When you are getting ready to practice your craft, you need to know how to set aside adequate time for transitioning into and out of the experience. Whether you are exploring creative writing to enrich your artistic skills, academic writing to help you through school, or professional writing you have to take on as part of your career, all writing processes require this transition time. They also require time for planning, for editing, and for a variety of other tasks.
One of the many things we try to do here at the PSP is to provide our students and our readers with updates about events and contests that might interest them. That’s why we’re posting today about the Curt Johnson Prose Award, sponsored by december magazine. You might know of them as the first publication to print work by Raymond Carver, and they have a rich history of promoting new writing talent in the years since, too.
It’s that time of year again, which means that you are just weeks away from the deadline for applications to most of the best creative writing summer programs out there. If you are considering going abroad this season instead of finding local writing workshops and events, then you might want to consider each of these major points when choosing your program to make sure you get the best experience possible out of your summer abroad.
One of the toughest parts about being a career creative writer is finding the opportunities you need to be able to make money without having to work in other industries. Many fill in the gaps with writing in other industries, but the fact is that there are various paying opportunities for creative writers out there if you know where to look, and without having to invest the up-front money it will take to go into publishing for yourself.
The first place you should be checking is Craigslist. While it’s true that there are books out there full of places taking submissions, those established outlets also get inundated with manuscripts from writers looking to get their next break. Frankly, they can usually afford to go with writers who have worked their way up to that level of publication, and they don’t always pay better than the startup places you will find outside the literary mainstream.
If you want to be successful writing creative work for money, you also have to be willing to work in volume like other full-time writers do. That means putting in the hours it will take to make sure you meet your income goals, even if you have to write at volume to do it. That might also mean learning to write to a prompt and sending in work according to the genres that are currently popular. None of this prevents you from focusing most of your efforts on a novel that really covers what you most want to write about, but it does mean that you need to learn to depart from it to build up the name recognition that will bring you the opportunity to publish that longer piece.
Once you get a few paying gigs through Craigslist, start keeping a database of the outlets that pay promptly and in full, and resubmit there because the editors will be friendly. As you find more and more success online, remember to search out aggregator sites that pull from various Craigslists around the country, as well as other sources. It’s also worth getting yourself onto Twitter, because the literary fandom there is pretty big and you will be able to connect to various outlets and ‘zines that collect submission guidelines to find more opportunities.
One of the toughest parts of managing a creative writing process is transitioning into new projects. Whether you know what your next project is or you’re letting yourself find it through exploration, there are just some times when the obvious connections between ideas or events don’t pop out at you. During those times, it’s important not to let yourself take too much break time. Walking away from your desk when you are frustrated can clear your mind, but staying away can keep you from having the concentrated time you need to really tease an idea to completion. When you are having one of those days where your next story, poem, or essay idea is just over the horizon, try one of these approaches to see if you can get things back on track.
1. Keep Things Relative
Exploring relationships can be a great way to loosen yourself up. For new projects, it can be as simple as asking yourself about the relationship between two events that stand out strongly in your past. Other explorations might include two emotional themes that intertwine and interact, such as loss and renewal. If you are working on a larger project and you need to help yourself realize the world your characters move in, this can also be your chance to create some family background for your characters so that you know who they are. For poetry, the relationships might be a little more abstract, such as an exercise in exploring the relationship between how words sound and what they mean, or between different words that share a linguistic root.
2. Write What You See
Sometimes, you have plenty of ideas, but making them into words just isn’t happening. That’s okay. Most people think in multiple ways, and finding yourself with a series of images or even a mental movie can be a great place to create from. You do eventually have to find ways to word things out, though, and one way to do that is to just get yourself typing so that your brain starts to play with language more. Starting yourself off with a short exercise where you just write whatever happens to be in front of you can be a great way to unstop your process, converting that imaginary action into narrative. It can also be an excellent way to work on word choice, diction, rhythm, or to just find a new topic for your next idea.
3. Interrogate Yourself
Have you ever played truth or dare against yourself in a public place? Not everyone is capable of it, but trying out the truth part can be liberating. Give yourself five minutes to write out all the questions on your mind right now, and then take an additional twenty to answer them as bluntly, honestly, and personally as possible. The insights you give yourself when no one is looking can reveal contradictions and juxtapositions in your thoughts hat can be used as the basis for characterization, for longer meditations and explorations, or to confront yourself when you are holding back from unleashing the full potential in your vocabulary. Use this exercise to think about the emotional shades of your word choices when you answer, and ask yourself what parts of you are answering each of your questions.
Maintaining your connection to the medium of language is the key when it comes to unsticking your writing process, no matter what genre you find yourself working in. The next time you have a project that’s giving you a hard time, try one of these process starters out to see where it takes you.
Whether you are looking to join us for a month in Prague next summer or you are just looking for the right advice to help you
pick a study abroad program in
another subject area, there are a few core characteristics that you want to look for to make your experience abroad is as memorable as possible. For many students, these programs are a cornerstone of their artistic, academic, and professional development, and finding the right fit is important. That means not only finding a program that is accessible in terms of price and programming, but also finding one in a location that will allow you to gain new insight into your chosen discipline.
Part of the reason our program brings students to Prague is because of the rich artistic history of the place, and the way its writers stood at the crossroads of craft and culture, creating works that put forth philosophical ideas and then test them, like Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. The location is also rich in literary figures that interact in profound ways with their political systems, such as Vaclav Havel. For other disciplines, we recommend finding a program built around a place with similar significance for you, a place where the combination of focused study and local history will allow you to immerse yourself in your work.
Once you’ve found programs that work like this, the next step is to look at the combination of price and features. Pay attention to items like housing arrangements, food, and both local and international travel. At this step, it is important to consider a balance of comfort and cost. Going with a bare bones approach might seem rugged, but sometimes that means taking responsibility for language translation services and other communication tasks on your own. On the other hand, programs that include everything, even international travel, tend to be very costly. Their travel arrangements can also reduce your flexibility as you plan your journey in both directions. A balance of good in-country services, bundled room and board, and solid knowledge of the area is what is essential. Taking care of your own travel also gives you the opportunity to use discounts or find other savings.
Once you have a checklist in mind for the features you need and the locations you are interested in visiting for your study abroad experience, evaluating potential programs is much easier. As with most other travel planning situations, preparation is key!