expected. If stories begin the moment something different happens one day, then let’s cast a light on queer as the starting point of our class. What is queer writing and what are queer bodies in fiction and nonfiction?

I’m interested in gender fluidity of people in their sensual lives—the crackling gray matter where heart and skin crash. I’m interested in love in all of its messy and prissy forms and how it stretches and builds, flies and walks and ends.

The only way I know to cure homophobia is to share our queer stories with the general public and create empathy. No matter what variety of queer we are, let’s bring it to the page. I proposed the class, “Writing the Queer Body” because I wanted to create a colorful place where queer lives thrive because we need that now—especially now.

I want to write and read stories about: the trans wedding, the lesbian bachelorette party, the elderly gay men and their flamboyant female friends dancing sexily at all the weddings; horny, gay elderly sex scenes and bisexual threesomes with no neat endings; An Irish Jewish woman and her African-Haitian partner and her kids and their family breakfast on Sunday morning. I want to read story about a sex worker who falls in love with another female sex worker and their jealousies and sisterhood and strength; I want to follow a woman well into her forties who leaves her husband for her bisexual yoga teacher and together, they heal her PTSD from serving in the Marine Corps ten years prior; I want to see the wigs of beautiful drag queens and know the smirk of dapper drag kings and feel their twisted dance of transcendence and escape after all the loss and AIDS stripped them of any pretense. I want to dance in their glittering sadness and know the joy of having survived it together in a proud and glamorous trance; and I want to read about a young male prostitute who falls hard for a meth-addicted homeless man only to discover he cannot save anyone, not even himself, especially not himself. Where are the stories about two gay male artists who stayed together for 46 years? Where is the lesbian nun who falls in love with a woman and leaves the covenant? Where is the vegan boy who steals a kiss from the busboy where they both work? Where are the topless T-girls stripping at the club in the Tenderloin, accepting dollars in their garters on Catholic School Girl night and their silver fox attorney-client who sweeps one of them off their feet and moves them in and gets two cats and hopes the sex work will be abandoned but the allure and security of sex work is its own peculiar addiction, regardless of sexual orientation or gender or totally sincere sugar daddy?

Where are these stories? We need to write them.

Teaching reminds me why I write in the first place. I write because I breathe. I write because I know the alphabet. I write because I want to create complex characters that reflect a deeply baffling human experience. I write to transmit emotion, touch universal empathy, and punch into surprising unknown terrain. I write because I live.

It has been said all stories about the fact that we are going to die. There are so many stories to write before that happens—so many summer suns and hot moons and queer bodies to march out on the page. Won’t you join me?

Antonia Crane’s Class Writing the Queer Body begins October 3rd.

Antonia Crane is a writer, Moth Slam winner, and writing instructor in Los Angeles. She is the author of the memoir, Spent. She has written for The New York Times, Quartz: Atlantic Media, The Toast, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Salon, The Believer, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, DAME and lots of other places. Her screenplay, “The Lusty” co-written with Silas Howard about the Exotic Dancers Union is a recipient of the San Francisco Film Society/ Kenneth Rainin Foundation Screenwriter’s Grant, 2015. She is at work on an essay collection and a memoir. She is a co-founder and Senior CNF editor of the Antioch Alum journal The Citron Review and the CNF editor of Word Riot. She can be found running up Griffith Park mountain and here: http://antoniacrane.com. She tweets @antoniacrane.