Looking Back: Advice to My Younger Self (and Any Other Beginner Writers)

Author’s Note: Many of the below sections could have their own entire post dedicated to the details, but I’m not sure a just-starting writer would really want to keep track of all that. After all, as I cover in Point 1, I don’t want them to spend too much time thinking as opposed to drafting – and throwing minutiae at them around the finer points of editing and submitting would directly counteract that goal. I am also a prose writer at heart, so, while many of these points can apply across the spectrum, I will most definitely be biased toward advice to help fellow fiction writers. You’ve been warned.

Writing is key

This sounds stupidly obvious, I know. But it seems like a lot of folks out there spend too much time talking about writing when they’re first starting out than doing it. There’s nothing wrong with planning, but if you’ve spent months strategizing without picking up a pen (or pulling out the keyboard), then you may be in for a rude awakening when you find that you don’t like writing. Imagine spending all that time for no return. I’d always rather jump in too quickly and do more editing later than spend so much time thinking that I never start. Which brings us to the next point:

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Adventures on Vocal

Recently, I’ve been entering Vocal fiction contests, and I thought some of you who have also heard of the platform might appreciate the insights of an “insider.” Of course, I haven’t won any contests yet, so I wouldn’t put myself in the ranks of their elite users by any means, but I have been using the platform to post content all the same.

Like most things in life, there are benefits and drawbacks to a Vocal membership. Let’s start with the perks.

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My Voice AKA Adventures in Podcasting

A few months ago, I went on the Creative Conversations podcast. I didn’t really listen to podcasts before this, and I certainly never thought I’d do an interview, but then a good friend told me about one an indie author was starting that focused on writing and the creative process. I replied that I didn’t think I could talk about writing for a full hour and was assured it didn’t need to be that long. I then spoke with host Marissa Lete for 52 minutes (you can check the tape).

1) I guess that makes me a liar and 2) I had a lot more to say than I thought. Indeed, writing since the late 2000s has given me a robust perspective and many opinions, which have also evolved as my prose matured and I studied the technical aspects of the craft in college. Reading lots of writing advice books throughout this time also helped.

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Hunting Shadows: My Tiger King Inspired Short Story

Tiger in shadows

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’re certainly aware of the challenges the world is facing. You’re also most likely aware of a documentary so universal in its appeal some may even consider it more earth shattering than the virus. Indeed, since “Tiger King” debuted, it has occupied a spot in our national conscience like few other documentaries have, and I am not immune to this trend.

However, unlike most other viewers, I was less captivated by the boisterous Joe Exotic and his zoo empire and more intrigued by an event which was presented as little more than a footnote in the first episode: Zanesville. In October 2011, an exotic animal collector in Ohio unleashed a horde of 50 tigers, lions, bears, cougars, wolves and monkeys and then killed himself, forcing the local police to put the animals down with force before they escaped into the surrounding woods and town. The idea of being a police officer in rural Ohio forced to hunt down nature’s greatest predators was captivating enough. The fact that nobody except the owner who committed suicide was harmed is short of miraculous.

The story below came as the result of me asking the question: what if things hadn’t gone so well, as they very well could have in the real incident? What would it be like to be one of those police officers called in to face a horde of massive predators with no training and no grasp of the true magnitude? What would the insanity of this unlikely event feel like to witness first hand? These are the questions “Hunting Shadows” attempts to answer.

Read on for the story!

New Age Writing: Exceptionalism or Visibility?

What comes first? A piece of writing is unique, which gains it views – or a work is popular, which distinguishes it?

SEO: It’s a Metaphor

As a professional marketer, I researched SEO, expecting some magic formula to instantly promote my company’s website, which I then planned to re-purpose for my own budding online brand. Instead, I found that the Internet has changed a bit since SEO first became a field. For instance, did you know you don’t have to capitalize “Internet” anymore? AP style guides got rid of it – spread the word!

Spread more words!

Keep Fighting the Good Fight

College reoriented my worldview over three years that this writing site helped captured in all of its radical flourish and sad nuance. Yet nothing truly prepares you for the working world and the realities of life. I think the “real world” is a convenient dichotomy that we hide behind, but like most stereotypes, it has some essence of truth.

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A New Test for Reality

Partly inspired by The Trouble with Reality by Brooke Gladstone, which the title pays homage to.

This post doesn’t fit into the Writing for the Masses or Satire Saturday series, but it addresses an issue I’ve grappled with for the past few days.

First, some background: I had seen advertisements for The President Show, a new thirty minute block on Comedy Central that would fill the gap left by the cancellation of The Nightly Show. That’s about all I thought about it, other than the fact that it seemed to rely on crude humor to mock the president and didn’t deserve my attention.

Test more!

Satire Saturday 1: CNN Starts Fake News Section

Due to a disagreement between the editors at The Breeze, the multiple satires I wrote will never be published in their paper. However, I realized that I have a website that can distribute them just as effectively. So, the topics may be dated by a few weeks, but they are (sadly) no less relevant.


CNN Starts Fake News Section

Rising to the challenge of Fox News’s “Fair and Balanced” tagline, CNN has committed to equally reporting both real and false news stories. The newly added Fake News tab on the network’s website features compelling headlines such as “Pipeline spills found to increase health,” “DNC planning ‘Real Housewives’ reunion with Bernie Sanders on Bravo” and “CBO finds that less healthcare coverage for elderly boosts funeral industry.”

The news agency made their pushback against the conservative Fox News clear, modifying the channel’s byline for their new section: “They Report, You Decide.”

Satire more!

Writing for the Masses 8: Finding Test Readers

You’ve spent months on this manuscript, discovering your characters and putting their personalities on the page. Just one issue: you forgot to introduce one character in the first chapter.

After all the time invested, we often lose the ability to objectively evaluate and inspect our writing. Any gaps in information are automatically filled in by our mind, which has all the backstories and plot-points catalogued. That’s all well and good if you plan on only writing for yourself, but most of us want to see a return on our investment.

Enter the reader. Our unpublished comrades may not have writing expertise, but their populist perspective will help you gauge how the public may react to your book. More importantly, test readers are great for pointing out errors and slow moments. For that, they’re worth their weight in gold.

Keep finding!

Writing for the Masses 7: Know Writing When You See It

“Keep writing” seems like some obvious advice for anyone with creative writing ambitions, no matter how large or small. There really isn’t much else to writing other than to do it, and continue until you can do it well. You can read fiction, read publishing advice books, read writing websites (like this one!), but at the end of the day, practice is the only way to hone your voice.

I throw the “others have said this much better, but it bears repeating” disclaimer about here in the post. I’m not pretending to have some significant insight, just the experiences of my undergraduate career that I think others could learn from.

First, comrades, we must discuss the idea that we are writing all the time. Many of you will no doubt protest: “But I set aside special time for my fiction/poetry/satire. How can you tell me I’m always writing it?”

Know more!