25 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me as a Beginning Writer

Recently I was asked to speak at a local community college for National Day of Writing. Driving there, I decided to scrap my prepared speech and instead asked myself: What would I have wanted someone to tell me when I was an undergrad who dreamed of becoming a writer?

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1. You need to practice–maybe not every day but most days.
2. You need to have something to say.
3. You will get better.
4. You need writing colleagues.
5. You need writing mentors.
6. You don’t need degrees.
7. You will write some bad stories.
8. You will write some practice books.
9. The good news: You never get too old to be a writer.
10. Don’t just write what you know: go into the unknown.
11: Write what is dangerous.
12: Don’t outline (at first)–let it surprise you.
13: You need a writing routine if you want to accomplish a big project.
14. You style may and will change.
15: Cultivate beginner’s mind: hold onto that feeling of creative audacity even when you’ve been doing it for years.
16: Learn how to (really) revise.
17: Find readers you trust (and shower them with gratitude).
18.You must publish small before you can publish big.
19. Don’t rush to publish: wait until your work is ready.
20. Agents (publicists, etc.) are not fairy godmothers and they don’t have magic wands.
21. Learn how to advocate for yourself.
22. Support other writers.
23. The publishing world is small: be nice.
24. The creative process ebbs and flows–don’t panic.
25. You will change as a writer. Embrace it.

Happy Writing!

xo Nancy

P.S. Come revise with me in December! Just in time for your New Year’s Resolution, in this 3-day intensive we will revise some of your flash fiction drafts and get them ready for the next page!  Just a few spots left!

Flash Flurry: 3-day Revision Intensive Dec 27-29, 2019

 

3 Perfectly Good Reasons Why You Might Be Avoiding Your Manuscript

3 Perfectly Good Reasons Why You Might Be Avoiding Your Manuscript

blog-writer-burnout-biggerIf you’re one of those people who began your manuscript years ago, it can be painful for you to see it sitting there unfinished. You might be beating yourself up with a bunch of “shoulds” and attacking your supposed lack of discipline. It can make you feel hopeless, drained of energy and questioning why you even began–or if it’s even worth finishing. With all that negative self-talk happening every time you think about your manuscript, it’s no wonder that you keep avoiding it!

But there are usually some very good reasons why you are avoiding it, and the good news is it’s not as hopeless as it might feel.

1. You are a better writer now. Plain and simple. If you started writing your manuscript even one year ago, chances are you are a better writer now. And that’s a good thing! That’s the beauty of practice paying off. But it can also feel frustrating when you realize that first page/chapter/draft, the one you labored over, might have made you a better writer but now doesn’t live up to your abilities.

2. You are in a different emotional place than when you began. Often the impetus that drove us to the page in the first place fades and then the work starts to feel estranged. Perhaps whatever we were grappling with has been resolved. Perhaps we are on the other side of a life change. Perhaps the manuscript was part of our process and now, faced with the necessary revisions that finishing a manuscript requires, we aren’t “feeling it.”

3. You are overly loyal to your original vision. This is a big one. Loyalty isn’t a bad thing, after all you’ve probably already put in countless hours of work on this manuscript. But sometimes we become so attached to our original vision that we block creative inspiration. Sometimes we have read and reread our sentences so many times that we can no longer imagine them any other way. And therein lies the problem: when we can no longer imagine possibilities for our work, when everything is known and nothing unknown, it becomes very difficult to sustain the excitement needed to return over and over.

So what can be done? Many things, but one of my favorites is re-introducing a sense of play and possibility, which can loosen what has become stuck and add the necessary spice back into your writer-manuscript relationship.

If this sounds like you, or you want to learn more about my Finish That Manuscript online workshop, I’d like to invite you to join me for a free Q & A call on Wednesday, June 17, 7 pm MST/9 pm EST. Please use the form below to chat with me about your manuscript or contact me directly at nancystohlman@gmail.com

I look forward to hearing from you, and Happy Writing!

