From Category: Essays on Writing
In this provocative article at the online journal Howlround, lesbian-feminist playwright Carolyn Gage critiques the "previously unpublished/unproduced" requirement in most submission guidelines for contests, magazines, and drama festivals. Gage observes that this system disadvantages writers from less-privileged backgrounds or with radical viewpoints, who may not have access to a high-profile venue for their work's first publication or production, and are then banned from submitting it elsewhere. "I would like to see folks really challenge this obsession with 'purity' as it relates to manuscripts for new work. The protocol is shot-through with patriarchal and deeply classist prerogatives and assumptions about the entire nature of the relationship between the producer/publisher and the playwright. This should be a relationship of equals. I do not demand that they come to my work with no previous experience with producing or publishing, and I find it an insult that they impose a virginity criteria on my work. In their fixation on virginity, these publishers and producers bypass many fresh and innovative plays and they penalize the most entrepreneurial authors."
Jeffrey Levine, editor of the prestigious independent publisher Tupelo Press, offers solid advice on collecting your poems into a coherent manuscript and presenting them to best advantage.
In this 2018 essay from the blog of the literary journal Ploughshares, novelist and writing teacher Adam O'Fallon Price analyzes how fictional characters can be individuated by what they notice, and fail to notice, in the scenes they describe. Since perception is selective, a description with too many details can make the scene seem less realistic.
In this blog series, the editor of prestigious literary publisher Tupelo Press offers advice on the ordering and editing of a poetry manuscript.
Insights on formal innovation, "self-subversion" and the growth of the artist, from the editor of the innovative annual journal Fulcrum. Nikolayev's book Monkey Time won the 2001 Verse Prize.
Poetry blog on the Writer's Digest website features interviews with contemporary authors, writing prompts, advice on the craft, and introductions to exotic poetic forms.
Pulitzer-nominated poet William Pitt Root riffs on poetry, politics and moral courage in this interview with Daniela Gioseffi. Mr. Root is the author of "The Unbroken Diamond: Nightletter to the Mujahideen".
Thirty-one younger American poets take on some of the great debates and literary manifestos from the history of modern poetry. One of many stimulating compilations from the Academy of American Poets' National Poetry Almanac.
From Slate, A.O. Scott and Katha Pollitt probe the gap between 'official' poetry and poetry's stealth bestsellers, and the challenge of teaching classic work without scaring students away. "I think a lot more Americans read poetry than we think, just not necessarily the poets most admired by Helen Vendler and Harold Bloom."
In this interview with Poets & Writers Magazine from January 2009, award-winning poet Cynthia Lowen offers tips for maximizing your success with writing contests.
This two-part essay by award-winning poet Brian Brodeur discusses the prosody of nonsense verse and compares it to other types of avant-garde art. Is it aesthetically significant, as a kind of distillation of poetry to its abstract elements of sound and rhythm, purified of "meaning"? Or is it just a sophomoric prank? Read Part 1 and Part 2 on The Best American Poetry blog.
The Riveter is a magazine of narratives and longform journalism by women. In this August 2017 piece, magazine co-founder Joanna Demkiewicz interviews poet Amy King about her work with VIDA, an organization launched in 2009 to track gender disparities in the top literary publications and book reviews. VIDA has since expanded its surveys to break down the data by race, ethnicity, sexuality/gender, disability, and neurodiversity.
In this 2017 essay from the LA Review of Books blog, widely published poet and critic Kristina Marie Darling advises reviewers how to be mindful of privilege and subjectivity when critiquing a poetry book, particularly one by a less-established author. She warns against inferring psychological or autobiographical details from authors' published work. The essay contends that the best reviews are those that situate the book in its own aesthetic tradition and point the book toward the audience most likely to appreciate it.
This essay by poet Marcus Goodyear from the magazine Books & Culture celebrates the playful spirit in poetry and contends that it can be a necessary leaven for poems that address difficult themes.
In this 2017 essay in LitReactor, K. Tempest Bradford shares tips for creating a diverse cast of characters and avoiding stereotypes in fiction. Bradford teaches classes on "Writing the Other" with Nisi Shaw, co-author of the foundational book on the subject. This article includes links to related anthologies and essays.
Erotica writer and social issues blogger Xan West maintains this list of contemporary books on transgender and non-binary themes, with links to reviews by transgender and non-binary readers. West created the list because cisgender reviewers are not always in a position to recognize whether a book's portrayal of trans and non-binary experience is misinformed or offensive. Authors creating gender-variant characters would do well to educate themselves by browsing the relevant reviews.
J. Paul Dyson, editor of FirstWriter magazine, discusses how to integrate rhyme more effectively into your poem and choose the right style for your subject. Too often, says Dyson, beginning poets focus solely on making the lines rhyme, at the expense of word choice and flow.
