How to Keep From Jumping Out a Window Part 1 of 2 (reissue)

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write Fiction

Lou's Note: Since contributor M. M. DeVoe' short story was recently released (see post Paper Coach Contributor Published Again 2/6/07), it seems a good time to repost her earliest advice & thoughts for those subscribers who may have missed them the first time around.

by M. M. De Voe

You have been writing your fingers raw for a year, you love your stories--everyone who reads your stories loves your stories! So what's going on? Why isn't the world rolling out that thick green Barnes and Noble carpeting before your feet? Let's find out.

1) Do your friends have little comments to add after reading your brilliant work? Are you listening to those comments?
If more than one person says "um, I loved this, but there was just one piece I didn't get..." take a look at that "little piece" and see if you can sharpen it up. It may help you to form or join a writers' circle. This way, you get a ton of criticism, so much of it that you start learning which is valid and which is spurious. This is an invaluable talent. IF you get no valuable comments after three submissions to the group, leave the group. Find/form a new one. You need great readers. Let me repeat: you NEED great readers.

One of the hardest things about being a writer is that magazines reject you without telling you why. With practice, you can weed out the "I don't like stories about elves" comments from the "this story made no sense" comments -- not to mention the comments for which you should take friends out for a beer. I'm talking about, "This character was brilliant as a focal point, but when she vanished, the story became boring." or "I got so lost in your descriptions that I couldn't follow the plot." Anytime your friends can't follow the plot, it's time to rework the story.

2) Do you know enough about your market?
First (and this is totally obvious, but everyone gets lazy) read the writer's guidelines. They are usually in the magazine or on the website of your target. If you don't read them EVERY SINGLE TIME, you'll never see the bold type that says "do not staple" or "send three copies" -- and failing to follow these bold instructions will immediately get you rejected. They won't even read the first sentence. Editorial staffs change, times change, guidelines change. Go and read those guidelines for every single submission.

Your stuff also has to be contemporary. If you are a sci-fi writer, you should be reading a ton of NEW sci-fi--see what sells. Yes, of course, you want to be unique and have your own voice and all that, but if you are reading this article, you're not selling your stuff, and this may very well be why: perhaps your writing just isn't "of the moment." If you are writing like Asimov, cut it out and start writing like someone who is still alive (preferably yourself). If you want to write for television, you better be reading Sorkin's scripts, and not watching late-night reruns on TV Land.

In Part 2 of "How To Keep From Jumping Out A Window":
3) A secret way in, and
4) How to keep from jumping

M.M. Devoe's fiction has appeared in the Oklahoma review, THEMA, The First Line, the Columbia Daily Spectator, and been anthologized in both Stirring Up A Stormand Lithuania: In Her Own Words. Recently, she has won awards, mention, or been shortlisted for the H. E. Francis Short Story Competition 2002, the Fish Publishing's 2003 Short Story Prize, the 2004 Bellwether Prize, the 2004 Dana Awards, and the 2005 Pushcart Prize. Check her out at: www.mmdevoe.com


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