Tips for Writers: Using the Possessive with a Gerund

I'm currently working on revisions to my novel manuscript. I've been over the draft numerous times, so I'm not finding a lot of typos or grammar errors. My focus this time through, rather, is on style and continuity. But I am spotting the occasional error, and I want to bring one of those to your attention. I had written, ". . . hitting the road without him catching on." In doing so, I had made an error that I frequently catch in the writing of others: failure to use the possessive noun or Read more [...]

“Shut up!” he explained.

Invariably in a fiction workshop the subject of dialogue tags will come up. A dialogue tag is the bit that's slapped onto the end of the stuff in quotation marks. "It's critically important," he said. Conventionally--at least these days--writers are advised to stick with "says" or "said" (depending on the tense being used) for dialogue tags, with an occasional variation either for variety's own sake or because what the passage is meant to convey. It's not inappropriate to use "replied" or "answered" Read more [...]

Tips for Writers: Where should I submit?

As most readers of this blog know, I publish an annual list of the top literary magazines. Many people have told me how helpful the list is, and I'm happy to provide this service. You can see the 2015 lists--one each for Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry--here: Literary Magazine Ranking. (Access to the lists is free; donations to support this blog are welcome.) Because of the lists, I am frequently asked for advice as to where a particular writer should submit his or her work. Without seeing the Read more [...]

Tips for Writers: Learn “Buoyancy” in the face of rejection

Tips for Writers: Learn “buoyancy” in the face of rejection I have a writer friend who moderates a private online discussion called R.I.P – Rejection Isn’t Personal. The point of the group is to remind the participants that the writers who get published are the ones who didn’t give up. It’s a crucial point to remember. Coincidentally, I’ve just read Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, which I discussed in general terms here. The book begins with the notion that these days more Read more [...]

Tips for Writers: LitMag Submission Season

It's September, and that means a lot of my writer friends are gearing up their submissions to literary magazines, many of which close to submissions over the summer. Many of us have our favorites, but for writers who are just beginning to submit their work for publication, figuring out WHERE to submit can be daunting. It's important to know where your work fits and which magazines publish that kind of work. You wouldn't send a short story to a magazine that publishes only poetry, and you probably Read more [...]

Tips for Writers: New Pages lists Independent Bookstores

Writers know bookstores, right? We shop there and often give readings or signings there. The big chains (is that word still plural? is there anyone besides Barnes & Noble at this point?) can be inaccessible for emerging writers, so for most of us it is the independent bookstores who are our friends. Frankly, Indie Bookstores aren't always easy to deal with either, but it's relative. If you're planning a book tour in support of a new release, one thing that might come in handy is a list of Read more [...]

Tips for Writers: Conferences and Residencies

A friend just wrote and asked me if I knew of a list of writers conferences and residencies. The best one I know of is the one at Poets & Writers: Conferences and Residencies. It's pretty thorough, I think, and has pretty detailed listings. For example, here's the listing for the Sewanee Writers' Conference (a social event for which is pictured with this post). And, of course, the listing includes a link to the conference's website, for more complete and current information. AWP also has Read more [...]

Tips for Writers: Talk to People

This isn't a writing tip, exactly. It's more of a marketing tip, and one that I expect many writers will find hard to follow. But here it is: talk to people. What? Me? I'm an introvert. I can't talk to people! Sure you can. I went to an art fair this weekend. Our local community art center has an annual event called Art in the Park, which draws exhibitors from all over the region displaying paintings, photographs, sculpture, and various crafts such as ceramics, woodwork, and jewelry. This year Read more [...]

Tips for Writers: Use Sentence Fragments Sparingly

I had been reading a draft story by a young writer who had fallen into a pattern of using sentence fragments. It was a stylistic tic that drew attention to itself. On closer examination, I realized that the fragments mostly omitted the verb “to be,” the most overused verb in lazy writing. It was as if the writer had chosen to use the fragment in order to avoid “to be,” rather than rewriting the sentence with a dynamic verb. This led me to post on Facebook, in a moment of frustration, the Read more [...]

Tips for Writers: Like vs. As if

I’ve been seeing a lot confusion over the difference between like and as if lately. I used to see it all the time when I was teaching Freshman Composition, but I also find it in creative writing submitted to Prime Number Magazine and also in the stories in my fiction workshops. Mostly I know which to use by ear, but there’s a grammar-based reason behind the usage, and it's not complicated. Like is a preposition. As (or as if or as though) is a conjunction. Use like if it is followed by noun/object. Read more [...]