Guest Blog Post, Elane Johnson: So You Want to Be a Writer…

Elane JohnsonI was destined to write. My grandmother always told me I’d be a writer, and she had an uncanny ability to see the future. She said, “If you clown around in those roller skates and fall down on that rough pavement and scrape your knees, you’re getting no sympathy from me.” And it happened exactly the way she predicted. (I’d just like to know where she was with her front-porch-rocking-chair advice when I really needed it? Like, “If you marry that idiot you’ve only known two months, it will turn out bad.” Stuff like that, I could’ve used.)

After years and years of Mama’s reverberating prognostication, I tiptoed gingerly to the edge of the cliff of artists’ angst and submitted my first piece for publication. Of course, she proved to be an accurate soothsayer yet again when I was the first nine-year-old to have a poem published in The Daily Sun. Unfortunately, at forty-three, I’d yet to have my second piece accepted for print. So I decided to sail head-first and backwards off that damned cliff and get an MFA in Creative Writing. Since then, I’ve started my own irreverent blog, Blu-hoo, and I’ve had a few pieces published. Mostly for free.

Look. I’m the last one to burst your bubble, but let me tell you: Get a day job. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll have to have another source of income because writing doesn’t pay all that well. Yes, the enormous success of some first-time writers is enticing. But for every J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer or E L James, there’re thousands of writers toiling to get noticed. One thing I’ve discovered is that dreaming about writing doesn’t make it happen. It’s hard work unless you are a celebrity or a statesman. However, there are things you can do to improve your chances for success.

Write. A lot. While it may seem impossible to squeeze one more second out of your compacted day, sleep is really overrated. Write instead.

Bone up on your grammatical skills. As Stephen King posited in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, the most brilliant guide to the art of writing ever, “Grammar is not just a pain in the ass; it’s the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking” (114). No one wants to read error-filled drivel. And for heaven’s sake, capitalize the personal pronoun I, or somebody’s going to get hurt.

Read. For example, since I write primarily creative non-fiction, I’ve read a slew of memoirs to determine things that work and things that don’t. I love Haven Kimmel’s memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, so much that if the state of Indiana allowed matrimony between people and inanimate objects, I’d marry it. (Since the state currently doesn’t recognize unions between people with identical 23rd chromosome pairs, I don’t hold out much hope.) Reading Haven is like listening to her talk. She creates metaphors so stunning you want to poke your eyes out with a hot fireplace tool, but her cadence is easy like an hour on a front-porch swing. Augusten Burroughs, master memoirist, also employs a believable conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re sitting right next to him—comparing hardships—in some wino-breath-scented dive while your own vomit chunks flake off your shirt. When you read exceptional writing, you learn to emulate your role-models.

Get followed. Unless you have a substantial Twitter/FaceBook/Tumblr/Pinterest following, it’s hard to pique a publisher’s interest anymore. If you already have a fan-base, you’ve got an advantage. But. You still have to be able to write. And write well. Be fresh. Exciting. Create magic.

It’s also helpful if you’re able to divine “the next big thing,” so that your writing will ride the wave of whatever is popular. Fortunately, topics tend to be cyclical, so by my calculations, it’ll be 63 billion years before vampires are hot again.

If all else fails, become a celebrity. Shoot. If Honey Boo Boo can do it, so can you.

Honey Boo Boo

Reference

King, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft. New York: Pocket Books.

 

You can read Elane Johnson’s word essay in issue 6 of SR.

Fall Submissions Period September and October

The editors and I met this week to discuss the reading process for fall and we’re all very excited to start viewing submissions. You can send Art, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry to our Submittable account at http://superstitionreview.submittable.com/submit

I’d also like to tell you about the exciting changes this year at Superstition Review.

First of all, my job at ASU has changed so that my focus is on the magazine. All of those semesters of teaching two creative writing classes on top of being managing editor? Gone. I now work full time managing the editorial process of the magazine and mentoring 40 students a semester.

Another change is that we’ve made the internship a 1-year commitment. Students will be required to take a 300 level 3 credit hour training class that will make them eligible to take the 400 level 3 credit hour internship. I’m most excited about this change since it will give me the opportunity to show students all of the details of the editorial process. They will be better prepared and will gain valuable skills in literary publishing.

And the changes continue. We have a new iTunes U Channel where each Tuesday we will be posting podcasts of SR contributors reading their work. You can subscribe to it here, and enjoy our first three podcasts of the series: http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/superstition-review-online/id552593273 Many thanks to John Martinson, who initiated the Channel as his summer project.

We also have expanded our presence on social networks. We’ll be blogging every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and we will update content daily across our other networks. We have a cool new Tumblr page built by our nonfiction editor Harrison Gearns.

Blog: http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/blog/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/superstitionreview
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/111992497499045277021/about
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Superstition-Review-4195480/about
Tumblr: http://superstitionrev.tumblr.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuperstitionRev

And finally, to celebrate our 5th Anniversary, we are doing a total redesign of the magazine for Issue 10. We’re giving the site a fresh, modern look and we’re migrating all of the content to Drupal. We’re happy to access all of the robust navigation tools that will make it easier for our readers to browse through our 500+ contributor pages.

So we hope you’ll: submit your Art, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry; subscribe to this blog where we’ll post editorial updates and literary news; and subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes U. We’re looking forward to an exciting fall and we sure hope you’ll join us.