Writing Advice & Contest Tips: Part 2

I was 19 when I started writing poetry daily. I became enamored with the concept of crafting words together in lines, then stanzas. I was a natural introvert, but for some reason I was never shy about sharing the words that I penned. I received positive feedback and kept it up for a long time.

By the time I was 21, I was completely consumed with the notion of being a published poet. So much so, that I had to change my major to English so that I could immerse myself in my writing even more. I studied the markets, wrote on a typewriter (I really miss that sound) and submitted my work through the mail. Everything was by US Postal Service back then. And when your original copies were typed out on a typewriter, you learned the value of a SASE. Consider this lesson numero uno: When submitting your work through the regular mail, always enclose a SASE whether you want it back or not.

Here's why: 99% of the time you will receive a form rejection letter. This is just a very basic, photocopied, piece of paper that basically says, "We appreciate your submission, good luck placing it elsewhere." Nothing else except your submission being return to you. I collected these for years with an idea that I would on day cover a wall or make a piece of art with them. Then one day, I received a different kind of rejection.

On that day, I received one with a note from the editor, "This one came close but the last couple lines didn't seem to flow." I ignored it and moved on. Rookie mistake! I was so sure my poems were utterly fantastic, that I dismissed their comments as a misreading on their part. Yes, I was a narcissistic about nothing else in life, except for my writing. I'm telling you something right now that is important to know. Early on in your writing development, thinking your poetry does not stink is actually healthy. It is the honeymoon stage and where you develop your passion. If you have been writing for years and still think this way, then you either need therapy or just haven't reached the next stage in your development. This is going to sound like terrible advice and discouraging, but I want anyone reading this right now to say aloud:


There, I said it too. Now, why is this important? It's not if you just love to write and nothing else. As far I am concerned, as long as you have no aspirations of ever getting anywhere with your writing, whether it be contests, anthologies, or periodicals, then by all means, go on thinking that you are the greatest and rainbows shine out of your arse.

For the rest of us, having our work accepted by an editor or a contest judge is the only real measure of how good we are or can be. It was not until I received an editorial comment for the third time that I had that enlightened moment that maybe my writing stinks, but this particular one stinks a little less than the rest.

I made the changes the editor suggested and resubmitted the piece. She published it, and thus began my next stage of growth as a writer: Scrutinizing my own work, a.k.a revising, something we'll get into with some great detail down the road. Things have changed in the digital age and I realize that actual paper rejections are a lost art, but the message is the same. If you get a rejection, treat it with poise. If you get an editorial comment, respond as if the editor's words are infallible even if you believe emphatically that they are dead wrong. It might get you published.

In the last issue I told you I would let you into the mind of a contest judge. The same goes for submissions for publication. Let's say you have submitted something you hope will rise to the top of the heap and yours is going to get picked. Let's say it doesn't.

Perhaps you wonder which part of the poem the judge or editor didn't like. I think I know because I've been on both sides of that coin many times. The answer might shock you. Probably 95% of the time, it's THE FIRST LINE.

In the next issue, I will tell you why it is the first line and give you some tips on how to beat those 95% that never get past the first line. I guarantee you will never write poetry the same again. Thanks for reading!

- Jon

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I'm eagerly awaiting part 3.  Though I don't know why more people haven't responded to this post, I'm always looking for good advice.

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