Self-Promotion or Self-Prostitution: Why We Resist Putting Ourselves Out There

Do you hate the idea of self-promotion? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good at it? That you shouldn’t have to do it? If you hate self-promotion, or even the prospect of self-promotion, you are not alone. No matter the genre, all artists seem to share a similar aversion. Most of us are still waiting for an agent/manager/publicist to come and rescue us from the prospect of having to promote…ourselves?

But why?

As artists, we have internalized certain agreed-upon stories, certain cultural mythologies that may be blocking our ability to put ourselves and our work out into the world. And since most of us agree that self-promotion is necessary, it’s worth taking a look at these stories and deciding whether perpetuating them is serving our art and our careers—or not.

1. The Starving Artist Story: “I’m not going to make any money at this, anyway.”

The-Lemonade-Stand1If we were running a company, a large portion of our budget would go to marketing, right? If we were selling shoes, our livelihood would depend on us getting out there and selling some shoes. Even if we were running a lemonade stand, we would understand that, in order to sell lemonade, we would need to make signs or hire neighborhood kids with megaphones to let people know that lemonade is available. If no one knows about our lemonade, then no one will buy it no matter how fantastic it might be.

But when it comes to our art, we’ve swallowed a toxic “starving artist” story, which tells us that we’re probably not going to make any money at this, anyway, so we don’t take the task of promotion seriously. In fact, most of us would probably do a better job promoting the lemonade than we would the art that we have poured our blood and souls into.

It’s crucial to realize that if you want to make a career out of your art, then you have gone into businesswith yourself. I am now the CEO of Nancy Stohlman, Inc., and my product is my work. If no one knows about my product, they can’t buy it. And then I am out of business.

But as long as we are stoking the starving artist story, then we’re going into the game already defeated. If we believe we cannot make a living out of our art…then we probably won’t.

2. The Overnight Success Story: “Once I’m famous someone else will do this.”

This is the story of the mythical artist who is catapulted into fame from obscurity with no promotional effort of their own. While this mythology is exciting, and the media loves to dangle it as some warped version of the American Dream, it’s also a bit like expecting to win the Powerball.

This overnight success story is a darling of artists and runs deep in our culture. But if you look carefully behind most successes, you will usually find a different story. Madonna made hundreds of demos with her own money and personally brought them to every DJ in New York City; Truman Capote sat for 8 hours a day in the lobby of the publisher who refused to see him. Even Rosa Parks, our favorite little old lady who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus and thus triggered the Civil Rights Movement, was actually a veteran activist for 15 years when she was finally delivered to the right place at the right time.

Because that’s what it comes down to: “It’s not enough to be at the right place at the right time—you have to be the right person at the right place at the right time,” says musical agent Justin Sudds in his interview for “Take Your Talent to the Bank”. The truth of the overnight success story is that it is usually not overnight at all.

But what’s most problematic about the Overnight Success Story is that it is ultimately disempowering because it takes the responsibility for our careers out of our hands. Our careers become like playing roulette, and we feel powerless to affect real change. And I like playing roulette, but only with what I am prepared to lose.

3. “It’s Not Polite To Brag.” This country is still influenced by our Puritan roots, and so this story is the one that often paralyzes us into non-action.

Here’s the truth: Will some people be annoyed by your promotional efforts? Yes. But usually the ones who are annoyed, offended, or otherwise triggered by your efforts are the ones who have not yet embraced their own self-promotion. So it’s important to remember that their support or non-support for you and your work really has little to do with you and much more to do with where they are on their own path. It’s pretty hard to jump on someone else’s bandwagon when your own bandwagon is rusting in the garage. It’s pretty hard to muster up zest and enthusiasm for someone else when you haven’t put your own work out there in a big way, yet. So when you encounter this kind of resistance—and it can come from the most surprising places—be kind, and remember this quote: “Those who have abandoned their dreams will always discourage yours.”