Alexander Limberg's blog Ride the Pen features craft essays based on great works of literature. Learn about using realism to sell a fantastical premise by studying Kafka's "Metamorphosis", or analyze the effective use of subtext and theme via Chekov's "Cherry Orchard". Each essay ends with a writing prompt.
In this 2016 article from The Atlantic, health and psychology editor Julie Beck discusses findings that the romantic comedy trope of persistent pursuit makes both men and women more likely to believe that stalking behaviors are an acceptable part of romance. Writers of romance novels, particularly heterosexual romance, should take care not to normalize behavior that would be threatening in real life.
Rowena Macdonald is the author of The Threat Level Remains Severe (Aardvark Bureau), a comedic thriller about British politics. In this 2017 essay from Glimmer Train Bulletin, she shares useful tips for writing natural-sounding fictional dialogue.
In this guest post on publishing industry expert Jane Friedman's blog, poet and writing coach Sage Cohen helps writers navigate the floods of contradictory advice. The first step is to know and accept your unique work style, then stop telling yourself unfriendly things about how you "should" have a different process.
Thoughtful reflections on contemporary poetry and poetics from award-winning poet and editor Ron Silliman.
In this blog post from Queeromance Ink, a site for promoting LGBTQ fiction, romance and erotica author Sharita Lira gives advice on writing non-stereotypical African-American characters, from her own experience and that of the romance readers and writers she polled.
Writer, editor, and theatre professional Francine L. Trevens reviews books, movies, and stage productions at her blog.
Fiction writer and "freelance penmonkey" Chuck Wendig delivers ballsy, bracing advice for writers at his entertaining and useful blog. Got writer's block? He'll tell your inner demons where to go and how to get there.
Formerly Poetry Magic: A large collection of articles on writing poetry, understanding poetry and getting published. Novice and advanced topics covered. Examples include modernist poetry, postmodernist poetry, sounds in poetry, performing your poem and chaos approaches to poetry analysis.
In this 2020 blog post, author and writing teacher Michael Jackman shares tips for writing productively with attention deficit disorder. If daily routines and schedules don't suit the way your brain is wired, try some of his strategies for jump-starting your creative enthusiasm, such as exercise, travel, and enjoying cultural events. Above all, take the long view of your productivity and don't measure yourself against people with different needs.
Maggie Stiefvater is the New York Times bestselling author of the Raven Cycle series and other award-winning fantasy and magical realist novels. In this blog post, she advises fiction writers to make the same scene accomplish more than one task. For instance, a quiet, transitional scene does not have to be filler; it should reveal something important about backstory, character, or atmosphere. The key to good pacing is to use a variety of scene structures: earn those quiet moments by interspersing them with higher-energy action.
In this 2015 essay in the online journal The Millions, Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma critiques the fad of literary minimalism, arguing that the glory and purpose of literature is to "magnify the ordinary" through language that rises above everyday banal usage. Obioma's debut novel The Fishermen was published in 2015 by Little, Brown.
The name of this monthly online journal is self-explanatory. In addition to reviews of new poetry and literary prose chapbooks, the site features critical essays and interviews with authors and publishers. Reviews display a lively voice and eclectic tastes.
The Creative Independent is an ever-expanding resource of emotional and practical guidance for creative people. The website features brief interviews and essays by writers and artists in various disciplines, on topics ranging from starting a business to coping with adversity.
Poet and critic David Yezzi makes the case for mastery of verse forms and prosody as essential to the education of a poet, and gives a historical perspective on formalism's loss of status.
Kenny Fries is a poet, memoir writer, and editor of the anthology Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out. In this essay on Medium, he proposes guidelines for adequate and respectful disability representation in literature, similar to the well-known Bechdel Test for women characters. "Does a work have more than one disabled character? Do the disabled characters have their own narrative purpose other than the education and profit of a nondisabled character? Is the character's disability not eradicated either by curing or killing?" Novelist Nicola Griffiths is compiling a list on her website based on readers' suggestions. As she notes in a 2018 New York Times editorial, since a quarter of the US population has some sort of disability, we should be able to name over a million non-ableist narratives—but instead, there are fewer than a hundred qualifying books on her list.
H.P. Lovecraft was an influential early 20th century writer of horror and weird fiction, best known for his Cthulhu Mythos tales. In this online column at speculative fiction publisher Tor.com, modern Mythos writers Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth revisit classic Lovecraft tales and discuss other stories being written in the Mythos tradition.
May Peterson is an editor, writing consultant, and author of the fantasy novel Lord of the Last Heartbeat (Carina Press, 2019). In this writing advice post from her blog, she cautions against the self-doubt that leads writers to revise too much. Rather than think of early drafts as problems to be fixed, learn to appreciate your strengths at every stage, while being aware that your work will change and grow. "We all need to strive, but we all need to accept, too, and it's the latter part writers often have trouble with...What I encourage writers to do is to cultivate trust in their writing. Not just their skills, or their voice, but what their writing is about for them. The things they like about their own writing, just as it is."
