In my third year of college, we read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I believe it was a fiction workshop, though the book is considered a nonfiction novel. As we went around the room discussing the book’s setup and the way Capote presented the characters, I said something that made the class erupt.
I said I didn’t like the daughter–a young girl who was brutally murdered in the book and in real life.
I was insensitive. I was brutish. I was completely out of line.
One of the most popular writing prompts I’ve posted here on The Sensitive, Bookish Type is also my favorite: The Opening Line. Today, we’re doing basically the same thing but instead of working with a novel’s first line, we’re working with the novel’s last line.
At random, I reached onto my shelf and grabbed Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. This will be interesting for me because I haven’t actually read it yet–excepting, of course, the back cover. But that doesn’t matter because I’m not trying to extend the story itself. I’m simply borrowing its last line.
Arms about each other’s shoulders, the Babbitt men marched into the living-room and faced the swooping family.
Now, without planning ahead, I’ve come across a perfect example of the theory upon which this exercise is based: the end of a novel should always read somewhat like a beginning. Unless everyone dies at the end (which would be a very poor ending, in my opinion–not even Shakespeare had EVERYONE die) the end of one story is always the beginning of another. So now I shall use this last line to start a paragraph of my own. In this case, I’m going to replace the last name with the name of a family in the novel on which I’m currently writing. My exercise, below, might not be the beginning of a story, but certainly the beginning of a chapter.
For writers of all genres, “writer’s block” is as inevitable as death and taxes.
All artists experience this. The brain needs its rest, the muses need their vacations, and everyone who’s ever been serious about creative endeavors has sat staring at a blank page, canvas, brick wall, stage or computer page and thought, “I can’t do this.”
But did you notice that I put “writer’s block” in quotation marks? That wasn’t a typo. I “know” how to “use” “quotation marks.”
Seriously, though: I believe that the phrase “writer’s block” is a crutch we use to make our creative clogs seem more serious than perhaps they are. I’ve known writers who treat it as an illness; when they’re blocked, they can do little more than sit around drinking soup and binge-watching Netflix. They spend a lot of time nursing themselves back to health, so to speak. This can last indefinitely.
There are a lot of ways to interpret today’s exercise. You can go the Halloween route if you choose, or respond to the horrors of recent news headlines, imagine yourself the victim of a hurricane (or if you are one, recount your experience). Whatever you write about, today I want you to write about fear.
No quippy lead-up today, no time limit. Have fun with it or use it as therapy. And this time, I’m not going to ask you to share with me, nor am I going to share mine.
When I started submitting to literary journals, it was mostly ink and paper. I must have filled hundreds of manila envelopes with my manuscripts, stamped so many self-addressed envelopes, at least half of which were never returned. What was returned, when the editors bothered to respond, was a paper slip: “We regret to inform you,” blah blah blah. On a rare occasion, there’d be a note from the editor–we really liked this but the ending falls apart/we love your voice/we can’t accept this piece but please submit to us again.
Nowadays, it’s all online. Some places kept paper submissions going longer than others, but I’m pretty sure they’ve all phased it out now. This actually makes it a lot easier for writers to submit; the various online submission managers are easy to use and help you keep track of what you’ve submitted and how it was received. You no longer get rejected with a paper slip, which, if you’re one of those people who makes the best of rejection by turning it into art, is probably pretty disappointing. But think of all the trees it’s saving! Because, man, do literary magazines get a lot of submissions. Even the small ones. The pile of paper would be staggering.
Anyway, like I said: submitting is easy. You don’t need me to walk you through the steps it takes to get your work to an editor, because the internet will do that for you. However, as a former fiction editor and assistant managing editor for a literary journal, I can offer you some insights on how to help make sure your work is well received. Continue reading “How to Submit to a Literary Journal”→