But the rest of the people won’t care, and in fact they will be happy that you’ve made it so easy for them to support you and your work. It is said that a person needs to hear about something five times (yes, five!) before it sticks, and most people are happy for the reminders.

Self-promotion is not bragging. It’s asking for the support we need to make the careers we want.

In this Puritan society we are told that “it’s better to give than receive,” so we give, we give, we give…but most of us have a hard time receiving. And most of us have an even harder time asking for the support we need with clarity and confidence. If I want people to read my latest story—I have to ask. If I want people to come to my my website, my lecture, or buy my latest book—I have to ask. “Hey, I’d love it if you checked out my work and passed it along.”

In our everyone-for-himself society we have attached a stigma to asking for help. In order to get over this stigma, we have to remember that artists must exist in community, and in order to create and sustain a community, you have to put yourself out there with honesty and authenticity. Self-promotion is truly about asking for the support we need, and building relationships with those who are excited about us and our work. It’s the greatest thing you can do for the promotion of art outside of creating the art itself.

So when self-promotion starts to feel like self-prostitution, remember: We promote our work because we aren’t okay with the mythology of the starving artist; we respect our work enough to take control of its dissemination, not leaving it to the agent fairies to rescue us; we have both the confidence and humility required to put it out there in the world and ask for support.

Many of us don’t promote because we would rather fail privately than publicly  We fear rejection and ridicule; we retreat into craft instead. And yes, it’s true that Emily Dickinson did no promotion. But then again, she never got to enjoy the rewards, respect, and recognition of her work while she was alive.

I want more for myself and my art.

And I want more for you, too.

Summer Resolution #1: Finish That Manuscript online workshop

An Online Workshop on Re-visioning, Taking the Next Step, and Falling (Back) in Love with Your Vision.

Starts April 27!

Are you or someone you know working on a manuscript? Are you stuck in the writing phase or in the revision process? Or have you “finished” but not gotten the response you wanted out in the world? Are you not sure what comes next? Most of us are better at starting manuscripts than we are at finishing them. But it’s only when we can conceive, create, and bring our projects to fruition that we begin to master the longer form known as a book. Each book we write brings us closer to understanding how to write a book. What phase of the finishing process are you in? And what do you need to cross the finish line and get it out into the world?

Are you ready? Find out more

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The Great Shuffle: Ordering a Flash Collection vs. an Anthology

I hear a lot of authors asking for advice on ordering their collections. My first question to them is: Are you ordering an anthology or a collection?

Having done both, I believe what is required is very different.

Firstly let’s get our terminology straight. By anthology I mean a book of stories written by many different authors. The editor of the anthology conceives, solicits, judges, and orders the pieces into the final product. By collection I’m referring to a single-author collection where the author is putting their own stories into one book.

images (3)Ordering an anthology is a little bit like taking a 3rd grade class photo: you gotta get everyone in the picture. You might have pieces that are wildly different. You might have four kids wearing green sweaters. Your job is to make everyone look good. Whether you decide to put all the talls in the back or go boy-girl-boy, you are working with a lot of disparate pieces and are ultimately limited by your materials–your job is to try and place them in the most interesting and pleasing order, showcasing each and creating a solid whole.

When I edited Fast Forward: The Mix Tape back in 2010, I channeled the 1980s “mixtape” style (and we even had reader flip the book halfway through: Side A, Side B). It’s of course not the only way to order an anthology. You might put your most famous authors first. You might chunk the stories by theme, or style or even size (The Incredible Shrinking Story was organized largest to smallest).Mix Tape Cover

But if an anthology is a little bit like a Greatest Hits Collection, then the single author collection is The Concept Album.

I’ve edited four anthologies, so I thought I was all set to order my own collection. But right away I realized there was a far more potent and more dangerous power available to me now. Now I didn’t just have artistic license over the order—I had artistic license over the whole thing. Now I had the possibility of manipulating the actual stories as I built the collection—something that would be a cardinal sin in an anthology. And this is why I’ve come to the conclusion that the mixtape or any other approach that works for an anthology might fall short in a single author collection. In a collection you are also manipulating the vibrations of story next to story to create a greater whole.