A well-researched defense of poets who fell out of fashion with the rise of literary modernism. Finch, an acclaimed formalist poet, is critical of modern poetry's emphasis on originality and linguistic complexity. Room should be made for poetry that expresses a community's values in accessible and heartfelt language. Poetesses like Teasdale and Millay "offer a valuable strategy of renewal for poets in the twenty-first century, particularly for women poets who need a new way to connect with pre-twentieth century poetic traditions."
In this 2015 essay from Solstice Lit Mag, poet Jennifer Jean shares the ethical principles that guided her when writing persona poems in the voices of sex-trafficking survivors. What is the boundary between empathy and appropriation? Consent from subjects, an intent to heal and inspire, and feedback from the community are key considerations.
Novelist and nonfiction writer Daniella Levy shares advice on this blog about staying hopeful and self-affirming in the face of the rejections that all writers experience. Her "Creative Resilience Manifesto" reads, in part: "I cultivate hope. I refrain from the use of prophylactic pessimism to numb myself to disappointment. I invite myself to feel everything." Levy is the author of By Light of Hidden Candles (Kasva Press), a historical novel about Spanish Jews during the 16th-century Inquisition.
This chart from education blog Janine's Music Room will be useful for writers who want to create accurate, well-rounded characters from a culture other than their own, as well as teachers with a diverse classroom population. Beyond surface differences like folklore, clothing, and holidays, consider cultural distinctives such as body language, manners, concepts of justice, family roles, notions of modesty, and sense of humor.
In this article on the feminist sexuality website Jezebel, six successful romance writers discuss the importance of building consent into your scenes of seduction and intimacy, and how to write it in a way that feels natural and appealing. This piece is a must-read for fiction authors in all genres.
The Writer Magazine is a well-established guide to writing, editing, and marketing your work. This page on their website collects links to their past articles with inspirational tips for writers. Topics include finding the heart of your story, balancing writing and parenting, and resisting negativity from your inner critic.
In this 2011 essay from the Ploughshares blog, poet and writing professor Weston Cutter urges writers of free verse to give more conscious thought to the reasons for their structural choices. Visual components such as stanza breaks, line breaks, and margins should be chosen to enhance the meaning and sound of the poem.
The University of Chichester hosts this online literary forum on the art and craft of the short story. The forum provides members an opportunity to enter into academic and creatively-based discussions on a range of literary topics. The site also features exclusive, in-depth interviews with leading authors such as A.S. Byatt and Hanif Kureishi.
Tim Weed is an award-winning novelist, lecturer, and travel-writing program director. His "Storycraft" blog analyzes great novels and short stories from a craft perspective to help aspiring fiction writers. Featured authors include Tolkien, Hemingway, Steinbeck, James Joyce, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Hilary Mantel, John Le Carré, Donna Tartt, Ray Bradbury, Phillip Pullman, Peter Carey, Leslie Marmon Silko, and many others. There are also more general posts on the importance of narrative in the modern age, what literature can do that film cannot, the archetypal Shadow in fiction, the art of the scene, and more.
In this 2017 essay from the blog of the literary journal Ploughshares, Chloe N. Clark discusses four stories that self-consciously re-use common fictional tropes about women in order to subvert these tropes. While beginning writers are often told to avoid clichéd roles for their characters, it can be an effective postmodern literary technique to make the characters themselves aware of and commenting on the limited identities they are forced to embody.
Queer fantasy writer Ana Mardoll, author of the Earthside series, discusses how to acknowledge the existence and needs of transgender people when creating a fictional world that includes widespread access to body-modification techniques. This piece was published on xer Patreon page (a platform to support content creators with recurring donations); a complete book of essays on the topic is also available for download on a pay-as-you-wish basis..
In this 2016 article from Literary Hub, Tobias Carroll surveys some techniques that great novels and films have used to show the reality-distorting effect of grief and other overpowering emotions. Carroll is the managing editor of Vol. 1 Brooklyn and the author of the novel Reel (Rare Bird).
In this essay from the bulletin of acclaimed literary journal Glimmer Train, award-winning short story writer Lillian Li explores how to include nonwhite characters who are neither arbitrary nor tokens.
Cheryl Morgan is a science fiction critic, radio presenter, and owner of Wizard's Tower Press. In this 2015 article from speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons, she discusses tropes in transgender and genderqueer character representation and how to create gender-diverse worlds in a respectful and accurate way.
In this essay on the Tor Books website, widely published fantasy and science fiction novelist Kate Elliott discusses two-dimensional stereotypes and sexist tropes to avoid in fiction writing.