Tag Archives: Poetry

THE WRITER’S PORTABLE MENTOR BY PRISCILLA LONG – A REVIEW

longI own about 300 books on writing, including the much-touted “On Writing” by Stephen King, but “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Priscilla Long is the single book that belongs on every writer’s bookshelf. While Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King, and Julia Cameron talk about the head-stuff of writing, Priscilla Long talks about the actual nuts and bolts that are required in a writer’s toolbox. There are no gimmicks in her book either. This is a practical text-book, if you will, about how to become a craftsman. After all, that’s what a writer should aim to be – a craftsman. It’s suitable for the novice writer and the advanced writer because the skills that Long suggests writers need are applicable at whatever stage a writer happens to be at.

 

Long discusses the importance of reading, and while all readers read, virtuoso writers re-read. Long guides readers through reading to develop craft. It is only when we learn to dismantle great stories that we find the tools that will develop our own stories. Long’s style is accessible and the advice she offers is practical and enormously helpful.

 

The importance of grammar is given an ample amount of attention. Sentence types are elucidated upon to improve a writer’s range of skill in sentence structure. The importance of metaphor and simile are explained. Long has a knack of making the reader want to immediately pick up a pen and start practicing. Which brings me to practice.

 

Long promotes writing practice, after all, writers write, and Long suggests keeping a writing practice notebook where all that practice takes place. That’s nothing new, you say. You’re right, it isn’t new. Dorothea Brande promoted practice pages/morning pages in the 1930s, long before Julia Cameron came along with The Artist’s Way. What is new, is that Long doesn’t want the writing practice sessions to stay in the notebook, she wants them to be purposeful at the outset, and then for them to be transcribed into the appropriate project at the end of the writing session. Long encourages writers not only to write, but to write with the intention of publication, and her proposed strategy elevates the practice of writing practice.

 

The Writer’s Portable Mentor is one of those books you won’t take off your desk. When you’re stuck, you’ll return to it again and again to seek out one of Long’s practical suggestions to assist you. If you read only one book on writing craft, this should be it.

 

Ready, steady… win!

win1Contests are a fabulous way to announce your presence on the local writing scene. If you are placed in a contest, it helps you to establish a writing cv or bio that many publications require and it also boosts your confidence. Not having a publishing record can be intimidating for beginner writers, but don’t allow yourself to be disheartened. A story well told will be enjoyed by an editor or contest reader.

WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

It is important to be selective about which contests you enter. Without diligent research you could end up sending entries that don’t comply with the rules. If a publication says they only want fiction entries, then that is all they want. They will summarily reject poetry and non-fiction entries, no matter how brilliant they might be. A recent local contest received hundreds of entries, but about a hundred of them were rejected because the entrants did not comply with the rules. If a rule states that you have to be a citizen of Burramunga to enter, then that’s the rule, don’t waste your time or the contest organisers’ time by submitting anything to them.

RESOURCES

If you’re serious about entering contests then you need to establish which ones are suitable for the genre that you write in. Good resources can be found in comprehensive listings in publications like The Writer’s Yearbook and Writer’s Market UK available at good bookstores, and obviously, the internet. Many writing sites have a listing of writing contests.

PLAN

The best way to ensure that you enter the competitions that you are able to comply with, is to have a Contest Plan. In November/December every year, I spend about a week researching contests online and in the Writer’s Yearbook and Writer’s Market. I make a list of those I want to enter by listing them according to the earliest closing date. I cut and paste the submission rules of each into a Word document entitled Contests 2009. At the beginning of every month I see what’s coming up, trying to read three months in advance. If I feel that there is a contest I want to enter then I print that contest’s details and put it into the plastic folder. Date order is essential because at a glance I am able to see what’s coming up. Being forewarned, so to speak, gives me time to consider what story I would like to write, it also gives me a chance to check through unpublished work for a suitable story. This list is invaluable and can be added to throughout the year if new contests appear. It also provides a template for the following year.

KEEP A SEPARATE FOLDER

I have a plastic see through box where I keep all research material, contest rules and drafts of competition entries, this cuts out the confusion of having to remember where I have filed an article or an idea.

JOT DOWN IDEAS

In the plastic folder I keep a notebook for ideas that I want to jot down. An idea don’t remember itself, if you don’t write it down, consider that idea a cigarette that you enjoyed, but once it’s gone up in smoke, you can’t reclaim it. If all your ideas and rules and research are centrally located you won’t waste time.

TRACKER

If you’re going to be a serious contest entrant then you need to keep track of which submissions you’ve made to which publications. Many contests do not accept simultaneous submissions, i.e. it’s not protocol to send the same entry to several competitions at the same time. Knowing where your stories are is essential. A good idea is to download manuscript management software. The best tracker that I’ve found is SAMM which is completely free and downloadable at this link. It’s fabulous because you can customise it according to your needs and it’s unobtrusive. You can enter all your manuscripts, you can enter markets and market types. It’s a no-fuss application that will alert you with follow-ups if you so require.

CHECKLIST

Before you send your entry, make a checklist from the rules sheet. Have you double-spaced your entry? Must you include your name on the manuscript or mustn’t you? Have you included your contact details? It is so easy to avoid silly mistakes by using a checklist, but remember to be flexible because different contests have different criteria, some want three copies of an entry and others require only a single copy. Some contests allow email entries, others do not. Make it your business to establish the rules for your checklist.

Good luck.

Lit Mag Responsibilities

Having work accepted in a literary magazine is a big deal for a writer, it means that something you’ve been working on has found a home and won’t be relegated to the homeless drawer. It is frustrating then that once work has been accepted, some literary magazines don’t ever make contact again.

I submitted a poem to Botsotso and it was accepted and the editor asked for more. I sent more. I waited a year – no publication and no contact. I accept that funding is a problem, but then the editor needs to be upfront about this situation and say, “Your poems might only be published in a year’s time.” This knowledge will give me the option to decide whether or not the poem has the lifespan to wait or whether I want to submit to another magazine.

I was informed that SA Dept of Arts & Culture were sponsoring a new SA literary journal to be edited by Prof. Oliphant of UNISA. I submitted a poem and a literary essay and both were accepted, March being given as the publishing date. I emailed the editor to provide details of publication and where the publication could be purchased, but to date I have had no response.

I provided another new publication with a literary essay and it was accepted. Then I was told that it wouldn’t appear in the print issue but rather as a parallel article online. I accepted the change in publication and agreed to write some reviews for the same publication. To date the literary essay has not been published online, despite the editor’s reassurance that it is on the website!

I think it’s time that South African writers stood their ground and were more demanding of these editors, if they hold themselves out to be a market for writers then they must deliver. If they insist that they are looking for new writers and new writing then they must woo the new writers instead of publishing names that they feel will lend their publication stability.  Without new writers the literary magazines will not last.

New writing is about taking risks and new publications should take this into account. South African writing is characterised by writers who have never been afraid to give voice to the unpopular. By serving up safe writing by middle of the road writers local editors are failing to contribute to the tradition of excellent SA writing.