Think about it: Anthology readers have no qualms about reading the stories out of order—in fact, we almost expect them to go straight for the Table of Contents, look for their favorite authors, and start there. But the reader of a collection will often enter the book with story #1, and in this way a collection must behave like a novel, enticing the reader to keep turning pages in a way that an anthology doesn’t have to.

I ended up spending nearly as much time ordering my collection as I did writing the pieces themselves, and as I continued to shift and flip my stories, watching for the telltale vibrations to jump the synapses, there was a pliability that had never been available to me when creating an anthology; I now had the creative permission to write the gaps, change the tenses, sync the characters, manipulate the narrators, and otherwise match or contrast the stories as needed. And they began to take on second and third layers of subtext–no longer just individual stories but part of a greater symphony telling an even bigger story that I had never even considered.

A friend of mine told me for her collection she threw all her stories on the floor, picked them up, and that was the order. And I must admit that part of me likes the simplicity and divine randomness of that method.

But I’d like to propose that the act of ordering a collection is as precious as the act of writing it. Writers who are too quick to “get the ordering over with” in their collections might miss a lot of untapped potential in their work. I believe the work of ordering  is just as delicate, just as nuanced. And can be just as revealing.

 

Nancy Stohlman’s books include the forthcoming flash fiction collection The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (forthcoming 2014), the flash novels The Monster Opera (2013) and Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and three anthologies of flash including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is a founding member of Fast Forward Press, the creator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, and her work has been included in The Best of the Web.

Check out her upcoming Writing Flash Fiction workshop here!

Writing Flash Fiction–Online Workshop Begins August 10

What would happen if you could double your publishing opportunities? Double your confidence? Double your writing skills and abilities?

Well, Flash Fiction is the new black and journals are hungry for fresh voices. Learn what makes successful flash–just because it’s small doesn’t make it easy–and get your work into the world in a bigger way!

Flash Fiction is a literary movement—freeing literature and turning it upside down. Flash writers are embracing a new kind of story–and it’s spreading. It’s abstract to pop art, it’s jazz to rock and roll. And it’s about time!

Join us for a 4-week online flash fiction workshop beginning August 10. The format will include weekly online instruction, plenty of editorial feedback, group-led discussions, as well as once-a week conference calls in a virtual classroom–the best of all technology and the chance to work with writers all over the world!

Limited spaces available–discounts and payment plans available for a limited time! See “Summer Writing Program”

Contact me for more information or to register at nancystohlman@gmail.com

FREE preview call Sunday, August 10 at 7 pm MST–contact me to register.

Join Facebook Event
https://www.facebook.
com/events/616231968457460/

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Nancy Stohlman’s books include the forthcoming flash fiction collection The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (forthcoming 2014), the flash novels The Monster Opera (2013) and Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and three anthologies of flash including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is a founding member of Fast Forward Press, the creator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, and her work has been included in The Best of the Web.

Finish That Manuscript Workshop–Free Preview Call May 29!

“Nancy has a way with words, certainly, but she also has a way with people that allows her classes to take on a spirit that exceeds instruction or even guidance. Her consistent support and empathy is tempered with gentle nudges to step out of our comfort zones and approach our work, not with abandon, but with careful attention and encouragement.”

~Mara Eve Robbins

writers-blockFINISH THAT MANUSCRIPT

An Online Workshop on Re-visioning, Taking Risks, Taking Yourself Seriously, and Falling Back in Love with Your Vision.

Are you still sitting on that same manuscript? Are you stuck in the writing phase or in the revision process? Or have you “finished” but not gotten the response you wanted out in the world? Are you not sure what comes next? Most of us are better at starting manuscripts than we are at finishing them. But it’s only when we can conceive, create, and bring our projects to fruition that we begin to master the longer form known as a book. Each book we write brings us closer to understanding how to write a book. What phase of the finishing process are you in? And…what’s it costing you not to finish?

