Getting Started: Navigating the world of short stories

(The following is a guest post from Madeleine Swann, who joins Word Crushes from England. It you click on her name, you’ll see that Maddie and I share the same taste in WordPress themes. Great minds think alike? -Erin)

I’m a fairly new writer. I’ve had some articles and short stories published but I’ve still got a long way to go and I appreciate how hard it is to get started. Perhaps this sounds as though I should live in a commune but I really think it’s important for writers, especially other new and confused ones, to share what they’ve learned, so this is for you. Join my wild ride!

When I send off short stories I can spend a very long time looking through endless lists of magazines and websites that publish them, and one place I go to is The Short Story . A few of the publications are no longer with us but enough are, and there are sections full of advice and competitions as well. Some people may disagree with this but I’m quite dubious of anything asking for entry money so I tend to avoid those. Plus I have no money. Don’t forget of course to purchase The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, it’s invaluable.

Set up a website and join social networking. Most people already have, but if you haven’t I can’t tell you how useful I’ve found it. Through Facebook I started talking to a comic publisher, and now I’ve got a horror story coming out with them at the end of the year. If you have a website it can make you look so much more professional (or alternative, whichever your preferred aesthetic). I made a couple of comedy adverts for my site and put them on youtube, mostly to amuse myself but also to let people see my personality, which is hugely important. Just remember, if you put a photo of yourself on your homepage make sure you don’t look insane, unless that’s your intention.

I’ve heard this so many times I need to say it just to be sure you all know too: conflict needs to be set up for your character fairly early on. Beautiful description is great but readers appreciate it more when they’re dying to find out what happens. I always try to make sure the opening line of everything I write has a huge impact, even in a small way; people decide whether to continue reading at all based on those first few words.

I’m not a fan of how-to books at all but I found How NOT to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark very useful and very funny. At first I was embarrassed at reading all my mistakes laid bare, but once you get over the initial cringe it’s full of great tips, and the principals mostly work for short stories too. I tend to get a coke in a pub to do research because I need noise to think – I know, weirdo – and I was laughing out loud. People were looking.

I always think getting involved with local things is a great idea. We have an arts festival in Essex and I’m doing three different performances. Sometimes you might have to be pushy and I know it doesn’t suit everyone, but you really never know who’ll see you or who you’ll get talking to. If you make a fool of yourself, it’ll at least be a memory you and your friends can laugh about.

Lastly, have other people read your stuff. Maybe even read it aloud to people – people who won’t just say ‘that’s good.’ You need to grit your teeth and let it be read by someone you know is honest. There are tons of online workshops, so join a free one. I personally use Critique Circle.

So here we are; my thoughts on getting started in writing. Hopefully you’ve found it dizzyingly informative, but if you have any helpful suggestions for me I’d really like to hear them because sharing is the way of caring. Or something.

Wait… There’s more: a few useful links:

http://newpages.com/literary-magazines/
http://www.pw.org/literary_magazines?apage=*
http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/pbonline.html
http://www.duotrope.com/listallmarkets.aspx
http://litlist.net/online_journals
http://www.litmags.org/list.php

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