I'm a Young Writer. Here's What I Wish People Told Me Earlier.
I wasn't told a lot about how the writing world works when I first started submitting to literary magazines and participating in competitions, so here are some things that I want to tell the young writers who are just starting out.
When I began my writing, I didn't know a lot of things other than how to write. But when I delved into the world of cover letters, queries, and lit mag etiquette, I was beyond confused.
Things like 'how to write a cover letter' and 'what's a chapbook' can be found with a Google search. However, there are few warning labels or margin notes on the world of writing itself. Below are some tidbits of advice, ideas, and reflections that I've gathered as a young writer.
photo via Wix Media
1) Publications do not define your worth
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your voice doesn't deserve to be heard just because you don't have national level awards or publications at big lit mags. Nevertheless, realize that you are not any less of a writer for not being heavily recognized. Oftentimes, the world of publications is a game of spreadsheets and opportunity-spotting just as much as it is based on your artistic voice. Don't feel bad about starting somewhere small. And on the reverse, don't judge other writers on the sole metric of their external achievements.
2) Editors are human too!
Sometimes we writers like giving editors a god complex. After all, they are the ones who decide the fate of our work. But nevertheless, it is important to remember that editors are just as human as the rest of us. It's always good to take the extra step to address the editor by name (which is often on the 'masthead' page of a lit mag) and say hi. Be courteous as they're working hard on their end as well, and are often going above and beyond to share your work with the world. Your cover letters do not have to be dry or generic — you have emphasize the spunky, unique, human side of you. When an editor makes a mistake, aim to be understanding. And because we're all human and different, nobody can judge your work perfectly objectively.
3) You don't owe anyone your trauma
It's easy to feel like you have to share something 'deep' or even traumatic in order to do well in the literary world. Oftentimes, your favourite writers may tackle serious and somber topics as well. It is brave for anyone to write their darkest moments and share it with the literary world. But it should never a must. Whenever you write about adversity, do it on your own accord. Please never not feel forced to do so.
4) You are more than a demographic
This point rings especially true for diaspora writers or other minorities. Being Chinese-Canadian myself, I've felt times where I needed to write about Beijing or baozi or the immigrant experience. Although those are good topics to write about, they are not your only options. Be authentic. Sometimes authenticity could mean writing pieces about your background or heritage, but it is okay if it isn't.
5) Don't take rejections personally
Let's face it: literary magazines have to reject a lot of people. Sometimes, you can get a rejection for reasons beyond your control, such as if an issue is already full or the specific editor who read your piece didn't like it. Most likely, a rejection doesn't translate to 'your work seriously sucks'. Move on, reflect, and think about submitting again sometime later.
6) But do take acceptances seriously!
Acceptances mean a lot, even if it's from a small or new publication. When you get an acceptance, don't brush it off as luck or immediately aim for something bigger. Make sure to take the time to congratulate yourself! It's not all a game of acceptance rates and prestige, but rather a step to get your work out there.
7) Your results will not be linear
I had a misconception that I needed to start off with small lit mags, and then slowly build up. However, I've eventually realized that it's a mixed bag. Sometimes, you can win a big prize right off of the bat or have a long period of time where you go from having huge acceptances to a flurry of rejections. Writing is unpredictable, and that's okay.
8) It's okay to take a break
There exists a myth that you have to be a prolific writer to be successful. However, going at your own pace may help you grow more. Sometimes, trying to force content out of you will take the enjoyment of writing away from you.
9) Don't fear the 'OGs'
The OGs of poetry are not people you should fear or stay away from. Instead, many of the more established writers are more than willing to give advice or interact. Feel free to tell people that you've really enjoyed their work, or ask for lit mag or poem recommendations. Of course, be understanding when people are busy, but don't be afraid of others or see them as purely competition.
10) Prioritize your own comfort
Poetry, creative non-fiction, and even fiction can be deeply personal. Therefore, it is vital to keep yourself comfortable before doing anything else. Do not submit to literary magazines that you don't feel safe submitting too. Feel free to reject a publication when you have second thoughts. The writing world is just as rewarding and eye-opening as it is intimidating and scary. Please stay safe out there!
I hope that my advice can help someone. Of course, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @RenaSuWrites on Twitter. I may not be one of the 'OGs', but I will try my best to help whenever possible!