In this workshop we will explore:

• What’s keeping you from finishing?
• Are your blocks telling you something about your manuscript?
• How to fall back in love with your work and your vision
• Allowing your manuscript to transform
• Publication—is your manuscript ready to send into the world?
• The different stages of “finishing” a manuscript
• Self-promotion—are you afraid of rejection? (You’re not alone.)

In this workshop I’ll give you the deadlines you might need, help you structure your writing time into your life, help you transition more easily between creation and revision, and help you become your own best editor. Whether you are planning to submit or self publish, you’ll learn writing tips, editorial and publication advice, how to find and cultivate a readership, how to excerpt and query, and even when to let a manuscript go. And most importantly, you’ll finally rescue your work from the land of obscurity and give yourself the satisfaction of completion.

Are you ready?

Tuition: $249 (discounts and payment plans available)

FREE PREVIEW CALL THURSDAY, MAY 29 at 7 pm MST

Register at nancystohlman@gmail.com

 

The Biggest Mistake Writers Make With Their Manuscripts…

The Biggest Mistake Most Writers Make With Their Manuscripts…

writerNot knowing what stage of the manuscript-writing process you are in!

And consequently, not understanding what stage of the process you are in leads to some crucial mistakes which can slow down or even keep a manuscript from ever being finished.

There are several stages to creating a book-length work, whether it is a novel, a collection of poetry or stories, a memoir—and knowing which stage you are in is crucial.

So what are the stages?

Newborn Infant Phase—this is when your ideas are new and fragile and you are engaged in lots of creative play, trying out new stuff, following hunches, stopping and starting and starting again. And it’s the worst time in the world to get feedback. But unfortunately that’s what lots of authors do: rather than protecting these infant ideas until they have more strength and can withstand critique, we are often just so proud of the fact that we are writing a manuscript at all that we want everyone to know it! And that need for validation can crush baby manuscripts, because a first draft is, well, a first draft, and it has a lot of growing to do before it will be ready for the world. But we still thrust our naked babies into the world, wanting praise or validation, and we rarely get it at this phase. Because, let’s face it—it’s not ready yet. And when we don’t get the praise we were hoping for…we become plagued with self doubt.

Don’t show your manuscript until it is strong enough to withstand the world!! Protect it at this stage like you would a real baby because it’s just as fragile.

Awkward Puberty Phase—this is right about the time when your manuscript has some legs under it, when you have a lump of clay that can withstand some real shaping. And mark my words: this puberty stage is no less transformative than growing hair between your legs—this is when your manuscript really discovers itself, when your manuscript is about to figure out who the hell he or she is.

The biggest mistake writers make in this phase? Skipping it! That’s right—we will finish a draft, and then we will get an editor or someone who is “good in English” to make sure it’s “correct”, and then we will think we’re done! We confuse revision with proofreading, so if someone combs through the manuscript and says all the commas are correct, the author believes the manuscript is ready for publication. They skip—or try to skip—puberty all together, even though puberty is where the manuscript actually reaches maturity and finds its specialness. And this is where I see writers get the most impatient—I have already written the book, I have already had someone proofread it—what else is there?

The answer to the “what else” is as nuanced as writers and books, but remember this: the what else IS the book. If you do not allow your book to evolve through this maturation process, you stunt its potential as an artifact in the world. The book must steep in your imagination, the words you have written must become puzzles, you must be willing to revision—and revision, and re-vision. Re. Vision. To see it again, as if it were new.

This is actually my favorite part, this evolving relationship with the words you have already written. But you have to be willing to embrace this phase—if you are clinging desperately to your first draft, terrified to change anything of significance because you might never be able to write it better—you will never create the book you are truly meant to create.

This is also the best time to bring in others whose voices you trust and who have your best success at heart.

Grown Adult Living In the Basement Phase—this is when the manuscript is truly finished—it has gone through its puberty, and it’s been scrubbed and polished…but you are still sitting on it like a mother hen. Maybe you are picking at it because you’re afraid of the next step. Maybe you are still soliciting feedback every time you change a sentence. It has now over gestated, late in the womb, done. Sometimes we pick at our manuscripts because we are afraid to start a new one, or we don’t feel a new one coming. Perhaps it’s a way to avoid publication or having to face the daunting wall of rejection. Perhaps it’s a perfectionist piece of us that is afraid to let it go. But let it go we must.

Maybe we let it go and it is published and that is fantastic. Maybe we let it go and it is not. But it does reach a point but we have no choice (and we can actually even ruin our work if we stay there too long). But mostly what it does is it robs us of our growth, because we have learned all we can from this manuscript, and we will have an impossible time taking our next steps as writers if we don’t ever leave the comfortable mother’s basement of what is known. So whether we decide to put it in the world or not, we must still choose to move forward and allow a manuscript to be complete.

Know that whatever phase you are in now–the vulnerable infant, the impatient puberty, the grown manuscript—is the perfect place to be with your manuscript. But first you must recognize where you really are, not where you think you are or where you wish you were, and give your manuscript what it truly needs from you now.

To your success!

~Nancy

(If you would like information about my upcoming Finish That Manuscript workshop, email me at nancystohlman@gmail.com or get more info about all Summer Workshops Here.)

FREE workshop preview call on Thursday, May 29t

Join The Facebook event here.

Summer Workshop Program Announced!

books by friendsSUMMER ONLINE WORKSHOP PROGRAM

Mix and Match: Take 1, 2, or all 3 workshops!

Tuition and Registration Information

*All classes use a combination of weekly email lectures and assignments, 24/7 email access as well as a private FB page for participants to interact with each other, and a once a week group conference call that allows us to “meet” in real time. (Conference call time will be adjusted to the schedules of those in class)

 

“Nancy has a way with words, certainly, but she also has a way with people that allows her classes to take on a spirit that exceeds instruction or even guidance. Her consistent support and empathy is tempered with gentle nudges to step out of our comfort zones and approach our work, not with abandon, but with careful attention and encouragement.”

~Mara Eve Robbins, winner of the Real Simple essay contest

______________________________________________

JUNE: FINISH THAT MANUSCRIPT

An Online Workshop on Re-visioning, Taking Risks, Taking Yourself Seriously, and Falling Back in Love with Your Vision.

Are you still sitting on that same manuscript? Are you stuck in the writing phase or in the revision process? Or have you “finished” but not gotten the response you wanted out in the world? Are you not sure what comes next? Most of us are better at starting manuscripts than we are at finishing them. But it’s only when we can conceive, create, and bring our projects to fruition that we begin to master the longer form known as a book. Each book we write brings us closer to understanding how to write a book. What phase of the finishing process are you in? And…are you ready to finish?

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JULY: SELF PROMOTION FOR THE SQUEAMISH

Launching Yourself and Your Work Into the World

You wrote the book…so you’re done, right? Wrong. Whether you are self-publishing, traditional publishing, or still undecided, today’s market requires that writers build and sustain their own readership. But how? Who are your readers? Who needs your book? And how do you find them? This workshop can help you uncover blocks to self-promotion, give you practical skills to approaching the market as a professional, and help you understand and take the necessary steps to not just writing a book but building a long term audience for your work.

*

AUGUST: WRITING FLASH FICTION

Flash forms have arrived as a backlash to genre boundaries and flash fiction is leading the pack, redefining how we tell stories. By embracing the compressed form, all writers–from poets to novelists–are cultivating a new set of skills and creating an entirely new kind of story. In this workshop we will generate original flash pieces, examine what makes successful flash fiction, and try to differentiate flash from its cousin, the prose poem. This workshop is open to writers with all levels of experience in the form.

Registration and Tuition Information